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Grief and Gratitude: A Celebration of a Life Well Lived

Grief and Gratitude: A Celebration of Life

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In October, 2020, I had the privilege of presiding over the Celebration of Life for a friend that I had known for forty-five years.

In school, we had much in common and we bonded over our shared love of music. In fact, he formed the first rock band I was ever in, with a drummer, an electric guitarist, and me, playing Toto tunes on trumpet. It was not a highly successful band, but we had fun together for a bit, and deepened our friendship. We lost touch with each other for a few years, and then music brought us together again.

In the spring of 2019 my friend learned that he had cancer. After his diagnosis, we spent more time together, scheduling visits monthly, then weekly, then whenever possible. I remember every word of our last visit together, the last day that he was strong enough to speak, just three days before his passing.

In honour of our friendship both old and new, his family invited me to preside over his celebration of life. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, a couple of dozen of his closest friends and family were admitted to the hall, and we learned later that a couple hundred more watched on closed circuit video.

Here is an outline of the service, with my remarks added where appropriate.

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Celebration of a Life Well Lived


Arrival
Prelude Instrumental Music

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Greeting and Words of Welcome by Doug Ferris

Musical Selection 1

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Family selections from Psalm 23, read by Doug Ferris
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside still waters,
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths, for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Surely, Goodness and Mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life, An I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
My whole life long

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Words of Remembrance 1 by family
Words of Remembrance 2 by family

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“Full Hearts, and Full Hands: Grief and Gratitude”
Words of Comfort By Doug Ferris

If you got your driver’s license in this town back in the eighties, you had to go through “The Old Man”.  Any life-long residents here know exactly who I’m talking about, because everyone knew him, and everyone hated him. 

Truth is that, back then, he wasn’t as old as I am now, and he wasn’t a bad guy at all, really.

Still, to every kid who craved their G license he was “The Old Man,” and he was the only real barrier between the new driver and the freedom of the open road. Sitting in that car was our rite of initiation into adulthood, and I had the privilege of going through that initiation ritual three times.  Yep. Three times. I admit it, I failed twice. Oohh, that “Old Man.” I blamed him

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But deep down, I knew I wasn’t ready to do any more than either kill myself or somebody else. And over time, the Old Man taught me a little something about being a better driver. But he taught me something else, too. He taught me something about life.

I failed the first time before I even left the parking lot.  On that day, the Old Man taught me something I have never forgotten, and today I want to share the Old Man’s wisdom with you.

After I backed out of the parking space and headed for the street, The Old Man stopped me and just looked at me. Then he asked a simple question: “When you’re driving down the road, what window do you look out of”?

I stared back at him blankly, scared enough to wet my pants.  I didn’t get his point, and I was too scared to speak, so he repeated his question: “When you’re driving down the road, what window do you look out of?

I finally found enough voice to reply with a question: “The front one?” And he nodded.

“So, when you’re going backwards, what window do you look out of”? The penny dropped so hard, that you can still hear it ringing today: “The back one?” I said.

“Right.  Now park over there. We’re finished”.  And I was done.  Failed.

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But I learned that day that, when you’re travelling down the road, you’re invariably looking in two different directions at the same time.  And so it is in life. Invariably, we look out the rear window so to speak, backwards into our own pasts, while at the same time, we need to look forwards, into the future. 

Looking forward is absolutely critical. We MUST look forward. To stay on the road, we need to look forward, into the hazards that come our way, prepared for what lies ahead.

But, at the same time, we have the opportunity to look backward, with gratitude, at where we have come from. the safety of the trip so far, the beautiful scenery, the warm conversation we enjoyed with the ones we love, it’s a pleasure to look back. But we have to do both.

And life is like that, too, isn’t it? Looking forward and back, at exactly the same time. On days like this, we hold these tensions together at the same time, in grief at the loss of a man we all loved and admired, in grief and in gratitude for what has gone before, and in anticipation of what still lies ahead of us.

In grief and in gratitude. There is gratitude in grief. It is at times like these–times that seem to treat us so unfairly–that we learn to hold our grief lightly.

Hold your grief lightly.  Honour it, respect it. Because your grief is a sign from the universe that you and I–that we–have loved and have been loved, that we have lived, and that we have had the privilege to share both life and love with one of the gentlest spirits that you and I ever known. There’s grief in that. Hold your grief gently.

At the same time, hold your gratitude lightly, too.

Hold your gratitude lightly because it is the living child of all of your thoughts, your memories, your hopes, your dreams and your relationships.  Gratitude is sacred. 

In its own way, grief is sacred, too.  Both are gifts to us from a sacred universe, an animated Universe, a universe that is alive beyond our comprehension. 

In our hearts, we know it.  We hear our spirits whispering in gratitude, reminding us: this is not all there is.  This is not all there is. This is not all there is.

There is more, so much more.  Keep watch, look behind you, to see where you have come from, but also, look down the road, ahead of you, further than as far as you can see. Because what you can already see is not all there is. This is not all there is. There is more, so much more.

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An ancient story tells of a man who was able to see both deep into the past and far into the future. As a result, he was a man acquainted with grief, a man of sorrows, and yet, a man filled with gratitude, filled with empathy.

Because of his profound understanding of grief and gratitude, he was a man with unusual allure, a man who inspired great allegiance and inflamed tremendous jealousy.  And this allure, this ability to inspire and inflame eventually got this man into trouble. He knew he had to go.

When the time came for him to leave the friends that had become his family, the man sensed their grief, their loss, and their love. Knowing that it was his time to leave them, he said “do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my family’s home, there are many rooms, and I go ahead of you to prepare a place for you, so that we can be there together.”

The man promised his friends that he would see them again. But until that time, he reminded them, “Love one another, the way that I have loved you”. Love one another the way that I have loved you.”

Hold your gratitude tightly and hold your grief lightly.

Hold your gratitude tightly and hold your grief lightly.

Grief and gratitude. Both are a gift of the Spirit, given to those of us who have dared to know the depths and the heights of love. 

As we travel together, looking into the rear-view mirror of our past, we are filled with gratitude.  The road, though, leads forward.  And like the ancient sage and his friends, we all know the grief that loss brings.  This world is a wonderful world, a world of life, laughter and love, and we grieve when we lose the best parts of it. Our friend–my friend and yours–was one of the best parts of it. And so we look back, in grief.

But this is not all there is.

This is not all there is, and while I grieve the loss of my friend today, I remember the words that he and I shared together not three days before his passing, when I last saw him at his house. In that room, in that house, we spoke of another house. Looking forward into the future, we could see another house, a new home.

In that house, there is a place prepared for all of us. There was a place prepared for my friend in that house. There is a place for you in that house, there is a place for me in that house, and with the full knowledge of the promises of God, I know that my friend has gone there ahead of me. I am fully convinced that we will see him again.

We shall meet again, because this is not all there is.  This is not all there is. 

We have been given a great gift, to be able to look back and forward. I give thanks for the world that slips into the rear view mirror. I grieve for it, but I also see through the front window that this world is not all there is, and I am grateful that God has prepared a place in the house of God for our friend, for you and for me.

Friends, this is not all there is, and like that parking lot that I learned in so many years ago, this is the world where we learn the skills we need for the road ahead. And down the road, we shall meet together in joy again.

Thanks be to God for the gift of this world, and thanks be to God for the gift of the world to come.

Thanks be to God, because this is not all there is. Amen.

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Invitation to a Moment of Silent Remembrance

Reflection, Meditation or Prayer. Responsive Words of Assurance and Comfort from Scripture as selected by family (Doug Ferris, reader).

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Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after;
To live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble
Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage and wait for the Lord.

Musical Selection 2: Guest Musician

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Benediction and Sending Forth: Doug Ferris

Musical Postlude
Guest Musician
Procession

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Processional to Interment

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(Shared publicly with gratitude and with the expressed consent of my friend’s family)

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Lenten Reflection for Holy Week: Day 1: Palm Sunday

“Rejoice greatly, Oh Daughter Zion, Shout aloud, Oh Daughter Jerusalem Lo, your King comes to you, Triumphant and victorious is he Humble, riding on a donkey; On a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

Things are not always as they seem.

Today, on ‘Palm Sunday’ we celebrate with the crowds who saw the joyful arrival of Jesus with their own eyes.  We, ‘The Church’ easily–even unthinkingly–adopt the Church’s traditional language for this day: The “Triumphal Entry.”

Mark describes it as anything but. Riding into town on a donkey in a farcical re-enactment of Zephaniah’s prophecy, Jesus’ arrival in the Capital was viewed as defiant mockery by the crowd, as blasphemy by the Priesthood, and as rebellion by the Romans.

In the cultural, religious and political tinderbox of occupied Jerusalem this tawdry ‘Triumphal’  parade was viewed as the lit fuse of insurrection. Everyone agreed that It must be stopped.  The ‘Triumphal Entry’ became a turning point, from prophet to prisoner, from messiah to martyr, from saviour to sacrifice.

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Within a week: the cheering crowd became a jeering mob, the sage and venerable priests became murderous conspirators, and the Roman invaders became the heroes and defenders of civil society.

Within a week, the jeering mob demanded retribution, the conspiring clerics demanded expiation and the calloused oppressors required submission. A public example must be made.

Despised and rejected by all, Jesus was no longer seen as a Prophet, Priest, or Protector. He had become a Problem. Everyone’s Problem. Public execution became the preferred solution.

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Reflect: 

How does public opinion of ‘Religion’ impact my private faith? Do I change my chant when I change my crowd?

Pray:

Faithful God, forgive my unfaithfulness.  Some days, like Peter, I dare to walk on water. Some nights, like Peter, I deny, I run, I hide.

Today, I believe.

Help my unbelief so that I can stand in faith both in the Joy of the Triumphal Procession and beneath the Ruthless Glare of Public Opinion.

Amen.

“Mara at Midnight”

This moonless night

As sightless stars dance blindly

On this obsidian lake

A solitary figure stands

Motionless upon the shore

Defiant

Against the inexorable waves arrayed like armies on the surface of the waters

Pulsing, moving in the futility of an eternal attack and retreat

Endlessly advancing with wave upon wave of kinetic fury, and yet:

Inexorably repelled, retreating.

Here, at the intersection of the irresistible, I stand.

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I stand at the frothing edge of this great sea, on the precipice of this churning void, this onyx cauldron that centres my world

I stand along waves that roll to measure my days with the blind pulse of each sightless wave that brazenly storms the beachhead, retreats, and advances again.

I stand while waves assail me, waters bury me, and surges advance in savage defiance of the inexorable force that repels their invasion.

I stand alone. Or–so it seems. In truth:

I stand allied with the universal elemental that scribes the circles of the stars, commands the motion of the waves, limits the fury of the tides, and forges the fulcrum that defines my space between waves that advance, relent, and return again.

I stand defiant against the storm inexorable.

In the shadow of the universal elemental, I stand—for now at least. For now.

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Above, eternal stars applaud.

Silently, of course, applause that twinkles just enough to know, enough to show

That I am not alone against the waves, that I, too, belong within the Elemental.

Under the empty gaze of fragile light that hovers above these ancient waters, I baptise myself

Arising

Awakening

Anew

And then, I hear the silent singing of the Spheres.

Their anthem greets me, and now, I understand. I am not alone.

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I stand

In communion with the expanse above,

In solidarity with the emptiness below, and

In intimate union with the fury of the waves.

Yes, I stand alone but unlonely.

In joy, I give thanks, a gift of gratitude to the vacant expanse above

An offering of praise, a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the blackened void below

Alone, but unlonely, accosted, but unyielding.

I stand defiant

And embrace, and give thanks

For the expansive emptiness above

For the surging darkness below, and

For valiant, triumphant unyielding life,

I give thanks

And still, I stand—for now at least. For now.

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(Doug Ferris, August 2021)

(Photo Credit: “Orion’s Nebula”, Courtesy of

Bradley J. Dibble, 2021, Used by Permission)

Long Weekends, Cottage Traffic, and Family Memories: Who Can Detect Their Errors? Not Me, Apparently.

“As the cruiser lights flashed blue and red, I pulled over. Deep inside, I sensed my smug self-righteousness ebbing away, exposing a hollow anxiety.

The worst part was wondering where I could have gone wrong, accompanied by a fear of undetected errors, hidden only from myself.

I had tried so hard to do everything right, or, at least, so I thought…what could I have possibly missed?”

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~ Psalm 19 ~

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.

13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

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As I prepared to take my family away for the long weekend on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon, I dutifully cleaned the windscreen, checked the tires, topped up the oil, and directed my family to ‘buckle up’ before we headed out into the cottage traffic. Safety first, right?

Especially when you know the police will be out on the roads in full display on the Friday of a long weekend. They weren’t going to catch me unprepared…

On sunny days by the lake or starlit nights by the campfire, it’s easy to feel close to our God, but first we had to get there, and the trip to the lakeside and the campfire begins with traffic.

AND, this was a long weekend–the roads were crowded with impatient drivers who all agreed that they wanted me to get out of their way. Smugly, I resisted. Instead, I locked the cruise control on one hundred and three, and putted along in the slow lane, feeling pretty smug as all the other drivers angrily passed me by.

I passed a speed trap on the highway. The officer didn’t even flinch. I passed another. Same reaction. I settled back, relaxed, and smiled.

A cruiser pulled onto the highway right behind me, so close that I looked down to check the cruise control. One-oh-three. I continued on, smugly, and watched as the cruiser pulled out, passed me, then sped ahead.

Suddenly, the cruiser’s brake lights shone, the police car decelerated, dropped back, and pulled into the lane directly behind my car. As the cruiser lights flashed blue and red in my rear-view mirror, I pulled over. My smugness ebbed away, replaced by hollow anxiety. I had tried so hard to do everything right, I thought…what could I have possibly missed?

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The Psalmist in our text faces a similar dilemma. On first reading, it is clear throughout the psalm that the writer savours the comfort of the revealed word of God in both the book of nature and the book of scripture. Passages such as “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork,” show that God has revealed a glorious presence in the book of nature. To see the signature of the Hand of the Creator, all you need to do is look up at the night’s sky in wonder, because God the creator, has written a promise in the heavens. In nature, we can glean our first inkling that God loves us and has prepared a unique place for each of us in the world. You are meant to be here.

As the Psalmist points out, the heavens declare the glory of God, but the scriptures tell of the righteousness of God. Verses such as “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” and “the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” compliment the revelation of God in the book of nature by celebrating the revelation of God’s righteousness in the book of scripture. The scriptures tell of God’s law and show that God loves us and forgives us our daily sins and delivers us from evil in the world. Do you want to know the creativity of God? Look at the book of nature. Do you want to know the righteousness of God? Look into the book of scriptures and you will see God’s wisdom, righteousness and love.

So, at first, it seems like the Psalmist’s walk with God is pretty good. He’s just rolling down the highway of life on cruise control enjoying God’s sunshine. Nothing seems to trouble the Psalmist, so, what’s the catch? In one short phrase, the Psalmist betrays a hollow, grasping anxiety that eats away at the foundations of faith in God’s love. Suddenly, the Psalmist interrupts the celebration of God’s majesty and asks: “But who can detect their errors”? Who can detect their errors? How can I know when the words of my mouth are pleasing to God? How can I be sure that the thoughts of my heart are acceptable to God? Where is there space for me and my imperfections in between the majesty and the righteousness of God almighty?

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As I sat, waiting for the police officer, I anxiously wondered what errors the officer had detected. After a beautiful celebration of the majesty of God in nature and the righteousness of God in scripture, the smugness of the Psalmist has also ebbed away. The law of the Lord is perfect, but the Psalmist is not, and the writer has already realized that nothing is hidden from the scorching heat of the burning sun, that the Law of the Lord is perfect, even if we’re not. Somehow, the Psalmist begs to be cleared of hidden faults. We can almost hear the Psalmist thinking: “I had tried so hard to do everything right…what could I have possibly missed?

“Is this car licensed with the Ministry of Transportation?” The officer asked.

“Yes sir,” I confirmed. “I bought the sticker myself, last fall”. It was now August.

“The sticker is not valid, sir. It expired,” the officer intoned flatly. And for emphasis, he added: “last October sir. The sticker expired LAST October”.

I was caught. Sure, I dutifully bought the tag, but I realized that I had neglected to put the sticker on the car, and the current sticker was safely tucked away in a kitchen drawer at home. That sinking, hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach–you know the one. There was no getting around it. A simple, unwitting, unintentional error, but an error nonetheless. Nothing is hid from the heat of the scorching sun.

The officer handed me a ticket for an invalid license plate, and read me the options for response, which included paying now, paying more later, or paying the most if I had to be summoned before the Justice of the Peace.

There’s no getting around it, I had broken the law, and I had to pay. I’m not perfect, and I was in trouble. “Who can detect their errors?” The Psalmist asks. Certainly, not me.

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The same can be said of the world around us–it’s in trouble, too.

Celebrities cloak themselves in robes of perfection. They use botox, auto-tuned voices, snap chat filters and spray-on tans in an attempt to cover their imperfections. But each week, a new tell-all book or news item reveals some celebrity’s hidden secret, some indiscretion, some secret selfish privilege, reaching as high as the Governor General’s Official Residence, or Buckingham Palace, or The White House. A phone call from the highest office in the land, for grift, extortion and political leverage.

“The Law of the Lord is Perfect”, the Psalmist writes.

“A perfect phone call”, “A beautiful, warm conversation”. “The phone call was absolutely a ten”. “It was perfect”. (1) The President declares.

“But,” asks the Psalmist: “who can detect their own errors?”

Obscene pics on Instagram, racist tweets on Twitter, and blatant lies in the press. The President incites a mob, the mob attacks the Capitol, and reporters declare it a tourist visit. A tourist visit!

All this, and the nation just shrugs. “Nobody’s perfect,” we say, so we just assume the worst, and carry on. “I’m not perfect,” said Toronto Mayor Rob Ford after admitting that he must have “smoked crack cocaine in one of his drunken stupors” (2). Everyone has hidden errors in word and in deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone, and as the Psalmist says, “Nothing is hid from the heat of the scorching sun”.

But God doesn’t leave us without hope, for the Psalmist cries out to God for mercy, by saying “Clear me from hidden faults” just as Jesus prayed, “Forgive us our sins”. Also, the Psalmist asks, “Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me,” just like Jesus who prayed, “and deliver us from evil.”

This same God who first reveals divine creativity in the book of nature; God, the God who reveals righteousness in the book of scripture, God Almighty has chosen a third way to reveal divine love, kindness, and forgiveness through the book of humanity, through the person of Jesus Christ, the living, breathing, human embodiment of the creative and majestic God of heaven. Through Jesus, God has already promised to be the One who forgives our sins and who delivers us from evil in the world.

God almighty has identified with humanity through the book of nature in creation, through the book of revelation in scripture, and through the book of humanity, through Jesus, the living word of God. Through Jesus, God’s righteousness was made to be unrighteousness for our sakes. Through forgiveness in Christ, and through love, God is the one who forgives our daily sins and who delivers us from evil in the world, and in Christ, God the Holy Spirit works through your heart and mine, your mind, and mine, just as God comforted the Psalmist who prays: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that one can detect their errors, and to be relieved of their burden. Still, a price has to be paid, but God had chosen to pay it on our behalf.

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A week later, I drove to the courthouse with my ticket, and spoke to a kindly older gentleman at the desk and asked if he would tell me how I could find the Justice of the Peace. He smiled softly and invited me to follow him down a hallway to an empty office, where he donned a black robe, sat behind the desk, and asked, “Now then, I was about to go for lunch. What can I do for you?” I explained the situation and asked to have the charge removed or the fine lowered. The Justice kindly informed me that he could neither change the charge nor remove the fine.

The penalty must be paid.

“But”, he began, “You must have incurred some expenses travelling to address the ticket. We can help you with your costs.” Next, the Justice of the Peace reached into the top drawer of the desk and pulled out an old beat-up calculator. “How much did the gas cost you to get here?” He asked, “and what other expenses did you have to come here to the court?” When all was tallied, the Justice of the Peace showed me that, through the Justice’s accounting, my debt had been paid. With a stroke of his pen, the Justice of the Peace covered my debt, and I was free to go. As I walked out of the courthouse, to the warmth of a sunny summer day, I was keenly aware that God was still at work in the world. Certainly, no one can discern their hidden faults. There is no one who is perfect, no, not one, and the penalty must be paid. But thanks be to God, who has chosen Jesus to be the one who forgives our daily sins and who delivers us from evil in the world, you, me, and all who seek the face of God from evil in the world. Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in the sight of God, Amen.

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Prayer:

May the words of our mouths, and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways to the glory of your name, Amen.

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Citations:

Scriptural quotations courtesy of The New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV) copyright 1989 by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission, all rights reserved worldwide.

(1) CNN News. “Trump/Ukraine Perfect Call.” 2019: https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/09/30/trump-ukraine-perfect-call-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn. Accessed: August 25, 2021.

(2) Toronto City News. “Rob Ford’s most Unforgettable quotes.” 2016: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2016/03/22/rob-fords-most-unforgettable-quotes/ accessed August 25, 2021.

Money, Sex and Power

The Physicist Isaac Newton discovered our modern understanding of a ‘Force’ in natural physics. The Old Testament prince–Solomon the seventh son of King David–understood that, just like a force in the natural world of science, social forces like money, sex, and power do no stop until they face an equal or greater force that opposes them.

When God’s Spirit shows up, Solomon, the prince who will be king, asks for the wisdom to understand how to oppose these three forces of our world: money, sex, and power.

Online Sunday Worship Service, Faith United Church, Courtice ON CA, August 15, 2021

Please follow the link for a 15 minute story about what a king needs to do to lead for God. (see full written text below FB Broadcast).


Timestamps:

Children’s message about Genies granting wishes: Time stamp 19:03

Sunday Message: God Appears to Solomon: Time Stamp 30:54

Kids Time: “God Ain’t No Genii”

Hey kids, did you get to see the ‘Aladdin’ movie with Will Smith as the Genie? Or what about the animated ‘Aladdin’ movie with Robin Williams as the Genie? One lamp, unlimited possibilities, never works out, right? Still, it’s fun.

We all love to dream and have our wishes come true, but the funny thing is that wishes never really turn out right, do they? People always seem to wish for the wrong things I guess. I mean, what do we really want out of life?  

The movie with Will Smith is three years old, now, but the cartoon with Robin Williams is thirty years old…ten times older! 

And that move is about a story that’s three thousand years old!  

The story is always kind of the same, isn’t it? In the Disney movies, Aladdin finds out that he didn’t need the genie after all, because he had everything he needed right inside his heart.  Still, it’s fun to meet a genii. 

In an even older version, it isn’t a genii, but a magic fairy, like Tinkerbell. In that version, a poor old couple save a fairy from a trap, and the fairy agrees to give them three wishes.  The couple is so hungry that one partner asks if they could for pancakes and syrup.   

But asking about turns out to be wishing, and a giant pancake covered in syrup falls right in front of them in the dirt.  They’re so disappointed, that the other partner asks for dozens of pancakes covered in syrup, so they could eat them, and dozens of pancakes fall on the partner’s head.   

The partner can’t see, and can’t talk, so the other partner wishes the pancakes would just go away. By the end of it, they’re right back where they were, but happy that they don’t have to fight with pancakes anymore! 

Later today we’re going to read a story from the Bible that’s an awful lot like the three wishes story.  Just like a Genie or a fairy, God shows up just when a young and inexperienced king needs help the most.  But God doesn’t grant wishes, and God doesn’t play tricks.  God looks into Solomon’s heart and gives the king what the king needs most, because that’s what God is like.  God loves us, and cares for us, and meets our needs when we need God most.  

God: a better friend than a genie with a magic lamp, every time.

WE LISTEN FOR GOD’S WORD

Scripture Reading – 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

2:10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 

2:11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 

2:12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established. 

3:3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 

3:4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 

3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 

3:6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 

3:7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 

3:8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 

3:9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” 

3:10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 

3:11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 

3:12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 

3:13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 

3:14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

Message: “Money, Sex, and Power”

Money, Sex, and Power.

No, I’m not talking about the unnamed HBO sequel to Game of Thrones.

And no, I’m also not talking about the three paragraphs of Donald Trump’s Presidential resume.

Money, Sex and Power is the title of a book by the Christian author Richard J Foster, that explains how these three forces drive our society.  Centuries ago, Isaac Newton explained what we already know about driving forces: once they are set in motion, forces continue along the same trajectory and even increase in power until they collide with an equal or greater opposing force.   

In his book, Richard J. Foster observes that these three forces, money, sex and power appear unstoppable in our personal lives and in our public spaces.  Want proof?  Turn on your TV.  Or, again, I refer you to Donald Trump’s Presidential resume. Ever since Gordon Gekko bragged that “Greed is Good” in the 1987 film Wall Street, the unfettered, unapologetic, and audacious concentration of wealth and power into the hands of fewer and fewer elites has continued as a driving force that has done nothing but accelerate.  

Like young Solomon in the passage we just read, we need God’s wisdom to respond to the excesses of money, sex and power that have become the driving forces of our world.

__________

In many ways, our situation mirrors the passage we read about today. In this passage, we meet Solomon at the very beginning of his reign, and in the very first action that he takes as King of Israel.

Now, through the advantages of history and hindsight, we know that this young man will be remembered as one of the greatest kings of the Hebrew scriptures, as one of the wisest rulers in history, and as a prophet recognized in three of the world’s major religious faiths.   

But in the passage that we just read, we find a very different Solomon.  Inexperienced, uncertain, and alone, this young King Solomon is afraid.  And he should be.  Solomon never planned to be king, and no one—and I mean no one, not even Solomon himself—ever expected that he would be the next king.   

Solomon’s older brothers, the six legitimate princes born from the six legitimate queens, had been fighting over their succession rights for years.  All of them wanted to be king, and they fought each other for the privilege to succeed David on the throne.   

All of the surviving older brothers and all of the legitimate queens simply assumed that Solomon would die young and alone, yet another victim of violence and revenge. 

You see, Solomon’s very existence as the seventh son in the Royal family was a constant embarrassment to the rest of the royal family.  Solomon’s presence was a living reminder of King David’s infidelity, of King David’s coerced sexual liaison with Bathsheba, and of King David’s proxy murder of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite.   

In the years after the scandal that rocked the Kingdom, Bathsheba continued to live as part of David’s Royal Household, and she bore David four of his ten sons.  So, with six previous—and legal—royal wives, with six older half-brothers all fighting to become king, Solomon was despised the living and breathing evidence of King David’s own abuse of the money, sex, and power that had been entrusted to him by God.  And the sooner Solomon was dead the better it would be for everyone else.   

The rest of the family wanted Solomon dead, and Bathsheba knew it.  She knew that the next king would kill Bathsheba and her children to erase the stain of David’s sin from the royal family’s lineage. Bathsheba asks David to name Solomon as his successor, so that Solomon, Bathsheba, and her other children can simply survive. 

In the passage that we read today, Solomon prays alone. And now, we know why.

Solomon has no experience in leadership, no support in the military, and no allies at court. Beyond the court, Solomon has no public supporters at all. With this backstory firmly in mind, we gain a new perspective on Solomon’s prayer. Let’s take a closer look, then, at the desperate prayer of a desperate man.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

In a theophany, the Spirit of God promises Solomon anything he wants.  Now that we understand his situation a little better, we wouldn’t have faulted Solomon if he had been a tad selfish.    

Solomon could have asked for a sudden bounty of wealth, so that he could buy loyalty.  He could have asked for safe passage to Egypt, where he might live out the remainder of his days in an exile of hedonistic ecstasy.  He could have asked for an army of warriors so that he fight back, conquer the Israelite throne, and rule by force.  But he didn’t.  Solomon didn’t ask for money, or for sex, or for power.  He asked for advice.  

In Chapter 3 verse nine Solomon says, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil, for who can govern this, your great people?” 

“Who can govern this, your great people?”  Well, given the back story, we can all agree that ‘Not him’ would probably be the right answer.   

Solomon is in no position to govern this great people. He’s too young, too inexperienced, and too vulnerable. But Solomon’s question shows insight. The truth is that the other contenders are questionable as well.

Who can govern this, God’s great people?

Not Absolom, King David’s rebellious son whose death broke King David’s heart.

Not Adonijah, Solomon’s elder half-brother who is so popular with the priests, the civic leaders and the public.

Who can govern this, God’s great people? Not even King David himself, God’s chosen and anointed one, whose failure in leadership echoes through the ages.

No one is equipped to lead a nation, not then, and not now. At some point, despite their best intentions, despite their hopes their campaign promises and their previous successes in life, all leaders fall short, and die, having succumbed eventually to the temptations of leadership that force their decisions: money, sex, and power.

Speaking out of his lived experience, Solomon understands all that. Solomon’s wisdom begins with this realization. He has, after all, seen it, close-up. He has lived it. He understands that leaders need a special gift from God. Let’s take a closer look, then, at Solomon’s request, and at God’s response. Let’s check back with the passage again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

In verse 9 Solomon asks: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind”.  And that’s good.   

In verse 11 the Spirit confirms the request, re-stating that Solomon has “asked for himself understanding to discern what is right”.   

And that’s good.  Request sent by Solomon, request received and acknowledged by the Spirit of God. 

Solomon asked for an understanding mind, and God gave Solomon the understanding to discern what is right.  But the two statements aren’t really the same, are they?  

If we dig a little deeper, we can see that this difference is greater than we first thought.  God gave Solomon understanding, but God gave even more, something Solomon was not expecting.   

In his request, Solomon uses a very specific Hebrew word that translates into the English word “understand.” Solomon asks God to give him “Shawmeh,” a word that carries the connotations of listening with careful attention and responding with complete obedience.   

The Hebrew scriptures, though, have more than one word that translates as ‘understanding’, and two different words appear here.   

Although Solomon asks for ‘shawmeh’ understanding, the Spirit responds with a different word for ‘understanding’, the word ‘bin’.  And these words have very different connotations 

Shawmeh refers to an understanding that includes comprehension and leads to obedience. 

Bin refers to an understanding that includes perception and prudence, and that leads to discernment.  

Sometimes, we need to understand so that we can obey.  At other times, we need to understand so that we can make informed decisions.   

Solomon asked for comprehension to obey like a servant, but God gave Solomon insight so that he could discern like a son.   

And so it is with us today. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

All of us, at different times, understand Solomon.  All of us, in different seasons of our lives, hide alone in the shadows, praying that God would just tell us the right thing to do, promising that, once we know the right thing to do, once we understand with the incomprehensible God of the Universe really wants, that we will obey.  And we mean it.   

But God does not see us alone crouching in the dark.  God sees us as a child of God’s kingdom, a royal heir to the throne of heaven, who has yet to realize that the love of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ have been shed abroad in our hearts 

We are children of God most high, and, just as King David’s blood ran in Solomon’s veins, so also the Blood of Christ runs in ours.  We are not servants of God, we are part of God’s family, tricked into believing that we need to hide in the shadows to survive.   

Certainly, the driving forces of this age, money, sex, and power, continue to get all the attention, but the Holy Spirit and our Life in Jesus Christ is still powerful, hidden in earthen vessels that look like you and me.  God has given us the wisdom to discern our calling in life, and the courage to make it happen.   

You, child of God, you have been called to stand against the forces of money, sex, and power that seek to destroy our world through money, sex, and power.  You, filled with the life and the joy of the Holy Spirit, you and me, and other believers throughout the earth, we are the equal and opposing force that God has sent out into the world.   

So today, the spirit of God encourages you  and me, all of us to be filled with the fruit of the spirit, the love, the joy, the peace, the patience, the goodness, kindness and self-control of God’s presence in the world and to be the light that others need to see so that they can step out of their darkness, too.   

Solomon was already a prince.  Solomon was already a child of the King.  Solomon was already ordained to lead, but it took the discernment of the Spirit to bring that light of understanding into his life. 

And so it is with us.  We are, each one of us, already children of the King.  We are, each one of us, already enlivened by the Holy Spirit.  We are, every one of us, already the body and the mind of Christ in the world.   

Join with me, friends.  Let’s step out into the sunshine, and share the love, the joy and the freedom of life in God’s spirit with all of God’s Kingdom. 

Amen.

Responsive Prayer:

Loving God,

You hold all that you have created within your compassionate embrace.

As you hold our lives, our sorrows, our pain, and even our hatred within your aching heart,  

We cry out for wholeness—for ourselves, for those we love, and for our world. 

May your healing presence gently transform the places of our lives where we hold pain. 

May your loving presence be a comforting reality for all those who find themselves in despair, or lost, or alone. 

May your transforming presence create generosity in place of greed, harmony in place of hatred, and everlasting justice where evil now reigns.   

Oh God, lover of the world, from the silence of our own hearts we bring before you these people, these places, and these situations that need your healing, loving and transforming presence.

Oh Loving God, this is your world, and we claim your power and presence to make it whole, and we ask that you honour our prayers as we pray in the name of the One true leader of the church, Jesus the Christ, our Lord,

Amen.

Benediction: And finally, Beloved,

May God bless you and keep you,

May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you 

May God look upon you with kindness and give you peace.  

Amen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~


Youtube video provided courtesy of Faith United Church, Courtice Ontario in Canada.

Citation:

Ferris, Doug. “Money, Sex, and Power.” Faith United Church in Courtice, August 15, 2021.

Doug Ferris, Sunday Service Guest Speaker: Youtube, August 15, 2021. https://youtu.be/2Pok0eEyvdU?t=1800

“Be My Universe, Oh God”

“Be My Universe, Oh God,” by Doug Ferris.
Words and lyrics ©2021dougferris.ca All rights reserved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Be My Universe, Oh God”

Be my universe, oh God, let the circle of your love surround me

Let the reaches of your grace set the boundaries of my space,

And be my Universe — Surround me.

Lord, you knew me before my life begun

your love consumes me before the rising sun

with your Love — Surround me.

Be my universe, oh God, let the circle of your love surround me

Let the reaches of your grace set the boundaries of my space,

And be my Universe – Surround me.

Your hands, enfold me, I’m the clay upon your wheel

So gently mold me, with the lovin’ touch I feel

In your hands–Surround me.

Be my universe, oh God, let the circle of your love surround me

Let the reaches of your grace set the boundaries of my space,

And be my Universe — Surround me.

Maker of the Heavens, You can make a universe in me

Maker of the Heavens, You can make a universe in me

Maker of the Heavens, You can make a universe in me

Lover of the Ages, You can shed Your love abroad in me—

And Be my universe, oh God,

Let the circle of your love surround me

Let the reaches of your grace set the boundaries of my space,

And be my Universe — Surround me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Words and lyrics ©2021dougferris.ca All rights reserved.

©2021ferrport.com All rights reserved.

Ferrport®™ is a Registered Trade Mark (2019). All rights reserved.

“Don’t Know Where I’m Goin’ (But, I’m Makin’ Good Time)”

“Don’t Know Where I’m Goin–But I’m Makin’ Good Time” By Doug Ferris
(Words and lyrics ©2021dougferris.ca All rights reserved.)

Well, the bottom of my mind is like an unmade bed

With half-drawn conclusions rollin’ ’round in my head

Some say I’m indecisive, but I can’t say….

I’m reserving my opinion for another day

Well, I don’t know where I’m goin’,

But I’m makin’ good time

I’ve been searchin’ for my baby, movin’ town to town

And I know I’m gonna find her when she rolls around

Well, she might be tall and blonde, or a lanky brunette,

I don’t know what she looks like, cuz we’ve never met

No, I don’t know where I’m goin’,

But I’m makin’ good time

Well, I don’t know where I’m goin but could sure use a ride

So buy me a coffee or a night at your side

And early in the mornin’ you’ll wake up to find

That you don’t know where you’re goin’ and you wasted your time

The time is gettin’ nearer when I’m needin’ to go, an

I’m travellin’ far away on down the road

I don’t know if I’m headin’ for the East or the West

But since I got no destination any road is the best

Well, I don’t know where I’m goin,

But I’m makin’ good time

Well, I don’t know where I’m goin but could sure use a ride

So buy me a coffee or a night at your side

And early in the mornin’ you’ll wake up to find

That you don’t know where you’re goin’ and you wasted your time

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Words and lyrics ©2021dougferris.ca All rights reserved.

©2021ferrport.com All rights reserved.

Ferrport®™ is a Registered Trade Mark (2019). All rights reserved.

Sunday Solace from the Podium: Sunday Morning Message for July 5, 2021

Online Spoken Word St. Paul’s United Church, Bowmanville Ontario Canada

Becoming the Stories We Tell: A Message of National Identity, Hope and Healing in Honour of Canada Day, 2021.

See this Sunday message (beginning at 29:00) delivered at St. Paul’s United Church Bowmanville on July 5, 2021 by following the Youtube link below.

Scripture Passage: Mark 6: 1 – 13 (TIB)

After leaving there, Jesus came into his own town, followed by the disciples.
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and the many
listeners were astonished and said, ‘Where did he learn all this? What is this
wisdom that has been granted, and the miracles that are performed by his
hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses,
and Judah and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” They found these
things to be stumbling blocks.
Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their own
hometowns and among their own relatives and in their own households”.
And he could work no miracles there, apart from laying his hands upon a few
sick people and healing them
Their lack of faith astounded him. He made the rounds of the neighboring
villages instead and spent the time teaching.
Then, Jesus summoned the Twelve, and began to send them out in pairs,
giving them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a
mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.
They were to wear sandals, but, he added, “do not take a spare tunic.”
And Jesus said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you
leave town.
Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you leave it, shake
off the dust from the soles of your feet as a testimony against them.”
And so they set off, proclaiming repentance as they went.
They cast our many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and
healed them.

Spoken Reflection:

In the passage we just read from Mark’s Gospel, we gain our first glimpse of Jesus fully surrounded by the folks that know him best: his disciples, his neighbours, his friends, and his family.

Jesus is home.

And more so.

Jesus has come home from some significant period of time away from home, so his neighbours, his friends and his family have not seen him for a while. And, like any young man who has left home and returned, Jesus has changed.

He’s different. He speaks differently, he thinks differently,

And apparently, he doesn’t fit in to community the way that he did before. From the text in Mark so far, we know a little about Jesus’ experiences since he was last home for a visit. At some point, he left home to follow John the Baptist who had gathered a group of disciples around himself, and who preached a message about the imminent coming of God, a message that called believers to a renewed faith in the promises of scripture.

Jesus travelled with John,

he studied with John,

he probably ministered along with John,

And Jesus saw John as the prophet foretold in the Book of Isaiah. Perhaps as a kind of ‘graduation’ into his own ministry, Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan river, and Mark tells us that Jesus experienced a vision as he arose out of the waters of baptism.

Jesus saw the Heavens opened

He heard the voice of God,

And he experienced the Holy Spirit descend and rest on him.

In Mark’s description, it is not clear that anyone else saw, heard, or felt anything unusual. The epiphany was near as we can tell from Mark, was a vision commissioning him into ministry that was experienced by him and him alone. At that moment, Jesus understood that we become the stories we tell.


Back home in Nazareth, though, no one knew anything about this life altering moment in the waters of the Jordan river. But, as a student returning home from his studies and religious training with John, the local religious leaders welcomed the young student into their religious community as every church does in our day, they invited him to preach.

And preach he did.

After travelling with the modern prophet John the Baptist, after learning from the book of Isaiah, and after experiencing a vision of the heavens, Jesus referred to himself as a prophet, and shared his entire vision for ministry, for ethical living, and for the coming Kingdom.

Needless to say, his audience was surprised, insulted, and offended. His first sermon at home was an unmitigated disaster.

“Where did he come up with all this?” his neighbours wondered.

“Who does he think he is?” his old friends responded.

“Isn’t that Mary’s son?” others asked.

The religious elders accused him of being elitist.

The moral leaders accused him of being a ‘radical’.

And, his family thought he was crazy. They tried to hide him away at home, to bury him and his message at home, to put the embarrassment of his claims behind them, and never speak of it again.

Yet, Jesus was undeterred.

He knew who he was.

He knew his calling.

He knew what he had to do: he gave the message to his friends and multiplied the message. His neighbours tried to shame him. His friends tried to silence him. His family tried to hide him. But Jesus gave to others, and the truth could never be silenced again. The truth of his message could never be forgotten. The truth could not be buried.

As Jesus gave the story to the disciples, they became the story. After all, We become the stories we tell.


Each year on this weekend, Americans and Canadians pause to celebrate where they have been, who they are, and where they are going. And you need to know that I am a huge fan of Canada, the Canadian ethos, and the Canadian identity. I studied Canadian history, Canadian literature, and Canadian culture, and I taught Canadian history and Canadian literature for years.

Canada is known internationally as a peaceful nation, as an environmentally rich and clean nation, and as a nation that welcomes others to live peacefully in a diverse and accepting society, and I have travelled the world with my nauseating Canadian Flag T shirt on my chest, and a Canadian flag on my backpack. My family and I moved abroad so that we could work internationally in Canadian schools. And I’m proud of my country, its citizens, and its standing in the world.

Canada is home to a wide diversity of cultures, languages, religions, and traditions, and has accommodated two very different cultures—French Canada and English Canada—with its structures, customs, legal systems, and constitution, and has been a world leader in devising ways for different cultures to live peacefully, avoid conflict, and welcome differences.

In matters of international state, Canada punches above its weight with the leading nations in the world, and Canadian leaders are always ready to call out nations that do not act for good in the world. Sure, we—and leaders around the globe—might roll our eyes at the clumsy attempts that some of our handsome leaders have offered international partners, but even the stern leader Stephen Harper was willing to confront Vladimir Putin for his cruel and illegal incursions into Ukraine. Where international rights are concerned, Canada shows up. Sometimes, in costume. But, there is a new story out there, too, and for Canadians, it’s not a comfortable one.

Recently, Canadians—and the world—have been reminded of a forgotten story, an untold story, a silenced story, resting in the past, resting beneath our feet, literally buried by the Canada that we celebrate every July. And learning about this new story has created more than a measure of cognitive dissonance for those of us who see Canada as a moral, upright, virtuous nation. After all, that’s how we’ve told our story to ourselves, and we’re having a hard time accepting that the heroes of one story can also be the villains of another.

Over the past month, a different story has surfaced that disputes the polite fiction of the stories that Settlers in Canada tell about how this land was settled. The voices of a thousand lost children have been heard, calling out from their graves about the injustice that they have experienced by the wooden application of Settlers who weaponized the Christian faith.

And, I admit, I have benefitted directly and indirectly by the oppression of previous generations. As a Canadian, I know no other home. My ancestors have lived and worked on this land for seven generations. I am proud that my English ancestors fled Boston during the American Revolution to seek a peaceful life in British North America.

But I am not proud to admit this came at an enormous cost to First Nations people and their cultures, and that Loyalists became Settlers on the land taken from Wendake Territory under the Crawford Purchase of 1783. I am proud that my Scottish ancestors who fled the highlands of Scotland when they were forced off the commonly owned pasturelands by gentry that used the Enclosure Acts to appropriate communal property as part of their own private estate.

But I am not proud that those fleeing enclosure in Britain became the enclosures of the common lands of First Nations people here in their new country.

And, I am proud of the tenacity of my Irish ancestors who fought to survive the ravages of starvation, disease, and oppression inflicted by gentry living in England who sought to force the Irish off their homeland by any means necessary.

But I am not proud of the fact that, those beleaguered Irish refugees appropriated the ancestral homelands of the Anishnabe and Petun nations, who were dispossessed of their title to the land under Treaty 18 just as the Irish were forced off their lands a generation before.

In each case, the oppressed of one continent became the oppressors on another by using exactly the same systems of power that elevated England, France, and Spain to the empires that would go on to control the lands, resources and people of all of North and South America.


Friends, these are hard truths. But they are truths just the same. These are the parts of our story as Canadians that we do not want the world to hear, the dark chapters of our story that have been literally buried for generations, never to be spoken of in polite society again. But secret stories resist being buried, and this year, the buried voices have begun to speak their truth, too.

In the last two months, a thousand silenced voices have cried out from beyond the graves of untold numbers of Indigenous children. Nameless, faceless, and forgotten, these voices speak of separation, loss, dispossession, incarceration, re-education, indoctrination, abuse, neglect and murder. The question is, how do we respond to these voices?

Well, for one thing, we need to acknowledge that, here in Canada, these horrific abuses happened, and that they were intentional, organized and structured. Furthermore, we need to accept the truth that the enclosure has not ended. In fact, it’s increasing in scope and disparity.

First nations communities across this country still lack access to clean drinking water. In other news, the Nestle company still bottles natural spring water into unrecyclable disposable plastic bottles and sells free water around the globe for private profit.

First nations communities across this country still lack access to livable housing. Meanwhile, Canada’s hottest real estate boom continues unabated where folks who already own one property can afford to buy others at rock bottom prices in neighbouring provinces, or use the equity in their current home to leverage the purchase of a waterfront cottage.

Furthermore, the appropriation of land and natural resources continues unabated, and quickens its pace under the Covid19 lockdown. It just looks a little different, that’s all. Enclosure has learned to hide in plain sight.

In our day, enclosure has taken the form of real estate acquisitions, the private ownership of natural resource extractions, and the segregation of communities by wealth, by socio-economic status, by ethnic and cultural identity, by age, and by opportunities for education. Particularly, those of us who own property need to consider the disparity that the price of real estate has created a new gentry of perpetual owners and perpetual renters.

If we extrapolate this disparity over time, we can forecast an entire generation of renters who enrich the land holdings of property owners in an ironic replay of the acquisition of gentry estates in Britain two centuries ago.

So, what actions can we take, then?

When the crowds asked Jesus the same question, “what should we do?” Luke the Evangelist records that Jesus responded saying, “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise”.

In our consumer driven age, the implications are staggering.

Whoever has food for two meals should share with those who have none.

Whoever has two coats should share with those who have none.

Whoever has healthcare should share with those who have none.

Whoever has two houses, or two cottages, or a house and a cottage…

Whoa, wait a minute, maybe that’s going too far.

Maybe that’s not what Jesus was saying at all.

Still, Jesus seems to have a point that speaks directly to our society’s first love: materialism, and the use of nature as a commodity to provide things that we desire.

On this Canada Day, it is our time to choose. We live at a moment of great diversity in the history of our species. Some have too much. Many don’t have enough, but most of the world’s population have none at all. Maybe their voices won’t agree to be silenced forever, either.

Jesus preached the same message to his hometown, and the townsfolk silenced him. Mark tells us that Jesus “could work no miracles there”. Think of that for a moment, and let it rattle your theology. Jesus, the Son of God Almighty, could not work any miracles in his own hometown. The son of God who had seen the heavens open and the Spirit descend like a dove could work no miracles there. But his disciples could.

So, Jesus’ next miracle was to send the disciples out in his name, and he has been sending his disciples out ever since. The Son of God has sent you out. The Son of God has sent me out. Jesus sent out his disciples with the same message that his own home town rejected:

That God loves us so much that God becomes like you and me, to the point

where God’s words are in our mouths, that God’s love is in our hearts, that

the work of our hands becomes the miraculous works of God’s hands,

And, just as God’s mission has become our mission. I wonder: what if, this

Canada Day, we took the message of Jesus at its word. Let’s celebrate the

arrival of the Kingdom on Earth, in hope faith, and love. Then, let’s follow

Jesus’ command to slip on our sandals, take our one coat, and share the

love and joy of the spirit with others who need to hear that God loves them,

just as they are. Because, after all, we become the stories we tell. Amen.

Prodigal

“How are the cows doing, Erron?”

Daddy always said the same thing when he came into the barn, and Erron’s reply was always the same: “Great, Daddy, just great!”

Erron loved helping Daddy with the chores in the barn. Ever since he was little, Erron watched Daddy feed the cows, adjust the settings on the milking machine and guide the herd through the barn so that every cow had just the right amount of food and was milked at just the right time.

Erron liked to watch Daddy work the farm because Daddy was such a serious farmer. Daddy could roughly hoist a hay bale in each hand at the same time, or gently milk a cow by hand if it was scared of the milking machine. To Daddy, every cow mattered, like people. Daddy treated every cow with the same tenderness and care, no matter what.

Out in the barn, Erron and Daddy shared a world all their own, a world where Erron wanted everything to stay the same, forever–just him and Daddy, the way it had been ever since Erron’s mom went away. The barn was theirs, their own little world, a complete paradise, lacking nothing.

But sometimes, if the afternoon was getting late, Mose’s mom would slide silently in to the barn and wordlessly motion for Daddy to come in for dinner. Whenever she entered the barn, she only gestured towards Daddy, but her actions meant that Erron was expected to come, too. In her discomfort, Mose’s mom would slip out of the barn as quickly and as silently as she arrived. Erron could feel his muscles relax when she left the barn.

At other times, Erron could hear Mose’s mom calling Daddy’s name as she walked from the farmhouse to the barn to tell Daddy that dinner was ready. Daddy would always say, “we’ll be right in as soon as we’re finished, dear”. “We.” That’s just the way it used to be: Daddy and Erron together, just the two of them, ever since Erron could remember.

Erron tried his best to stand like Daddy, to lift like Daddy, and to talk to the cows in the same hushed and soothing whispers that Daddy used for every living thing on the farm: his garden, his herd, and his family. Erron knew that when he grew up, the whole farm would be his to look after, so he watched every move Daddy made to make sure the whole farm would get the same care from him.

Well, not maybe the whole farm, but all of it except for the part that Mose gets to keep, so about two thirds of what was there. Erron got more, because he was born first. Before Mose came along, though, Erron had counted the whole thing as his, and it bugged him that he had to give part of it to Mose, who didn’t ever do anything, even though Erron knew the whole thing really belonged to Daddy.

Mose was Erron’s little brother. Well, half-brother, really. After Erron’s mom went away, Daddy married Mose’s mom, and Mose showed up. Erron hated Mose.

Mose liked to play around the house and eat his mom’s rhubarb tarts while they were still hot, even before Erron knew that the tarts were ready. That way, Mose could eat as many as he wanted, then he could divide the rest in half so that Mose’s mom could see him sharing.

Mose didn’t even do any chores when he came to the barn. Daddy always said that Mose’s mom thought Mose was too little, and too delicate for the barn, but Daddy wanted Mose and Erron to learn to work the farm together. Erron hated the idea. He was happy that Mose’s mom kept him close to the house, even if Mose got to eat all the tarts. Maybe someday, Erron would have to share the barn with Mose, but right now, the barn was his. Well, his, and Daddy’s, of course.

Erron was proud that he worked with Daddy in the barn every day, caring for the cows before and after school and before dinner and homework. Even though Mose’s mom said he was ‘too little, too delicate,’ Mose thought the barn belonged to him, too. Sometimes, Mose would wander out to the barn and Daddy would whisk Mose up in his arms.

Then, without looking in Erron’s direction, Daddy would say, “Let’s take a break.” Then, Daddy would play tag with Mose in the hayloft, or play hide and seek with Mose in the garden if it was cool in the middle of the day, or push Mose on the barn swing in the same way that Daddy used to swing Erron when he was little. Erron never looked up when Daddy played with Mose. Usually, Erron would leave the barn and head out to the garden, where there was more work to do.

Sometimes, if Daddy and Mose played tag or started a gave of ‘hide and seek’, Mose would rush to the edge of the garden where Mose was digging, tag Erron, laugh, and run away, saying, “You’re it.” Daddy would laugh too. Erron hated that.

Erron flushed with embarrassment when Daddy laughed, so Erron never tagged Mose back. Erron just pretended to get back to work, pick up a mop or a shovel, and hoped that Daddy would notice how grown up he was, that Erron was long past playing silly games.

At moments like that, Daddy would curtly tell Erron to put down the tools and play with his brother, but Erron would keep working. “He’s NOT my brother,” Erron would whisper to himself, and he would continue to mop the barn, or toil on the soil at the edges of the garden until the sting of sweat dripped into his eyes, blurred his sight, and forced him to squint blindly at the dust.

One afternoon, when Erron and Daddy were working in the barn together, Mose’s mom ran into the barn all frantic, and told Daddy that Mose was missing somewhere and she didn’t know where. Daddy looked at Erron and said, “Erron, can you handle the cows for me?” And then Daddy ran off, without waiting for an answer.

Erron knew that this was his chance to show daddy that he was ready to be like daddy, so he swept out the barn, adjusted the computer on the milking station, increased the grain supply for the cattle feed, and lead each of the cattle into the machine in turn.

With the cattle back in the field, Erron was just mopping up the milking room floor when daddy came back into the barn. Erron straightened up, leaned on the mop, and looked around at all he had done to impress Daddy. Erron smiled and waited for Daddy to notice all of his hard work.

“Well,” Daddy began, “I’m certainly pleased to tell you that…” Erron waited to see what Daddy would notice first.

“Your brother has been found safe over at the Templeton farm”. Erron’s smile faded, and his face flushed red.

“How are the cows doing, Daddy?” Erron asked dryly.

“Oh, safe enough, I guess. I don’t know, really. I’ll check on them in the morning,” Daddy replied absentmindedly.

“Now,” Daddy intoned curtly, “it’s time for you to come into the house so we can have a family dinner together with your brother and your mom. Your mother found your brother safe, and it’s good to have him back home, so she’s made a special dinner so that the whole family can celebrate together.”

Erron gritted his teeth and rubbed at a smudge on the floor, refusing to look up, and Erron kept mopping as Daddy turned to go.

After Daddy disappeared through the door, Erron furtively looked up and winced at the feeling of sweat dripping from his brow. Looking into the emptiness where Daddy once stood, Erron whispered to himself, “I’ll be right in as soon as I’m finished, ‘Our’ Father.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Dad Can’t Frinkin’ Drive”

Creative Unfiction by Doug Ferris

“My dad can’t frinkin’ drive,” the little girl said flatly.

The comment, coming from the mouth of my four-year-old niece, caught me off guard. She watched me steadily through clear blue eyes, patiently awaiting a measured response.

I stared back, uncomprehending.   “What was that?” I faltered.

Usually a shy and polite little girl, her coarse language–in stark contrast to her childlike sincerity–surprised me.  The statement was more a question than assertion.

“My dad can’t frinkin’ drive?” she repeated, less certainly than before.

I paused, unsure how to respond.  After all, her dad was a professional truck driver, hauling a propane rig–which we jokingly called the ‘rolling bomb’–across the snowy Canadian prairies from the Alberta oil fields to Montreal through some of the worst winter weather in the world.  Frankly, he was a pretty good frinkin’ driver.

I waited, silently.

“But he can frink coffee?” she inquired, looking for reassurance.

I softened and smiled.  “Yes,” I replied, “It’s OK for your dad to frink coffee when he’s driving.”  She relaxed, visibly reassured.

“But he can’t frink beer,” she scolded.

“No, he can’t frink beer when he’s driving,” I agreed.

Concerns for her dad’s safety allayed, my niece skipped off to play with her cousins.  She left me reflecting on the impact that a few casual phrases of overheard adult conversation can have on children as they try to interpret the complex world around them.  “More is caught than taught,” my grandmother used to say.

And, hey, ‘don’t frink’n drive’.

©2014 DougFerris

Lenten Reflection Day 9 with wisdom from Oswald Chambers’ classic daily devotional “My Utmost for His Highest”, 1935.

“I will most gladly spend

and be spent for you”

(II Cor 12:15)

Natural love expects some return, but Paul says ‘I do not care if you love me or not–

Jesus was rich but for your sakes he became poor’.

The real test is not preaching the gospel

but washing another’s feet.

We serve God by serving other people.

In God’s Kingdom, the greatest is

the servant of all, one who becomes broken bread and

poured out wine for

other people’s lives.

~ Reflect:

How is God calling me to be broken bread

for someone today?

~ Pray:

God, open my eyes to see

how I can be poured out wine

For someone today.

Lenten Reflection Day 26: “Have a Message, and Be One.”

Wisdom from Oswald Chambers’ devotional: “My Utmost for His Highest” (1935).

“Preach the Word” (II Tim 4:2).

“We are not called to be ‘channels’ for the Spirit only. We are called to be children of God.

We are not spiritual mediums. We are spiritual messengers–the ‘message’ is part of ourselves.

Jesus was his own message–His words were spirit and life. As disciples, our lives become the sacrament of our message.

A natural heart will serve, but only a repentant heart, broken by Christ, a renewed heart, baptized by the Spirit, and a responsive heart crumpled by God’s purpose becomes a sacrament of it’s message.

Have we offered our lives as a sacrament to become broken bread and poured out wine for God’s kingdom work?

Reflect: Have I given my life to God for their divine purpose, or am I still lending a little of myself at times of my own choosing?

Pray: God, lead me to become broken bread and poured out wine as a living sacrament for you. Amen.

The Pandemic Haircut–Taking Covid’s Fog of Stupidity to the Next Level

“The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech nor are there words; their voice is not heard, yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

But, who can detect their errors?

(Psalm 19: 1-4; 12, 14 NSRV)

Who Can Detect Their Errors?

Every crisis has its prophets.

Take Winston Churchill. At Britain’s most perilous moment, Churchill rallied the people of Britain by telling them that “this is their finest hour.”

Or, look at Stephen Hawking. In a culture saturated with consumerism but starving for spiritual meaning, Dr. Hawking prescribes wonder as the panacea for malaise.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” Hawking admonished. “Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

Yet today’s crisis, ‘our’ Pandemic, needs its own prophet to lead us out of the purgatory of Covid isolation.

Neither politicians nor professors will do. We need a prophet who is indifferent–even unaware– of our need for real human connection.

We need someone so preposterous that they can bring perspective to people suffering under this Kafkaesque crisis where our closest relatives can murder us unwittingly with just the vapour of their breath.

So, here’s my plan: I would like to nominate Forrest Gump as a prophet for our Covidly times.

Sure, he’s a fictional character, but maybe that makes Forrest a fitting mascot for a cartoon epidemic that millions still don’t believe in.

Stigmatized by the insults of others, Forrest Gump painfully confesses to Jenny, “I’m not a smart man,” while ironically preaching wisdom through his words and faithfulness through his actions. Forrest Gump embraces the gospel of his Mama, who preached: “Stupid is as stupid does,” with its unspoken corollary that “Sense is as sensibility does. Well, I’m a disciple of Forrest’s Mama.

Forrest Gump fits the role perfectly, having been persecuted for unspoken sins and forgotten prejudices. Forrest was chased away by the unknown. He survived by just running. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

The Golden Olden Days, which we call Last Thursday’

Let me explain.

In simpler times, a busy man could casually wonder aloud about the efficiency of a steep haircut, and admire the ‘Chic’ leadership image of “The Bald” without needing to commit to the fashion.

Similarly, Pre-Pandemic Man could complain about paying $30 for a lop-sided shearing that was really worth about ten bucks before Salon fee, taxes and tip. Pre-Pandemic Man would do this, because Pre-Pandemic man had evolved to believe that his own knowledge, skills and attitude were more valuable than the skills and services of others, and it was Pre-Pandemic Man’s democratic right to pay as little as possible for every good, service, or product offered by others.

If Pre-Pandemic Man was ever challenged in his thinking by Forrest the Pandemic Prophet, the self-righteous customer would harrumph and argue that a practical man could obviously do as good a job himself, if he only had a set of sharp clippers, a triple mirror, and a little free time.

Such a man might even wonder out loud about the frugal virtues of baldness that include an aura of self-confidence, loosely held authority, and savvy pragmatism.

As evidence, the glossy mags in the strip mall discount unisex hairstylist shop hint that baldness is timeless, and maybe even sexy for aspiring ‘Influencers’, like Patrick Stewart, Steve Jobs, or Stephen Covey.

“Grace under pressure” Hemingway once wrote about men like this. Of course, Hemingway, clad in his adventuresome Fisherman’s crew neck cable-knit wool sweater, was crowned with wavy locks of windswept grey hair, and a full beard. But still.

“Who can detect their errors?”

The psalmist wonders. I must admit that the Fog of Pandemic Lockdown can mess with common sense. Stupid is as stupid does, after all. For every Patrick Stewart and Captain Picard, there’s a Mike Myers and Dr. Evil. For every iconic Stephen Covey there’s a creepy Christopher Lloyd channeling Uncle Fester. Bald is tricky.

Who can detect their errors?

The slaughter was over in minutes. At first, it looked like I was winning. The side panels of the three-way mirror lied, suggesting that I had managed an even fade from the neckline to the crown, with a Tin-Tin like wisp of bangs on the front. So far, so good. I even recorded the debacle on my iPhone, so that Bald Steve Jobs would be proud of me.

The mirror’s centre panel told the whole story, though. The left fade was clearly more robust, with the clippers travelling a full three inches higher than on the right side.

The lopsided effect made it look like Tin-Tin had just lifted his head off of a sticky table after an all-night drinking bout with that black-bearded Pirate guy. It was a massacre. Gritting my teeth, I grabbed the clippers, flicked on the blades, and completed the grisly task.

I can’t detect my own errors. Pragmatism and pride, mixed in with a Pandemic dose of narcissism and the fog of Lockdown blinded me to the only sensible option I have left: age gracefully.

Glancing in the mirror, I had to admit that this wasn’t graceful. Surveying the damage. I mused that I only needed a red fez with a gold tassel and a tiny go-cart car from the local Shriner’s Club to complete the look.

Assessing the damage, I noted that my pride had taken a direct hit. I didn’t need a second opinion, but my partner was happy to share hers anyway.

You see, the Spirit has graced me with a life partner that can see Stupid heading our way in the misty distance, and usually, that Stupid is me.

Previously, this gentle saint has quietly reiterated that some heads are designed to look good without hair, and that mine isn’t one of them. So, in fairness, I had been warned.

After the debacle was fully exposed, the Love of My Life looked on the bright side, as she always does, and said, “Well, you can always put on your checkered pyjama pants and that old sweater. At least then you can go around town getting discounts”.

Now, that’s wisdom.

Grass doesn’t grow on a busy street… And it doesn’t grow on cement, either

In the passage from today’s lectionary reading, the Psalmist gently points out that the heavens and the earth have already declared the glory of God, as revealed in both the physical universe and in the metaphysical wisdom of ten thousand years of human experience.

This historical wisdom of our species is recorded for us in our DNA, in ageless customs, in script, and in stone. Both the book of nature and the book of scripture embrace us with beauty, enfold us with love, and instruct us with compassion, generosity, and patience.

But even ancient wisdom is no match for a modern pandemic. After celebrating all of humanity’s received wisdom from the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture, the Psalmist asks, “who can detect their errors?”

I understand this now, with all the certainty of a balding medieval monk. The Psalmist gets it, too. In a Pandemic, and even sometimes outside of it, people do stupid things. Like Forrest Gump says: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Like Covid-19 itself, Pandemic Stupidity morphs and mutates into different strains. You can’t inoculate against all of them. You just have to isolate, and try to avoid doing stupid things, like cutting your own hair.

Despite our best efforts, there is always a threat that we can wander into a cloud of seasonal stupidity without our masks on. At other times, sometimes we just drop our guard and do stupid things. We’re human, after all.

We need help to avoid being stupid. Thankfully, the Psalmist offers us a way forward: prayer, and the Psalmist models the process for us. The writer admits their error, accepts responsibility, and in faith, seeks guidance to do better.

And we can–we can do better. The African-American writer Maya Angelou puts it this way:

” in crises, natural crises, human beings forget for a while their ignorances, their biases, their prejudices. For a while, neighbors help neighbors and strangers help strangers.” “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.” “Everyday I try to do better. See better. Say better….Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”.

So, it’s that simple, really. Understand that these are abnormal times. Accept that life is different–more constrained, less enjoyable–under these circumstances. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others. None of us, after all, have ever experienced this before, and we’re all learning as we go.

Accept also that most people, on most days, most of the time just want to treat people kindly and receive kindness in return.

Accept that most people are probably trying the best that they can just to get through the day without inadvertently doing dumb things.

And finally, try to recognize a stupid idea when it comes your way, and pass on it. If you’re not sure, share your brilliant plan with others you trust, then gauge their reaction, and stage your action plan based on their point of view.

Goodness, kindness, patience and gentleness might be in short supply, but we’ll never really run out. We just feel a little low sometimes.

Find your trusted Gumps, and conjure your inner Gump. Test all of your Covid-19 ‘aha’ moments against the standards of this panel of experts. If your great idea doesn’t pass the test, walk away. If you find you’re still drawn to a patently stupid idea, then “run, Forrest, run.”

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you my Lord, my rock, my redeemer.”

Reflect: What are some areas of my life and relationships that lead me into error? How can I detect my own errors? How can I get support?

Pray: “God of love, wisdom and mercy, please renew my spirit and my mind so that I can more perfectly see your wisdom and the movement of your spirit in my daily life. I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart can become increasingly more and more acceptable to you, my Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

“Throwing Stones”

(The Ballad of Shimei)

A pond and a pebble,

A plop, and a ripple.

The stone that was thrown

waves back to me.


But the stone that was thrown

has a life of its own—

While the splash and the plop

Stir chaos on top,

The stone sinks away


Forsaken

Forgotten

Foreboding


To be thrown once again,

On another calm day.


(c) 2021 Doug Ferris

God in the Wild Places

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed, and Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (Mark 1:35 – 37).

In our connected society, the growth of the internet has created entire industries that never existed until even five years ago.

One of my favourite new career choices is called being an “Influencer,” a career entirely based around a celebrity’s consumer preferences online.

As an “Influencer,” a young, attractive and popular celebrity comments on a product that they like, and their fans and followers go out and buy it.

Due to the exponential power of the internet, the company stands to profit from positive reviews posted by celebrities. They also stand to lose if they receive a negative review, so you can begin to see where the rewards are for the “Influencer” who persuades the multitude.

In this passage from Mark, the crowds have followed Simon Peter and his companions searching for spiritual healing.

Peter and the others, are hunting for Jesus, and Jesus has withdrawn to the wilderness in a prayerful quest for intimate prayer with the spirit of God.

Just like a modern day influencer, the crowd follows Simon Peter, who follows Jesus, who searches for unity with God in the wilderness, the private and intimate spaces in our lives.

How can you find that private wilderness moment in your day and commune with God in private? Commit to scheduling some alone time with God today, where you can reflect on God’s love for you and for the people you care about. You’ll be glad you did. Here’s a prayer that could open that conversation in the Wilderness of your own private thoughts:

A Wilderness Prayer:
God of the wilderness, I praise you for the wilderness places in my life. As I seek you in private, I know that I will experience the reassurance of your Holy Spirit in my prayerful time with you. God, help me to know you are with me in the wilderness places in my life and help me to feel your comfort, your presence, and your love. Thank you for your quiet and loving presence in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Revised Common Lectionary Year B, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany:

Revised Common Lectionary (vanderbilt.edu)

“Groundhog, Mascot of Love” A Love Story

Creative Non-Fiction by Doug Ferris

http://www.dougferris.ca

“My glance locked momentarily with the sky-blue eyes of a slender blonde. She held my gaze, smiled confidently, then disappeared into the crowd. No word was spoken.”

_________________________________

I needed information to complete the bank form. “What’s your favorite flower?” I texted. I re-read the words before I hit send. Without context, the words seemed innocent, almost tender though I hadn’t intended them that way. I just needed personal information to complete the online form. Nothing romantic about it.

After more than thirty years together, she suspected a motive. “Is this some kind of personality quiz?” she typed skeptically. And then, her tone softened: “My answer depends on the day…sometimes sunflowers, sometimes Gerber daisies.”

“Sunflowers!” I chastised myself. I should’ve known that by now. I realized that I didn’t even know what Gerber daisies looked like. Her response melted my heart, though. How had I let it all become so practical? When did the joy of learning new details about each other rely on something as practical as a bank form?

It wasn’t always that way. “Once Upon a Time,” I wanted to know everything. Like Groundhog Day, that goofy annual celebration in praise of warmer sunny days, and bright hopes for tomorrow. Ever since that first sunny and mild Groundhoggy day, we have shared all of our dreams together.

_________________________________

On a brilliant day in September, a dry lecture on dusty literature ended, and a somnolent crowd of a hundred students lolled towards the exits. As I awaited my turn to plod up the aisle, I stared carelessly around the packed hall. Briefly, I locked eyes with the sky-blue gaze of a slender blonde. She returned my glance with confidence, and smiled disarmingly. The throng lurched, and the girl disappeared. No words were spoken.

_________________________________

That February, Groundhog Day was unseasonably warm. Though it startled the chubby rodent with his own shadow that day, the bright sunshine lured me out to the front porch of my student rental to lace up my red converse sneakers before heading off to my turgid class on Romantic Poetry.

As I squatted awkwardly to tie my shoes, a slender blonde walked by, turned, looked directly at me, and smiled gently. “How did your pictures turn out?” I stared blankly and uncomprehendingly in response. I had no idea what she meant. ‘Think of something cool to say‘ I thought.

But her self-confidence both unnerved and attracted me. Kerchiefed in a Joplinesque red bandana, her figure draped by a masculine second-hand rummage sale overcoat, she struck me as the essence of edgy counter-culture cool, and suddenly the only thing that mattered was making a good first impression. She waited for me to stand, and I looked away as I tried to think of a clever reply.

“What pictures?” I asked. ‘Not cool. Not cool at all,’ I winced.

“I saw you shooting photos for the school paper at the concert last weekend,” she replied. I summoned the courage to ask her name, she smiled disarmingly, and replied: “EvelynSchomethingerotherski.” I pretended I heard. Then I pretended I knew what I was doing. I was fully and completely smitten. Like the little groundhog on a sunny day in February, I just wanted to dart back onto my burrow, and figure things out.

So it began. We roamed campus together, chatting, and parted hours later when there were no more good excuses to delay.

At home, I realized I didn’t have her phone number, address, or last name, so I sat up that night reading every listing in the student directory that listed first names only, sometimes accompanied by a last initial. Finally, I found “Evelyn S.” Out of eleven thousand students, there was only one.

While the rest of the world anticipates the romance of St. Valentine’s Day, Evelyn S. and I celebrate the enduring romance of Groundhog Day, just as we have for over three decades. It’s silly and frivolous and fun, like being in love.

_________________________________

In a way, the insecure groundhog–shy, bashful, and scared of his own shadow–symbolizes our vulnerability and expresses the courage we need to leave the safety of our burrows and accept the lifelong risk of loving others. But it’s worth it. Every minute. And, as the sunflowers show, we are still learning to love each other with each passing year.

Move over St. Valentine, the lowly Groundhog is the new Mascot of Love. Forget the roses. From now on, I’m sending sunflowers.

(c)2021 Doug Ferris.

The January Portal

2021 is here, and it’s already a winner, because it’s not 2020, right?

 So this weekend, before the new year really gets underway, we pause to remember, to prepare, and to refresh our spirits in this space between yesterday and tomorrow.

The ancient Romans, who had a god for everything, had a god for this in-between time, this ‘doorway’ between the past and the future. Janus, that two-faced god of endings and beginnings,  Janus, that liminal god of the darkened corridors between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is still with us.

We find evidence of the god’s presence right in our word ‘January,’ a month that begins by  looking backwards at what ‘was’, then peering forward at what ‘will be’, without ever really wondering what is. 

As we pause in the doorway of Janus’ waiting room between December and February, we might uncertainly wonder:  “After last year, am I ready for what comes next?”  For people of faith, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” 

We do not have to wait in the shadows with two-faced Janus, nor stumble blindly between the darkened doorways of our lives, because the good news of the gospel has already proclaimed that a new light has dawned: ‘the Kingdom of God has come near.’  This is the light of our faith.

In the light of faith:

we leave the darkened past for a brighter vision of a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Kingdom of light.

In the light of faith:

we reach forward to grasp what is ahead, pressing on towards the Kingdom of God that glows brighter and grows warmer before us.

In the light of faith:

we proclaim, along with the apostle Paul, that:

I give no thought to what lies behind, but I push on to what is ahead. My entire attention is on the finish line as I run towards the prize—the high calling of God in Christ Jesus

So,  welcome, friends, to 2021, the year of God’s blessing.  This year, 

May God bless you and keep you

May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you

May God look kindly upon you, and give you peace

Both today, and throughout the growing light of the coming year.

_______________ 

*Unless otherwise noted, all biblical citations are from:

The Inclusive Bible.  Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2009. 

ISBN:1-58051-213-8

“Mara at Midnight”

This moonless night As sightless stars dance blindly On this obsidian lake A solitary figure stands Motionless upon the shore Defiant Against the inexorable waves arrayed like armies on the surface of the waters Pulsing, moving in the futility of an eternal attack and retreat Endlessly advancing with wave upon wave of kinetic fury, andContinue reading ““Mara at Midnight””

Long Weekends, Cottage Traffic, and Family Memories: Who Can Detect Their Errors? Not Me, Apparently.

“As the cruiser lights flashed blue and red, I pulled over. Deep inside, I sensed my smug self-righteousness ebbing away, exposing a hollow anxiety. The worst part was wondering where I could have gone wrong, accompanied by a fear of undetected errors, hidden only from myself. I had tried so hard to do everything right,Continue reading “Long Weekends, Cottage Traffic, and Family Memories: Who Can Detect Their Errors? Not Me, Apparently.”

Money, Sex and Power

The Physicist Isaac Newton discovered our modern understanding of a ‘Force’ in natural physics. The Old Testament prince–Solomon the seventh son of King David–understood that, just like a force in the natural world of science, social forces like money, sex, and power do no stop until they face an equal or greater force that opposesContinue reading “Money, Sex and Power”

Citations & References

Unless otherwise attributed and where noted (NRSV), all scriptural quotations and references on dougferris.ca are courtesy of The New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV) copyright 1989 by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission, all rights reserved worldwide.

Unless otherwise attributed and where noted (TIB), scripture references are courtesy of The Inclusive Bible. Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2009. ISBN: 1-58051-213-8.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unless otherwise attributed, all written material, visual images, photographs, and videos appearing on http://www.dougferris.ca or http://www.ferrport.com are original works by Doug Ferris, subject to copyright licensing under Creative Commons agreements and under the copyright permissions of the Government of Canada.

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