The Outliers

We love the outliers. They are the people who make the news. They are the ones that we can point out. We use them to highlight the good and the bad. They can be tokens or scapegoats. We create stereotypes from them by using them as examples of whole groups, even though they are the exceptions. Sometimes it’s benign, I’ve always noticed the tallest people around me. Often, it’s not.

We tend to project ourselves onto them. I’ve written earlier that we judge the actions of others by our motives.  If I am selfish, I will tend to look at what others are doing as if they are doing it from some selfish goal.  If I am proud, then I will consider the actions of others as more magnanimous.  If I am humble I won’t necessarily even think about their motives. Which reminds me of another thing I’ve said before – I am not capable of judging my own humility.  The instant I think I’m humble, I’ve proved myself wrong. 

We look at the wealth of the ultra rich (the Le ss than 1% – the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos’ of the world) and either vilify them for their greed, or wish we were them. Sometimes maybe it’s a bit of both. What would we do differently if we had their money? Certainly we would be more generous.  Or would we?  Certainly we wouldn’t take advantage of others to get there.  Or would we?

We look at some of the young activists; for climate change, or poverty reduction, or racial reconciliation, or gender equality, or anything else, and we either think “the kids are alright” or that “they don’t understand the real world”. Or sometimes a bit of both, depending on what we ourselves see as important. 

We see the faces and hear the names of those who are driving the actions/protests.  They have great influence. They draw followers who develop the same concerns, and they draw followers who just need to be where the action is. They draw derision from those who want to maintain the status quo.  The most derisive voices, those who benefit the most from the status quo, are also outliers.  We choose which voice to listen to and are charged with guilt by association.

We don’t always agree on who the outliers are. I am a Christian and when I see Christians behaving badly I will claim that they are the outliers. In reality, They may be closer to normative than I am. I see a drunk or addict on the street, or hear about gang violence and immediately tend to consider it a problem common to a particular ethnic group, when in fact these are the outliers.  These problems do not know ethnic boundaries. We look at victims of trauma who DO NOT exhibit signs of PTSD, and question why some do.  

Even when we say there are a significant number in the same circumstances, we need to remember that a significant number is not necessarily all, or even a majority. If the issue is serious, just a few can be a significant number, even while being outliers. There are even times when 1 is a significant number. 

This reinforces why we can’t listen to a single voice and expect it to be representative of a whole body. We need to listen to the outliers, sure. We need to hear what they say and what their actions say. They provide a valuable perspective that we can’t afford to miss. But we need to listen to other voices as well. In fact, even if we listen to several voices we may not be hearing the majority opinion, just the voices of the outliers, sometimes the outliers from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Give us this day

On one of the Sundays leading up to Easter, Pastor David’s message was on the feeding of the 5000 recorded in John chapter 6. He worship leader that Sunday drew us back to the Lord’s Prayer – give us this day our daily bread. And in the benediction, David told us that sometimes it was ok to change the words a bit and he substituted Manna for bread – like the Israelites wandering in the desert, give us this day our daily manna – bread from heaven.

A little further in John 6, on the day after this miraculous feeding, Jesus, responding to the people who were saying that Moses had given them manna from heaven, declared that it was actually God, not Moses who did that and made the declaration that “HE” (Jesus) is the bread of life, come down from heaven. And I put the two things together and thought, why not substitute the name of Jesus for the word bread in the prayer?

Like the crowd on the hillside, we tend to ask for physical bread for our bodies for the day, give us what we need to physically survive. Should we not also ask for what we need to spiritually thrive? Lord God, Give us this day, our daily Jesus.

Lord, As we eat this physical bread and drink of this physical cup, knowing that we will hunger and thirst again, fill us with the bread of heaven and water of life that is Jesus so that we may hunger and thirst no more. Give us this day our daily bread. Give us this day our daily Jesus. Amen

Best Books 2021

I need to make a couple comments about the title. First, “best” in this case is a subjective word. These are the books that I either enjoyed the most or learned the most from. You may not like some of them, possibly even all of them. That’s ok.  Second, these are all books I read in 2021, not that were published in 2021.  Only one on this list was.  Most are older. One is almost 70 years older.

So far this year I have finished 53 books and there are two or three more that may get finished. I did read on of my Louis L’amour books and passed it on to charity.  One of the unfinished will make my honourable mentions. At the beginning of the year, I thought this list might be all the books I gave five stars to.  There ended up being 18 of them, so that’s a bit much and I needed to cull it a little. I ended up with seven, and seven honourable mentions. The order they are in the list is the order I read them.

Jesus and John Wayne – Kristen Kobes Dumez

I did a complete post on this one just after I read it. Suffice it to say for now that while there was a fair bit of confirmation bias, it was also very eye opening. There were people I’d never heard of, people I was very familiar with, and others I recognized but had no idea of the influence they wielded. I lost a little respect for most of them.  I truly fear where many influential professing Christians are leading their flocks.

The House in the Cerulean Sea – T.J.Klune

I had no idea what to expect from this book. I only knew that my daughter considers it one of the best books ever.  I thought it actually started fairly slowly. The drab existence of the main character seemed reflected in the style of the prose. But then all of the characters were developed so wonderfully, none in glowing perfection but with all their flaws. This is a real lesson in acceptance and love.

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read an old fashioned sci-fi novel. This book has probably been on my shelf since shortly after the movie came out eight years ago. I found myself fully drawn into the story as Ender Wiggins developed from a brilliant child into a brilliant near child being manipulated and turned into the perfect killing machine in order to save humanity, all under the guise of training games. The twist at the end has me anticipating reading the sequel which should happen for me in the first half of 2022.

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church – Alan Kreider

This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a few years but not enough to justify buying it until it became a book club read. Much of the western church seems to have taken the stance that, with the exception of Augustine, every Christian thinker between the apostles and the reformation h the first to 16th century was wrong. While this wasn’t a terribly easy read, in fact it was somewhat scholarly, it gave some great insight into other church fathers and showed how the church grew, not because of orthodoxy, but orthopraxy, and making disciples rather than converts. Yes it does raise the issue of works vs. grace, but we need to remember the words of the apostle James that faith without works is dead. I suppose that for everyone except the person performing the works, the motive behind that will be in question, especially if the questioner has questionable motives.

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

A beautiful concept, in the liminal time between life and death, you are given an opportunity, not to review your life per se, but to reconsider your life. You can review every decision you ever made and see where your life would be at this moment  if you had chosen differently. Not only that, but you could step into that life and carry on. If your life is full of regrets and dissatisfaction, it would be potentially wonderful. At the very least it would be enlightening. In my own life, I could see what would happen if I had been more focussed and achieved the university degree rather than changing course and getting a technical school diploma, or if I had not taken a job that led me to move across the country twice, living in four different cities over two years. I’m pretty sure that even without seeing the options I can come to the same conclusion that the book’s protagonist did; that I am living in the best possible life now, and the one I want to be in.

 

The Back of the Turtle – Thomas King

In the past few years, I’ve chosen to read quite a bit of indigenous authored books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’ve found that I love the way they tell stories. This year I read three books by Thomas King. This one was my favourite. Maybe because of the west coast connection. Maybe is was the timely issue of pipeline construction and environmental issues. Maybe it was the virtually impossible series of events that could only be coordinated by an author standing outside the story. Maybe it was the ambiguous ending that reminded me that old news is no news and it is quickly forgotten.

People of the Deer – Farley Mowatt

What an amazing book. Yes, I know it is a white settler speaking for an indigenous people group. Yes, I know he uses the words Indian, Eskimo, and half breed (as was typical for the time it was written. Other than that, it could have been written 10 years ago rather than 70.  In less than 50 years following first direct encounter with Europeans, an entire people group was almost extinguished due to corporate greed and government ineptitude and almost universal apathy. Gut wrenching. Why did we ignore this in the ‘50’s?  Why do we continue to ignore this and other similar stories?  As I said above, old news is no news is quickly forgotten.

 

Those were he best of the best, but there were others I enjoyed almost as much. Honestly, when I read the first two that made the honourable mentions, I expected them to make it into the best. There were just too many good ones. Again, these are in the order I read them.

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good. The fictional story of five residential school survivors, how they cope (or don’t) and how their lives intertwine.

Elatsoe by Darcy Little Badger. Apache spirit world meets the secular world, with vampires. Loved the telling of the story and I am eagerly waiting for the library to get her second book.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. I had a hard time putting this one down. A glimpse of the realities of the lives of a variety of people trapped in a civil war.

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert. When we try to use technology to alter nature, it usually turns out bad eventually. When we try to fix the problem with more technology, it usually ends up worse. (See my earlier post – new glasses)

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This was almost prescient, as a few individuals and mega corporations get richer and the rest gravitate to gated communities or associations of desperation. I hope we can turn it around.

“Indian” in the Cabinet by Jody Wilson-Raybould. I don’t agree with everything she did while in office, but she did it with integrity and I respect that.

One Story, One Song by Richard Wagamese. I haven’t actually finished this one but I’m half way and I have 2 days left. It is a collection of thoughtful, short essays by one of my favourite authors.

That’s it. A years reading. As I look ahead to 2022, I should get through this stack, and about that many more that will either come from my downstairs pile or be new ones that I’m introduced to.

A Psalm for Easter 2022

In the beginning

You caused the sun to rise

And each morning you say

“Do it again”

In the beginning

You caused the mountains to rise

You set the boundaries on the seas

And each morning and each evening

You cause the tides 

To move in their endless cycles

In the beginning 

You set the stars in place

You formed the plants

You formed the animals

You formed humankind

In the beginning

You called forth life

You are life

You bring abundant life

You surrendered your life

And were given it back

I look to the mountains

And see your majesty

I look to the ocean

and see your power 

From the furthest point

In the ever expanding universe

To the barely detectable particles

That make up the atoms

That make up everything. 

Through telescopes and microscopes

I cannot grasp the extent of your greatness

But I see the sun rise on a new day

And the Son rise on a new era

And I worship you.

Good Friday Stones

As we walked into church his morning, we each picked a stone (a very small one) from a basket at the entrance to the sanctuary. The stone was to represent a burden or a sin that we were carrying and later, during communion, we were to lay it aside, turn it over to Jesus.

The stone I took was a small piece of lava, and it reminded me of some of the petroglyph images I had seen while planning our upcoming trip into the southwest United States. It was a dark reddish brown with lighter toned depressions. 

As I rolled this stone around in my hands I thought of how we write (etch) things in stone for endurance. Stones are hard. They last a long time with very little change. I thought of how God wrote the words of the law on the stone tablets during the wilderness and then how He, many years later told Jeremiah that He would “put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” And how that aligns with what He tells Ezekiel “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

‭‭stone is hard, and gives an impression of permanence. Flesh is soft, yielding but impermanent. While the process is painful, what is written on flesh can be overwritten. And flesh can grow. This means we have the opportunity to learn and grow. What is written on our hearts of flesh will spring out from us.

During the message, I rolled the stone around in my hands and when the time came, I released it and received the body and blood of Jesus. Yet there is a part of me that misses the stone already. It was something tangible to hold on to and focus on. Even though I know that what I have been given in return for giving that stone up is much greater.

Lord, help me to hold on to you with even greater purpose and intensity than that with which I held the stone.

Holy Ground

Remove your sandals, spoke the LORD to Moses

For you are on holy ground

This used to remind me of my mother

Take your shoes off at the door.

But I wonder

Is God concerned with what we track in?

Or is it maybe something else?

Like Isaiah

I am a man of unclean lips

Like Moses 

I am slow of speech 

Like the bush that is burning

But is not consumed

I am being refined

Purified

Made holy

You welcome me

To enter and remove my shoes

To meet with you in the holy place 

To tread softly with naked feet

Holy contacting holy

on holy ground

Freedom

I would like to talk about freedom, and yes, this was sparked by the so-called “freedom convoy” that has been disrupting the freedoms of tens of thousands of Canadians that the organizers have purported to be fighting for over the past several weeks.

First, a bit of levity. One of the first physical signs I saw was simply the word freedom, in all caps with an exclamation point, printed on two large pieces of board, being held by two people and there was a bit of a gap between them. When I saw it in that condition, my first thought was, ‘what did Tie Domi do now?’  Let the reader understand. 

There are several words starting with ‘in’ that have come to mind. The first was Individualism – there was a strong sense of this, of protesting for ‘my’ rights.  It shouldn’t be surprising though as Canada, and the neighbouring nation to the south were built out of that spirit.  Protest is fine, even good.  I value the ability we have in Canada to speak our minds – and it’s really hard to say where the line should be drawn. I had a high school socials teacher who said the the right of your fist ends where the right of my nose begins. I did recently hear a comment that even the most selfish appearing person likely still has the best interests of at least one other person in mind, it’s just that often their circle is too small. 

As the days stretched on, this was followed rather quickly by Inconsideration – How could this group of people be so inconsiderate towards their neighbours – threats to health care workers, preventing people from living their lives, blocking borders, etc.  I started to feel my own anger rising at this point.  

This moved to Insensitivity- this may just be a synonym for the last word, but it seems milder.  It’s not to be confused with desensitized, and not caring, but not listening to the concerns of persons with concerns that are different. I do think we are all guilty of this to varying degrees as we put down those who disagree with us.  I know I am on occasion. Recognizing that helps me to calm down and evaluate my feelings 

The next word was Insecurity – I wonder how much of this is being driven by persons feeling insecure. The past two years have highlighted how little control we have over our own lives. There can be a sense of security in rolling with a mob, especially when they seem to have it together, even if underneath, they are as insecure as you. I know that where I am with Jesus I can feel secure in whatever happens. Then I started to feel more empathy.

The final ‘in’ word in this post is Indoctrination – we are all the products of our teachers. I feel that it is vital to keep your reading and listening open to multiple viewpoints, but too often, “do your own research” seems to mean “listen to the people I believe”. While it’s not always possible, I try to find sources of similar qualifications.

Wordle

I’ve possibly got a few heavy posts coming up so I thought I should fire off a light one. I’ve been doing Wordle for just over two weeks now. So far I haven’t gone more than 5 guesses although it’s taken that many almost half of the time.

As far as I’m concerned, the first rule of Wordle is you don’t tell anyone what the word is before the day is over. I don’t care if it took you all 6 guesses, or if you got it on your first guess. If you did get it on your first ‘guess’ is it because someone told you what is was?  I don’t even want you to give me a hint in your comment on Twitter about how you did. If you want to comment the next day, great.  I did get a chuckle when someone edited the u in to spell humour properly. 

I got it in one once, the first time I played.  It actually took me 3 tries, but it didn’t record it until I did it a second time. I’ll take it. Since I have a standard starting word I’m not likely to ever get it in one again.  Maybe I should see if there is a pattern from day to day. 

I see a lot of people complaining that it’s harder now that the New York Times has taken over it. I’d say it’s possible as some of the words are fairly obscure and most of my fives have been in the past week. 

As far as I’m concerned, one or two is lucky, three is a win, and four or five is success. As I said, I haven’t gone to six yet so I don’t have feelings about that, and honestly, I hope I never have to have feelings about that. I probably will though. 

I do have a standard technique. After I play my start word I turn off the phone and think about the possibilities with what’s left. Often I will do that again after my second guess. Sometimes, like today, I’ll get four letters correct and there will be multiple options for the fifth. Instead of guessing one letter I’ll just waste a word using as many of the options as I can think of. At worst, I’ve eliminated a lot of wrong choices. 

It’s spawned a lot of similar games too, only one that I’ve started to play, worldle.  It gives a silhouette of a country and when you guess it tells you how far away and what direction. Sometimes the answer is very obvious (New Zealand) and sometimes it’s not (Liberia). I mean who has all the west Africa countries memorized? 

I appreciate that you only get one word a day. I have enough distractions without getting caught up in this for extended periods. I don’t know how many five letter words there are in the (American) English language, but I suspect this can go on for a long time. However you play, or even whether you play, have fun.

My Place at the Table

I’ve been listening to the podcast series on ‘The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’ and have just come to the end. I can’t say that I knew a lot about it, or Mark Driscoll before this. I knew of them. I remember seeing one of the campuses several years ago when I was passing through Seattle and thinking I’d like to check it out, again, not really knowing anything but the names and that they were popular. This podcast series has been enlightening for sure. There are a few thoughts that have gelled in my head as I listened to the last couple episodes. It started with a rather alliterative one:

The pursuit of power, prestige, and prominence often results in a paranoid perception of persecution. Maybe it’s something along the same lines as I’ve commented before that we see others through our own personalities. If we want something, then we assume others want that same thing too.  The greater the exclusivity of the goal, the greater the perception that others are willing to do anything to prevent us from achieving it because they want it so badly. This is the mentality that allows you to say; “get on the bus or get run over by the bus”, leaving bodies in your wake.  Then when the bus crashes, the driver just gets out and gets a new one.

There were a few stories that Jesus told that came to my mind as I listened.  They may seem diverse and disconnected, but they all seem to apply in some way. The topics ranged between teachers (good and bad), exclusivity, and vanity and they display in my mind, how far Driscoll drifted from the gospel.  

When He watched others jockeying for positions of prestige, Jesus observed: ““When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke 14:8-11 NIV.It’s not our place to exalt ourselves.

In the conclusion of the parable of the talents as recorded in Luke 12 He says: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  This is often interpreted as applying to the spiritual (or sometimes material) gifts we have received, but haven’t all followers of Christ received the greatest gift of all – salvation?  Should this not apply to all of us and how we live?  As Christians, should we not expect to be held to a higher standard by both God, and the world as they observe our lives?  After all, Jesus also said; “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42). And very shortly after this; “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49) Note that he says everyone.  We will all be refined in the fire.

Then there were a couple of stories that maybe suggest that some that we think are outsiders are really in. Even bad teachers can produce good pupils. And just because a different group or denomination does things differently, unlike what Driscoll would say, does not mean they are out.

““Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:38-40.  “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”  John 10:16

Just my two cents worth.

Resolutions

Do you make New Year’s resolutions – maybe to watch less television, eat healthier, spend time in the Bible every day, exercise more?  If you do, how many have you broken already?  It is January second after all.

According to the online dictionary, a resolution is a “firm statement of a firm decision”. So why do we only tend to use the word now for semi-serious statements made this time of year? And when we make serious decisions, except in some legal instances we rarely use the word? A resolution rashly made is not really a resolution and is easily broken.

Regardless of how you feel about resolutions, the turning of the calendar is a good time to look back at where you’ve been, and look forward to where you want to go. We can’t dwell on regrets, but if we are willing to learn from our mistakes – and the mistakes of others – we hopefully won’t repeat them. Maybe (probably) we’ll make some new ones. After all, we can’t predict the future. We don’t know for sure what will happen in the next two hours, let alone the next year. The events of the past two years have highlighted that.

I made a decision that we can call a resolution many years ago to follow Jesus. Sometimes I’ve been better at it than others, but He continues to lead. Knowing that He’s leading, and my resolution is firm, helps me to learn from my mistakes without dwelling on them, and to trust that He knows my future so I can plan, and whether my plans come through or not, I don’t need to worry about them.

Did you know that the Bible records Jesus making a resolution? It’s in Luke 9:51. The NIV reads; “as the time approached for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, he resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”. Resolutely has the same root as resolution. It’s purposeful, or determined.

If you have not made it yet, a resolution to follow Jesus is a good one to make. It’s not always easy to keep, but because of his resolve to draw us to him and set the world right, it’s possible. And we have the Holy Spirit and the body of believers to help us along.

If you’ve made that resolution to follow him, please join me now in communion. I will read scripture and pray and then we will take each element as a group. Take time as you eat, and as you drink to consider the resolution you made and the one that Jesus made.