The Way Forward

If the eyes are truly the windows of the soul, we need not be afraid of the dark.

At the top of the stairs I hesitate in what we call morning, but it’s dark like the night and I do not wish to plummet into the day. So I wait. Soon – though still wrapped in a shroud of drowsiness and perhaps a hint of sadness – the way forward dimly reveals itself, for my eyes have adjusted.

But my soul, afraid of falling closes itself tight, and attempting to turn back from the first small step toward the unexpected and unwanted finds the way back a wall pressing tight, intruding upon my precarious foothold. I freeze, terrified.

It doesn’t need to be this way; we can learn to wait in the dark. Keeping our souls open in the scarcely lit places of life allows the deepest parts of our being to expand. With courage and a little patience we begin to perceive glimmers hope and fortitude where once there was only fear, pain and anger. The way forward is always there, but can only be seen by those who are brave enough to wait.

The open soul forgives, and in the way forward you’ll discover healing.

So wait, let your soul stare into the darkness, and be one of the few who can step into the unknown. It’s a glorious thing to be wide awake and at peace when the sun comes over the horizon.

Play the Music

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Brotherhood

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Tears in the Rain

taliyah-leigh-marsmanA little girl’s body being found in a field east of the city? That is the last thing I want to write about. Instead, let me tell stories about redemption and hope. Hell, I’d settle for penning some cheesy script full of pat answers and hallmark blessings. For the love of Jesus, just let me focus on something that can be illustrated with fairy dust and unicorns and pink ribbons. Please God, rewind this sodding mess just a bit and give us a happy ending.

I don’t want to talk about law enforcement officers wading through long prairie grass in the pouring rain. Eyes shut tight, let me forget that I live in a city that held it’s breath for a week and then exhaled this morning in a desperate choking sob.

In our hearts and souls we negotiated with hell. Jesus pray for us, for we mourned the mother but offered her up as some kind of sick sacrifice. We thought maybe her passing would placate the dark powers, but it wasn’t enough and we don’t know why.

Anger rushes in like a flood. Someone is in custody. Someone will be held responsible. We see a picture on the news, and tension slips off of our shoulders because now we have a target for our hate. The rage will keep us warm, perhaps even with enough heat to dry one or two tears. We will curse God, to his face if we can, for not putting a fence around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… Yes, that’s it… We will curse God and punish the murderer, whom He created with the sick ability to choose.

Denial seeps in. We are good people. This is still cowboy country, where men are supposed to tip their hats to the ladies. I know a pastor who still gives children candy, while fathers look on and smile. Except now we don’t smile. We’re in shock. Numb.

Like the cursed ground where she rested these past days, our souls are saturated with sadness. Exhausted, we lay down without answers and rise again to the sound of rain. God weeps, for we have abandoned him. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,” he whispers, “you did not do for me.” Who knows but that he sat there in the sopping ditch, cradling the child all week while we looked for her, and quietly left just as one broken-hearted hero drew near.

My children will not know why mommy and daddy are sad tonight. They will play with their puppy, and maybe have a Fudgsicle for dessert. Later, we will tuck them in a little tighter than normal. Our prayers with them will be the usual ones, but I will add a little something in the silence that children need not hear.

I will pray that my daughters grow old enough to have their hearts broken like this.

Open Hands and Trigger Fingers

Holding hands is not a small thing. That one person would hold out a hand to another, and the other take it without a second thought: this seems to be a relational unicorn that disappears into the land of fairies as we grow up learning about fists and backhanded slaps. For the most part too lazy to become educated, we settle for being opinionated and use our hands to hold placards, shake fists, raise middle fingers and pull triggers.

I work with my hands, and they have scars. Bits of them are actually missing, and at the moment one fingernail is darker than the rest. In my profession we use our hands to measure the amount of respect due another man; the ritual of shaking hands is entered into with all of the force of the personalities hiding behind the callouses. To some degree I have little control over the appearance of my hands, but what I do possess is the ability to keep them open towards others.

IMG_1281An extended hand is a timely gift to a person who finds themselves on unsure footing. My daughters demonstrated this while crossing a river this afternoon. While both experienced a measure of pain as they waded through the waves with bare feet, the stronger helped the younger. They had no time to size each other up, enter into a dialogue about trust or even look into each other’s eyes. When things became cold and unstable, instinct reached for a steady hand.

My children, nurturing the world with reflexes of kindness. As a father I pray that their hearts won’t grow the callouses that so many of us carry. Oh, that a spirit of forgiveness would make them strong; gentle towards the weak and unafraid of their enemies.

For the rest of us, the temptation is to succumb to hopelessness and relational paralysis. The fear is that it is too late for us, especially in the valley of the shadow of death we found ourselves in this last week. We want the fist of justice, forgiveness be damned.

But listen to the words recorded in an ancient, holy book. The author prayed to God regarding seemingly insurmountable evil and then said,

“…Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.”
(Psalm 73, verses 23-26, NIV translation)

The power to maintain open hands rest in the Almighty, who first extends that same grace to us.

Desert Friend

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Healing Trees

There is a safe space provided by friends and family who understand the pain and heartache of life in general, and the Way of the Cross in particular. I wrote this poem in thanks to God, for the benevolence showered on me by their presence in my life.

If you have ever allowed me to share in your angst, this is for you. I love you. Thank you for your vulnerability. When you need it, may you find peace and rest under the Healing Trees.

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For those of you on mobile devices who find the picture too small, here is the text:

Healing Trees
by Bill Scarrott

Heaven has hills where trees do grow
When desperate prayers are sown below.
Alas we rarely tarry there
In forests angels long to know.

There the Gardener takes a knee,
And one by one tends each small plea
With hands that still bear sacred scars,
Bringing to life a Healing Tree.

Covered there from the storms you fear,
Sheltered ‘neath leaves of answered prayer,
A sapling from your own pain grows
Near streams that flow with grace to spare.

Someday others will rest and hide
Under great branches tall and wide
Where the Gard’ner watered a seed
Shaped like that lonely tear you cried.

Man-cards and Maturity

There are a couple men in my church who I respected greatly, right up until I overheard a conversation they had about the merits of buying a specific brand of footwear. Yes, they were talking about the infant stages of their shoe collections. Being an older Christian brother, I admonished them to turn in their man-cards right then and there.

Some of my surprise came from expecting believers to debate issues higher up the maturity spectrum, such as the merits of Christian radio, religion in politics, and coffee in the sanctuary. This banter is a perplexing phenomenon, because we all tend to think that mature people have a singular perspective – ours – rendering further discussion useless. We congregate in little communities where our opinions are considered fact and our biases are celebrated. We congratulate ourselves on being right. The primary ministry of Jesus was, after all, to save us from being wrong.

If you’ve been in church culture for any amount of time you know what I’m talking about, and you know the group you’re most comfortable in. Is it Conservative Evangelical? And that less mature group – Progressive Liberal? Or are they legalistic, and you are part of the Grace camp? We use different labels, but what we mean is mature and immature.

The labels themselves are useful, to a point. For example, consider Good Christians vs Honest Christians. For Good Christians, predetermined categories coupled with a discerning spirit provide a rough sketch of who they’re sitting down to coffee with, possible conversational parameters, and most importantly the level of grace they’ll be required to extend. Honest Christians, on the other hand, use labels in exactly the same setting to identify how much of an ass you are.

Like I said: useful, to a point.

Regardless of how we gauge and categorize the maturity of others, it boils down to the degree to which they are aligned with our threshold of enlightenment. The test of our own maturity is simply a silent conscience, squashed or at rest notwithstanding.

Biblically, spiritual maturity is not so easy to nail down. At different times and places, the scriptures point to love, joy, peace, sacrificial giving, diligent study, hospitality, a lack of anger and many other things as signs of a well cultivated spiritual life.

There is one part of growth, though, that in Western Christianity is glaring in it’s absence: Holy Discontent. The knowledge that we are incomplete, and the passion to move forward – this we have lost, if we ever had it in the first place. We have enshrined the exact opposite: our own completeness and the passion to point out where others fall short.

The Apostle Paul explained this attitude of maturity in his letter to the Philippian church:

“…whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Philippians 3:7-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

Not perfect? Pressing on? Forgetting what is behind? Straining towards what is ahead? That sounds like someone who still has something to learn! And imagine an attitude of humility that lets others be less mature, simply encouraging them to live up to whatever standard of faith they currently possess.

Back to the shoe conversation, because those trendy, well-shod brothers are the ones who got me thinking about Christian maturity. In addition to passion, there was more grace and care and concern on the table of that debate than I’ve seen in many a theological discussion. I was truly impressed. Well done, hipsters. Now, about those man-cards…

Dying Alive

Time is the leading cause of death. What the scientists say matters little – hot dogs might be a carcinogen and cutting down too many trees may eventually asphyxiate us all, but while we debate these things the clock remains relentless.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Enough years have passed in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to attend the funerals of a number of people that I’ve loved and admired. We celebrate their time and achievements, feeling the ache that their leaving has left. In life their very presence was catalytic, moving those around them to spaces of the heart and soul that would have otherwise remained unexplored.

There are other wakes, though, that haunt me. These are the moments when we remember people who shrivelled into themselves long before their passing. A positive spin is put on everything, propriety bestowing a last dignity upon a life that could have been more.

The question is, more what? Was something missing? Or perhaps emptiness wasn’t the problem, and their souls were actually too cluttered? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but there is no denying that some people’s eyes glaze over long before their plot is purchased.

To glean some answers I went to went to the field of wisdom known as Facebook, and asked some of you how our time on this spinning rock is best spent. Here is what you said, with a couple of my suggestions thrown in:

7 Essentials To Guarantee You’ll Be Alive When You Die

1. Be teachable. This is difficult when you presume to know everything. Too often we take our own opinions as facts, worship some fancy paper on the wall, or box ourselves in with our own notions of how the universe should be run and which direction the neighbour should be cutting his lawn. Being teachable allows us to walk through time without being overly sensitive and easily offended.

2. Smoke a cigar. Not literally, of course, unless you want you. The writer of Ecclesiastes said that “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes,” and counselled that it is best to not be over righteous or too wicked. That’s not to say that one of my goals each day is to be a little bit wicked, but sometimes it’s as though I can’t help myself. Knowing that my character and my lungs are not yet totally pure keeps me humble before my Creator.

3. Be authentic. One of my most annoying acquaintances is unapologetically Calvinistic, which I define as unteachable, dogmatic, unshaven and fundamentalist, with all the baggage that usually accompanies such labels. He, on the other hand, has big words which he uses to describe my liberal tendencies. One thing I grudgingly admire about him is his authenticity. He is a true believer. Unshakeable.

The most intriguing people in my life are ridiculously passionate. Some talk about theology; others champion the right of women to wear functional and pretty sporting attire. Whatever you do, do it from the heart.

4. Risk. Some mothers scold their youngsters with, “Just because your friends jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you should too.” My mom, on the other hand, is usually the first to take the plunge. I can’t imagine a life without some risk. You can’t love without it. Steak is best served with it (at least a little pink, please). It isn’t an end in itself, mind you. Which brings us to number five.

5. Invest in Others. Authenticity, risk, humility, and balance are of very little benefit if they are employed to serve only yourself. You want people to weep tears of sadness instead of joy when you kick the bucket? Invest in them.

6. Practise dying. When we are placed in coffins it becomes clear that the value of our lives is measured in those who come to say goodbye. The problem is the extent of the sacrifice it took to get them all showing up on the same day. The good news is that we can train ourselves to die. Little choices every day add up, and when we choose others before ourselves, forgiveness before bitterness, and the difficult good over the expedient less-than we get better at dying.

7. Slow down. You. Are. Going. Too. Fast. How do I know this? There is a 95% chance that you came across this blog post via Facebook, which is what we do when we could just be sitting still or gently kissing someone.

Which are you good at? What did I leave out? Do you sense that you are truly alive? If not, are you missing something, or is it soul-clutter that’s getting in the way?

Living With Questions

The first time I saw a man coming undone was in High School. One of his children was in the hospital undergoing spinal taps, and I sat there with the other students, stunned into silence on our cheap hard seats as he asked us…

Why…?

He was my Religion teacher and he taught me more about faith in those classes than I had learned in years. He kept asking – with anger and tears – the same question each day, and he continued to receive in response about 30 blank stares from children whose faith had not yet been tested. Day after day. Class after class. Bitter silence on top of sterile quiescence.

Trying to be objective, I peel back layers of memory and wonder if I’ve ever received a life-giving answer from anyone who hasn’t first learned to live with questions. I think not.

These days, I hear many questions and very few answers. “Why is that Christian such an ass?” “What will happen next?” “When will the anxiety and depression go away?” “How will I find another job?” “What is next for my loved ones?”

God, why…?

I share some of the same queries and would appreciate some answers, but what’s more important is that I am a part of a community that doesn’t fear a lack of answers. Like my high school instructor, my family of Truth Seekers keep coming back, continue asking. Step after step. Snotty Kleenex after snotty Kleenex. And I love them for it.

Like a question without an answer, I penned some lyrics this week for which there is no melody. It is for some dear friends who are learning to live with questions. “It’s okay to not be strong,” I would tell them, and you. “Don’t give up,” I would say.

And then I would sit with you awhile.

Song In The Darkness

We all want to live on the mountain
Arms lifted high to our God and our King,
But You’ve said the path to that glory
Comes when we share in Your suffering.

Give me a song to sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid You to rest
A harmony born in the womb of this sadness
A lullaby for every heart worn and hard-pressed.

We all want to drink from the fountain
Of joy that Your resurrection can bring
But for now faith is just me waiting
In the tomb’s pain for my Easter King.

Give me a song to sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid you to rest
A harmony born in the womb of this sadness
A lullaby for every heart worn and hard pressed.

You’re not far off
You see my pain
You’re the God who died and rose again.
You’re not far off
You see my pain
You’re the God who died and rose again.

This is the song I sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid you to rest
A harmony born in the womb of great sadness
For God who loves me ever and gave me his best.