Housing God

(Christian Courier column, May 2016)
     April 14th marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s death from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I journaled throughout his ten-year illness in the hopes of someday writing a book about it. Maybe I’ll still get to that, but if I haven’t managed to do so in 20 years, what are the odds?
     Once I had a conversation with friends on this intriguing topic: “Who are the five people in your life who’ve had the strongest impact on your faith?” Topping my list was my dad. It would take – you guessed it – a book to write about his influence on me with appropriate clarity and comprehensiveness. But here’s a teaser.
      Dad wasn’t preachy. The closest thing to a sermon might be an emphatic declaration, punctuated with a pointing finger, that you can’t expect a man who is hungry and has no shoes to listen to the gospel. First, you feed him and give him shoes; then you tell him about Jesus. He had a pronounced bias toward a “social gospel.” So I wasn’t completely surprised when, many years after he was gone, Mom revealed to me that her father had once called him a “communist.” As a young whippersnapper working in a cement factory, Dad had the temerity to criticize management and speak up on behalf of the employees. He always sided with “the little man.” No surprise, really. He grew up on “margarine street,” a disparaging Dutch phrase for government-subsidized housing.
      When asked to serve his church, Dad didn’t hesitate. He helped organized the Cadet program in Sarnia’s Second CRC and also in the Wyoming CRC, serving there as the club’s first Head Counsellor. Mom still has the faded certificate commending his dedication. He was an elder in both of those churches, too, and served a term as Board Chair for the John Knox Christian School Society.
      Dad’s convictions extended beyond his CRC community. Once he met a desperate and penniless Scottish family stranded at the Sarnia train station. He invited these strangers into our home and they stayed with us for several weeks. He spoke up at his local union hall promoting Sunday as a day of rest. Later in life, as a hog farmer, Dad regularly donated pork to widows.
Off to church.      These commendable examples of Christian witness were but the public expression of Dad the family man. He loved our mom. He valued her work as mother and housewife. He complimented her meals in our presence and made sure we understood that a clean and orderly home was not a gift to be disrespected. It all sounds a bit too good to be true, I know, but I do have the corroborating testimony of five siblings.
      He treated us kids well, too, patient, encouraging, never given to harshness. I’ll confess I was the most challenging. One night I skipped Young Peoples to meet up with an unchurched guy. I was careful, I thought, to return to church in time to get picked up. I hid in the washroom waiting for the right moment to join the others as they exited the classrooms. Suddenly I heard my dad’s voice. Alas, he’d come early and discovered I hadn’t been there! By the time I worked up the courage to face him, he’d already left.
      Flummoxed, I ended up at a friend’s house and had to call for a ride home. Dad said nothing as we drove in the inky night. Finally, turning into our lane, he quietly expressed how disappointed he was in me. He didn’t ask where I’d been or what I’d been doing. I may have mumbled a half-hearted “sorry,” I don’t recall, but his merciful restraint reverberates in my memory.
IMG_1836     When I was a child, our church constructed a Wayside Chapel for Travelers that stood for decades on the highway, a shining jewel box when lit up at night, stocked with tracts and a taped sermon by Rev. A. DeJager. Dad helped build or maintain this miniature church (we’re no longer sure which), a storybook edifice that charmed me whenever we drove past.
     Suddenly I understand. Dad is that church. A “little man” housing God. An everyday Christian hostel. Come stay with us, soup’s on, pick out a pair of shoes.
IMAG0388
Dad wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. But that’s for the book. Here’s today’s takeaway: Weary, perplexed Christian parent, take heart. You are foundation, tabernacle, temple. Glory is your cornerstone. Have faith, keep faith: “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
Advertisements

“Bifurcation of the mind”

(facebook-iconChristian Courier column, Jan. 26, 2015)

Facebook takes up an hour of my day, sometimes more. When my sister was visiting over the holidays, I was away from my computer a lot. I missed my Facebook time! This sparked some internal debate.

I like the contact with my family and friends, sharing their lives, seeing their photos. And playing Scrabble with them!

But my people-pleasing nature compels me to LIKE almost everything posted by everybody. After all, what if I inadvertently like one niece’s posts more often than another’s? Courtesy obliges me to interact and post comments. Birthdays, anniversaries, babies — it all requires time-consuming attention.

Knowing what others are doing can be a pitfall. A friend of mine discovered on Facebook that her sisters-in-law had enjoyed a shopping excursion without her. She was hurt that they hadn’t invited her. Plus, at any one time any number of Facebook friends are vacationing, dining out or attending sports events. The carnival atmosphere generated by a newsfeed full of “fun” can arouse envy in those who don’t have such opportunities — Facebook as a periscope to discontentment.

For those who are not net-savvy, Facebook usurps conversation. There is almost no news my mom can share about our family, our church or our community that I haven’t already seen on Facebook. This is frustrating for her. Social media marginalizes non-participants.

Let’s talk about family photos. I’m the worst offender, sharing dozens of pics of my grandchildren. But the endless parade of handsome portraits on Facebook – graduations, weddings, anniversaries, engagements – can exacerbate loneliness in those whose relationships are thin.

Facebook photos are deceptive, anyway, vetted for public consumption. Most of us share only those pictures in which we are satisfied with how we look. My double chin does not get posted to Facebook!

Facebook is a place where I can encourage others. I can reach out to the hurting and offer companionship to those who need friendship.

Some truth here. I’ve received and sent heartfelt messages of concern and condolence. When I say I will pray for a friend, I do. But much communication on Facebook is blatantly superficial. It’s comfortably undemanding to LIKE someone’s post about depression; an entirely different matter to schedule a weekly coffee with a fraying soul.

Facebook is an inexhaustible source of information, a learning place. The more friends, the more content to browse.

Many of my Facebook friends post links that are thoughtful and worth reading. Gifted photographer friends share images whose beauty inspires joy. But many posts are mere click-bait. And for every Christian quotation that builds up my faith, there is a polarizing headline that reduces Christianity to mere jargon.

I conclude some things

Facebook’s titanic influence is shaping culture. Think of the exploitation of social media by ISIS. Or the current controversy at Dalhousie University where male members of a dentistry class created a Facebook page to engage in sexually explicit conversations and fantasies, some violent, about their female classmates and professors. A formal complaint has resulted in the suspension of 13 students while this is investigated. On the economic side, Frontline’s Generation Like, a PBS documentary series, details how Facebook has birthed a new currency of LIKES, and how the consumer is now simultaneously a marketer, an explosive new phenomenon.

I’m not about to give up Facebook, but I want to be alert to its potential to shrink my world. Peggy Noonan, columnist with The Wall Street Journal, writes, “A lot of people seem here, but not here. They’re pecking away on a piece of plastic; they’ve withdrawn from the immediate reality around them and set up temporary camp in a reality that exists in their heads. It involves their own music, their own conversation, whether written or oral.”

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, suggests that Facebook causes a “bifurcation of the mind.” While we exist in reality, we are also constantly half-living to the third person view of our reality — our Facebook audience, each of us starring as the hero in a mini-universe of our own design.

This gives me pause. My life belongs to Jesus. I want to live for him, however stumblingly. In seeking to be socially “connected,” I must guard against being subsumed by a torrent of bite-sized distractions. I must fight the temptation to fashion a Cathy-avatar styled for Facebook consumption. I must heed Paul’s advice, still applicable today: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God” (Rom. 12: 1,2. The Message).

 

 

God’s sinning child

(Christian Courier column, May 26, 2014)

IMG_4181

Our latest church sign got me thinking about sin. “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.” Two admissions here. What popped into my head was not my own sin, but Rob Ford’s. I’d just heard about his leave of absence to enter rehab. The second thing that popped into my head was still not my own sin, but how surprising it was to see the word “sin” displayed so publicly and baldly. Even in Christian media, the word sin is used sparingly these days. We speak more tactfully about brokenness, struggle, addiction, dysfunction or moral failure. It doesn’t take much of a rundown through popular TV and movies to see that the flawed hero is de rigeur  — Sherlock Holmes and his drug addiction, Ironman’s anxiety, Batman’s vengefulness, Spiderman’s guilt. Our favourite protagonists are those with a secret failing. We want our heroes human, after all, like us.

I’m ambivalent about the theological implications of our sign, and maybe the grammar, too (grin), but the main point is pretty clear. We all sin. Pastors, elders and deacons, Christian schoolteachers and writers for Christian publications. I have sin in my life — the sins of my youth, broken relationships, recurrent envy of families where everyone belongs to Jesus Christ, occasional jealousy of published authors, an overly critical spirit, a mounting reluctance to add any more confession to this list . . . .

However, confession is what sin requires. Not so much confession to one another, though that has its place, too, for prayer support and accountability, but penitential confession to God, who never withholds pardon.

Penitent

In “Why Confess Sins in Worship When It Seems So Rote?” (Christianity Today, December 2013), John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Calvin College prof, lays out a helpful list, detailing the necessity of corporate confession in church. I found it instructive, not only to establish why confession is an important part of liturgy, but why it’s good for me, a sinner.

Here are Witvliet’s four points, considerably condensed.

  1. “Since sin is both individual and corporate, confession should be, too.”
  2. Corporate confession is practice, rehearsing together the words we instinctively balk at: “I’m sorry.”
  3. “Penitence orients us to grace.” Confession allows us to “set aside” our sin and become recipients of divine love and mercy.
  4. Corporate confession teaches us to resist “self-righteousness” and “triumphalism,” which he calls “two of the largest problems inside the church, and two of the biggest reasons people can’t stand the church.”

Witvliet goes on to describe the trinitarian roundedness of confession. It prompts the forgiveness of God the Father through the sacrifice of Jesus aided by the efficacy of the Holy Spirit to help us “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15, NRSV).

That last part — the growing up part, the maturation from forgiveness to living holy lives — seems almost as much out of synch with our culture as the word “sin.” It’s definitely catechetical (catechism teachers like me still love that word). Q&A 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism affirms that as a member of Christ, sharing in his anointing, I must “strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life.”

There is nobility in those old-fashioned words. No capitulation to brokenness, dysfunction, moral failure or even heroic flaws. No wallowing or surrender, but “striving.” A forward call — “to present myself as a living sacrifice of thanks.”

So it seems I don’t really have time to judge Rob Ford’s sins. I have a lot to do. I have to “set aside” the sins of my youth since they’ve already been forgiven and “hurled into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7: 19). I have to motivate myself to mend relationships. I have to attend to the daily discipline of entrusting my family members who do not follow Jesus into the hands of the Father who loves them infinitely more than I. I have to encourage and applaud writers who are using their gifts while practicing trust and submission regarding the Lord’s plans for mine. I have to curb my tendency to notice errors and omissions and nurture appreciation for all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Phil. 4:8). I have to take stock of all the other sins I have not confessed here and actively attend to their eradication. I have to “take time to be holy.”

All in the power of the Spirit who will witness with my spirit that, in doing so, I am a child of God (Rom.8: 16).

 

 

 

 

Pray and work

(Christian Courier column, October, 2013)

I recently spent ten days at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton. Not as a patient, mind you; just as a supportive sister. It was a lot of time in waiting rooms. I overheard conversations ranging from the ludicrous (a heated exchange between housekeeping staff as to whether Rogers or Fido is the better service provider, punctuated with unprintable expressions of conviction), to the heartbreaking (a man on his Bluetooth emphasizing sternly that the doctor had better get over here and show some interest in his mother whom he’d found in a near catatonic state) to the hallowed (a sensitive medic comforting a dying patient’s daughter with profound empathy).

St JoesHung on the outside walls of St. Joe’s are supersized photos of its celebrity medical professionals. Dr. Bobby Shayegan, who performed my brother-in-law’s intricate five-hour surgery, grinned at us with likable boyish charm each morning as we headed down the mountain to the hospital. Ubiquitous posters inside the building invited us to “say thanks to your miracle workers here at St. Joe’s!”

But it wasn’t the “miracle workers” who most intrigued me. It was the custodial staff and service workers. I wondered about how and why they ended up here. They probably didn’t grow up aspiring to clean bathrooms, fill orders of “medium decaf, two sweeteners, three milk” or glance cursorily at my salad,  intone “$6.80, please,” and hand me my change while already tabulating the contents of the lunch tray of the customer behind me.

Commencement speakers like to accentuate the positive: “Follow your dreams; don’t settle for less than doing what you love.” Surveying my own family and friends, few of us are working at our dream careers. Most of us are happy to have a job that pays the bills. “Generation next,” the millennials, will have an even tougher time. Financial Post analyst Ray Williams posits: “Career paths are being reshaped – some say permanently – in part because of the massive movement toward temporary employment. These changes will be felt most by young people, who face the prospect of a lifetime of temporary or part time work, an uncertain career path, and an lower standard of living with little or no payoff for their post-secondary education” (“How temporary work will reshape our careers and our economy,” June 12, 2013).

The work given us

I respect those who simply do their best at whatever job they have regardless of how or why they got there. I watched a custodian clean the main lobby at St. Joe’s. He had rakish hair, sprinkled with grey. He sported a brassy gold necklace along with his khaki pants and shirt. In a suit, he could have passed for a professor. After the chairs had been removed, he cordoned off the area and polished the floor with a mini-Zamboni. Balancing on a ladder, he painstakingly vacuumed each ceiling tile above him, his mouth dropping open in concentration. (I refrained from warning him that this is a good way to inadvertently swallow a dead fly or choke on a cobweb). He wiped the sprinklers with a flourish. He didn’t dawdle. He didn’t rush.

I was reminded of “The Struggle for an Education,” a story from the old NUCS (National Union of Christian Schools) Pilot Series that I loved sharing with my students. Booker T. Washington, former slave and prominent African-American educator, relates the hardships and bigotry he endured as he travelled across the country on foot to apply at Hampton Agricultural Institute. The head teacher, a “Yankee” woman, was plainly reluctant to register him. He waited anxiously as others were waved on ahead. Finally, she instructed him to sweep the recitation room. He didn’t flinch or protest. He swept, dusted and cleaned the room with alacrity. Three times. Upon inspecting the room thoroughly and not finding one particle of dust, the headmistress declared, “I guess you will do to enter this institution.”

How you do your work puts your character on display. American poet Wallace Stevens, also an insurance agent, said, “It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job.” He composed his poems on his way to and from work.

The Book of Common Prayer (1662) offers a petition that remains relevant today:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with
thy people where they work; make those who carry on
the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy
will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just
return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

IMG_2695

“Behold, the Lamb of God …”

Marian Schoolland's Big Book of Bible Stories(Christian Courier column, March 25th, 2013 issue)

As a child, my first picture of Jesus on the cross was a moody depiction in Marian Schoolland’s Big Book of Bible Stories. I recall three crosses silhouetted against a slate-grey sky, a portrayal obliquely angled for impressionable eyes. Still, it hangs sombrely in my memory.

I was 13 when I first watched Ben-Hur on television. It was deeply affecting. When Jesus stumbled to his knees on the cobblestones, doubled over with the weight of the cross, I ran to the bathroom, sobbing. My mom followed. Unable to calm my hysterics, she slapped me. Don’t think less of her, it worked!

As an adult, I saw The Passion of the Christ in the theatre. I controlled my tears, but the raw physicality still shocked me. I watched it all – the endless whipping, the hammer blows of spikes through flesh, the thrust of the spear into Jesus’s side, blood spurting in a sudden arc onto the soldier. Averting my eyes seemed a Peter-like betrayal, a denial of the torture endured for my sake, so I forced myself not to turn away.

From Advent through Lent, Christians make the annual trek from manger to cross. On Good Friday we reach our destination and behold what God himself called “accursed,” a gory death upon crossed timbers. Introducing Jesus to his followers, John foresaw the scene: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” “Behold” is a better translation than “look,” I think. It’s dramatic and authoritative. I sense urgency. I hear a command.

I need that. There are wormy holes in my brain and heart. I take the Atonement for granted, casting only casual glances at the cross. I’m squeamish. Lazy. Busy. My spiritual life charts itself in fits and starts, jittery lines graphing through peaks and valleys, just another Israelite wanderer. I need to be guided back to Golgotha repeatedly. Like Moses in the desert with his bronze serpent, the Spirit must tilt my obstinate chin and direct my gaze so I can behold my Saviour and be restored.

In “A Crescendo of Wonder” (Christianity Today, 3/31/2010), Calvin College’s John Witvliet describes the immensity of what we are trying to process as we gaze at Christ on the cross: “This is the day when the Living Water says ‘I thirst.’ It is the day when the Bread of Life hungers, the Resurrection and the Life dies, the Priest becomes the Sacrifice, the King of the Jews is killed like a criminal. No wonder we stammer in the face of this mystery.”

Witvliet’s words remind me about why we cultivate imagination, why Reformed Christians are rightly passionate about staking our faith within education, the arts and culture. Madeleine L’Engle has commented, “It takes all the imagination at our disposal to comprehend a loving God, who created the whole universe, choosing to become incarnate as an infant and suffer death at the hands of his creatures.” My faith is enriched, the holes in my brain and heart healed, when I behold Christ before and behind, day and night, like a cloudy pillar or fiery column. Not just in sermons, in prayer and in Scripture, but in my daily world – in literature, art, movies, science, the garden.

Shardik%20(UK)

I behold Christ in Shardik, a novel by Richard Adams. A religious cult is finally rewarded by the arrival, the incarnation, of their mighty bear god, Shardik. The epic tale chronicles the rise and fall of the prophet Kelderek, who seeks to serve Lord Shardik with devotion, but who is often deeply misguided (much like me). Shardik descends voluntarily into the Streels of Urtah, an abyss of unspeakable misery, a journey that parallels Christ’s suffering on the cross and his descent into hell. Kelderek, following his master from a distance, is also marked by this hellish experience. Later, the wounded but still powerful Shardik dies a sacrificial death, saving not only Kelderek but a band of abused slave children.

I behold Christ in Gran Torino when Clint Eastwood’s character sacrifices himself for his neighbourhood, his arms spread in a cruciform gesture to accept the inevitable gunshot, or in Lord of the Rings when Frodo models a self-sacrificial determination to complete his quest for the sake of the shire.

I behold Christ in every self-effacing and loving deed I witness. What remains is for me to be Christ-like, marked as his own, so that others may behold Christ in me. That’s a lifetime pilgrimage. As Yale theologian Miroslav Volf tweeted this week: “Every step following Christ, every act marked by goodness, truth, and beauty, is a promise; it gives hope about the future to us and to others.”

Heavyweight January

(Christian Courier column, February 27th, 2012 issue)

Last month was heartbreaking for our community. Four weeks, four successive deaths, waves of sorrow attending the birth of the new year like labour pains. I had connections to each person who passed away.

One was my dad’s best friend. When Dad was ill, battling his lymphoma for a decade, Hank visited him weekly. Theirs was a robust friendship, cemented by their shared roots in Groningen, shared immigrant experiences in Canada and shared faith in the Lord. Hank’s jolly outlook boosted Dad’s spirits and Dad’s spiritual calm steadied Hank. Before Dad’s death in 1996, Hank took him back to Holland on a guys-only road trip. Bedum, Ten Boer, Noordpolderzijl – scuffed places, humble beginnings. Hank gave a moving tribute at my dad’s funeral and I attended his as my own quiet tribute to the sacredness of their friendship. 

  
Two others called home to glory were lifetime members of our church. Again, strong ties laid these losses at the door of my heart. They had been pioneers members. I taught their children and grandchildren. I know their great-grandchildren by name. When you live and work in a small town your whole life, and you confess the communion of the saints, everyone is family. You suffer loss to the third and the fourth generation.

 
Jessica, 21, passed away, too, a dearly-loved child of our church. Paralyzed at age five with a virus, she had been tenderly cared for at home by her family and faithfully remembered in prayer throughout sixteen years of illness by both our congregation and the local Christian school community. My class once created a hallway bulletin board with a huge tree in the centre. Every student and staff member in the school wrote Jessica a caring note, a hundred or more leaves of love tacked to the branches.

 
These are the days when I cling to my Calvinism. Oh, I’ve struggled with election and free will, grappled mightily to resolve tensions between limited atonement and universal salvation, sought to balance God’s omnipotence and goodness with sin and evil, tragedy and death. Two particularly fine and helpful books were Gerald Sittser’s A Grace Disguised and Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. 


Over time, I developed a couple of my own simple illustrations to unify what seem to be opposing concepts. Here’s a coin, I’d say to my  catechism class. It’s one whole thing, but it has two sides. My human vision is capable of taking in only one side at a time. It’s simply not possible for me to see both heads and tails simultaneously. But God, being God, isn’t limited like I am. His divine gaze can merge what I can’t. Or I’d show one of those optical illusion drawings that include two faces or scenes. You focus your attention on one set of details and see a witch. Re-focus your eyes and voila, there’s a beautiful woman. Two conflicting portraits in one design. Ok … I’ve already admitted they were simple illustrations. But they do embody the idea that it’s possible to combine polarized truths in a kind of “willing suspension of disbelief,” to borrow a phrase from Romantic poet, Samuel Coleridge. That willingness to suspend disbelief, to swing contradictions like so many buttons on one string, is faith. It’s acknowledging my own limitations and ceding to God’s grander abilities and plans, not God as abstract deity or “the force”, but the God who brings himself to the bargaining table, who is, as Sittser describes him, a “suffering Sovereign.” Not a God who sticks it to you, but the God holding your hand, sitting beside you in the ashes.

 
I cling to my Calvinism because it offers the best comfort at the graveside. Here is where I stand, not denying that cancer, pneumonia and stroke cause death, but not granting them the final say. God is in control. In life and in death. My favourite psalm, an amulet around my neck, is Psalm 121, a psalm I memorized originally because it was short. (Yes, because it was short.) But it’s become an everyday touchstone for its extravagant confession about God’s solicitous concern for my life.

 
It took me awhile to get it. How can it be true that my foot will not slip or that the Lord will keep me from all harm? I’ve slipped many times. I’ve been harmed a few times, too. But the key is to choose to look at the psalm from another angle – the aerial view, not the close-up. To squint deliberately at the summative focus. My daily life will surely be crashed by storms, as Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders so graphically portrays, but the epilogue of my life will be this: that I was deemed a royal heir, guarded vigilantly by a sentry God who never slept, protected from the sun’s burning rays by a God who, slave-like at my side, shaded me with palm branches. 

 
Dad. Hank. Jessica. Pioneers of the Wyoming CRC. Israel. All who have eyes to see and ears to hear. A sovereign God watches over our coming and going, both now and forevermore. A quixotic God, Omnipotent Servant, worthy to be worshipped, even at the open grave.

Travelling Salvation Shows

(Christian Courier column, June 26th, 2011)

It’s another implacably rainy day. Two days ago the Sarnia Observer ran this childishly pleading headline: “Rain, rain, go away.” The lead article: extreme delay in spring planting and poor crop predictions for the fall.

I went for a walk, umbrella in hand, tunes on the iPod. But I wasn’t really listening. My thoughts were bumper cars banging in my head: Oprah’s final show and the global impact of her amorphous spirituality, Harold Camping’s “end times” debacle and its harmful influence. So many Christians convinced that history is in its final spin cycle, not just Camping followers, but everyday Christians all around me. I’ve always understood the end times to be the time from the Ascension until Christ’s return, not a chunk of “apocalypse” sliced from a dispensationalist spectrum. I want to argue: it only seems like things are getting worse because our information delivery systems are inundating us with quantum waves of unfiltered news. Human history could conceivably continue for another millennium! Check newspaper headlines from the 20’s or 50’s or 80’s. It won’t take long to compile an extensive list of even the most rational predictions that were way off the mark.

Still, today, it wouldn’t have been hard to get me on the tribulation bandwagon. I was thinking about Joplin and Slave Lake, Manitoba and Mississippi, Haiti and Japan. All those lives wrung out by water, fire, tornado and earthquake. I was thinking about sad things closer to home, too. A good man commuting daily to London for radiation treatments. A grandmotherly neighbour diagnosed with liver cancer. Other sorrows dragging down my heart …. I told God that he could choose to finish up the laundry anytime. Turn off the machine. I was fine with it.

But my daily walk is more than just exercise. It’s a physical effort to discipline the “eyes of my heart” to see God’s faithful presence all around me. I walked under a massive lilac tree, its creamy panicles tinged with shy pink centres. I contemplated its age…over a century? How many global crises had cycled through its seasons of infinitesimal growth? How many anxious individuals had hurried by without noticing its silent testament of grace?

I thought of my mom at my age, sobbing to me, “It’s all over. It’s all over.” She’d just heard the news that my dad had lymphoma. They battled the disease for ten more years. I thought of my grandmother, severely diabetic, injecting needles daily into limbs already black and blue. When she was my age, she’d survived Nazi occupation and was facing the imminent departure of my mom and dad for Canada. Would she ever see them again? She didn’t know.  

My mood was lightening, though the rain was not. I refuse to live in Harold Camping’s doomsday world, awaiting my rapturous lift off, waving an I-told-you-so farewell to my human home as it writhes in armageddon agony. I won’t live in Oprah’s world either, channelling the supposed positivity of the universe to fulfill my own personal dreams, nay-saying the inevitability of natural disasters and human failure with psychobabble and spiritual self-talk.

I’ll hold on to my mother and grandmother’s Heidelberg sturdiness, their practical faith in a Saviour who said: “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world.” I’ll trust that this same Lord isn’t going to abandon his creation, but restore it in his own time. So, Harold, word up, I don’t really care when. And Oprah, sistah, I bless you for your good works, but I’ll pass on creating my own reality. It’s already in good hands.

As Churchill advised, I’ll keep calm and carry on. I’ll mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. I’ll work on the church bulletin this afternoon and write a column for a Christian paper. I’ll send a card to the nearby friends who are struggling with life and death and be mindful of those in far-off places who are doing the same. I’ll pray, “Your kingdom come” instead of grumbling. 

On my way home, I could have laughed aloud at the misspelled, but appropriate, Baptist Church sign. And, no writer’s tweak here, Neil Diamond singing Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show: And when your brother is troubled, you gotta reach out your one hand for him/And when your heart is troubled, you gotta reach out your other hand/ reach it out to the Man up there….”

I fairly danced the rest of the way, singing in the rain.