Close Up Living

My son and his family gave me a neat picture. In large block letters across a white background is printed “GRANDKIDS”. Within each letter is a picture of one or more of our grandchildren. From across the room I can see the colourful word, GRANDKIDS. Up close, I see our grandchildren as individuals, laughing, building a snowman, hugging each other.
That picture reminds me of a phenomenon of life. When we look out of an airplane window, we see miles and miles of orderly fields, tree tops, lakes, rivers, mountains and even cities set out in brilliant colours, a tapestry that seems to roll on forever. When we’re on the ground we see flowers and weeds, refuse and pristine parks. From a distance the world is beautiful. Up close, it retains its beauty, but also exhibits its flaws and its character.
The same thing happens with people. From a distance, those of a different culture or ethnic variety all look the same; they become “those” people. Up close, those same people become my neighbour, my daughter’s friend, my son-in-law, my minister. Up close, we can’t ignore the fact that they are God’s precious children. When the enemy has a collective name like “terrorist,” it is easy to hate them. When he becomes an individual like you and me, who loves his family and struggles to provide for them, understanding and a desire for change begin to creep in.
Jesus dealt with individuals, not the faceless crowd. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, to the man with leprosy, to the little boy who offered his lunch, to the bent over woman. Jesus taught us to love our neighbours just as they are.
When we open our eyes and hearts to see people up close and accept them, we take a small step towards building a world of peace and love.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Luke 10:27
Close Up Living
(322 words)

My son and his family gave me a neat picture. In large block letters across a white background is printed “GRANDKIDS”. Within each letter is a picture of one or more of our grandchildren. From across the room I can see the colourful word, GRANDKIDS. Up close, I see our grandchildren as individuals, laughing, building a snowman, hugging each other.
That picture reminds me of a phenomenon of life. When we look out of an airplane window, we see miles and miles of orderly fields, tree tops, lakes, rivers, mountains and even cities set out in brilliant colours, a tapestry that seems to roll on forever. When we’re on the ground we see flowers and weeds, refuse and pristine parks. From a distance the world is beautiful. Up close, it retains its beauty, but also exhibits its flaws and its character.
The same thing happens with people. From a distance, those of a different culture or ethnic variety all look the same; they become “those” people. Up close, those same people become my neighbour, my daughter’s friend, my son-in-law, my minister. Up close, we can’t ignore the fact that they are God’s precious children. When the enemy has a collective name like “terrorist,” it is easy to hate them. When he becomes an individual like you and me, who loves his family and struggles to provide for them, understanding and a desire for change begin to creep in.
Jesus dealt with individuals, not the faceless crowd. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, to the man with leprosy, to the little boy who offered his lunch, to the bent over woman. Jesus taught us to love our neighbours just as they are.
When we open our eyes and hearts to see people up close and accept them, we take a small step towards building a world of peace and love.

Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Luke 10:27

Platters
Diet gurus tell us the best way to diet is to use a smaller plate. When Tom and I went to Beijing, China a few years ago, my son and his wife took us to a local restaurant, where the local Chinese villagers eat. The table was set with four tiny plates, each about four inches in diameter. The food was served in five small bowls. Tom and I frowned. Is this all? The bowls were passed and we took a tiny portion from each bowl. Our plates were full. The food was delicious. The bowls were passed again and again until they were empty. To our surprise, we had feasted and we were satisfied.
In North America many restaurants serve the food on “platters”. We smile with appreciation as the waitress sets before us, the “platter” almost overflowing with food. Our response – “Wow, now that is value for our dollar.” The problem comes when the meal is over, and a third of this delicious food returns to the kitchen garbage pail. Those of us who manage to eat it all complain about feeling stuffed and worry about gaining weight.
Think about the messages the “platter” gives us.
Wasting food is normal.
Greed is the way to get value for our money.
Eat more than you need, after all you’ve paid for it.
Scientists tell us that there is enough food produced in the world today to provide everyone, yes everyone, with at least 2,730 calories each day. The world’s agriculture produces 175 more calories per person today than it did thirty years ago, despite a seventy percent population increase. (International development research Centre). There really is enough food for everyone if it was distributed evenly. Platters for those of us blessed to be born in North America is not distributing the food evenly.
There is a restaurant chain in Montreal that serves only buffet meals. Once again, we are encouraged to eat as much as we want, but here there is a difference. In small print on the bottom of the menu is the message: “Each night the left over food from this buffet is given to soup kitchens across the city.” Now that truly is value for our dollar..
The next time you pull up to the table in a restaurant or at home, think on these things.

A Living Example

Today, I was reminded of my friend Margaret Murphy, who died several years ago. Marg knew all about living life well. Laughter followed her everywhere she went. She was never too busy to read a good book, enjoy a good meal shared with others, or learn something new. Marg had time for conversation with her friends and with God. She knew how to say thank you. Even when she was fighting to breathe, a smile would cross her face as she thanked a nurse or one of us for some small act of love and care. Her life was a lesson for me in following the way of Christ. She lived totally, every moment of her life.
We are all given the same twenty-four hours each day. How do we use them? I tend to hate wasting time sleeping. Yet sleep is God’s gift, given to enable our bodies to rest and repair after a strenuous day. Without sufficient and regular sleep, our bodies will eventually malfunction.
Many of us today, don’t think there is time to sit and eat a quiet meal. We gulp down fast food or even if we eat a more nutritious meal, we sit in front of our computer or the television. The ability to eat is God’s gift given so we will have fuel for living.
Often we don’t have time for exercise. There’s just too much to do and too little time. We forget that God has designed our bodies so that they need to move in order to remain supple and work well for us.
We know these things about our physical being and yet we ignore them.My friend Marg taught me not to ignore the things I need for healthy relationships with other and with God. She modeled a touch of love, small acts of kindness, saying thank you, an enthusiasm for every opportunity. She knew that these are the exercises that keep us young and filled with a passion for living.

Church Kids

At church last Sunday, two year old Lillas wandered around the pulpit while her big sister Hannah (age 8) read scripture with their grandfather. These children have been with our church familiy from their very beginning. In the comfort of their mother’s womb they listened to the hymns, prayers, scripture readings, even the sermon.
Often, parents say, “I won’t bring my children to church. I want them to choose for themselves, when they are old enough.”
I believe intelligent choices require knowledge. How can a child make a choice for a Christian lifestyle when she/he knows nothing about it?
At the moment these children know they belong with our church family. Whether or not in the future they choose a life long relationship with the church, the grounding in faith, they receive during the next few years will always be with them. As they participate in Junior Church, Church picnics & parties, and worship, they will learn the Christian story. They will learn that they are loved by God. God’s call to them to love others and all of God’s creation will be written on their hearts. Their parents love and faith are giving these two beautiful beloved children a solid foundation for living.

Thoughts on “My Jesus Year”

A few months ago, the book “My Jesus Year” by Benyamin Cohen grabbed my attention in the book store. The fly leaf synopsis spoke of Benyamin’s dissatisfaction with his Jewish heritage, and his subsequent journey to answer the question, “What would it be like to be a Christian?” I’ve finally had time to read it. It’s funny, actually hilarious, in places. It carries a message for people of all faiths, if we can be open to listen.
Interfaith dialogue, speaking with and experiencing worship with, people of other faiths will not destroy our own. When we begin with a solid grounding in our own faith, and we step out with an open and respectful attitude to others, God speaks to us. On the last page Benyamin says, “It took going out of my comfort zone, being a stranger in a strange land, to make me realize just how much I cherish my own faith. I now have a new appreciation for our prayers, our people and our rituals. It seems odd to say it, but I guess it’s true. Hanging out with Jesus has made me a better Jew.”
I believe that Benyamin is right. Openness rather than judgment, respect rather than fear, actual experience rather than hearsay can teach us so much. Although, at times I wished that Benyamin had written more about experiences with Christians like me, his respectful presentation of the many forms of Christianity had much to teach me. This book is a good read. I recommend it.

The 23rd Psalm

This morning I attended the 8:30 a.m. contemporary worship service at Christ Presbyterian Church, Tucson. Pastor Steve had arranged the chairs in groups so that we could work together. Many of you are familiar with the twenty-third Psalm. Our job was to finish the sentence : The Lord is my…. And then write a Psalm together based on the word we used to complete the sentence. At the end of worship, Pastor Steve challenged us to go home and write a psalm on our own. Here is my creation.

JESUS is my LIFE COACH. He called me to join his team. Together our goal is not to win a game, but rather to live a life of faith. Jesus walks this life with me, giving me comfort when I am hurting, strength when I am challenged, and praise when I do well. Because he is my coach, he does not live my life for me. He gives me the freedom to make mistakes and then picks me up and supports me as I begin again. Nothing, not even death will remove me from Christ’s team. This is my place and I am secure. When I feel like giving up, when I want to quit, even when I choose to follow another coach, my Jesus will not give up on me. He offers me advice, pushes and prods me, gives me strategies for living, and responsibility to care for others. He will never abandon me. He asks only for my love and gratitude. Jesus is my shadow and my friend. I am truly blessed.

Tucson, Arizona
For the last two weeks I have been enjoying the sunshine in Tucson Arizona. The desert is amazing in the spring. The landscape is awash with brilliant reds, yellows, oranges, blues and more. Flowers are literally everywhere. My mom lives in a well-manicured subdivision, similar to a city subdivision in Ontario and yet very different. Instead of wide expanses of green lawns, the yards are covered with brightly coloured gravel, raked to perfection. Rocks of every size, shape and colour add texture. Tall, short, skinny, barrel shaped, flat and always prickly, the cacti are in bloom. And of course there are trees – huge spreading eucalyptus, tall swaying palms, lebanon cedars, mesquite – the list goes on and on. This desert is not miles and miles of sand. It’s green and beautiful.

Why a “Good Friday” Service?

On Good Friday we hear the crowd call, “Crucify him. Crucify him!” and we wince. That’s not us. We weren’t there.
Years ago, I asked a counselor, “What is hell?”
His answer rings out in my mind, every Good Friday morning. “Think of hell as knowing and feeling in your entire being, all the pain you have caused in your life time.”
I spoke of Hitler and the crushing weight of pain he would endure.
The counselor shook his head. “How many wars have been fought to put gasoline in your car?” he asked.
I didn’t want to see my role in the world’s pain. None of us do. We close our eyes to the fact that many in the world go hungry in order to support our comfortable life style. We choose to see only our small bag of garbage rather than the mountains of garbage world wide. We ignore the pain given by a careless word of criticism and are ignorant of the ripple effect that word will have for strangers. We do not know, nor do we want to know the pain, the violence, the destruction we have caused in our life time. The little we do know is already more than we can bear.
On Good Friday we read Jesus’ word’s, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” In today’s words: “It’s not about me,” he says. “It’s about these your beloved children. Their fear, their desire for power or love, has taken over. They don’t understand the pain they are causing the world, pain that will last for generations. Please, forgive them.”
We celebrate “Good Friday” each year, not just to be reminded of what we do to bring chaos and destruction in our families and our world, but also to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness. We have the courage to open our eyes and hearts to understanding the far reaching consequences of even our smallest sin when we are assured of God’s forgiveness. Good Friday tells us that God loves us at our worst. We are forgiven. New life will happen. We can begin again. Easter Sunday is coming.

Here is Salome’s Story. Enjoy it and think about the message Salome has for you.

SALOME

My name is Salome. I am one of the older women who traveled with Jesus and supported his ministry with my work, my presence and with financial backing. My sister Mary, Jesus’ mother, was grateful that I was able to be part of his group. She felt I was caring for him.
As a child, Jesus’ astonished us with his compassion and caring for his family, friends and even strangers. The only time I can remember Mary and Joseph being upset with Jesus, happened in Jerusalem. A whole group of us had gone to the city to celebrate the Passover. We were a full days travel into the trip home when Mary came looking for Jesus. She thought, he was with us. My husband and I hurried back to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph. We searched everywhere. I remember Mary lamenting, “Jesus wouldn’t just run away. Someone has taken him by force. He may be injured. We have to find him. He’s my responsibility. I promised God I would care for him.” When we could think of no where else to look, we went to the temple to pray. There he was, sitting with the priests and rabbis. We were relieved and angry, all at once.
The young scamp responded, “Why were you worried. You knew I’d be here.”
I thought Mary was going to explode. Both she and Joseph kept silence on the way home, but I’m sure Jesus heard plenty later.
When Jesus started traveling the countryside preaching and healing, a number of families went with him. You’ve been told about the inner twelve men, but there were many more, women and children too. In fact it was the women of property, like myself, who contributed most of the financial support for his ministry. I remember Mary of Magdala and Joanna in particular. They gave freely of their wealth to meet the expenses of Jesus’ ministry. In our world, women were considered possessions useful only to produce children and be homemakers. Jesus honoured us as part of the leadership of his ministry. We listened to him preach, we cared for him, and the people who followed him.
For a while, it was wonderful. The crowds increased. The healing miracles seemed endless. When the rumours started we were surprised. How could anyone fear Jesus? Why would anyone want to harm him. All he talked about was loving God and loving others. Well, he did criticize some of the temple leaders and he treated women as equals. Some people definitely weren’t happy with him, but I didn’t think they’d hurt him. The Roman authorities worried about anyone among us who was popular. Once some people started talking of Jesus as the Messiah, the attitude of the Romans changed. They began to see him as dangerous, a rebel leader. He became a threat to the peace and order of the empire.
I remember the day his mother and brothers came to see him. I’m sure they wanted him to slow down, to do less, to come home and resume his work in Joseph’s carpentry shop where he would be safe. Jesus would have none of it. He wouldn’t even speak to them. He had started on a path and nothing they could say or do would stop him.
As long as Jesus stayed up in Galilee he was safe, but for some reason, he was determined to go to Jerusalem. You know what happened when he did.
Our arrival in Jerusalem was wonderful. We shouted and cheered and waved palm branches. We felt as if he truly was the Messiah and the victory had already been won. He planned all that you know. I heard him send the disciples for that donkey colt.
“Tell them the master has need of it,” he said.
He followed our parade with that chaos in the temple. Jesus saw all those poor people being cheated. He was angry, really angry. I’m sure that’s what did it. That’s what gave his enemies an excuse to act.
It wasn’t long until he was arrested. The whole time is etched in my memory. I see it when I lay down to sleep, and when I wake up. We stayed with him as best we could. We followed him as he staggered with that heavy cross beam through the streets, his body broken and bleeding. We stood, tears streaming down our faces when they nailed him to that cross. His mother watched it all, she would not leave him. Many of the men ran away in fear. We believed that being women no one would want to harm us, so we stayed with him. I’ll never forget his voice crying out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Our dreams were finished. He was dead. We went with Joseph of Arimathea and his servants when they carried Jesus’ body to the tomb. It was almost Sabbath, preparing his body would have to wait till dawn. In our culture, it is the women’s privilege to wash the body and wrap it in spices. As soon as the sun began to rise, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary his mother, and myself hurried to the tomb. We loved Jesus with our whole hearts. This was the last thing we could do for him.
“How will we roll away the stone that seals the tomb?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” Mary Magdalene answered, “I’ll bribe the guards.
When we arrived, the garden was empty. The tomb was open. We looked inside and saw two angels.
“He is risen, just as he said. Go and tell the others,” they commanded.
Terrified! Astonished! Confused! We turned and ran.
It was on our way back to tell the others, that we met him, the risen Christ. That’s right, we saw him. We fell at his feet.
“You’re alive,” we shouted, “alive”.
There are no words to describe our joy. We were so excited we could hardly breathe. Right then and there He commissioned us. He told us to go and tell the others. That’s right, he told us to carry the message. Our mission wasn’t over it was just beginning. Eventually, he talked to all of the inner group, but he spoke to us, a group of women, first. He asked us to carry his message first!

A LESSON IN LIVING

Feed the hungry; love the needy.
I know the drill.
Some tastes lovely; greed is, deadly.
God’s gift, free will.

The feast invites; my friend welcomes
Receive God’s love
Her smile beckons; her hands reach out
Accept her love.

More than you need; of course, that’s real
in our great land.
Enjoy the gifts; don’t waste the food.
That’s God’s command.

Table beckons, all decked in green
a gorgeous sight
Gleaming silver, precious china
This feast feels right.

The Parade appears; seven courses long
Exquisite, delicious, luscious, fine
Each course steps forward,
I’ll lose my mind.

Enjoy! Enjoy! my mantra chants.
I must eat some.
Choose with care; the words recite.
There’s more to come.

The final moment., a giant pie.
Greed shouts, “Yes.”.
Feed the hungry; they’re forgotten
I cut the slice.

With well-aged cheese, and ice cream too.
the taste divine,
Each bite brings joy; heavenly bliss
I’ve lost my mind.

Enough! Enough! Rebellion cries!
Too much! Too much!
Clean your plate; don’t waste good food
My past strikes back.

Too late, too late, my stomach screams
Sharp pain the cost.
The battle o’er; the plate wiped clean.
Free will has lost.