TWO BUILDINGS

One of the realities of being a pastor for rural churches is that I get to work in some really old buildings. One Sunday recently, both worship services occurred in old buildings. One dates back to 1835 and the other to 1833. In another pastorate, we were responsible for a building that was put up in 1810. By European standards, these are of course relatively new buildings—but by our standards, they are very old.

These buildings have all the drawbacks that you might expect from such an old building: limited facilities, inadequate electricity, inefficient heating systems, no cooling system, poor parking, uncomfortable and fixed seating. Most of them are wooden buildings, which always need serious work—the 1835 building needs sills replaced and the 1833 building has had major work done recently. The majority of them indicate their age with the tell tale scent of mold and decay. Basic maintenance jobs tend to be expensive and eat up lots of time, energy and money getting them taken care of.

There are some advantages to the buildings: we have a place for our church to gather, we can enjoy the old-time craftsmanship, we can complain about the hard seats. If we get enough money and support, we can and so make some modifications that make them better for our purposes.

But lots of people ask why we are so committed to these old, expensive, inefficient buildings. Generally, the only people not asking that question are the ones who have regularly worshipped in the buildings year after year. New comers, people from away, leaders of bigger congregations in other places, denominational dealership, even theology professors ask the question a lot, sometimes assuming that just because they ask the question, we inhabiting these old buildings will see the light and abandon the buildings.

But those of us who worship in such buildings aren’t asking the question. A person like me who has pastored congregations like this for years used to ask the question. These days, I don’t bother asking because I know the answer. Why do we in small churches keep meeting in old, antiquated, expensive to maintain and heat buildings? The answer is simple: because we can.

We don’t worship the building—well, maybe a few do. Mostly, we continue to inhabit our buildings because they are ours. We worship week after week and the building itself enhances our worship. Occasionally, the enhancement is a result of the building itself–the acoustics, the craftsmanship, the view—but more often, the enhancements occurs because of what the building houses.

It houses our memories. That seat at the back left—that is where I first went to Sunday School. The third pew from the front in the centre, that is where Deacon Zeke used to sit—he was a wise and wonderful example of the Christian faith. That pew right there—that is where I was sitting when I decided to follow Jesus. That Communion table—that was donated by my great-grandparents and my great-grandfather made it by hand from wood he cut himself.

The building houses other memories as well. We remember those we grieved and whose lives we celebrated at the funeral. We remember the weddings when new families came into being. We remember those who grew up in our midst and went on to serve God in the pulpit or the mission field. We are reminded each week of the faithful whose memories are collected and celebrated in our buildings.

We keep our buildings because they hold the memories. We keep our buildings because they allow us to celebrate the cloud of witnesses that are part of our story. We keep our buildings because they are a visible symbol of the endurance of our faith. We keep our buildings because they help our faith.

We don’t worship our buildings and we don’t need the building to have and express our faith. If the building is beyond repair or suffers a fire, we will grieve. We will mourn the loss—but we won’t lose our faith. We will still be believers, albeit believers struggling to find a place to locate our memories.

Our old, inefficient and expensive to maintain buildings could disappear and our faith would continue. But we have them—and because we have them, we can and do use them to enhance our faith.

May the peace of God be with you.

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YOU, ME AND JESUS

When I was starting out in the Christian faith and becoming involved in youth rallies and programs, we were introduced to a simple understanding of the way to really live life. We were taught JOY—the way of life was Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third. Some religious supply company or organization even produced a banner that was quite popular among many more conservative Christian groups—I think I had one that I carried around and posted prominently where ever my theological student wanderings took me.

The JOY idea is one of those religious catch phrases that sounds really good and is simple enough that anyone can understand it—and it has the added benefit of providing the perfect three-point outline for a sermon. It works on many levels, which is probably why it became something of a fad among some people for a time. It was also the perfect counter to the open self-centeredness that was becoming a significant part of our culture at the time.

But no matter how many levels it works on, it is a flawed statement. The theology is wrong and the approach to life it fostered was wrong. In many ways, it was a disguised version of the same old selfishness that plagued humanity from the beginning. In one of the perverse twists of apparent reality, putting ourselves last amounted to taking pride in our humility and our ability to take the last place. Following JOY, we all strove to be the least important, which ultimately meant that we are all pretty sure we were really important and therefore had to work hard to present ourselves as unimportant. Selfishness disguised as unselfishness is still selfishness.

The JOY approach did capture one basic truth—that the way to overcome selfishness is to put Jesus first. I suspect that the developers of that idea were not delving deeply into that part of the theology and psychology of the concept—they seem to have been more concerned with having us submit or defer to others.

Theologically, we human seem to have a built in need to serve something or someone. Sometimes, we serve ourselves; sometimes we serve something that benefits us; sometimes we get caught in something that ultimately harms us—but we all seem to need something beyond ourselves to follow and even serve. This gets confused and wrapped up in our selfishness and it sometimes becomes really difficult to determine where we end and the thing we serve begins.

Jesus, however, shows us a way to serve in a way that helps us deal with our selfishness without pretending we are less selfish that we really are. Mostly, he does that by example. Jesus never claimed to be the least of the least; he never developed a sense of false and sick humility. He was the son of God. He was God in human form. He had power and authority and was sinless and perfect and all that.

He was well aware of his place in the universe—all humanity depended on him and his decisions. He put humanity before himself in the sense that he gave up what was rightfully his; he accepted limits and limitations that he didn’t need to accept; he put up with stuff that he could have easily avoided—and all the while, he was aware of the fact that he was divine, powerful and didn’t have to do what he was doing.

He chose to do it as part of his commitment to the divine will. Jesus the son was serving God with his full being. He gave himself to God and for humanity, knowing exactly who and what he was and just how important he was. He was self-aware but not selfish.

That, I think, becomes the goal for us as his followers. We seek this sense of self-awareness of who and what we are and who and what we can be through Christ. Rather than trying to make ourselves unimportant, we can and should recognize the importance we have in God’s eyes. We are valuable to God; we are worth something to him; Jesus was willing to both die for us and rise to life for us.

My awareness of who I am because of God through Jesus allows me to commit to him—and gives me a way to overcome the selfishness that is at the root of all the evil in life. As believers, we are to develop self-awareness of our place with God.

May the peace of God be with you.

BEYOND SELFISHNESS

I am colour blind and by now, most people I spend any amount of time with know that. Most of them have asked me what it is like and I have given the explanation, including how I deal with traffic lights. But even with all that, people who know me well regularly give me directions that include turning at the orange and purple sign and following that road to the green house, directions that are incredibly useful to most people but which are totally useless to me and many others.

I also get really upset when I am reading a magazine that gives me a really interesting survey results in the form of a graphic in which each variable is represented by a different colour, all of which look pretty much the same to me, making the chart useless to me.

My response is simple: I am starting a movement to outlaw colour or at least colour where it matters. You can have your colours in the privacy of your own home, as long as you aren’t exposing children to them. But outside, there needs to be a complete absence of colour where it matters. Traffic lights, directions, magazine charts—anything that relies on colour will need to be re-formulated and re-visioned so that we who can’t see colour are not longer the victims of discrimination and prejudice and danger.

The unfortunate reality of our modern age is that it I actually started such a movement, there would be followers, some of whom would commit completely, filing the quest for a colour neutral world with anger and partisanship and bickering and maybe even anti-colour terrorism. We all want our agenda to be the agenda for everyone and struggle to deal with the fact that our wants and wishes are not the most important things in the world.

This is also an approach that is bound to create more problems than it solves because once I begin pushing my stuff, others feel the need to push back in defence of their stuff. If I see colour, why should I have my freedom limited because of those who can’t?

This is the problem of seeing ourselves as the centre of the universe—there is no room for anyone else. And this is the essential problem that God was faced with at our creation. We were created with self-awareness and self-understanding and the ability to love and appreciate ourselves. I think that is part of the meaning of being made in the image of God.

But we need to remember another part of the meaning of the image of God to balance this self awareness. Being made in God’s image also means that we were created to be in relationship with God. In fact, we can only realize the fullness of who we are and what we are meant to be when we are in relationship with God. This relationship with God gives us the proper perspective on creation. We are important and significant bur we are to be in relationship with God, a relationship which helps us understand the real order of creation.

We are not the centre of creation. Our thoughts and desires and wishes are not the be all and end all of everything. Getting my way isn’t the goal of life. Making people do things my way isn’t the purpose. Trying to make everyone into me isn’t why I am here.

The antidote to human selfishness is an openness to God. As we develop the relationship with God that is inherent to being made in his image, we learn how to deal with our selves without becoming self-centered. When we are God-centered, we fit in the universe. We discover that in God’s vision, we have a place that fits and works. We are not at the centre but we are in the universe, we are important and we do have a place.

Our faith is rooted our being willing to open ourselves to God and accept his vision and version. We are required to surrender our desire to be God and be willing to be in relationship with the real God, who by definition is a God of love and compassion. Surrendering our selfishness to His love and compassion allows us to become who we really are in a way that no selfish plans and schemes can ever do.

May the peace of God be with you.

RIGHT AND WRONG

I really enjoy the current emphasis in police TV shows and movies that puts lots of emphasis on using scientific, psychological and sociological input when it comes to solving crimes. I know enough about all those areas to know that in real life, things simply don’t happen that fast nor that easily but since it is TV and movies, I really don’t care—I am watching it for diversion, not education.

I am also interested in the way writers are seeking to deal with the realities of crime. In the old days of black and white TV, crime shows were simple: the bad guys were really bad and the good guys were really good. We all wanted the bad guys caught and we cheered for the good guys. These days, well, everyone is troubled and conflicted and crimes are generally committed by people who we would like to have coffee with, at least on the days when they aren’t going to commit some horrendous crime.

One show I was watching went even deeper to spend some time dealing with the confusing area of motivation. The murderer had committed several murders and as she was being interviewed, she revealed that she had no choice—the murders were the only way she could ensure that her daughter won the competition she was involved in. It was her duty as a parent to help her child.

Now, on some levels, I rebel at that woman’s explanation but on some other levels, what she is saying makes perfect sense. And even more, it strikes me that it is a very modern approach to a very old problem. Well, technically, it is a post-modern approach to an old problem.

Our behaviour is based on our underlying beliefs, our philosophy of life or our theology or however we describe the stuff underneath everything that defines reality and provides us with a sense of direction and morality and right and wrong. Our western culture used to have a fairly clear, dominant underlying foundation based loosely on the Judeo-Christian tradition with some bits and pieces added or subtracted for convenience. These days, we have replaced that with a variety of underlying ideas and philosophies, some of which make a bit of sense and some of which conflict with others. Taken all together, though, it means that we in the west really don’t speak the same ethical language anymore and even worse, we generally don’t want to understand another standard.

The bottom line is that right and wrong have become something of a popularity contest. If we can get enough people to support our particular approach to right and wrong, it becomes the norm. If we know how to use social media well enough to create a strong public response that will scare politicians enough, we can even create legislation that will give some serious legitimacy to our approach.

I am not going to complete this post by saying that we need to get back to the good old foundation that worked so well in the past. The most obvious problem is that the Judeo-Christian foundation didn’t work all that well. Our past is filled with injustice: the theft of native land, enslavement of non-whites, discrimination against out of favour faith expressions, prejudice of all kinds and shapes, rules and regulations that favoured some and harmed others. Our traditional sense of right and wrong was just as distorted and rotten as the present system of anything can be justified—in the end, it only works for some people some of the time.

Definitions of right and wrong come and go. Foundational systems rise and fall. The essential problem is that they are all flawed because of the fact that in the end, we are all selfish and self-centered individuals who think that we should have the freedom to do what we want while at the same time being able to make sure everyone else does what we want.

The essential selfishness is our basic human problem and it is what the Bible calls sin. We tend to think of sin as a list of right and wrong things—but those are only symptoms of the essential problem which is our selfishness. No system has even been developed that can really deal with that problem simply because those devising the systems are all selfish at heart themselves.

The problem isn’t the current philosophical foundation and the answer isn’t going back to an older one—the problem is the reality of our human nature and that takes something more significant to change, which we will look at in another post.

May the peace of God be with you.

WHAT DO I DO?

I had my dream job: I was teaching in Kenya, helping prepare students for ministry in a growing, independent denomination. I was teaching in English but had ample opportunity to use Kiswahili. Everything was great except for the fact that I didn’t seem to be able to establish a comfortable working relationship with the mission board leadership. Eventually, things got to the point where we were fired.

I was deeply hurt. I crashed into a depression which was made worse by the fact that very few churches want to call a pastor who was getting close to retirement age. My pain and hurt and disappointment and depression were deep and strong and more than I wanted to deal with. I wanted to finish my ministry teaching others some of the things I had learned over the years—but instead, I was unemployed and perhaps even unemployable.

I found myself sometimes engaged in an interesting process. I wanted the whole mission board leadership to fall apart. Their mishandling of the situation would be discovered, they would be fired, I would be vindicated and offered the job of rebuilding the whole thing. I would, of course, refuse to accept the job, preferring to see the whole thing crash and burn. If I was going to have to feel pain, they should also feel the pain.

It was a pleasant fantasy that got me through more than a few difficult nights. But I was never tempted to make it more than a fantasy. While having the whole leadership become unemployed and the whole organization come crashing down might have seemed like a fitting response to my pain, even if that had happened, I would still have been unemployed in Canada, not teaching in Kenya and more importantly, still dealing with as much pain.

I made a decision very early in the pain management process that I think was God-inspired—it certainly didn’t originate with me. I decided that I was going to let them go their way and I was going to go my way. I would speak neither for nor against them. The painful process we were involved in was done and in the past—nothing was going to change that.

By helping me accepting that reality and focus on dealing with my pain and hurt, I think I was given a gift of grace. God showed me a better way. Rather than try to make others feel pain, I was given the grace to see and feel and deal with my pain. This grace kept me where I needed to be—dealing with what I could deal with. I couldn’t change the decision that brought us home. I couldn’t alleviate my pain by causing others pain. I couldn’t bring peace by stirring up trouble for others.

I could, with the grace of God, see and deal with my pain. As I waded through depression and hurt and confusion, I was able to see how much I was hurt, why I was hurting, how the hurt was affecting the rest of my life. I was also able to see the grace that God was setting before me through empathetic friends, concerned pastors, even inspired strangers. God was and is at work, helping me not only see the reality of the pain I was experiencing but also helping me see that through his graceful presence, I could deal with the pain.

I was able to see how my personality interacted poorly with the corporate culture I was trying to work in. I was able to understand that when one thing falls apart, God in his grace has a plan B or C. I was able to see that in the power of God’s presence, I could live in spite of the hurt. I learned to deal with the pain in the way it needed to be dealt with. It is and was my pain and I needed to deal with it internally. Fortunately, I had the grace and presence of God to help me in the process.

I still am aware of the pain that came from the whole event. But I am doing okay—I am not depressed, I am involved in what I see as an important ministry and I am at peace. The mission board hasn’t collapsed and they haven’t offered me the job of reforming it but that really doesn’t matter—with God’s grace, I learned to deal with the pain.

May the peace of God be with you.

I HURT!

Because I am a pastor who is also a news junkie, I am exposed to a lot of pain. Some of it is up close and personal, as I work with the victim of some unspeakable abuse or spend time with a family grieving an unexpected and unfair death. Some of it is less close and less personal, as I watch news reports of someone who had enough and expressed their pain and hurt in very public ways or hear the interviews with the survivors of such an event. Occasionally, my own pain becomes a factor in the process, as I deal with the limits imposed by aging and so on.

So I spend a lot of time around pain. And as might be expected, I have been thinking about what I am seeing—and what I am seeing both saddens and inspires me. The part that saddens me is what has been on my mind today.

When people hurt, it seems that a large number of us want other people to hurt as well. Sometimes, we show that by calling for severe punishment on those who caused the hurt. It is not uncommon for the family of a murder victim to sum up their calls for punishment by saying something like, “Our loved one will never be with us again—why should the murderer be allowed to live?” While I can understand the thinking, it does seem to suggest that at least some people think that if they hurt, others must hurt as well.

Sometimes, when the press covers some mass shooting, they tell the story of an individual who was bullied, marginalized and deeply hurt by others. Some of these people respond by harming themselves—but these days, many are prompted to grab a gun or a knife or a car and inflict pain on others. While I have a great deal of empathy for the victims of bullying and social hurt, it appears to me that some of the victims at least operate on the principle that if I hurt, others must hurt as well.

As a pastor and a pastoral counsellor, I am very much aware of the fact that when pain and hurt are shared, they are much easier to bear—but what I am seeing so much of is not this healthy, therapeutic and healing sharing. What I am seeing too much of is the desire to make others hurt. It is almost as if our society has decided that the only way I can deal with my hurt and pain is to make sure that others hurt as well. If those others are somehow responsible for my pain, that is great but in the end, it seems that when we hurt, we just want others to hurt as well. In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot why they hurt, it just matters that they hurt because we hurt.

Objectively, this is a pretty dumb idea. I really can’t relieve my pain by making someone else feel pain. At the very best, causing pain to others provides a temporary distraction from the reality of my pain—and when the distraction wears out, I still have my pain to deal with. Making others hurt neither decreases nor shares my pain, it just increases the overall level of pain in the world and creates more people who want to make others hurt in a vicious cycle that never ends.

Whether we call it justice or revenge, causing pain for others isn’t a way of dealing with my pain. Certainly, there is a need for justice—but justice isn’t pain relief. Revenge—well, revenge merely distracts with golden promises and delivers only more pain. I simply can’t deal with my pain and hurt by causing others to experience pain and hurt. It just doesn’t work—in fact, it has the opposite effect overall.

The pain and hurt I feel are inside me—and the reality is that dealing with that pain and hurt is an internal process. I have to deal with me. It is my pain. I am suffering. I hurt. And I need to discover how to deal with that pain within me. It can be done—but trying to deal with my pain by making others hurt is a lose-lose solution.

May the peace of God be with you.

A MOMENT IN TIME

It was a hot, muggy Sunday evening. The humidity and heat made the thought of getting out of the air-conditioned car painful, especially since I knew that the church building where I would be preaching the evening service would be uncomfortable. I was also pretty sure that our attendance would be down that evening—a good number of our people were travelling or having family events or not planning on attending. About the only positive note for the evening was that the tide was coming in and that might mean a slight drop in temperature.

I arrived my usual half-hour before worship time. I could hear the organist practising the music for the evening. The building is located high over the water and as I looked down to the water, I could see the tongue of fog that sometimes accompanies the tide on hot days like this. I picked up my jacket and carried it, my briefcase and my water cup into the church. The building was as warm and stuffy as I expected it to be. The organist and I had a talk about the weather, our week and the music for the evening. I organized all the stuff I think I need to have organized for the service.

Then, as the organist began to play over one of the hymns we were going to use for the introductory hymn sing, I went outside to stand on the steps where it was just a bit cooler. I stood and watched the fog rolling in—from the building steps, I could look down from above the fog. In the background, the organist was playing Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah, one of my favourite hymns.

I would like to say that everything changed in that moment: the temperature dropped to more comfortable levels, the humidity disappeared, the people who wouldn’t make it to the service all changed their minds, I wasn’t tired and uncomfortable any more. None of that happened. But I did have the opportunity to watch the fog roll in, enjoy the slightly cooler temperature that the incoming tide and fog brought with it and listen to the music in the background. It was a moment.

There was no earth-shaking revelation; no major re-alignment of priorities; no miraculous change of attitude. There was just me on the steps, watching the fog and listening to someone play one of my favourite hymns well. It was a moment of peace and relaxation in a busy, uncomfortable day.

After a few minutes, the hymn ended and the organist began to change the hymn numbers, the first cars bringing worshippers showed up and I remembered a couple of things that I hadn’t yet done. The evening worship service was beginning. I greeted people, we talked about the heat and our need for rain. We discussed health issues and family issues. We laughed and talked and settled in for worship, which moved along at its own pace.

I did my pastor thing: talking and listening; leading worship; preaching the sermon and pronouncing the benediction. My moment on the building steps didn’t make much difference to that whole process. It didn’t change who was there and who was away. It didn’t make me throw away the sermon and do something different. But it was still an important moment, a time to slow down and enjoy something that doesn’t happen all that often. I can’t say it brought me a deeper sense of peace or connection with God; it didn’t slow the rushing of my mind; it didn’t reconnect me with my inner self.

But it did make a difference. I slowed down for a bit. I appreciated the beauty of the creation around me. I gave some thought to the physics of cold water and warm air producing fog. I really listened to some good music.

Had I not had that moment, things that evening would have followed pretty much the same pattern. But I did have that moment and it was and remains important and valuable. I probably won’t be telling my grandchildren about it when I am old(er) and grey(er). But it was important and I do appreciate it and it did make a difference so I thanked God for it and went on with life, a bit better because of that moment.

May the peace of God be with you.

SUMMER SLUMP

I have been a bit concerned these last few days about my mental state. Work has become harder and harder: after writing two sermons this week, I sat down to work on a short devotional for an upcoming nursing service and had nothing. I puttered for about an hour, writing out the order of service, finding a suitable text for the service, trying to develop an idea but nothing was coming. And to make matters worse, the solitaire game that normally helps me think picked this day to present me with essentially unwinnable games.

I coupled that with my general lethargy—I am not overly interested in doing much these days. The thought of moving from the chair is quickly banished by the realization that if I sit just a bit longer, I just might be able to fall asleep.

My thinking eventually caught up with my symptoms and I began to wonder if I had somehow slipped into a depression. Normally, I am pretty vigilant and have a pretty good idea when I am moving in that direction and as well, a pretty good idea why I am moving that way. But I don’t always catch myself and so on some levels, I was beginning to worry that I was slipping into a depression. Part of me was concerned but another part of me just wanted to click on another Youtube video that I might end up sleeping through.

The part of me that is a bit more mature did manage to keep working and I have decided that although depression is a possibility, it is more likely that I am suffering from a basic summer slump. It has been hot, humid and not overly busy these last couple of weeks. The heat and humidity keep me from doing a lot outside and the not overly busy allows me to realize that I have been pushing myself since the beginning of April. With some breathing space in my schedule, I am realizing how little breathing space I have had since then.

I also realized that part of the not wanting to do anything is a result of the fact that I have two weeks of vacation coming pretty quickly. We will attend a family reunion, have some time with two of our children and their families and I won’t have to write a sermon for two weeks. The anticipation is likely working away somewhere in my mind, suggesting that maybe since the break is coming, we might just as well start early.

So, the bottom line is that I am not depressed and am not likely getting close to a depression. I am tired, I need a vacation and the heat and humidity make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. I suspect that if I am not careful this naturally occurring summer slump could turn into a depression so I have to keep an eye on things. Managing a pre-vacation slump is much easier than managing a depression, though.

Because it is hot and humid, I am not much interested in doing a lot of physical stuff—but instead of mindlessly watching videos or TV, I have been reading some of the books I have bought with the gift cards I have accumulated. It is amazing what great stuff is available on Ebook sites at sale prices.

I make an effort to move, even when it is hot and humid. The lawn needs to be mowed, the planter with my lettuce and tomato plant need weeding and watering, the mail needs to be picked up, and the rotten board on the deck does need to be replaced. I also need to give some thought into how I am going to turn a couple of pieces of rescued birch firewood into candle holders for our Advent celebration this year, although it is a bit hard to think of Advent when it is so hot. And of course, the vacation is coming. I can deal with the stuff I need to do before that—it will get done, even the reluctant nursing home service.

Until then, I will do what I need to do, relax when I have the opportunity, enjoy the books, survive the heat and plan for the vacation. I am in an understandable slump, not a worrying depression. And now, I have to move because the lawn needs to be mowed before it gets too hot.

May the peace of God be with you.

TREES

Years ago, I was travelling in rural Saskatchewan, speaking at various churches about our upcoming work in East Africa. I was roaming the province, following a schedule put together by someone somewhere. Each day brought visits to several places and a variety of forms of transportation to get from one place to another. Sometimes, I was on a bus; sometimes, I was being driven by a church volunteer; occasionally, I was in a taxi. I was sometimes in several different homes and church buildings in the course of a day: wake up in one place, have lunch at another, have supper in yet another, and spend the night on one more.

It was an interesting trip and one where I discovered something interesting about myself. As I was driven over the vast open spaces of Saskatchewan, I was enjoying seeing a whole new geography: rolling plains that stretched for miles was something that I had only read about and seen on TV and movies but now, I was on them travelling uncounted miles over them. After a few days, I realized that there was something on the plains that always caught my eye and captured my attention.

I was generally travelling in farm country and most farm houses had a square of trees protecting the house from wind and hot sun. These little squares of trees always took my attention. The huge tractors in the fields were interesting; the square mile cultivated grain fields were awesome; the endless vistas provided by the geography were inspiring—but the squares of trees where what I kept looking for and focusing on. And one trip took us through an area with an actual forest—that produced a level of peace and comfort that actually surprised me.

I discovered that I need trees. I need to be able to see them and hear them. The bigger they are, the better. The thicker the growth, the more inspiring. One of the only negative aspects of living in East Africa was the relative lack of real trees in our area. We lived in a dry area and the trees tended to be scrubby throne trees scattered over large plains—there were very few big, fully developed, actual trees, although we were fortunate to have some in front of the house.

When I first walked among the towering giant trees on Canada’s west coast, it felt like a touch of heaven—trees that hurt my neck to look up at them, trees so big around that they could be hollowed out and used as a home, trees that when they died and fell provided a new beginning for lots of life forms.

Trees provide me with something that grounds me. Large, mature trees towering over me provide a sense of peace and stability. And that is true no matter what is affecting the trees. A tall oak tree on a calm sunny day is restful and inspiring. That same tree being whipped about by strong winds is still inspiring and oddly calming. In the winter, the bare branches trace interesting and intricate shapes against the leaden sky that are still inspiring and peaceful.

I imagine that part of the attraction of trees is that I grew up with trees all around. I played in and on trees. I cut and processed trees for firewood. I built and build useful stuff from trees. But if I never burned another stick of wood or used another board for a project, I would still need trees just because their presence calms and relaxes me.

As I studied science in school and university, I discovered a great deal about the ecological niche trees occupy. I discovered how tree varieties succeed each other, with each generation preparing for the next. I discovered their value as carbon sinks. Trees provide significant amounts of oxygen and filter out tons of junk.

With all that I learned, I don’t believe that God created trees just so that I could have something to make my life calmer and more peaceful but I am deeply grateful that he did create them. Something about trees touches me at a deep level of my being and provides something that I can’t get elsewhere. The wonders of creation are never ending.

May the peace of God be with you.

BACK TO BASICS?

It’s summer time. At worship, we have an ever shifting congregation because of summer travel. Some travel to our area and join us for worship while others travel away from our area and are therefore absent from our services. A few are involved in seasonal activities that involve commitments on Sunday and there are a few who simply decide to take the summer off. The end result is that most of the time, summer feels like a slower, less hectic and less stressed time in the church.

Summer provides time for a couple of things for me as a pastor. The first is that I get to slow down a bit myself and recover some of the overtime hours that I accumulate during more active times in the church cycle. I am actually getting pretty good at that—I rarely feel guilty enough to find work to do and can even relax a bit during these hours.

And the second thing I get to do is slow down and do some thinking and examining and planning. Some of it is very work focused—I have time to look at what I will be preaching on in the fall and do a bit of research on the coming Bible study topics. I can and do try to see the bigger picture of the church, where we are and where God is trying to lead us. It is much easier to do this sort of thing when there isn’t the pressure of the next meeting or sermon or study.

Some of the thinking and examining and planning focuses on my personal choices: when do we take vacation and what do we do? I might actually find the time to take that long delayed trip to the city to replace my ailing e-reader. And there just might be time to replace the rotten board on the deck.

And some of my thinking concerns personal directions: when do I retire? Do I continue working on this blog? If we do actually retire someday, where do we want to live? Can I actually live without having to do at least one sermon every week?

This last category of questions is the most difficult and probably most important in many ways. While I have already passed the socially accepted age for retirement, I am still working and not actively planning a retirement date. But the time is coming. I realize that I am tired—not physically tired and not emotionally tired so much as vocationally tired. Ministry, at least the way I have practised it, is demanding. It takes a lot of energy to do the work that I believe God has called me to do.

I work closely with people in lots of different life situations. I work hard at finding the messages from God for the people I have been called to serve. I take seriously my role as pastor and teacher. I spend a lot of time with a lot of people in contexts as diverse as potluck picnics and grief counselling. And I personally do all this as an introvert, which I am sure must add another layer of complexity to the equation.

As a result, some of my summer time thinking these days has focused on some important and basic “why” questions: Why keep working? Why keep writing a blog? Why mow the lawn? (Well, maybe not that one). The thinking and examining process has been interesting and valuable, although the only answer I have come up with so far is “because”, which is really a non-answer that suggests I don’t yet have any real reason for making big changes like retiring from work or blogging just yet.

And that is probably the best I am going to get during this spell of thinking and examining. I am vocationally tired but I don’t think I have finished the work I have been called to do where I am now. Some days, I am not overly interested in writing a blog but overall, I still like writing and eventually I discover something that interests me enough to write about. And the thought of lots and lots of free time is appealing but not quite appealing enough just yet to overcome the need to follow the calling that God has given me.

May the peace of God be with you.