Sleigh Rides in the ‘Hood

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Photo Credit: Andrew Reimer

Guest Post By Jeremy Zehr

 

Earlier this week, I had the responsibility of supervising the sleigh rides at a Community Christmas Party in our Neighbourhood.  My wife, Teresa laughed with me afterward because we both know that I get quite anxious and stressed when I have to organize and manage large groups or events.  Needless to say, I was very tired after the event was over.  As I reflected on the experience the next day, some observations surfaced for me:

 

  • Inner-city Kids are tough: Several kids waited in line for nearly an hour without a jacket in -10 Celsius temperatures in order to have their turn on the horse-drawn wagon ride.

 

  • People who follow the rules get left out. There were 5 kids that had been waiting in line for an hour who didn’t get on the final ride.  These children were the ones who didn’t jump the line.  They were the ones who were soft-spoken and patient as they waited in line while others snuck in front when no one was looking.  A kind and gentle grandmother I know from the block had been waiting in line with her grandson.  After watching others sneak their way onto the rides, she decided that following the rules wasn’t going to get her grandson on the wagon and she was going to jump the line too.  I can’t blame her.  She knew, probably from experience, that the rule followers often lose out and she wanted her grandson to get that sleigh ride he had been waiting in line for.

 

  • People who feel powerless adapt get what they need and want. Many people in our community have learned that they have little power or control over their lives.  It may be Child and Family Services looking over their shoulders with the threat of having their children taken away because of their “inability to parent”.  It may be a Landlord threatening to (illegally) evict them from their home because they want to raise the rent more than what is allowed.  It may be a young teenage girl looking forward to having a baby in hopes that this baby will give her more status with her peers and some power in world where she has been powerless.  It may be waiting in line for an hour for a sleigh ride wondering if it will close by the time it is your turn.  This is one of the problems of Charity or Welfare, as a recipient, you have little to no power.  You receive what is given or offered, and jump through the hoops required or else you get stuck with nothing.  You might get nothing in the end anyways.  I often hear people talk about entitlement.  The poor feel “entitled” to welfare or to a hamper at Christmas.  I would counter that by saying most people feel entitled to what they have.  The middle-class and upper class folks of our society often feel entitled to their vacations each year, or their pay raises, or their safe neighbourhoods in the suburbs. This sense of entitlement is usually somewhat motivated by the sense that one has earned these things. Although there is some truth to this, most middle and upper class citizens have been given the building blocks to be in positions to have power and choice over their own lives and the lives of their family.  Whether it is education, social capital, stable and nurturing homes, these building blocks are essential for success and empowerment.

 

  • We need kindness in our community. The sleigh ride drivers were not willing to go 10 minutes past the 2 hours we had rented them for.  I asked them if they could do one more quick ride for the 5 kids who had been waiting for an hour and didn’t make it on the last ride.  They refused to do even one extra ride.  A couple of the little girls were crying because they had been looking forward with excitement for this great opportunity to ride a wagon pulled by horses. I was left kneeling by these girls saying I was sorry they didn’t get a ride.  The children in our community often grow up experiencing much disappointment especially at Christmas.  I felt so bad for allowing one more disappointment to happen to them at our Community Christmas party.  As Murray Sinclair says, the key to Reconciliation is “Kindness”.

 

  • We have strong, resilient folks in our community. The mother of one of the girls left crying as the last ride took off said to her daughter, “Well, we got to enjoy a ride last year and that will have to be good enough”.  Maybe this isn’t the most empathetic response, but it is a response of resilience and an acceptance that this s*** happens sometimes and we are not going to dwell on it.

 

I had trouble sleeping that night.  I kept thinking about how I could have prevented these girls from that disappointment. I was representing a power holder in the community.  I was part of the organization providing the Christmas Party.  We decided what we were giving and how it was distributed.  It was our job to serve the community with this event.  But how we serve is very important.  We need to honor the people we serve by doing our best to uphold their dignity and worth. We are no more important than they are, even though we are the ones with the decision making power and material capital in this situation.  I am more and more aware of complicated and even dangerous power dynamics of charity. And though I will never be able to prevent little girls from being disappointed at our Community Gatherings, I hope I can grow in my understanding of how to share and honor the power we have as we seek to live in community with one another.

 

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Silence

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I found this in my “drafts” folder today. To be honest, I have no idea how long it has been sitting there.  Probably at least a year (the photos is from this morning though!)  But I liked it.  And it still rings true for me.  Perhaps more than ever, and so I thought I’d hit “publish” today.  May you find space for silence today, as you go about whatever your day brings!

For the last year, the Lord has been teaching me of the value and need for silence in my life. This is a concept I have struggled with over the years (despite being an introvert!) and I tend to lean towards filling my space with sounds, talking or music.

There are many reasons for avoiding silence. It seems that our contemporary society is uncomfortable with silence, and longs to avoid it. Silence makes us anxious.  We fill it with music, incessant talking, the radio or even the social media just to avoid being alone with our thoughts.  Perhaps we don’t know the value of silence, and haven’t had the opportunity to practice it in the context of our lives.

But, my friends, maybe silence is something that we need to lean into. No matter how awkward and uncomfortable it is, no matter how odd we feel practicing it.  Because there is value in practicing silence, particularly in our noisy, busy, over stimulating world.  Silence is where we are truly able to hear God’s voice, the gentle whispers that speak directly to our hearts in ways that no audible words ever can.

Dallas Willard writes (in the introduction to Ruth Hayley Barton’s “Invitation to Silence and Solitude”) “Solitude and silence are the most radical of the spiritual disciplines because they most directly attack the sources of human misery and wrongdoing. To be in solitude is to choose to do nothing for extensive periods of time. All accomplishment is given up. Silence is required to complete solitude, for until we enter quietness, the word still lays hold of us. When we go into solitude and silence we stop making demands on God. It is enough that God is God and we are his. We learn we have a soul, that God is here, that this world is “my Fathers world”.

I don’t know about you, but choosing to do nothing can be hard for me at times. I feel like a slacker. I feel like someone is going to judge me and call me lazy. And the biggest hurdle I face is the fact that I feel like I should be doing more. I often don’t even know what “more” would look like, but just more than sitting still and being in silence.

My spiritual director reminds me that often the spiritual disciplines we feel the least like doing are the ones our soul needs the most. So I have been pressing into silence. Sitting in the uncomfortable, awkward moments, setting aside my agenda and my lists, and waiting. Waiting to hear from the Lord. Some days this time feels rich and meaningful, and on others it feels awkward and contrived. But I keep trying. I remind myself that an important aspect of practicing silence, is simply showing up, and making space for God to speak and move.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

~ 1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV ~

 

Below is an excerpt from the Book “Invitation to Solitude and Silence” by Ruth Hayley Barton (pages 106 & 107).

As you enter into silence today, take several deep breaths as a way of settling into these moments and becoming aware of God’s presence with you- closer to you than your breath.

When you feel ready, hear God ask you the question he asked Elijah, What are you doing here, ­­­­­­____________________?  Sit quietly with the question, allowing it to penetrate all the way to the core of your being.

Allow your response to this question to emerge from your heart without trying to edit it. You may want to write your response in your journal, you may want to respond with spoken words or you may need to just experience the emotion that comes. The point is to communicate with God as honestly as you can about what is drawing you deeper and deeper into solitude right now.   It may be serious and weighty, but it doesn’t have to be…

For right now, let it be enough to say what is true about you and then just wait in God’s presence.

 

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The Helmet of Salvation

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Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

I’ve been pondering the concept of “The helmet of salvation” for a few weeks now, and have had a hard time wrapping my head around the whole idea. How can Salvation be a helmet? What’s Paul getting at here? How does this apply to my life today?

The helmet of salvation is the second last piece of armor Paul instructs us to put on for battle and it has an important job. As anyone who plays sports such as hockey or football knows, a helmet is a vital piece of equipment, protecting not only one’s face, but also the entire head; in effect protecting the brain, and the mind. A blow to the head, or a concussion, can have serious long-term consequences.

If you’ve ever had a concussion or a migraine (or even a headache for that matter!), you’ll know that the pain that occurs in your head makes it very hard to think, or to process things clearly. Research shows that when one has a migraine, it not only affects the body, but also the emotions. It is easy to doubt oneself, to second guess what we are thinking and feeling about what is going on in our lives and our hearts. Before we know it, we are caught in the grips of anxiety, doubt and fearfulness. When we experience these feelings we begin to doubt God’s promises for us. Our Salvation saves us from danger, from sin, from attitudes and ways the world thinks and ultimate death and separation from God.

The Helmet of salvation can act as a protection for our mind and helps to keep the doubts Satan throws our way at bay. Knowing that our Salvation comes from God can be a grounding point for us within the hard times and can bring focus and clarity to our minds and hearts. If we put our Salvation on as a helmet, it protects us from undermining the power of God in our lives. If we act out of our fears and anxieties, we aren’t able to live in the confident hope that we are saved and that we will continue to be saved. Our helmet of salvation allows us to live differently from the world, separate from patterns and beliefs that the world pushes upon us.

In Romans 5:3-5 we read, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

Spend some time today reflecting on today’s scripture passages. If you need some food for thought, consider these questions:

  • What does the helmet of Salvation protect me from personally?
  • What does my helmet look like?
  • How can I strengthen my “confident hope of salvation”?
  • How is God calling me to share this piece of armor with those around me?

 

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River

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In the last several weeks, I have been drawn to the Red River that runs through Winnipeg. I have no idea why, or the significance of that (if any?) but I have found myself ending up on the banks of the river a lot as I go for my walks.

While a river might have harsh connotations, raging, rushing and flooding the land around it, I am also drawn to it’s gentleness. It’s a slow, measured, meandering path that it takes, continually heading north, winding back and forth, creating many hairpin curves on its route. Eventually it runs into Lake Winnipeg and then into the Hudson Bay.

A river can cut through rock, not by flooding the land it meets and expressing it’s greatness and power, but through it’s gentle persistence. Continually running past rocks and soil. Time after time, slowly wearing down thousands of years of nature. Bit by tiny bit.

Our gentleness can be like that. Slowly wearing down our rough edges so gradually that we don’t always see the difference in ourselves until we look back to see where we have been, and who we have been.

God’s gentleness is like the river. Working in us first, pouring into us frist, filling us like a river fills a lake. And then, the most beautiful thing happens, the lake fills up and continues to pour out. Our gentleness begins to pour out of us and begins to change those around us. Changing their lives, and filling more lives in the process.

Rivers. Gentleness. God’s love.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5

How has the gentleness of someone affected your life?
In what ways is God calling you into gentleness today?

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Great is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy Faithfulness

As I have prayed and reflected about writing this post all week, the only thing that has come to me, continually, is the old hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. And so, we are going to embrace that today.

If you have five minutes today, I would encourage you to listen to Great is Thy Faithfulness

 

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;

there is no shadow of turning with thee;

thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;

as thou hast been thou forever will be.

Refrain:

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

all I have needed thy hand hath provided;

great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

 

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,

sun, moon and stars in their courses above

join with all nature in manifold witness

to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Refrain

 

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth

thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;

strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! Refrain.

Words: Thomas O. Chisholm  Music: William M. Runyan  Words & Music © 1923, Ren. 1951 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.

Sit back and close your eyes. Let the music surround you. After you listen to the song, I encourage you to reflect and pray about the following questions.

  • How have you experienced God’s faithfulness in your life?
  • How have you experienced a pardon for sin and peace that endureth?
  • How does God’s faithfulness give you strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow?
  • How are you able to share God’s faithfulness in your life with those around you?

 

 

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