Category Archives: metaphor
If you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious” you might not be doing yourself any favours.
According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, people who attend a religious service at least one a month have a lower risk of depression. People who simply identified as spiritual but didn’t participate in the life of a faith community didn’t enjoy the same benefits.
The study suggests, and I agree, that regular deep connection with people in a way that goes beyond the surface social interactions of, say, a book club or a spin class keeps our spirits up. Many people say they can just as easily feed their spirit during a a walk in the woods, or while painting, or while singing or dancing, and this is true. What you don’t find during those same activities is challenge and growth, and without challenge and growth the spirit connection quickly grows tenuous, and a tenuous spirit connection leaves plenty of room for the dark stuff to creep in.
The Easter story is a challenging one for lots of people. I get that. Many people struggle with the concept of resurrection, so it’s a difficult time to suggest to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd that participation in a faith community might be a good idea. But faith communities need people like that to challenge them and to help them grow. They need people who seek spirit but who choke on the many things that religious groups do wrong to walk in the door and say, “You know what? I like this, this and this, but this, no that’s just not acceptable.”
That way the relationship becomes reciprocal. Faith communities take on the challenge and grow, and the spiritual find the community they need to maintain and grow a strong spiritual connection. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will treat women as equals. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will honour all love-based marriages. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will value questions and doubts as seeds of growth.
In fact, maybe the best time to start might be Easter weekend, in memory of a man who was an outstanding example of a religious doubter and questioner.
Jesus dramatically turned the tables on the unacceptable religious practices of his day. Maybe we can, too.
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=1499
Bear with me all you non-sports fans—there will be good stuff for you here. I know several of you don’t “get” my interest in sports, but to me, the world of sport teaches participants and spectators life lessons hard to find anywhere else.
This weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays will play two games against the New York Mets at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The event has been dubbed “Expos Weekend” even though the Montreal Expos no longer exist—except in people’s hearts, souls and dreams.
These days I’ve been writing a story about the comeback of the Montreal Expos. Some might call it a fantasy piece; I prefer to call it “planning ahead.” There are enough people out there saying “It can never be.” If I have a role to play, it is to balance that out and say, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if . . .”
My father is at the root of my connection with the Expos. He was the original Expos fan. He watched every televised game and listened to the others on the radio. If a game lasted late into the night, and he didn’t want to disturb the family, he went to the car to listen to the game there. Many a night my father sat outside in the car by himself in the dark listening to Dave Van Horne.
We made family trips to Jarry Park to watch the team. We always got lost driving in Montreal (who doesn’t?), so the trips were an adventure. My parents left plenty of time though, so we arrived early enough to be rewarded with encounters with heroes like Rusty Staub.
In 1981, on what would become known as Blue Monday, I sat in the TV lounge of my university residence watching Rick Monday hit the home run that ended the play-off dreams of the Expos. I cried. The other girls in my residence couldn’t understand why I was so upset, but I was thinking of my father, and how crushed he would be at the moment. Far away from home, I shared that heartbreak with my father. (Truth told—I’m crying now, remembering.)
In 1994, the Expos had the season of their lives. They were on a roll. They were exciting to watch. They were the best team in baseball. Then, a baseball strike shattered the dream.
My father died in 1999, so he never lived to see the Expos franchise end. In 2005, the team became the Washington Nationals.
We played baseball as kids. I lived on a farm, so our field was the cow pasture and our bases were pieces of board or dried-up cow patties. We had a huge Louisville Slugger bat that was way too heavy for me to swing. My father taught me to choke up high on the handle to make it work for me.
My son plays baseball now. He’s pretty good. Here’s a picture of his first at-bat. See the name on the T-shirt? Expos. I have to confess to having some tears in my eyes at that moment, too.
When I watch him play now, when I see him run down a fly ball in left field or strike out a batter, I think: “If only Dad could be here to see this.”
I’m a sports fan, generally. I love the Ottawa Senators, Roger Federer and any Canadian curling team. But baseball is the sport of my soul. It resonates with me. Here’s what I have learned from the game and the Expos:
- Do whatever you have to do to enjoy the things you’re passionate about.
- If you get lost, keep going. You’ll get there eventually, and the rewards will be worth it.
- Sometimes you can do your very best and be oh-so-close to success and still not make it.
- Sometimes you can do your very best and be oh-so-close to success, and some outside force crushes your dream.
- If you don’t have everything you need, improvise. You’ll probably end up having more fun that way anyway.
- If something feels to heavy for you to handle, look for help and learn to adjust. When you make the changes, swing away. You might just make contact.
- An end is never an end; it’s a transition to another form.
- Even if a person isn’t physically with you in the room or in the bleachers, a person can be with you anyway.
When the Toronto Blue Jays came along, my father cheered for them, too. They were in a different league, so that was okay. This weekend it will be the Blue Jays, not the Expos, playing at Olympic Stadium.
I don’t know what you think, but I think my father will be along the third base line enjoying the view.
Parenthood provides the opportunity for fully grown adults to re-capture childhood joys. When my children were younger, I re-captured some childhood joy when I came across the book Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.
As a child I loved the simple sketches and fun story, but as an adult I appreciate the profound spiritual truths that lie at its heart.
My friend Harold begins his story in chaos, with his purple crayon scribbling all over. Then he decides he needs a moon to light his way and solid ground on which to walk. With these two necessities in place, he begins his journey.
At first, not wanting to get lost, he creates a straight path for himself.
The straight path soon loses his interest, so he decides he needs a tree, and that the tree needs some apples. Wouldn’t they be delicious?
As soon as he has apples though, he worries that someone might steal them. He creates a frightening dragon to defend his treasure. The dragon is so frightening, it scares even Harold, so he falls backwards into the wavy ocean that his trembling hand squiggles out for him.
Soon Harold is in way over his head.
To save himself, he creates a boat, and then a sail, and then a shore upon which to land.
Harold takes himself on an adventurous journey complete with delicious pies, friends, hot air balloon rides, large cities and helpful guides. The moon accompanies him on every page.
Eventually he grows so tired he wants to go home to bed. He remembers that his bedroom window is always right around the moon, so he draws himself his bedroom window and his big comfy bed. He crawls in and goes to sleep.
This beautiful story shows spirit (the moon) and our physical world (the solid ground) created out of chaos. With the moon shining on him always and the ground solid underneath, Harold uses the purple crayon (free will, the Source, Universal Mind, whatever you choose to call it) to shape his life. He creates fun times, hard times, dangers and solutions to his problems.
I keep a copy of this book on the shelf beside my desk. When I look at the cover, it returns me to a quiet centre. It makes me ask questions: Which fearful events and situations have I created for myself? What solution can I create, or draw, to solve those problems? What positive and fun things can I draw next?
It reminds me that spirit is always shining down on me and that the ground is solid beneath my feet. It reminds me that the path my life takes lies in my own hand.
And it humbles me, because at the root of everything lies the unanswerable question: Where does the purple crayon come from?
Our church, Trinity United, received some media attention in the Ottawa area recently. We created two stained glass windows.
So, what’s so newsworthy about that, you might wonder?
The part of the story that drew the media interest was the artist, Beth Jenkin, who created the original pictures for the finished pieces; she’s in her twenties, and she’s quickly losing her vision. When she began the project, she could still see, but as the work progressed, her vision failed more and more.
Now that the work is complete, she can’t see it clearly, and it is the last work of this type she will be able to do.
That heartbreaking and compelling part of the story was unforeseen at outset of this project. People who were involved from the beginning know there are many other meaningful sides to this story.
The biggest meaningful piece is a man called Chris Humphrey. (Sometimes when I’m typing his name, I inadvertently add a “t” to the end so it comes out “Christ.” That’s not so far off the mark.) I admire Chris so much that even a writer like me can’t find the words to wrap up what an exceptional human being he is. He’s much more comfortable behind the scenes, but when he’s there you can bet that he’s the one building the scenes, holding up the scenes, beautifying the scenes, making sure the scenes work properly and have good sound, and that every other person with him is taken care of back there.
At a meeting last week, Chris presented his interpretation of how this stained glass project became a reality.
- A longing, a need. Our church building, designed by renowned architect James Strutt, is among Canada’s top 500 buildings of architectural significance. Some members of our church made their first visit it to us out of architectural curiosity. But architectural significance and beauty don’t always go together, and our building is also noted for its less than attractive exterior. The sanctuary within this architecturally significant building does not have windows. For many years the warm people who love this church have longed for, felt the need for, some stained glass to brighten our worship space.
- Vision. Our church has a memorial fund to which people donate in memory of someone they love. This money is then used to beautify the building or the worship experience of the church in some way. We accept proposals from congregation members, and one of our members had a vision of light shining through stained glass.
- Motivation. Many visions flit into and out of our heads without taking shape in reality. For thought to transform into something physical, one or more people need motivation to take the first step. This is where Chris’s work on this project began.
- Inspiration. In our church, we turn to the archaic use of this word: to breathe on, or to breathe into. In this case, Beth received the breath of inspiration during one of our meditation sessions. The guided meditation led her to a vision of the tree of life, infused with light, fed by a flowing river.
- Creativity. Beth began her artwork—still able to see her work at that time. She began with the tree of life, and the vision she received. From there she drew on the creativity of others to make the two pieces of art true to the spirit of Trinity. Each piece has a dove to represent the active justice and outreach work of our church. Incorporated into the body of the tree of life is our Trinity Cross, designed by Rev. Dr. Glen Stoudt. Our cross has three flags in three corners of the cross to represent Higher Power, Body, and Soul. One corner remains open to represent our minds open to new ideas and ongoing progressive evolution. The rainbow above the Trinity Ark represents our inclusivity. One of my favourite things about these two pieces is that they aren’t generic representations of Christian ideas; they truly represent the spirit of what our church is all about.
- Action. With the vision in place, the work began. Chris got the glass, set up the work spaces and sought volunteers to help him. He trained people to cut and solder the glass.
- Enthusiasm. The more people thought about this, the more enthusiastic they became. The project became a labour of love for many. Their enthusiasm drew in others to help.
- Community Involvement. As Beth’s vision faded shockingly quickly, she had to reach out for help. Another church member, Alex Dunn, worked with Beth to support her emotionally through her dramatic loss of sight and to help her complete the artwork. More than 30 people helped to cut and solder stained glass. We didn’t farm out this work to other people. The people of our congregation created and completed the windows from start to finish.
- The cycle. Chris drew his graphic with the community involvement flowing back into inspiration, creativity, action. He believes that when a group of people see the successful fulfillment of one dream, it allows them to believe in the possibility of other miracles: the impossible becomes possible. They ask, “What next?”
I can see Chris’s ideas in other projects I’m involved in, too. A need leads to a vision and a motivation to seek inspiration. The inspiration leads to creativity, enthusiasm, action and community involvement.
And the cycle carries on in a spiral of miraculous outcomes.
Read more about the battery charger that is Trinity here:
See more about our stained glass here:
CTV Ottawa, Regional Contact: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=283883&binId=1.1443144
We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.
We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.
That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.
No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.
Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.
When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.
A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.
The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?
1 Corinthians 13:13
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Posted in Belief, Christmas stories, Fundamentalism, good faith, Gratitude, How do you define success?, Inspiration, Living life to the fullest, metaphor, modern faith, progressive christianity, quote, religion
At the end of my Tuesday post, Charlie Brown reflections, I tagged on the Christmas story that Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Since Tuesday I have discovered how deeply Linus’s scene touches people. People have told me it’s their favourite scene. They have told me that as soon as Linus says “Lights please” a peaceful quiet descends on a room, and that all movement stops until Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
The King James version of the Bible isn’t used in my progressive Christian church very often anymore, but Christmas is the one time of the year I wish they would. Other Bible versions cannot match the lyrical rhythm of the King James Luke 2:10-14.
But I’ve been mulling this passage over in my mind since Tuesday. I’m a stickler for non-gender-specific language, so I would rather have the words “all people” at the end instead of “men,” but I am willing to live with it in this case as a nod to a time when we didn’t know better. If I had to change something, it would be the order of the last phrase of the last line: “. . . and on earth peace, good will toward men.“
The writer of this passage wished for peace first and then good will toward all people. Wouldn’t it work better the other way around?
If we had good will toward all people, peace would follow.
So this Christmas, no matter whether the season is a secular one or a religious one for you, show good will toward all people. From that, we make peace.
Luke 2:10-14 (Arlene version)
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and with good will toward all people, on earth peace.