Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009: A year of hope?

Well, this is it. Another year is gone, and for many people it couldn't have come to an end any sooner. As I think back on 2008 I can see that not only was it a challenging year for me personally, but also for the world. My issues are petty compared to what's happening in Canada and around the globe. Whether it's war, food scarcity, our political systems or the environment we have a lot of problems to tackle. 2009 may be a better year; a new, young, charismatic President Barack Obama is set to take office and a lot of people are pinning their hopes on this one man. Personally I wouldn't want to be in his shoes considering the larger than life image that he has. But I think it was his message of change and hope that resonated with America and the world, and in these tough times we could all use a little hope. Maybe I'll pick up Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, to find a little inspiration.

It's hope that keeps our spirits alive when we go through trials, and as much as people can inspire us to have hope I'm reminded that Jesus is the only one who can give it to us. In spite of my own doubts about how much God is involved in the affairs of humanity, I know that I have no one else to turn to. I can think back to all the times when I wondered where God was when this or that happened, but I also remember the times where I could clearly see His hand on my life and my circumstances. When I read The Shack I was challenged by the two questions posed in the book: "Is God good?" and "Is God involved?" The two go together like a pair of legs; you need both if you're going to stand, let alone walk by faith. In 2008 I realized that I've been hobbling around on one leg, and maybe in 2009 I'll learn to use both of them. In the meantime all I can do is be joyful, thankful and prayerful in all my circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:13) as I enter the New Year. I want to end this post with a video of Cliff Richard's Millennium Prayer, which was very controversial when the song came out (well, it was controversial to secularists) but powerfully captures the thoughts and images of our challenges and hope. May it be my prayer and yours as well. Jesus, may your kingdom come in 2009. Amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I want to believe

I want to believe. I want to be proven wrong when I don't believe. I want to be able to say that the things that God declares for us all have happened to me. That's pretty much the response I had this morning when I was in church, listening to the New Year's message. The last Sunday of each year Greg, my friend, mentor and pastor, preaches the New Year's sermon. It's usually one of challenge and encouragement; this year Greg contrasted the differences between two Bible characters, one (King Joash of Israel) who half-heartedly embraced the promises of God and another (Johnathan, son of Saul who was Israel's first king) who embraced them without reservation. Both were faced with enemies that God promised to defeat on Israel's behalf, but only one saw the nation delivered. The application for us today is that whatever God has destined for us, whether it's a calling or a victory over sin, He is there to deliver.

Looking back at this past year I've seen both blessing and disappointment, but I have to be honest here and say that it's the disappointment and loss I feel the most. I'm disappointed in so many areas of my life; spiritually, relationally, academically, paternally and vocationally. I feel like I'm at a dead end in just about every possible way. The only thing I see moving is our decision to become adoptive parents. Sure, I would have loved to have been granted a miracle and father a child with Angel. But after 17 years I have given up all hope of that, and draw comfort in knowing that just as I hurt over not having my own son or daughter that somewhere out there a child will become ours - one that hurts over not having a mom & dad. It just drives me nuts how sometimes we have to go through so much pain in order to come around to a place of blessing. I guess that's where Romans 8:28 comes in, where "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes."

I've seen bad situations unfold in my life where everything turned out better that I hoped for, like when we were looking for a home to buy two years ago when the housing market was so tight. Another example was back in the early 90s when I lost my job, but then through a job retraining program I got to enroll in disability studies (something I really wanted to take but didn't have the money) at Grant MacEwan College. I want to be able to say that once again God came through, but honestly I'm in a place of total unbelief. But as I said at the start of this post, I so want to be proven wrong. I want to confidently say that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

I want to believe.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's always winter, but never Christmas

I have to confess that my Christmas has had a lot of ups and downs. There have been moments of enjoyment but I honestly can't say that I've been enjoying the Christmas season this year. I'm feeling like I'm lost and uncertain about the next year ahead of me. One thing that has blessed me this month is a song on Relient K's Christmas album, which was also part of the soundtrack for the first Narnia film that came out a few years ago. Music has a way of helping me express how I'm feeling, especially when I don't understand why I feel the way I do sometimes. I hope it touches your heart like it has mine. Merry Christmas.

(For those who are reading this on Facebook you can click here to see the music video)

It's always nice to look out the window
And see those very first few flakes of snow
And later on we can go outside
And create the impression of an angel that just fell from the sky

When February rolls around I'll roll my eyes
Turn a cold shoulder to these even colder skies
And by the fire my heart it heaves a sigh
For the green grass waiting on the other side

It's always winter, but never Christmas
It seems this curse just can't be lifted
Yet in the midst of all this ice and snow
Our hearts stay warm 'cause they are filled with hope

It'd be so nice to look out the window
And see the leaves on the trees begin to show
The birds would congregate and sing
A song of birth a song of newer things

The wind would calm and the sun would shine
I'd go outside and I'd squint my eyes
But for now I would simply just withdraw
Sit here and wish for this world to thaw

It's always winter, but never Christmas
It seems this curse just can't be lifted
Yet in the midst of all this ice and snow
Our hearts stay warm 'cause they are filled with hope

And everything it changed overnight
This dying world you brought it back to life
And deep inside I felt things
Shifting everything's all melting away
And you gave us the most beautiful of days

'Cause when it's always winter but never Christmas
Sometimes it feels like you're not with us
But deep inside our hearts we know
That you are here and we will not loose hope

"In Like a Lion"
Relient K

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Random Christmas memories

"When did you stop believing in Santa?" Angel asked. We had watched "The Polar Express" last night (one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies); I had to think hard about when I stopped believing in Santa, and I think it was when I was five. It might have had something to do with Santa visiting our house on Christmas Eve; he came down the stairs and not the chimney for one thing. Another thing was that Santa was wearing my dad's red housecoat, and that he was wearing his glasses too. Anyhow Santa left his toys and went out the door (not the chimney) and after he left I ran outside to see if I could see him fly off into the starry night. I'm told that afterwards I was playing with my toys and then stopped for a moment. After a minute of silence I apparently said, "It was Dad! Dad was dressed like Santa!" I don't think I was disappointed though, as I recall getting the idea that Santa was just pretend. It got me thinking of other Christmas memories.

My childhood Christmas memories have much to do with the Danish community that my family was a part of. I remember the Sunday school Christmas parties in the basement of the church, where all the kids would get a bag of candy and a Mandarin orange. I never liked the orange though, which is funny because I love them now. I also remember these Christmas gathering at the Scandinavian Center in Edmonton, which had burned down many years ago and was never rebuilt. Each kid got a present from under the tree, and I remember one year getting a Nerf biplane which I really liked. And there was the Christmas Eve services held at the church, which were actually late in the afternoon so that everyone could have their Christmas dinner. To this day they still bring in a live tree, decorated with white lights which are lit while the rest of the church was dark. Afterwards it was off to my parent's place for a turkey dinner with almond rice pudding for dessert, followed by visiting, going for a walk, caroling, gift openings and a late night tea & coffee with all kinds of cookies, cake and other sweets.

I get teased about this Christmas memory, but I would have this recurring dream when I was a kid. In my dream I'm all alone in the house on Christmas Eve. It's a very bright and starry night, and the lights are off on the house except for the tree and some candles. But actually I'm not alone. Someone else is there, sharing Christmas with me. A very well known public figure to be exact; well, at least he was during the 70s and 80s. The man is none other than - wait for it - Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the then Prime Minister of Canada. Yup, me and Pierre were chill'n out on December 24th. We never said anything to each other; we just sat in the glow of the dim lights and looked at each other. To this day I'm still asked if I have that same dream at this time of year. I have to be honest here and say... No!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Living in a global village of idiots

Recently I watched the NFB animated short version of Village of Idiots, based on a Jewish folktale. It’s a very amusing and existential story centered around a fellow named Shmendrik, whose whole view and experience of the world centers around his village called Chelm. Chelm was called the “village of idiots” by outsiders, but the Rabbi said they were a village of geniuses. Shmendrik isn’t so convinced of Chelm wisdom and he leaves for Warsaw, hoping to grow in knowledge. However on the way to Warsaw Shmendrik gets confused about the direction he’s traveling and, walking back the way he came, comes across a village just like Chelm! Everything and everyone was exactly like the first Chelm, including a house and family just like his old one – minus another Shmendrik. So, Shmendrik moves in and becomes the father and husband to this identical family. Shmendrik believes this is all the hand of God, but worries the other Shmendrik will return. But Shmendrik theorizes that the other Shmendrik is living with his wife and children (the adulterous dog, may he contract the Tzar’s disease), so he need not worry. But why not go back to the old Chelm? Good question! The Talmud teaches that the world is the same everywhere you go. Maybe the world is one big Chelm! Everywhere you go, it’s all the same place. So, practically, it’s no use to go back to where you already are.

So how do we know that the world around us is real, or a copy of something else? A lot of our perspective comes from our limited experiences, so we see the world not for what it is but for who we are. Having lived all our lives in Chelm, we need to expand our horizons, encounter new things (like going to Warsaw) but we just can’t seem to get there. We walk around as in a dream, just like Shmendrik did when he came to the “second” Chelm, unable to comprehend what we see. What we believe keeps us from accepting what our senses tell us is real. The old adage “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it must be a duck!” just doesn’t seem to apply. We may refer to our religion, believing that the hand (or maybe the elbow as Shmendrik ponders) of God is in all this. After all, the Talmud tells us that the world is all the same. Why wouldn’t the world be one big Chelm? We may use reason to answer our questions, like where is the other Shmendrik? Well, reason tells us that the adulterous dog is in the other Chelm! But our reasoning is still based on who we are, and if we’re honest we will admit we all live in a global village of idiots. It’s hard for us to think outside of the box and realize that the world is more than we just know. So we prefer to be practical instead; if it works fine for us then life as we know it must be real. But we have no other Chelm to go to and see if life works for the other Shmendrik, who has somehow vanished! We also have no reason to go find the other Chelm, because life in this Chelm works just fine. So, cow for cow, tree for tree and house for house we see that the world is all the same. If only before falling asleep by the road we had put both our boots in the direction of where we were going, instead of pointing one to where we came and the other where we’re headed, we’d make it to the big city and find the knowledge we’re looking for. In the end we’re just not skeptical enough of our own wisdom…