Sunday, 19 August 2012

Stop Being So Stupid

Once upon a time there were two young siblings who spent their days playing with each other happily except for getting into fights every five minutes. Both of them were regularly frustrated to the point of tears …and punches. One day recently, an arbitrating parent halted the violence yet again, and asked for negotiation.
Parent, to Sibling #1 “What would you like him to do?”
Sibling #1, “Stop being so stupid!”
Sibling #2, in a moment of wisdom beyond his years, “How am I supposed to do that?”

I have yet to outgrow completely the bad habit of being frustrated by other people’s “stupidity”. Oh, I wouldn’t say it to their faces, and I struggle and pray to stop thinking it silently. 
But still at times, when another driver forgets to signal a turn, or when I read the “Comments” section on a website (now who’s stupid?), or when I hear certain politicians speak, or when a fellow committee member arrives fifteen minutes late to every single meeting and every time apologizes and offers some reason why she’s late this time, or when I watch a parent talking on a cell phone as they drag their precious toddler along by the hand, I may think ugly thoughts. And then there are those inconsiderate pet owners with their unleashed, pooping, barking, trespassing, cute little animal friends. Oh dear.

Thank goodness I don’t hear it when other people lament my own stupidity, although I have seen them using sign language when I’ve made a driving mistake. I scare myself sometimes when I remember that my stupidity likely extends way beyond my own awareness. Maybe there are folks all around me praying for patience with me (maybe?!). After kicking around the theme of this post I found myself wishing that some brave, kind soul would gently tell me about any of my hurtful patterns that I haven’t noticed.

Meanwhile, I’m considering getting this bible verse tattooed somewhere on my body where I might notice it several times a day:

“Don’t judge…Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7)

Monday, 13 August 2012

No Need To Travel

I felt drunk. On an August day in my Toronto backyard I lay in my hammock intoxicated with Nature’s sweet largesse. 

Green surrounded me, above, beside, and below, celadon, lime, jade, olive. The hammock hung above my scrubby lawn whose grass was threaded by plantain and clover. I looked up through a thousand leaves that sprouted from a giant Manitoba Maple, a “junk” tree as foresters call it, not one of the sturdiest species. But really, what benighted soul could classify this fractal wonder as “junk”? Look at its angling branches long enough and awe creeps in. 
On either side of me grew ferns, Lilies of the Valley and Spirea bushes, all foliage at this time of year. Leaves and grass blades flagged nature’s irrepressible life. 

The sunny aqua sky held a few popcorn clouds. Random breezes tickled the maple leaves into shimmying and I saw that the same wind was creating a dance floor out of the lawn, with roaming spots of light and shadow.

Cicadas’ loud whirring filled the air. Clutches of sparrows dashed here and there from lilac to forsythia shrubs, twittering their familiar chatter. A finch whistled soprano notes. I searched for him and spied his flashy yellow feathers accessorized smartly with black. He perched on the stalk of a mustard-yellow yarrow plant in my neighbour’s garden. Nearby, puffs of brilliant white phlox stretched in the warm light, looking like fluffy clouds themselves.
High above it all, swallows flew spectacular swoops while peeping modestly.

As if to underline the abundance, two monarch butterflies floated in to settle on the milkweed plants next door. Suffusion of beauty.

Then an unannounced circus act began. 
One of the resident squirrel gymnasts began to tight-rope along a telephone wire 12 feet in the air. Half-way across the yard she lost her balance and swung upside down, still clutching the wire from below with all four paws. Embarrassed, I’m sure, she seemed to pretend that her slip was part of the act and carried on rapidly, now hanging beneath the wire, scrambling toward the nearest pole. When she was safely upright again she shook herself off, ignored my laughing applause, and ran out of sight.

With one foot I gently rocked the hammock, wishing everyone could have such joy.

Pied Beauty 
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Cucumber Conflict

In Saturday’s National Post newspaper there was a full-page ad by the Jewish social justice organization called B’nai Brith. Its headline asked why the United Church of Canada is against Israeli cucumbers. Apparently there is much discussion among UCC leaders about a proposal to boycott products that come from Jewish settlements in territory whose ownership is violently disputed with Palestinians. Evidently the Jewish Canadians in B’nai Brith don’t think that Canadian Christians should criticize Israel’s actions.

Since I attend a United Church and have a Jewish daughter and son-in-law (not to mention their baby boy, my adorable grandson) I was very interested in this advertisement. What a strange sensation I had looking at an ad that costs thousands of dollars published with the goal of criticizing my church by folks who purport to protect my precious Jewish grandson.  

But of course I already knew that there is nothing simple about the relationship between Christians and Jews (and Muslims).
The history and current details of the issues in the Middle East, especially, are convoluted and tragic. Anyone who hopes for peace in the Middle East weeps with longing.

But what about here, within the Canadian community and within my family? 

After seeing Saturday’s ad, it was reassuring to attend a worship service this morning at my local United Church.
 The minister happened to be preaching about the ancient, revered Jewish king, David. We heard about David’s shocking rebellion against God’s moral law in committing adultery with Bathsheba and then ensuring the death of her husband in battle. Shortly afterward, the godly prophet, Nathan, confronted the king with his evil behaviour, and David had the insight and humility to repent of his sin. His change in direction, his conversion, so to speak, is reflected in Psalm 51.  It is a wrenching cry from a broken heart for God's help.
As Jesus confirmed, none of us is without sin. An attitude of blind self-righteousness can cause deadly destruction. We all need to depend on God’s merciful forgiveness and to keep setting our feet back on the right path.

After the service I took out the page of newspaper and discussed the ad with some folks at church. Shaking our heads in grief at this public conflict between Jews and Christians in Canada, we talked about the human responsibility so clearly described in Micah 6: 

“Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God”

We reminded each other that not every Canadian Jew, nor even every Israeli, agrees with every Israeli action. Nor does every member of the UCC agree with every other member or their leaders (as if). As I joked with one friend, “even in a family people don’t agree”
She laughed, “I don’t even always agree with myself!”

Let’s refuse to be drawn by any group-think. Let’s educate ourselves and listen to those who disagree with us. And beyond that, let’s persevere in admitting our own failures. May we uphold justice but never give it prominence over humility and mercy.  And let’s continue to hope for true peace, “for with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).