The Extra in the Ordinary 

Written on February 2, 2017

     “Let’s do something that’s not boring.”  That’s what I heard a student say to her group as I passed by them.  That made me smile.  Was she suggesting SHE was boring?  That her friends were?  A comment that may lead her into a boiling pot of defensive push back!

     I realize that I am drawn into seeking out wonder and mystery.  I know that much of life is routine, but lately my desire is moving toward living in earnest dependence on revelations and unseen forces that make up a good chunk of reality; too many don’t seem to see this, notice it, pay attention to it.  It is as though they have eyes, but can’t see, ears but will not hear.  

     Where I live, the landscape is such that there’s a pull downward.  While out walking you must actively hold your body back, lest you accelerate and crash into the earth.  I want to live by the Pull, in the full expectation of experiencing the extra in the ordinary.  Life is lived at such a frenetic frenzied pace, that it takes intensional action to slow down and appreciate the magnificence of what we are given.  I say it with emphasis: what we have is a gift.  Every breath, every thought, all the bird sounds, rain drops, snow drop flowers, all together they come to us as a gift.

     Writers like George MacDonald are said to have invented a genre we now call the fantasy novel.  The notion of “fantasy” appears to describe the fantastic, what soars the imagination, and after all is imaginary, unreal, not for real, pretend.  But is it?  I am drawn to such literature because there we catch a sense of things of value, something worthy of pursuit.  We’ve been created with the notion that within there is stuff that is precious, but if we’re to find this treasure we’ll need to dig deeply.  Too often we are deceived into believing the treasure is discovered in literal “things” and so we stuff our homes, run out of room and go out and rent a space to store more of the stuff.  Glutted with stuff!  Choking on it, pressing on and hoping some thing else will finally fill the hunger.  Instead of being filled, we are left with the taste of filth.

     It was back in January 2014.  I found myself out of sorts.  Indecisive, moving in one direction only to ask myself, “What am I doing?”  Trying a new task, I am left feeling empty.  I feel useless.  I feel a stranger in a place I’ve lived in for five years.  I feel overwhelmed by all the needs I see around me.  Confused, I begin to feel as though it was inevitable that I should fall back into that hole of darkness and despair, walking again into the place where there is no light.  Clinical depression, where no matter how good life may be, it all seemed hopeless.  That is a place you can’t crawl out of without great assistance.

     I walk up to my beloved, sharing my fear I’m back inside that dread I have no desire to bein.  She, wisely, asks probing invitations to express my plight.  We decide to go for a drive.  As soon as I closed the front door, it was as if I had stepped into a flood of light.  Coming from outside of my own mind, an invading thought, welcome, warm.  “It seems as if you are under attack.”

     The exact moment that thought pranced through, the destructive delusion lifted off of me.  What deceit and deception is this, to actually become convinced something is true, when in actuality it is blatantly false.  How can we explain such experience?  I am convinced that there is such a thing as mental health.  I am equally convinced it often is not just mental.  There are unseen forces actively at work.  Some of these hold us captive, others set us free, deliver us.  There are more of these than the deceptive who deal out despair, desolation, destruction.  Out of jail, just with a random thought that was, it turns out, not random at all.


Deception Digging  in 

     I have been reminded of it a lot lately.  Like the recent deep freeze that lingered long, holding on for longer than we are used to, it’s something that enters in, digs in, gets rooted in, and claws itself deep inside.  It takes a mighty pull to get it out, like a weed that is willing to yield part of itself, but leaves the roots intact.  I was spreading fertilizer (rabbit poop mixed in hay) when I came across a Burdock plant.  It needed to be yanked out, and as I reached in to pull out, the burs stuck on to my boots and on my sleeve and the waistline of my sweater.  What a long picking and tedious removal of them, bunching in, stuck on like no glue could better!  Such is this of which I write.

     The first time I became aware of it, was when my sister told me her story.  When she was younger, she took great delight in drawing and painting and doodle-ing.  As little ones do, in her eagerness she showed her work to an adult.  Children don’t bring such because they are sure it is the best, most beautiful, most bold thing out there.  They do it for connection, clueless to the quality.  This adult carelessly criticized her effort.  It was not until my sister was closing on middle age, that she dared to start extracting the lie that kept her hands off pencils, crayons, paper.  She believed she wasn’t good enough.  She believed she didn’t measure up.  It never occurred to her to ignore the doomed report that told her she might as well not even try for improvement.

     Words do that, digging in, and spreading the deception like fertilizer, helping the lie expand and crowd out the possibility of trying anyway.  It keeps us captive, in the prison of the mediocre.  It gets us giving up, as though it was the better choice to make.  It keeps us captivated in the can’t, so we won’t.  

     How hard it is to get untangled from the deception that gets dug in!  The lies that lurk and hold on tight, seem incapable of losing their hold on our hearts.  What can be done to break free?   

     It’s one thing to believe the lies we hold on to, as though they are stuck in like an arrow. It’s quite another to realize there is someone else who seems to take delight in helping us continue to lie.  He lives in darkness, has a language understood by all others, and speaks deception destructively and convincingly.  He is a liar and the father of lies.  He’s good at this.  He has more influence than the heat of the sun on June 21, except his heat freezes us out, shrivels us like a paper we take and crumple up.  The trouble is, when we’re being deceived, we notice nothing out of place.  

     The trouble with deception digging in is that in order to unravel it, light and truth need to shine on us.  We might think that to be worthy of stepping full into, and then the pain punches sharp shards of deep oozing puss (called raw emotions), numbing, freezing, frightening, and terrorizing us.  It seems much wiser to avoid picking that deep hole of hurt.  Better to walk away and make the best of it.

     Yet the truth really does set us free.  Just as we need to take the time to heal following going under the knife for minor or major fixings, so it takes time to move through what sometimes seems like murky mud. We need not do this ourselves.  For all things we need a power outside our own, a person like Jesus.  And, with family or maybe friend, we can close in on becoming all we are meant to be (probably good to let them know the process involves sorting through piles of anger layered on).  

     What lies about us need undoing?  Who can help us discover them?  Are you really free, or are you willing to make do?



A New Year Song by Jon Foreman

I had heard and known this song some years ago.  It’s a good one start off the new year.  Enjoying figuring the chords on piano.
The Blues

Is this the new year or just another night?

Is this the new fear or just another fright?

Is this a new tear or just another desperation?

                                                                                                                                                                               Is this the finger or just another fist?

Is this the kingdom or just a hit and miss?

A misdirection, most of all this desperation?

                                                                                                                                                                                Is this what they call freedom, is this what you call pain,

Is this what they call disconnected fame?

It’ll be a day like this one when the world caves in,

when the world caves in,

when the world caves in.

                                                                                                                                                                             I’m singing this one like a broken piece of glass

For broken hearts and broken noses in the back

Is this the new year or just another desperation?

                                                                                                                                                                           You push until you’re shoving

You bend until you break

Til you stand on the broken fields where your fathers lay

It’ll be a day like this one when the world caves in,

when the world caves in, when the world caves in.

                                                                                                                                                                               Is there nothing here worth saving, is no one here at all?

Is there any net left that could break our fall?

It’ll be a day like this one when the sky falls down

and the hungry and poor and deserted are found.

Are you discontented, have you been pushing hard

have you been throwing down this broken house of cards?

It’ll be a day like this one when the world caves in,

when the world caves in, when the world caves in.

                                                                                                                                                                                     Is there nothing left now, nothing left to sing

are there any left who haven’t kissed the Enemy?

Is this the new year or just another desperation?

Does justice ever find you?

Do the wicked never lose?

Is there any honest song to sing besides these blues?

And nothing is okay until the world caves in, until the world caves in, 

until the world caves in.

                                 From the album, “Nothing is Sound,” by Switchfoot

What we’re used to 

Written December 29, 2016

     It sounds dramatic, I know.  I could use the word, “frayed” to describe my new reality.  Think of a garment that has been ripped.  The edges are now frayed.  That word, however, is not quite right.  What I see is a sail flapping in a harsh gust of a blast of breeze.  Shredded.  Obliterated.  It’s my reality these days.  I saw on my ride into the town signs that workers were on the job ahead.  To the right I witnessed a crumpled telephone pole, collapsed near to the top.  It still was able to hold the wires it was directing along the way, but soon it would not be able to hold on.  Crumpled and collapsed is my reality.

     It’s not just me.  What used to be, is showing signs of shorning off.  So often in this last year I have been engaged in a task, when it sweeps in like a rushing wind.  Although I have done it before, it is a new way to me.  I feel as though I was back in kindergarten, in grade school learning 1,2,3, ABC.  I am a rookie.  I have no idea what I am doing, though it is essential to appear competent.  I am in my first year of a new career, only I wasn’t taught the way it should line up, link in.

     “Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.”  So wrote the essayist Charles Eisenstein (“The Election: of Hate, Grief, and a New Story”).  We are progressing all right: into something mostly unfamiliar to us.

     Something like this happened the last time I lost a job I loved.  I remember thinking then, what I thought I could count on, I can no longer drive on.  That road just up and walked away.  Now I must become an explorer, discovering a new land, strange, sometimes dark, unmarked.  My friend calls it “bush whacking,” when you go off the trodden path and make one all on your own.  I had to find out again who God is (what I can count on from him); who I was; and who all the rest were.  Nothing was certain any more.  The old normal was broken, disheveled, completely exhausted, done in.  Normal unhinged.

     An essay I was assigned in high school.  “On the Road not taken,” by the poet Robert Frost.  When we come to a cross road, which way do we head?  The last lines lean this direction: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.”  I’ve a choice to make, it seems.  Can I embrace this new normal?  Can I view it as an adventure?  Can I expand my reality, not shrink it?  Can I find joy instead of regret?  

     As I lay this early morning in the place above where sleep falls, I realized that, just like that, a break through could happen, the sail can get mended, and something new could spring up, unlooked for, unknown.  What used to be is no longer reality, and what can be could be way more beautiful than what was.


  Written December 29, 2016

    I am not one of those “reason for the season” folks.  We have known for quite some time Jesus COULD NOT have been born in December.  Shepherds don’t keep watch at night that time of year.  Yet, when I drove past a building people call a church, my heart was warmed to read the word fastened into the ground like a placard: Jesus.  I formed the word into my mind, planning to write on the word.

     It is not just a word to me.  He and I, we are bound together, like the way I tied the humming bird feeder to the tree outside the parlour window.  Double knot, and triple.  We shall not be undone.  What does Jesus mean to you?  I want to tell you what he means to me.

     The expression I just now used, the warmed heart, is more fully formed by John Wesley in his journal.  “My heart was strangely warmed” is so aptly right when it comes to how I view Jesus. Even as I search for him now, I sense his warmth in me!  Other ways of stating this, is the welling up I feel when I sense him.  He fills me up as if with water, jar of clay being poured into, to the very top, sometimes overflowing!  Then there is another, love, joy, acceptance, peaceful calm.

     I can name where I get these ideas from, a confirmation.  They come from him, his word jumping around in me.  The warmth is from a witness who saw Jesus walking: John the baptizer, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭3:11‬ ‭NASB‬‬).  Two others it was who felt the same way.  “They said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭24:32‬ ‭NASB‬‬).  The water gushing out comes from Jesus himself, as does the joy and those bunches of other ecstasies.  To the woman, and to us Jesus promises:  “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (‭‭John‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭NASB‬‬).  The bundles: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:11‬ ‭NASB‬‬).  And: “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love” (John‬ ‭15:9‬ ‭NASB‬‬).  Also peace and well being: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (‭‭John‬ ‭14:27‬ ‭NASB‬‬).

     These are not just factual statements, unfeeling, beyond experience.  They are meant to be felt deeply, as surely as falling on ice will leave a welt on your knee; just extremely opposite to that sort of pain.  And so is this word from our topic today: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:4‬ ‭NASB‬‬).  This I am certain, is the most beautiful and greatest word.  It is something that God gifts, and some other thing he involves us in, expecting us to discover how to be found in him, and find all along that he is in us!

     I know I have quoted loads from him this time around.  All right.  My point is that we need to keep the main thing the main topic, and the main is not just what Jesus DID — you know, through his death and resurrection.  We truly live and love by what he SAID.  You know — “teaching them to obey everything I said” kind of thing (thanks here to Steve Hackman, “A Single Sentence,” for this observation).  

     Jesus is looking for people, his most wanted, to do just one thing, one that puts in one sentence what he is after.  Two words only.  ” Follow me.”  It means be his disciple.  Become like him who was and is the image of the invisible God.  I will follow, and I will listen.  This is what Jesus means to me.  We are kind of attached, he and I.

Darkness & Light 

Written December 14, 2016

          Eight hours.  That’s the difference between now and six months forward or back.  We have entered the time of year when the least number of daylight hours have come upon us.  It has something to do with the earth tilting toward the true north, the pole pointing upward on the compass.  In June around this time the total reaches sixteen hours.  These days, only eight.  Where we live the sun barely peeps out, squeaking in a few minutes when it can, reluctant for more.  And even when it shines, the sun remains low, as though hugging the horizon was what it was created for.

      It is called the Winter Solstice.  Darkness deepens this time around.  Winter usually doesn’t usher snow near us, yet now sitting right there in front of us, only a few rows up, some Arctic chill casts a shadow over top of us.  Darkness deepens and so also the snow.  Cold and dark at once.  Sol means “sun” and sistere means “stopped” or “stationary,” thanks to the Latin out from which English rose up and breathed, conquering his father.  Astrologists stared at the sun and counted, observing that in summer sister sun seemed to stand still for a time, hesitant to hit the horizon and go to sleep.  Winter wanted to be the same as summer, so we have solstice common to both.

     Since someone probably knows the church has cherished this time of darkness, observing the theme of darkness and light generously lost then found in the Bible.  In speech God creates light first among the myriad of his other creatures.  Why this is first, undermining the darkness on the face of the deep waters, may very well be because God is Light.  Where he lives is no darkness at all.  Darkness thrives in evil.  Light exalts in good.  Even a speck of light causes the darkness to flee, as if in terror, as if darkness were spooked.  The people who walk in darkness have seen a lot of light and walk toward it, curious to what they might see.

     So the church remembers that Jesus, who in his thirties called himself Light, was born.  This we remember in December, even though Jesus certainly was not born then.  It’s reason to celebrate, even rejoice in, delight.  Look at a face that is glad, and you will find someone for whom the light has come on, de-light (har, har).  

     There is also good in darkness remember.   Every morning I let the chickens out of their coop.  I find four, maybe five, sometimes six eggs waiting to be picked up.  Inside those eggs, it is definitely dark.  Crack ’em open, and into a heated cast iron frying pan and delicious seeps out.  Under the snow, under the soil it is dreadfully dark.  Melt the snow, raise the sun higher and away from the horizon, and the seeds bust out from the ground.  Even stinging nettle can provide a nutrition far beyond anything a super food can, arising out from darkness.  Even though we may walk through a valley shrouded in darkness, and grief, when a little or a lot of darkness is spotted, hope springs up.  So it is coming through darkness we get stronger, as we look for the light.

     Darkness and light.  It is another piece on the path to being human.

A Cup of kindness

Written January 1, 2017

     It’s a new year.  So, last night we did two great deeds.  I prepared a New Years morsel, a bit of a nicety not necessary.  A treat, rising out from my heritage.  A bit of salt, a little yeast, four eggs, less than a cup of sugar, four cups of flour.  Olie bollen it is called, oily balls misshapen; but we added sliced up apples, so appel flappen, a sort of doughy delight boiled in hot oil.  Dipped in icing sugar, and we have a delightful delicious dessert pre-supper.  Tummy as evening grew, got crammed full.

     Two grand feats, I claimed.  The second, after more eats of turkey, cheese, mushroom topped with bacon, toasted up on bread in the oven, a sit down to what they say is my favourite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The title comes from the simple mind and mouth of Clarence, the deliverer sent from heaven.  Clarence is an angel.  Really, even though he looks like a man come out from a different century.  A cry had gone up into heaven, many cries, for one George Bailey.  This man was about to throw over the railing the most precious gift: the body, packed with a cup of kindness, he’d been gifted; throw it out, into the swirling white waters below the bridge covered all in snow.  It is Christmas Eve.

     As with all good story telling, before we get to what led to his flight toward that railing, we first are shown snippets of George’s cup of kindness sliding through life.  The scene is of some boys atop a hill, sitting down, sliding down on flat bladed shovels onto a pond it seems, or a creek with fast flowing water.  One by one they line up to do it, led of course, by George.  Last of all, George’s kid brother Charlie, after being teased by the older sibling for cowardousness, comes roaring down.  He it is that out-slides them all, crashing through all other shovels abandoned at bottom.  Watch, though, for his triumph gets dumped by also crashing through the ice.  We see why it’s thin there.  Water is rushing underneath.

     A few weeks flow by before George can go back working for old man Gower. See, he’d saved his brother from sure drowning.  George is whistling, in a light-hearted, standing straight and tall mood, moving with a surety, having been dropped at the door by his group of friends.  This send off sends him into another cup of kindness.  At first he doesn’t notice that a shadow had moved over his boss.  He seemed a bit grouchy, gruff, words spewing out  in spurts of unkind bursts.  Undaunted, George serves the two girls who’d come to catch chewy morsels, come really as an excuse to be seen, and to see George.  He still whistles while he works.  That’s when George suddenly sees what has caved in upon old man Gower, an avalanche of crushed sorrow.

     A cutting snarl busting through Gower’s teeth, who cannot abide the cheerful optimism of his employee.  A piece of paper lying desolate on the cash register.  A telegram telling the terrible news of Gower’s boy, taken out by influenza.  A life snuffed, and a father blinded by heavy sorrow, valiantly trying still to keep busy filling orders for drugs.  He sends George to deliver them, called for the cure of another child fallen ill.  Immediately George sees that Gower had placed poison in the bottle,  not pills that would pull the sickness out.  He tries to tell it to the distraught father, is forced to do what he was told by boss — no questions allowed — and turns for help to his own distracted father.

     In the end, George saves Gower from deeper tragedy still, and the mistake is uncovered. Two acts of kind caring flowing out from one body.

     The guardian angel gets saved by George, saved from the foaming white waters under the bridge.  Clarence claims, though, that he had succeeded in precisely saving George with a precision that was seemlessly innocent and honest and true.  And so it is that Clarence grants George his wish.  He gets to see and experience personally in a way that cut cunningly into the heart, what it would be like if he had not been born.  The way the story unfolds busts the tears out for me, even though I’ve seen the movie year upon years.

     If George had not been born, Charlie would have drowned, Gower would be an ex-con, the town would have been renamed Pottersville.  Old man Potter is the villain in the story, and he really is a vile man.  He would promote greed and the grime and crime that flowed fast out of it.  The most defiling professions grew out of Potter’s fields, filth fed by corruption and the love of money and things.  Cups of vile liquids soaking in, seeping out of shady deals doled out in broad daylight.  Pottersville came to life because George was never born.

     George got to see that really, he’d been given a wonderful life.  His draughty old house with the pointy ornamental piece on the bannister that was always loose, was wonderful.  He was the richest man in town, and not because of the money that comes piling into his living room in the end.  He was rich in kindness, because he cared for others.  Two songs at the close of the movie tell where the riches poured out from.

     One of George’s daughters practised it on the piano all afternoon.  “Hark, the herald angels, sing: ‘Glory to the new born King!'”  Kindness come out of heaven, the birth of a Son sent to live out our shadows that sink us into sorrows and grief.  His message was not shouted or cried out, and slowly brought light and justice and kindness into the vile defiled places of the earth.  They sang that song with great comfort and joy, gushing from a swift flowing river of delight.

     The second song, so it seems, was poet written in 1700 some time late, and is itself a memory of something even more ancient and of great value.  Most supposedly don’t know the words, or even what they mean, but the tune they know.  It’s a song sung for old time’s sake, for “old lang syne.” Apparently we must sing this as New Years open.  Friendship, family, loyalty, honesty, integrity, and a cup brimming over with kindness.  These are what need nurture and tending throughout the time we’re given.  The translation of the first verse with chorus: 

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

     I already admitted it.  The tears tell a little of what I care about.  Happy New Year, everyone.  Find ways to keep your cup of kindness emptying out and filling again.

see also the article by Clarrise Loughrey, “The Lyrics of Old Lang Syne,” in the Independant.