Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Coroner's Report on the Soul of a Nation

Pixabay
I hover, reluctant to detach myself from what has been my home for one hundred and thirty-two years, six months, ten days, twelve hours and fifty-seven minutes.

It isn’t that there haven’t been other moments, similar events and rebellious people just like these, who have threatened my existence before this. Oh, there had been plenty of those! But the Soul-Giver, forever creative and extremely patient, has always made a way to rewind that clock, overcome those circumstances, move or remove a nation.

Sometimes the adjustments have been substantial; oftentimes just big enough to keep me going for a while longer.

My intimate connection to the Soul-Giver prevents me from even considering that the Giver Himself might be cruel or unjust. I accept that my reason for being includes abuse at the hands of those to whom I have been entrusted. The Giver has decreed that no sacrifice is too big, no effort too great, in the quest to restore creation. And so I have continued to root out evil, to stand for truth and right, to promote peace and exercise kindness in spite of every obstacle and every defeat.

But this day has finally come; the day I have longed for, but dreaded as well. The Soul-Giver enfolds and caresses me. This is the good part. He speaks to me gently, without reproach, assuring me that none of this is my fault.

Enough now, my gentle essence. You have fought bravely and done all that you were able to do but the time has come for you to step back, and for me to take a different tack with this part of my creation.

I shudder, for I remember only too well another time when the Soul-Giver gravely pronounced these very same words. I know what they meant to a wayward people He had rescued from slavery and who had thrown that freedom back in His face in order to chase after delusions. The meaning of the Soul-Giver’s words to this new nation and generation is the part I now dread anew. And I weep, for I know what is about to happen to another people who have trampled underneath their feet the heart and spirit of the Soul-Giver.

What little light that flickers against the dark of evil will soon be gone. The sun will continue to shine, but what good is that to blind men? The grapes will ripen; sweet and rich on their vines, only to turn to vinegar in the cask. The harvest will be gathered only produce worm and weevil in the storehouse. Men who dispensed injustice will themselves seek Justice only to hear her mocking laughter as they stare in dismay at their reflections in the cold polished marble of her halls. Club-footed, love twists inward. The gold standard of truth turns green; raped of her purity, beaten and unrecognizable.

My greatest desire is to stay longer. Perhaps there is still something I can do. But I hear the voice of the Soul-Giver speak again:

No, no more. It is too late. Go back, my precious essence, rest and recover. There is nothing more for you to do here. There will be other battles for you to fight, other hearts to touch, other lives to change. These dead can no longer hear your voice.

And at that, I back slowly away, the last vestiges of light and warmth clinging to me. For a while no one will notice that I am gone. It will be “business as usual”. Life will go on until the smell of death grows so strong that even the dead can no longer stand their own stench.

I, the soul of this nation, distance myself from my charges. Though bruised and battered, I am reluctant to go, but unable to stay. But I guard within me the nature of all that is my Maker and because I know that nature, I also know that I will return.

So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice … so his own arm worked salvation … “ (Isaiah 59:14, 15, 16b NIV)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jail House Rock

Pixabay, Public Domain
Sy and I were minding our own business, just shooting the breeze as we walked. We’d landed in a pleasant enough place, met some nice people. In fact, we were on our way to the river to meet up with some of the gals from the church. They were into praying — the girls seem to do well at that for some reason — and if we didn’t move it, we were going to miss the announcements (we like to get them out of the way first so as not to disturb the flow of the worship). I was already warming up my vocal chords:

Gonna lay down my sword and shield, Down by the riverside, Down by the riverside …*

Not exactly a worship song, but it was my own personal favourite seeing as how I’d spent a lot of years fighting against the followers of The Way before God got my undivided attention.

I was kind of hoping we could get through the center of town without that crazy fortune-teller appearing. She, or her handlers, always seemed to know where we would be at any given time. Mind you, we never made any secret about our schedules. The whole point of being in this town was to talk about The Way, and a public forum was the best way to do that.

Under different circumstances, the girl could have been a poster child for our movement. For days she had followed us, but instead of saying whatever it was she was supposed to say to earn some bread for the dudes who skulked around behind her, she always ended up preaching. It was a good message too: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”** Sy joked that if I wasn’t careful, I’d lose my job. Fat chance, says I, the Boss told me I would preach in Rome and since I hadn’t been there on either of my previous foreign trips, I figured I was not going to join the ranks of the unemployed anytime soon. Besides, the church wasn’t ready for women preachers — yet!

Well, I decided if she was going to preach, she might as well do it from personal conviction rather than against the will of the snake that possessed her. As she appeared at the head of the street and came toward us, I met her with a divinely inspired message of my own:

“In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!”***

It seemed that no one but the girl and us was happy with the result. The town went into a major meltdown. Next thing you know we’re being hauled into court, beaten and thrown into jail. Sometimes, you gotta wonder how a day can go south so fast. Personally, I call it “The Joseph Syndrome.”

Since we couldn’t think of anything better to do with our time — seeing as how there wasn’t anything better to do with our time — we picked up where I’d left off in the morning.

Gonna put on my long white robe
Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna put on my long white robe
Down by the riverside
Ain't gonna study war no more.


It was a long song, and we sang all the verses, interspersing them with the prayers we had not quite gotten to earlier in the day.

There were a few other unfortunates in the hoosegow with us. They didn’t know the words, but by the time we got to the last chorus, they were humming right along:

Ain't gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more …


The earth shook. At first, I thought it was just my enthusiastic toe taping despite being in stocks. The crumbling brick scattering dust on my head, doors jumping from their hinges and chains snapping at wrist and ankle, clued me in. God was adding a big bass to our meager melody.

It never occurred to any of us to run. Besides, I had a feeling that someone else might need help laying down his sword by the riverside that night. As we waited for God’s encore, I wondered if the world was ready for a new genre in music. I’d call it Jail House Rock. That seemed appropriate.




* Down By The Riverside was originally written for the Boy Scouts
**Acts 16:17
*** Acts 16:18

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

One Little Snowflake


Once upon a time, long ago and far away there was a little snowflake. She was one of many waiting her turn to announce the coming of yet another winter season. The delicate embroidery of each flake had been lovingly crafted by the Master Snow Maker. Still, the little snowflake felt lost and forgotten in the presence of the bigger and more complex designs.

As her time approached, the little snowflake grew more and more worried. “I can’t do this,” she whispered, for she was afraid of what might await her out in the outer limits of the heavens.

The little snowflake made one last appeal to the Master Snow Maker. Perhaps he would have compassion on her and let her wait until she too, was bigger and better.

However, he shook his head, and with a wise smile, eased her out the celestial windows along with a multitude of others whose time has also come.

“You may not become the cusp of the biggest snowball, or the cornerstone of the strongest snow fort. You might not be the first to signal the coming of winter, or freeze into perpetuity in the still waters of a waiting stream. But, you’ll be exactly what you were meant to be just as you are. You will do what you were designed to do-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o …” and his voice drifted away as she fell further and further into the dark night.

For a time she lost sight of the rest of her companions as she drifted down through puffy clouds. She was teased by gentle breezes and tossed by some that were not so gentle. Now, more than ever, the little snowflake felt small and oh so alone.

As she drifted through the blackness, she tried to remember all that the Master Snow Maker had said. “You are unique. You know that I never make even one snowflake like any other. Only you can be you.”

“But I am only one among so many,” she argued.

“You are still the only one that is YOU,” he patiently insisted.

The little snowflake felt her progress slow. The breezes had faded. The night was still and silent. The air was cold. She could see more clearly now. The clouds had drifted away leaving the skies intense with glittering stars. One in particular drew her attention. It shone more brightly than the rest, bathing the landscape in a warm glow that penetrated the cold and dark.

“I’ll head for that star,” she said to no one in particular. She picked her currents of air carefully and soon found herself under the pale light of the bright star. Below her, the little snowflake could see the outline of hills against the dark sky. Nestled among them was a village. Pale lights flickered from the rough dwellings, occasionally disappearing as their inhabitants went off to bed. Against one hill, on the edge of town, a shed rested, its tired beams sheltering the entrance to a hollow carved out of the hillside. The star on whose mantle she rode seemed to point the way to that unlikely spot.

Closer and closer the little snowflake came. In the light of the star, she saw that there were four-footed beasts huddled beside the humble shelter below her. Some of her quicker companions melted themselves into curly wool and rough hide. Others slipped through the gaps in the roughly hewn slats in the roof and came to rest on the woolen cloaks, weathered cheeks, and calloused hands of the sheep keepers seeking shelter inside the shed.

The little snowflake braced herself. Her end was coming. She wondered how it could possibly fulfill all that the Master Snow Maker had promised. She landed gently on soft and pure flesh; the tip of the tiny nose of a Child nestled deep in the straw of the feed box. He made no sound, no move to brush her away. She, so small and insignificant, would go unnoticed right to the end. Or, would she?

As the little snowflake melted into Him, she felt the warmth of His smile and sensed that, somehow, He had been waiting for her arrival. In a flash as bright as that of the star she had followed, the little snowflake knew in her deepest being that in finding Him, she had found everything and had discovered not her end, but her beginning.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tinkle and Clang

A flurry of discordant sound announced the arrival of several sections of the bell choir.

“Move it, you three. You’re late and we haven’t got much time,” chimed the Bell Master from his place on the bottom rung of the carillon.

“Nag, nag, nag,” whispered the D flat to his buddy, C, as they climbed into their places on the top level. “What’s the hurry, anyway? Clang’s got his clapper in a knot for sure this morning.”

“Morning? It’s still dark outside,” protested the F major, breathlessly hauling himself up behind the others.

The smaller bells finally got themselves into place, just as Clang struck the note that indicated readiness and silence in the ranks. He looked around, carefully checking to make sure no one was missing. Worse than a faulty note was no note at all.

“Where’s Tinkle?” he boomed from his assigned spot.

Tinkle was the littlest bell of all. Her spot was high up at the top of the carillon.

Like an evil wind brushing through the tower, the rustle of the bells created dissonance as everyone looked around, hunting for Tinkle.

“I’m here sir. Just polishing, Bell Master.” Her clear, high sound rang out as Tinkle took her place at the apex of the musical arrangement.

“That girl takes herself too seriously. ‘Just polishing, Bell Master.’ As if fingerprints made any difference to anyone,” mimicked the D flat.

“You have something to share with us?” came Clang’s voice from down below.

Everyone froze. More than once Clang had said out loud that he wished they never had to have contact with their human counterparts—the evil always rubbed off a bit, like fingerprints on the burnished surface of a bell.

“Uhmmmmm, no sir. I was just, well, wondering what all the rush was about,” stuttered the offender. “It’s not even daylight yet.”

“Well, if—and I know keeping time for you doesn’t usually include knowing what day it is—you had been paying attention during rehearsals, you would have remembered that dawn today is the biggest moment of our year. Today we bring hope to the world.”

From somewhere in the middle of the bevy of bells came the dulcet tones of one of the G’s. “But, boss, do you really think anyone listens to us? It’s nasty out there. Everyone knows what happened to poor Liberty. Those humans are a mean lot and we don’t seem to be making much of an impact.”

There were a couple of chuckles from the group at G’s unintentional play on notes. The subdued merriment stopped as Clang’s clapper sounded for silence.

“I’ll admit that I sometimes have my doubts as to whether anyone gets our message, but that’s not the point. The point is that we have a message that we have been assigned to deliver, we’ve been practicing faithfully for this last year, and we are going to chime out that message no matter what. It’s up to the Master Musician to do the rest. So, are we ready? It’s almost time.”

The bell choir stirred, positioning themselves, clappers at the ready, all eyes on Clang.

“Tinkle?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Don’t forget, your part is critical. Sometimes people don’t hear the high notes, so you can’t hesitate or show weakness.”

“I won’t let you down, sir.”

Slowly the blackness outside the tower retreated before the insistence of the watery light of a winter sun. As it peeked above the horizon, Clang readied himself, gave the choir one last check, and nodded to Tinkle.

The high, light sound rang out loud and clear, followed by a rolling scale of melodious notes that reverberated across the awakening town.

Far below the tower, in the manse beside the church, a pastor looked up from his prayers. He had wrestled all night with his Christmas morning message. What could he say that would bring hope to a world where evil ruled men’s hearts, where even Christmas was banned with an “X”? How could he make sense of a world where, in the name of preserving peace, war was wrought?

He listened, remembered, and smiled. Hope was in God’s final note—which had yet to be played.

***************

And in despair I bowed my head/There is no peace on earth I said/For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good will toward men/
Then peeled the bells more loud and sweet/God is not dead nor doth he sleep/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/Of peace on earth, good will toward men./
(from: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rock Solid


“Bricks?”

“Check.”

“Trusses?”

“Got ‘em.”

“Window frames with glass?”

“Check.”

“Doors, front and back?”

“Double check.”

“Nails, various sizes?”

“Ditto.”

“Paneling?”

“That went out with the ice age, but if you insist, check.”

“Paint, several shapes of blue?”

“Why blue?”

“Reminds me of the sea. You know; tranquility, sea birds, setting sun, and all that.”

“Right. Anything else?”

Mr. MacLean scanned his list, and seeing only checkmarks, sighed in relief.

“Nope, everything is present and accounted for. Tomorrow we begin to build.”

And so it was that as soon as dawn broke the next day, MacLean’s crew began work on his fine brick house nestled among the trees by the river. Day after day, they toiled. The weeks past as the investment of McLean’s lifetime took form before his proud eyes.

MacLean was a fine man, upstanding and well respected in his community. He gave generously of his time, and his considerable wealth, to support charities and worthy causes of all kinds. People commented that he deserved his new home by the river. It was a tribute to hard work, clean living, and an open hand.

The property had been his own choice, for which he had spent a great deal of money. The sound of the current fascinated him, as it tumbled over the rocks in the shallows of the river. The boathouse would go just to the left of the house so as not to obstruct his view.

As the masterpiece of human art and craft took shape, MacLean did have his moments of concern. The river was not his to control, or to own. There were others who were building nearby. Just off to the right, and higher up on the bluff, another house was under construction.

Just think. I worked all my life for this land and this house, and someone gave this guy that land.

MacLean had seen his soon-to-be neighbour around town. The man wasn’t ashamed to tell everyone of the gift that he had been given. He seemed a man without pride in his accomplishments, though it certainly could not be said that he was any less generous than MacLean himself.

As the summer wore on, the two houses rose together. The townsfolk often came to check up on the progress of each, marveling at their similarities, and their differences.

“Well, they are certainly houses,” commented one observant individual.

Doors, floors and furnishings; in the basics, they looked the same. However, MacLean’s neighbour seemed content to let his house take the shape of the land it sat on, while MacLean made the land conform to the blueprints he had so carefully drawn up.

Finally, the house by the river was finished.

“Mr. MacLean, you got a winner here,” said the foreman as he finished gathering up his tools and his crew. “That guy up there will be feeling some stiff breezes while you enjoy this sheltered corner of the river bank.”

“Yes, indeed, there’s no doubt about it, I have built a great house of which I can be justifiably proud.”

And MacLean entered his house; sat in the expensive furniture he has carefully selected from the finest stores, and watched the river flow by his door.

In November, cold air from the north heralded the coming of the first of the early winter storms. The breezes, about which the supervisor had commented, turned into stiff winds that buffeted the house on the bluff. Down by the river, the trees sheltered MacLean, and he hardly noticed that the climate had changed. He went to sleep in peace, with the sound of the currents filling his dreams.

He awoke to a loud banging on his front door and two inches of water splashing across his bedroom floor.

“MacLean, hurry. The river is rising rapidly. You have to get out now.”

It was the neighbour from the bluff. MacLean flung open the front door. The boathouse was already gone, and his beautiful home was creaking and groaning, already buckling as the swelling tide of river water lashed at its walls and posts.

There was no time to save anything and in what seemed like an eternity of minutes, MacLean found himself in the house on the bluff, watching as the river washed away all that was so valued by him. The water never reached his neighbour’s house.

“Where did I go wrong?”

His neighbour placed a comforting hand on MacLean’s shoulder.

“You wouldn’t have lost anything if you had built on the Rock.”

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cereal Killer

Hither, thither, up and down,
Across the factory floor,
“Where is that boy, what has he done?”
Yelled Crackle with a roar.

“We can’t proceed, there is no chance,
Everything’s too quiet.
Production’s stopped, no means to find
A place in human diet.”

Pop was annoyed; there was no doubt—
Perhaps a bit afraid.
Some evil could have entered here
And made a nasty raid—

To steal a third of Krispies' fame
And hide it in a dungeon
A ransom ask, or worse to come,
To kill the sweet curmudgeon.

‘Tis true Snap’s temper was quite short,
But that should not require
A punishment as foul as death
A fate that is so dire.

Crackle paced and Pop thought hard.
The problem was confusing
A dozen reasons came and went
Each one set him to musing.

“Perhaps he fell into his bowl
And drowned in low-fat milk.
We need to go and see if he
Needs help from his own ilk.”

While empty boxes stood in rows,
Crackle’s ire grew.
No work was done, no food produced,
He knew just what he’d do:

“I’ll break his neck when next I see
My misbegotten brother.
If he’s not dead, or locked away,
Send running to his mother.”

Pop grew tall and spoke his mind:
“You speak in such a fury
Your words are harsh, but so untrue,
I hope that it’s just worry.”

The factory door swung open wide
A gasp was heard from all
As onto factory floor walked in
The cause of Crackle’s gall.

“So sorry, guys, I overslept.
I hope that you’ll decide
To overlook this lapse of mine.”
On grace, Snap now relied.

Pop was relieved there hadn’t been
A death, or something other
But Crackle wasn’t so inclined
To pardon his dear brother.

“Have you no sense of what is right?
You could have used your cell
To tell us that you were delayed,
That all was right and well.”

True to form, Snap’s fuse was short
No one could deny it
Both brothers took to fisticuffs
Thus ending all the quiet.

The rice got puffed, the boxes trembled,
Waxed paper tumbled ‘round,
As brothers fought to a dead heat;
Not ceding any ground.

Pop was forced to intervene
His veins about to shatter
With face so red from such disgrace
And nerves about to tatter.

“All this fuss, and useless muss,
‘Cuz Snap was late for work
I must take charge, as fathers should,
My duty not to shirk.”

“Please understand that what you do
Has many repercussions.
The children want ‘Snap,’ ‘Crackle,’ ‘Pop,’
Not rice with head concussions.”

“The sound they hear should happy be
Not of war, but peace.
So let’s forgive and move along
Production to increase.”

The lessons learned from Krispie sounds
Within our hearts should lurk:
Think the best, control your ire—
And don’t be late for work.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Lessons at Kilometer 2.5

It’s said that a person can never go home. That’s not true—I do it whenever I can.

Home surrounds Gillies Lake. The lake’s not as big as it used to be, only two and a half kilometers around. If memory serves, that’s because there isn’t a dredge stuck in the middle of it anymore, pumping out mud from the mineshafts that run under the town.

The city has turned the lake and its surrounding fringe into a conservation area complete with walking trail. So let’s go for a walk.

Most of the local ducks hang out near the picnic tables at the entrance. They know there will always be leftover bread for them. I watch for a while. The thermal travel mug will keep my coffee hot until I get to my spot. The ducks remind me that God has a picnic table too. Like them, I wait with eager anticipation for His supply. Unlike them, He doesn’t bring me scraps. It’s always first-class with God.

As I walk on, there are signposts giving directions and posters revealing interesting information about the lake’s habitat. Their presence reminds me of how important God’s directions to me are as He speaks through His Word and by His Spirit.

A few summers ago, a friend asked me to dog-sit. Chloe loved the walk around Gillies. She respected the bigger pooches, but I had to watch her around the little, yappy, ones. Their self-importance drove them to challenge her. Given half the chance the big Lab would have been more than happy to swallow them whole. I laughed at her but remember how often my own insecurities have caused similar reactions. As time passes, I’m learning just how “big” I am in my Father’s eyes and how little I have to prove.

I walk past the recently planted saplings. Each tree has been placed in memory of a loved one who has passed on. At the base of each is a small plaque with the person’s name inscribed on it. Memorial trees, in various stages of growth, dot the park. God will remember me, not with a plaque under a tree, but with a signature written in blood in His great Book of Life. That’s even better.

The path begins to climb a bit, crossing a creek that ends in a smaller pool of quieter water where the ducks and geese raise their young. I’m thankful for God’s “still waters” where I can rest safely. There are lots of benches, but I wait until I get to the one at the top of the hill. Here I sit to drink my coffee and look out across the lake.

The bulrushes and long grasses whisper in the breeze. Little ripples, scattering watery diamonds in their wake, flash across the surface of the water, chasing each other in their race to the finish line at the shore. The summer sun is hot on my back. It’s quiet.

How strange to be so removed from all the activity taking place just a short distance away. It’s like a world inside a world. I am reminded that this is how a Christian lives, in a holy, hushed world of intimate relationship with God even in the midst of chaos.

I walk again. The path curves along the eastern edge of the lake. There is another entrance on this side. A few cars are parked, their drivers napping behind the wheel, or taking their lunch breaks at one of the several picnic tables.

Then the path curves again, moving into brush and trees on the north end. Birds, butterflies, and bugs, flitter everywhere. There is the sweet smell of wilderness right here in the heart of town. Here, more than anywhere else, I feel God walking beside me.

The western side of the lake, just beyond the beach I used to come to as a kid, was the last to be developed. Here, the faded elegance of what was once “Nob Hill” (the politer version of “Snob Hill”) overlooks Gillies. Until recently, we still had to climb the hill and make a detour along several blocks of city streets to get back to the entrance to the conservation area. Today, a wooden walkway surrounded by trees and grasses runs right along the shoreline, avoiding the houses. The path is finally complete.

Someday life’s detours will also be a thing of the past. The circle will be complete, and I will be home, really home, in more ways than one.