Category Archives: modern faith

The parable of the shovels

Two men stood on opposite sides of a field. An Overseer said, “Dig.”

shovelThe first man said “Okay! I can handle that. I’ve been preparing all my life to dig.” He selected his best shovel from five shovels leaning against a large storage shed, and he set to work. He had no trouble digging; his parents had paid for digging lessons when he was a child, and he had a college degree in shoveling. He was so good at digging that sometimes this man wished he had more shovels. The families of some of his friends had so many shovels they needed more than one storage shed. They had more than they could ever use, and this man knew his life would be better too, if he amassed a larger supply.

The second man across the field heard the “Dig” instruction and set to work. He had no shovel, so he dug using his bare hands. He had never had a shovel, so he wouldn’t have known what to do with one if he had it. He believed that shovels were something only other people had, and they were a dream he would never attain. He was a little afraid of shovels, truth be told. And the people who had shovels didn’t treat him nicely at all, so he didn’t want to become like them. Because he didn’t have a shovel, he had to dig longer and work harder than the other man, and he still didn’t get as much done. But he kept working. One day he fell ill, but he dug anyway. There are no such things a sick days for people with no shovels.

The first man didn’t pay much attention to what was happening on the far away side of the field, but one day he decided to take a well-deserved afternoon off and go for a walk. When he came to the side of the field where the second man was working through his lunch hour, he saw how little progress the man had made.

“Look at that,” he said. “He’s hardly done anything. He’s waiting for me to pick up the slack.”

He shook his head and walked away. “He’s just lazy and riding on my coattails.” He didn’t notice that the man had no tools to work with. It didn’t occur to him to share any of the shovels he wasn’t using.

The Overseer came back to check on progress. He visited the man digging with his bare hands, and he complimented him on his progress. “You have done well,” he said. The digger knew he had worked hard. He felt proud of the results of his hard work, even though he knew it wouldn’t look like much to others.

hand-tool

The Overseer went to visit the man with many shovels. That digger said, “Look at what I’ve done.” He waved an arm to show off the large area of ground he had worked. “I’ve done so much more than that guy over there.” He pointed to the small patch the other digger had worked on the opposite corner of the field.

“You have done well,” the Overseer said, “But do you think you might have a shovel to spare?”

Startled, the first digger replied, “Why, sure, I guess.” He’d never thought of that before. He looked down at the shovel in his hand. It had a sturdy handle, and it was just the right length. He really loved it. He didn’t want to give that one away, so he kept his favourite shovel. He gave the Overseer one he’d forgotten he even had out of the back of the shed.

The Overseer returned to the far side of the field and placed the shovel into the dirty and calloused hands of the second digger. The man held it out from his body, overwhelmed at first. He had never handled shovels, so it felt awkward. He didn’t think he deserved such a thing.

“Use it. It will help you,” the Overseer said.

Eventually the second digger gained confidence and became quite comfortable with the new tool. It worked so well for him, he even enjoyed some time off every once in a while.

  • There will always be people with more or fewer tools.
  • Don’t judge people who don’t have tools.
  • Don’t be afraid of tools; master them and they will help.
  • Everyone is worthy of tools.
  • Consider the needs of others and get them some tools, if you can.
  • Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have more tools than we really need.
  • It’s okay to keep your favourite tool.

The pixels, the picture and the story: A faith mosaic

canadian mosaic july 7th smallSince 2008, photographer Tim Van Horn has been travelling across Canada to photograph Canadians, and he will continue to do so into 2017. Each one of his photographs will become a pixel in a giant Canadian flag mosaic portrait to be completed in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. The portrait will tell the story of “the collective history and energy of 40,000 of Canadians from across the land . . . weaving together a colourful, diverse, true life look at the Canadian cultural tapestry.”

Van Horn’s Canadian Mosaic Project takes the faces of Canadians and creates a picture. The picture in turn tells a bigger story of a culturally diverse country.

Life is in the details, and life is in the big picture.

To really appreciate his masterpiece, we need to know about and consider the 40,000 unique citizens at the heart of it—the people pixels. But if we were to spend all our time microscopically dissecting the pixels without stepping away to appreciate they way they blend together, we would miss the big picture. We don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that the pixels are the only thing. Sure, we need to study the details, but we also need to enjoy the big picture and, more importantly, ponder what greater story they work together to tell.

Faith is like that.

We can study the bible. We can closely examine the many intricate details therein. But we don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that those details are what faith is all about. We need to step back and look at the bigger picture. And, more importantly, we need to ponder the greater story they work together to tell.

The faith story for me is:

  • All people are of equal value. Each unique face forms a vital part of the whole. All are one.
  • The collective history and energy of billions of people of different faiths weave together to form a colourful, diverse, true life tapestry.

_______________

Find out more about The Canadian Mosaic Project on Facebook.

 

 

 

You can’t skip Day Two: Where the magic happens

Day two, or whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you’re ‘in the dark’—the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.” —Brené Brown in Rising Strong

Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong, leads and participates in three-day workshops that encourage people to dare greatly and accept vulnerability. On Day One, people arrive bright with curiosity and anticipation. Day One is easy. But not Day Two. Day Two is hard. That is when participants really need to delve into the “unavoidable uncertainty, vulnerability, and discomfort of the creative process.”

No matter where people come from, or how much money they make, or what level of experience they have, everyone finds Day Two of the workshops challenging. Everyone experiences the doubt and discomfort that make up the middle space. Sometimes people want to give up and flee. They want to skip all the difficulties but yet, somehow, miraculously arrive at a happy ending.

But you can’t skip Day Two.

“The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.”

Daring greatly to fill the empty pages on Day Two

Daring greatly to fill the empty pages on Day Two

Day Two takes many metaphorical forms. It’s the time of not knowing in between times of knowing. It can be the journey between the bright curiosity and anticipation at the outset of a project and the satisfaction of its completion, as in Brown’s workshops. It can also be the painful struggle between tragedy and triumph.

Day Two lives in the space after death or divorce and before life re-created in a new way. We find Day Two in the scorching pain of labour, after the first twing of contraction and before the birth of a child. Writers know Day Two well. Our Day Two is the long, doubt-filled period between Idea and Book.

There is a big Day Two coming up this weekend for those who celebrate Easter. Those who don’t celebrate Easter can look to it as an example too.

The Saturday that follows Good Friday, might look like an empty day, but it’s an important day to contemplate, because it’s the part of the story that we most often need to bring to mind. It represents all the difficult times we face when we don’t yet know about the joy to come. In Jesus’ time, on the Saturday following his death people only knew grief. They thought he’d be lost to history forever. They couldn’t have imagined that thousands of years later we’d still be talking about the guy.

During our times in between when we can’t see the happy ending—whether those times come after a divorce, or while working on a school project, or while waiting to hear if we got a job—Day Two reminds us that wonderful things beyond our wildest imaginings could be around the corner.

The time in between is a messy time of grief, or doubt, or confusion, or anger. On Day Two we do all the work without knowing where it’s going. It’s not fun, but you can’t skip it either. It’s where the magic happens.

Day Two sustains us and reminds us to keep a flicker of hope alive.

wishing-for-wind

 

 

A visitor

In honour of International Women’s Day, I shall describe the visitor who came to us during our recent Florida vacation as female. Apparently male and female egrets appear identical—a fitting attribute for the day.


The visitor, when she arrived, alighted 20 feet away from us. A comfortable distance. Non-threatening. We appreciated the special gift of her presence and enjoyed witnessing it from afar, like she was a gift intended for someone else.

visitor

Then she lifted lightly into the air, flew closer and set down on the peaked roof right in front of us. A nervous distance. Mildly alarming. Verging on creepy. We marveled at the proximity, and fought the desire to shrink away to a safer distance.

egret

We enjoyed the extraordinary presence. We didn’t want to run away from the awesomeness. But a little corner of our souls experienced discomfort at the closeness of a being that shouldn’t be so close.

Just hours before we had kayaked in the mangroves swamps of Caladesi Island, Florida, and we had paddled silently by an egret in his wild habitat  He had looked at us from a nervous distance like we were mildly alarming. Verging on creepy.

This visiting egret turned the situation on its head.

I guessed that this bird visited us because someone somewhere had broken the invisible rule of not feeding wildlife. The two worlds—the wild and the domestic—are meant to brush up against each other but remain separate. Respected as “other.” We can appreciate. We can witness. But we should maintain the separation as much as possible. Wildlife must stay wild.

But the separation had been breached, so there was the visitor right in front of me. Staring me right in the eye.

The visitor lingered, so we had plenty of time to marvel at the purpose-built beak, the graceful neck, the delicate white feathers waving in the breeze. The setting sun created the silhouette of an angel, lent a divine aspect to this earthly creature.

egret2

A car roared into the parking lot below, obnoxious music blaring out of its speakers. Traffic whooshed on the highway nearby. Unwelcome and mundane sounds barging into the extraordinary moment.

The world of the unwelcome and mundane brushing up against the world of the divine.

Inevitably, the sun set, the air cooled and we shivered in the cool evening. We moved on, because such moments are not meant to last forever. Come the time, we move on, savouring the memory and living with the unwelcome and mundane.

 

Epiphany: Opening to Big Magic

“Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” —Sir Arthur Eddington, British physicist

I read the quote above in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book was one way magic appeared in my life over a Christmas season replete with the word. At noisy parties, we talked about people with magical personalities. At informal gatherings with friends, conversations turned how children fully embrace the magic of Christmas. We went to see the enchanting, magical theatre production The Wizard of Oz. At our Christmas dinner, the crackers contained magic tricks. 

It was almost magical how the universe led me to ponder magic. 

Of course, each of those things has a rational, logical explanation. People don’t really have magical personalities; some people are just more outgoing and charismatic than others. Children do embrace the magic of Christmas, but there is no man coming down the chimney. The Wizard of Oz? Please. We all know we have to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. And to perform magic with our cracker prizes at Christmas dinner, we each had to know the secret behind the “trick.”

There is a rational, logical explanation. Except when there isn’t. Something unknown is doing something we can’t figure out. 

In her book, Elizabeth Gilbert encourages us to allow some of that unexplainable magic into our lives. Why not? Doing so opens doors instead of closing them. Doing so might lead to some “Wow” moments. Doing so is just way more fun.

Tomorrow is Epiphany—a good day to open the door to Big Magic. It just might be fun. 

epiphany

Faith, whether we claim it or not

More food for thought from Bishop Steve Charleston

_________

“We do not know what is around the next corner.

We do not even know what will pass in our lives between sunrise and sunset. Therefore, whether we claim it or not, we live each day in faith.

We believe. We believe in ourselves. We believe in our family. We believe in others who are close to us.

Some of us believe beyond that, to name a loving power that guides us, to walk with others who pray with us. But we all believe, in some way, in our own fashion.

Let that thin thread, that simple affirmation, bind us in a shared respect. We are not strangers in shadows, but believers searching for the light.”

—Bishop Steve Charleston

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