6:00 AM MONDAY MORNING

Yesterday was an extremely busy Sunday. It was the day we switch back from evening services to afternoon worship in one pastorate and the day we had a planning meeting after morning worship in the other pastorate. I had perhaps 30 minutes at home between the two events, just time enough to take a very brief nap and grab the afternoon worship briefcase. Fortunately, we had lunch as part of the planning meeting.

Sunday evening was basically spent trying to stay awake until bedtime, something that I accomplished but just barely. So, 6:00am Monday morning comes, as it inevitably does. It is somewhat dark; I am still tired; I don’t have to work today; it is warm and cosy in bed. But it is 6:00am, time to get up. As I reluctantly crawl out of bed and head for the exercise bike, I ask myself exactly why I am doing this. My wife is still sleeping, her dog isn’t interested in getting up, nobody else on our street is moving—so why, on my day off am I dragging my still tired self out of bed to start another day when nobody is requiring me to do that and a most other people I know would quickly suggest I was more than a bit strange for doing so?

I didn’t get an answer when I was biking. No great insights appeared in the Bible reading I was doing. Nothing that I read on the news feeds gave me reasons for getting up so early on a non-work day. I finished my hour on the bike and headed back to the kitchen. The dog was still not interested in getting up. My wife still sleeping. The neighbourhood was still silent. I opened the curtains, turned on the laptop and poured my granola over a cut up banana and sat down in my work chair by the living room window.

And as I sat down, I realized why I was doing this. This is my time, a time and space when I can do what I want with no outside demands. I have sermons to write—but they can wait until tomorrow and the next day. I have people to visit—but they can wait until I begin work tomorrow. I have a report on the meeting to get ready—but that doesn’t need to be done until next Sunday.

Right now, all I have to do is eat my granola and banana and write what I want to write—or not write, if I choose. I realize that this time is my gift to myself, a time and space when I can focus on me and my stuff. It is quiet, peaceful, comfortable. Nobody is going to bother me, unless there is some terrible catastrophe—but those tend to be rare and so basically, I have this time to myself.

I might be tired—but I can nap later. That isn’t a real issue since I would likely nap anyway, whether I got up at 6:00am or 8:00am. What I can do is enjoy the peace and solitude and freedom from demands, except for the few that I put on myself for this time, demands that are essentially what I want to do anyway. The only extraneous demand during this time comes from the dog, who often decides that he should probably wake up and make a trip outside—but that is much easier to deal with than writing sermon or preparing a funeral message or making a pastoral visit.

This short time on Monday morning seems to have become an oasis for me, a time when I put everything else on hold and minister to myself. I can write a blog post, stare out the window, read an interesting article I run across getting to somewhere else, check out some blogs that I like, eat my breakfast. I could sleep in but in truth, as much as I might appreciate the extra sleep, I think I would miss the blessings of the unstressed and undemanding time provides me. There may be Monday mornings when I choose to sleep in but mostly, I recognize that I need this time for my own personal spiritual and emotional health.

May the peace of God be with you.

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BE ANGRY—AND DON’T SIN

I have always had a problem dealing with my anger. Now, if anger were an infrequent and uncommon emotional response in my life, I wouldn’t have as big a problem dealing with it. An emotional response I have once on a blue moon is much easier to handle than one that happens all the time and where one episode impinges on another. But I get angry a lot—my emotional response to a lot of issues involves anger.

I get angry when someone cuts me off in traffic—and I get angry when I cut someone off in traffic. I get angry when religious leaders abuse their position and harm others. I get angry when self-serving politicians lie and cheat. I get angry when children starve while over-weight people don’t care. I get angry when I get hurt. I get angry when I can’t find the advertised sale item that I have gone to buy. I get angry when I am not as prepared for worship as I want to be. I get angry when the hero in the movie gets cheated and beaten up by the bad guys.

Now, before you get the idea that I am a seething ball of anger who is going to snap and so something that will make the national news, let me state very quickly that my anger is a normal reaction in most of those situations. Anger is a natural and normal emotional response, one that all of us experience. Most anger is a momentary experience that we move on from, like most emotional responses.

When I see a beautiful sunset, I feel a sense of joy, which I move on from to other emotional responses. When a driver cuts me off, I get angry—and then I move on from that anger to something else on the drive. Joy, happiness, anger—they are all equally valid emotional responses that all of us have all the time.

But anger has a way of getting out of balance, probably because we don’t really know how to deal with it. Anger is a heavy and even scary emotion and we have generally been trained to avoid it in ourselves and others. Being angry has often been equated to being bad and sinful and wrong.

But anger isn’t bad or sinful or wrong. Some of the consequences of anger can be bad or sinful or wrong but the anger itself is simply one of the many emotional responses that God created us to experience. What we need to learn is how to better process our anger.

Ultimately, we are angry in response to something. And I have realized that the key to handling to my anger is discovering what it is that has produced the anger response and dealing what that. When I am angry, I need to look at what created the anger. I deal with the anger by dealing with the context that produced the anger.

So, a driver cuts me off and I get angry. My anger is a result of my fear about what could have happened and the lack of respect the other driver showed. I can nurse and feed my anger or I can recognize and accept the fear and hurt and concentrate on driving defensively so I can be ready when someone does that again.

Or, my employer treats me unfairly, maybe even fires me. I get angry because I have been treated unfairly and fired. I can nurse and feed my anger or I can think of a constructive way to deal with the situation: by filing a complaint with the appropriate body, taking legal action, finding another job or making a conscious decision to move on. All of these can be appropriate responses to the anger producing situation.

In effect, I have discovered that the best way to deal with my anger is to discover and deal with the cause of the anger. Anger is an emotional response to something, a marker to show me that something is having a negative effect on me. When I follow the anger to its source, I have something clear to deal with. Dealing with the source can be difficult but it is much better than letting the anger fester and take over my life. I would much rather use my anger as a way to improve things than let it rule my life.

May the peace of God be with you.

DON’T TALK TO ME!

I was very happy about the fact that one particular story didn’t get resurrected at our recent family reunion since it involved me. According to the story, I was upset over something and was outside grumping. A neighbour walked by and said something to me, at which I am supposed to have responded, “Don’t talk to me cause to be I’s mad.” I am pretty sure the whole story was made up, likely by some family member looking to divert attention from themselves.

I had—and still have to some extent—a problem with anger. Things and people would set me off and I would react. I had a variety of responses, depending on the level of anger and the context. Sometimes, the anger would lead to depression and self-isolation. Sometimes, my anger would lead me to break things, including my own treasures. At other times, my anger would express itself in caustic and deliberately hurtful comments. And there were times when my anger would cause me to respond physically.

Part of my growth process as a person and as a Christian was learning how to deal with my anger in healthy and positive ways. I won’t make any extravagant claims about how I have completely conquered my anger. It is still a reality and I still need to keep an eye on it and every now and then, it manages to break through the barriers and cause me and others problems. I have learned to understand my anger and have developed ways to deal with it that are consistent with my faith, mostly.

But I am always aware of the potential—which perhaps explains why I am so aware of the level of anger I see around me. We seem to have developed a very angry culture here in North America. No news report is complete without an interview with someone who is passionately angry about whatever the report is about. Anger shows up in the form of road rage, gang violence, social movements, protests.

It seems like no one can express an opinion or idea without someone getting angry and expressing that anger. If I think school buses should be yellow, someone is most likely going to angrily express the opinion that I am wrong, while at the same time expressing opinions on my intelligence and heredity. As we argue further, we will probably begin to hurl threats and maybe even engage in some form of violence.

It seems that we have allowed our culture to legitimize unhealthy anger. We don’t process anger—we express it. We don’t try to understand and deal with our anger—we broadcast it. We don’t grow through our anger—we seek to cause pain and hurt. This epidemic of anger has created a cultural context where everyone is somewhat paranoid and we are all on edge, wondering who is going to start shooting where.

I am very aware that anger is a legitimate, normal and even valuable emotional response. We were created with the ability and need to be angry. But it seems that we struggle with figuring out what to do with this emotion. At times, we have tried to force people to repress their anger, an approach that was and is extremely unhealthy. Repressed anger is extremely unhealthy for individuals and society—I am pretty sure that much of the depression that I struggle with is a result of repressed anger.

But at the same time, unrestrained anger is just as unhealthy to individuals and society. The kind of anger that I see so much of these days, the anger that is always present and which shows itself with little or no provocation is not helpful.

In the end, when anger expresses itself in violence that causes people to be hurt and killed, it doesn’t much matter if the actions are the result of long repressed anger or open, burning anger—the damage is the same. The ever increasing anger level in our culture is a serious problem, one that we don’t seem to really know how to handle.

Anger is a part of our emotional response to the world. It is a basic part of the makeup of humanity, a part that God gave us and which he had a purpose for. But if we don’t learn how to deal with our anger, well, the results are visible on every newscast.

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.

WHO ARE YOU?

Every now and then, I get caught by my assumptions. I learn a thing or two about someone or something and on the basis of that, I assume a whole bunch of things. One of these situations involved someone who showed up as a worship service where I as preaching. I knew a bit about the person—he was a member of a fairly conservative church group that I knew something about. I didn’t agree with some of the group’s ideas and practises—I am somewhat less conservative than that group.

That particular Sunday, the sermon was on a topic that could have created some real issues between this person and me. I was in the middle of a sermon series and was dealing with a topic where that group he represented had some seriously different ideas from mine. I was pretty sure that my sermon would offend him. My assumption was that it he didn’t walk out during the sermon, I would either be ignored at the end or get told how wrong I was.

All through the sermon, I was conscious of that person and their response. I didn’t preach to him alone. I didn’t ignore him or spend all my time watching his reaction but I was aware of his presence and basically assumed that he was going to be upset by what I was saying. He didn’t give out much in the way of body language but I was pretty sure that he didn’t like it—my assumptions are based on lots of experience with his group.

He didn’t actually leave, nor did he go to sleep or stare out the window during the sermon. He didn’t get visibly agitated or angry—I assumed that he had been taught to control himself in preparation for setting me straight at the end of the worship. The sermon ended, we sang the hymn—I sort of hoped that he would sneak out during the singing but he didn’t. We finished the hymn, I pronounced the benediction and limped towards door to greet everyone as they left.

The rest of the church spent some time talking with this guy, welcoming him and all that and so it was a while before he got to the back. I stuck out my hand to shake his. He grabbed my hand, shook it firmly and told me that my sermon was the best and clearest treatment of the topic that he had ever heard. Over the noise of the rest of the members chatting and laughing, I heard the sound of my assumptions shattering.

I will confess right now that this is a preacher story—there is a core of truth in it but I have embellished it a bit and jammed several incidents together . We preachers simply have an inborn inability to release a story without some polishing and editing. But the story does capture a common reality for me. I tend to make judgments based on my assumptions that turn out to be seriously and completely wrong.

Fortunately, God has been at work through the Holy Spirit to help me grow through such incidents. It has happened enough that you would think I would have learned a long time ago not to make such assumptions but I am not all that bright, I guess, because I keep doing the same thing time after time.

This does help me understand the reality and power of God’s grace, though. God uses an incident to teach me something that I need to know. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I learn the lesson. And then, through the power of my humanness, I forget the lesson and make the same mistake based on the same assumptions. God, in his infinite grace, forgives me and uses another incident when I make the mistake to teach me again. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I learn the lesson, only to forget it again and need a refresher.

God reveals his infinite love and grace and patience because as many times as I need the same lesson, God will happily provide it. And if and when I finally learn the lesson, he will move on to something else that I need to learn. I am a slow learner but God is a loving and patient teacher, which is great for me and everyone else.

May the peace of God be with you.