Mom & the Bikers

A New Brunswick friend of mine, with whom I trade puns regularly, posted some pictures of her lovely vacation in a rented cottage on Lake Erie in Ontario. They reminded of past holidays Linda, and I used to take. We would rent a cottage on Lake Erie and take my mother there. She lived in a Seniors Complex and so we could not visit her there, as we had when she kept a home of her own. One summer after several days of barbecues Mom decided she wanted to take us out to dinner. There were a few requirements for the restraint. It needed to have street parking close to the door. It also needed to have no steps. I drove slowly through the town until I spied a parking spot just outside the door of an establishment and the entrance was at street level! An answer to my prayers! Mom took my arm and the three of us sauntered into … a biker bar! I was a bit taken back but Mom seemed unfazed. “Do you serve food here?” “Yes, ma’am.”

We were soon ushered to a booth. We walked past all sorts of Harley memorabilia as I tried not to stare at the leather-bound inhabitants as they fixed their gazes on us. The tattooed waitress and the bar keep could not have been more hospitable to my mother. She seemed not to notice their apparel though I can hardly imagine what she would have said if teenaged Reed had shown up clad like that!

The pool players hushed their conversation and not a foul word was uttered in my mother’s hearing. The food was substantial and affordable. The entire visit was exceedingly pleasant.

My initial reaction was an inward groan, this was going to be an embarrassing disaster, but we were met with such grace and hospitality that I was ashamed of my thoughts.  I had judged a book by its cover!

There in a biker bar we were recipients of grace and hospitality.

I can’t help but wonder what the result would be if the positions were reversed. What if the tattooed bikers with leather and boots burst in the door of our church? Would they find grace? Would they find hospitality?

The prodigal arrives with the whiff of the pig barn on him (true farmers know this scent), and the Father accepts him with open arms. You and I come with “righteousness as filthy rags” and find the amazing grace of God.

If God so accepts and extends hospitality and grace, then so should we! Even more, though, Jesus exhorts us to “go into the highways and byways” and cause such as these to come to.

This was to be our last such vacation. Mom became too frail to wander far from her residence, but we will always have the memory and lessons of “Mom & the Bikers.”

Becoming Whelmed!

“I wish I had a heart like that!” I found myself thinking these words as I read Nehemiah’s response to the news. He did not have access to 24-hour cable news or the all-pervasive internet. He got his news slowly from a traveller from Judah. During their conversation (an interactive relational activity) he inquired about Jerusalem. This was his ancestral home, though Nehemiah probably had never set foot there. The response was that it was in ruins and the remnant of Israel who had returned were in a bad way. Nehemiah’s response was to weep.

I see tragedy play out on my various screens every day and I remain ‘dry eyed’. I found Nehemiah’s reaction an inditement of my own attitudes and practises. At first I tried to excuse myself. I get so much tragic news I would be bawling all the time if I reacted in like fashion. Life would be too overwhelming! Though that might be true, I am responsible for my intake. Should getting news really be like drinking from a fire hose? Could I be more selective about my viewing? Should I be sensitive to God asking for help in knowing what my response ought to be?

Nehemiah gives me some examples of how to approach situations in a way that is sensitive to the prompting of God’s Spirit. On hearing the news, he is moved with empathy. He prays for days. He fasts. He takes a serious chunk of time and devotes it to seeking God. He claims the promises of a covenant keeping God. He prays for God’s will to be done.

Later when faced by a question on the topic, from the king, he prays again. This prayer is not recorded, but seems to have taken mere seconds, as the conversation with the king continues seamlessly. This a different sort of prayer. It is what I call an ‘arrow’ prayer, a “Help!” shot heavenward in the midst of life.

It seems to me that our response to the tragedies that fill our screens ought to be one or the other of these. I ought to be careful not to get overwhelmed but in the face of much of the news I ought to be whelmed (is that even a word?). Too often my response is underwhelming! I may not be able to respond after the first of Nehemiah’s responses, but I can respond by his second!

Nehemiah had another response. He rolled up his sleeves and did what he could with what he had. If as a Christian I am not somehow actively involved in the mission of ‘bringing His Kingdom’ of justice and peace more and more, then I am not living a life worthy of the Name.

Yes the tragic news can be overwhelming but I believe God wants me to develop the discipline of listening to Him in order to discern which of Nehemiah’s responses is appropriate for me. Having heard, then, it is mine to obey! 

Tomorrow, weather permitting we will hold our Barbecue for the neighbourhood, local church, and Street Hope friends. We are praying for meaningful conversations and deepening relationships.

Our renovations are going slowly but the pace will soon pick up. The costs have risen significantly this year and even the availability of supplies is becoming a challenge. Your prayers for our building project are appreciated. I do not have King Artaxerxes to go to, but I have better than that, I have access to the King of Kings!

Hope & Hopelessness

I have been dwelling on some memories these past days. I have been recalling my first ministry placement. I flew into the isolated community of Shamattawa. This aboriginal community had been displaced from their territory and plunked in the midst of another band’s ancestral territory. The few who wanted to remain connected to the land had to travel two- or three-days journey to hunt and trap. Disconnected, disheartened, and despairing  the community sank into a malaise. Suicide, gas-sniffing, and violence became the hallmark. My white middle class worldview was shaken! I had no ‘pat’ answers but learned to listen. This was over forty years ago and still this community suffers.

I also remember my tour with Malcolm Harding as we visited community after community on the northern section of the Diocese of Brandon. In one community we were asked to visit each site of violence and death and to offer ‘cleansing prayer’. People felt ‘haunted’ by these deaths. We spent a long, long day being ushered from place to place. In each one we heard a story of horrible violence and loss. We heard of despair and addiction. Most of these communities were ‘relocated’ in order that lands could be flooded, and hydro electricity produced. For years afterward, as I turn on a light switch, I think of the toll that my hydro has cost so many First Nation communities.

Forty years later I still have no pat answers. I do believe that one of our resolutions ought to be to do no further harm! Economic development ought not ever be done at the expense of First Peoples. We hear the word reconciliation bandied about and reconciliation is sorely needed. Reconciliation though, like the Tango, takes two, and it takes work. Folks can apologise and apologies can even be accepted but reconciliation does not happen with forgiveness (though that is a mammoth step!). I have worked with alcoholics for years and they have no trouble feeling sorry. It is easy to feel sorry! But ‘sorry’ does not change anything! A decision followed by action is the only thing that changes things. Like drunks awaking to be confronted by the damage we have caused we easily slip into an abject sorrow and feel as if we are righting wrongs. We are not! That sorrow cannot be sustained unless it is turned into some positive action.

Years ago, I learned that the best I could do in the face of the pain and loss, was to sit in the dust like Job’s friends at their best. I learned to live my life in a way that was winsome and when my friends asked about my hope, then I would share my story.

Our ultimate hope is that Jesus plans to make all things right. In the meantime, we are his agents, loving the world and offering his healing presence in each and every situation, doing so with gentleness and respect.