Smashing Snowglobes

As far as I know there is only one way to have a perfect Christmas. Every expectation has to be jammed together into a space so small that it cannot sustain human life, drowned, and encased in glass. We call these places snowglobes. They are pretty, quaint, and while sometimes expensive they hold no real value other than to demonstrate to guests your distain for dusting.

In a snowglobe you can have a church service on Christmas Eve, go carolling, live in a warm cottage, and drink apple cider beside a perfectly decorated tree that guards an unholy amount of colourfully wrapped presents. Sometimes there is enough room for a well behaved family sitting down for a lovely turkey dinner.

What there isn’t room for is imperfection.

Nobody in a snowglobe is too busy. I’ve never seen one that contains a mall stuffed with anxious, bewildered husbands or screaming toddlers. Its styrofoam snowflakes never settle gently upon the collars of the homeless and estranged.

How nice, for those who live in a tempered glass bubble.

Somebody give me a hammer.

You can also purchase snowglobes that contain little baby Jesus. They are sublime. They don’t smell like manure, contain despots who murder infants, or have poor blue-collar families becoming refugees. Sometimes you can wind them up and they’ll sing a lullaby to a porcelain child who doesn’t breathe or cry. Look inside and you’ll find that the Virgin Mary found childbirth to be an inspirational event and Joseph – tasked with providing for his family – wasn’t at all embarrassed to tuck the newborn into a feeding trough.

On the other hand, for me the actual Christmas Story is filled with wonder precisely because it stinks. It fills me with hope that God might look down from heaven trying to find some way to connect with his children, see nothing but a manger filled with poverty and desperation, and say,”Perfect. I’m on my way.”

One of Jesus’ nicknames was Emmanuel, which means “God With Us.” No fragile glass barrier separating the holy from the common, or the sacred from the profane. Just a God who will go to lengths we can’t begin to comprehend in order to save us from ourselves.

My prayer is that Jesus will show himself to you this Christmas even if (especially if?) you have very little room for him, and what isn’t cluttered has a peculiar, barn-like odour.

And should you prefer the snowglobe version, I’ll try to be there for you when life gets clumsy.

 

One Perfect Note

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Play the Music

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All Good Things – Easter 2017

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.

Gods and Dragons

Yesterday there was a dragon in the sky. Seriously. It was up there, right next to the fluffy white flying pig with the small bum. Just ask my daughters, they’ll tell you. We all saw it as we sat on a park bench munching potato chips and getting brain freeze from our Slurpees. We also spied a mermaid, two dancing insects and a replica of our little dog Jack.

You have to spend a little time if you want to see dragons, what with them being shy, secretive creatures. Pigs with tiny heinies are rarer still.

Lately I haven’t had room in my schedule for dragon hunting, but then neither have you, I suppose. The theory is that the same hours are given to each of us, daily. Given that truth, it would be more accurate to say that I haven’t spent much of my time looking up. Sometimes life dictates the direction of our attention. Recent events such as funerals, board meetings, friends’ health concerns and career changes have set my eyes more or less horizontally. Some details have absolutely demanded my involvement, and for the most part I’ve been glad to be included.

But horizontal vision too long held becomes short-sighted, and to find magical beasts you have to look to the distance, and up.

Some people would say that it wasn’t a dragon that I saw, but a simple cloud. Perhaps they are correct, but it’s a rare cloud that produces wonder and joy just by the seeing of it. As I sat there yesterday looking up, I was reminded that the cares that burden my soul and bend my shoulders are not worrisome to dragons or gods. They carry on regardless.

Gods, you say?

Well, says I, actually “God”, singular. I’m a monotheist, which means while my imagination can conjure scaly winged beasts, my worldview holds that there is one God who is over all. He is full of mystery, but not secretive. Transcendent, and closer than a heartbeat.

Seeing the dragon was nice. Reclaiming the perspective that God is not far off? That he is willing to share my burdens, and still has time to tame dragons? That was priceless.

Even as I write this I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted, but there are clouds in the sky and I may be able to carve out a moment to look heavenward. There’s no telling what I’ll see, if I’ve got the heart-eyes for it.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the skvy above proclaims his handiwork.”
Psalm 19:1 ESV