Friday, February 24, 2017

Five Minute Friday: SLOW

Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday. This week's word is SLOW.


Richard and I have been watching the Lord of the Rings movies this past week (something I would highly recommend, by the way). In one scene, two little hobbits named Merry and Pippin have escaped their evil captors and taken refuge among the Ents, who are like huge, gnarly trees that can move and talk. The hobbits urge the senior Ent, Treebeard, to gather the other Ents and take action to fight their foes.

But the Ents are ..... SO .... VERY .... SLOW.

Merry grows impatient with their lengthy deliberations. When he asks if they have made a decision, Treebeard says, "No ... We only just finished saying ... good morning."

Merry cries, "But it's nighttime already. You can't take forever. We're running out of time!"

When the Ents finally act, they are strong and fierce -- but it takes them SO LONG. It's hard for Merry to understand why, when the stakes are so high, they don't move more quickly and decisively.

A couple of months ago our pastor gave a sermon on John 11, highlighting this sentence in verse 6: "When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days."

That's a strange decision too, on the face of it. Lazarus and his sisters are close friends of Jesus. As our pastor pointed out, most people, when they hear a loved one is at death's door, drop what they're doing, pack their bags, and rush to be with the person; they don't hang around for two more days before acting. 

Lazarus's sisters' response when Jesus does arrive shows how bewildered and hurt they are by his sense of timing: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

But Jesus has another, higher purpose, as the rest of the chapter shows: Lazarus does die, but Jesus brings him back from the dead. It is an incredible miracle that demonstrates Jesus' power and authority and brings even greater glory to God than preventing Lazarus's death in the first place would have.

I think in our culture we have made an idol of speed -- and not just in obvious ways like high-speed internet or fast cars. When a pressing issue arises, so often we want others to respond instantly, in the exact way we expect them to. And if they take time to deliberate or their priorities don't seem perfectly aligned with ours, we can be so harsh and judgmental.

Maybe we need to stop worshipping at the altar of FAST. Maybe we're not running out of time. Maybe, as Jesus and the Ents show, there is actually plenty of time to take it SLOW and still accomplish what needs to be done.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Swan signs

 photo Hinterland Who's Who

It has been a tough week. Jonathan was a little under the weather late last week, but he was well enough to go to school; then on the weekend he had a fever and slept most of Saturday away. He seems to be feeling better now, but he also seems to have this general crankiness hanging on that is really difficult to deal with.

Tuesday morning before school, he refused to eat breakfast. This is becoming a habit with him, and it's worrying: for a teenage boy to head off to school with no food in his tummy is not good, especially if he'll be doing something high-energy like going to the Y for fitness or swimming, as he often does with his EA. Lately he's slightly more inclined to eat breakfast if Richard prepares it for him -- but Rich was working that day, so no go.

The half hour before school was miserable. Our conversation went like this:

"Swimming pool."
"Yes, you're going to the swimming pool."
"Swimming pool."
 "Yes, you're going to the swimming pool."
"NO SWIMMING POOL!" (Enraged voice.)
"Yes! You're going to the swimming pool."
"Play beach ball."
"Yes, you can play with the beach ball with Matt at the pool."

"Play beach ball."
"Yes, beach ball."
"NO BEACH BALL!" (Enraged voice.)

.... over and over and over again. It's so tiring when, no matter what answer I give -- even positive reinforcement of what he's just said -- he screams angrily in response.

Just before 8, we went outside to wait for the bus. The back-and-forth continued, and I kept checking my watch: where WAS that bus, anyway?

Suddenly Jonathan said, "Geese!" He loves watching geese fly over, and he always sees and hears them long before I do. The honking didn't seem quite right, though. We looked up, and what we saw were three trumpeter swans flying overhead. I've never seen them in flight before, nor heard the sound they make. They were so big, and so beautiful and majestic.

After Jonathan had left on the bus, I thought again about those three swans. Maybe they had a message for me. Maybe they were Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, flying over our house and blessing it, letting me know I'm not alone in these exhausting and frustrating times.

But then I had second thoughts. 

Why am I imposing meaning on a simple, natural event? They were just birds, doing what birds do: flying. Why am I interpreting their appearance as some comforting personal message? And if it is a symbol, maybe it's a symbol of something else: abandonment, for instance. Maybe the fact that those swans flew over without even a glance in my direction means that God's left me on my own. (And let's not even speculate on what it would have meant if they'd pooped on me.)

And if I take swans as messages from God, then am I any better (or worse, for that matter) than the person who sees a feather on the ground and interprets it as a message from their dead relative, who collected feathers? You see how these things can get out of hand.

If I'm honest, I know the swans didn't mean anything. And I do believe in my heart that God is with me, so I don't want to become dependent on swan sightings to shore up that belief.

But they didn't mean nothing, either. They were a sign.

... A sign that life is beautiful.

... A sign that marvelous things happen every day, things that are both miraculous and commonplace at the same moment. Huge, graceful creatures can soar above above the treetops; that's amazing!

... A sign that there is a world beyond my immediate concerns, and that stepping out into it can shift my perspective and cause me to see things I'd otherwise miss. Jonathan and I were outside at the right moment to see something we'd never seen before.

 I want to stay open to those signs, even when things are difficult.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Five Minute Friday: WEAK

I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday;  today's word is WEAK.


As I mentioned last time, I teach an online course in essay-writing at Queen's University. A couple of weeks ago I was checking email on a Sunday afternoon and saw a message from a student who wanted me to look at her plans for the assignment she was working on, due the next day. It quickly became clear that this student needed some help to get on the right track. I made a few suggestions that I hoped would help her clarify her ideas so that she'd ultimately do much better on the assignment.

A little while later I received this reply:

"Thank you for taking time out of your Sunday afternoon to point out these flaws of mine."

She wasn't just grateful that I'd gone out of my way to accommodate her on a weekend ... she was grateful to have her flaws pointed out. 

And not only that: she asked for it! 

I don't make a point of asking others to comment on my weaknesses, at least not often. I do share my writing with my writers' group, and I try to welcome critical comments as well as praise -- but in general I find criticism painful, so I don't go around inviting others to "point out these flaws of mine."

Maybe I should, though. The Bible says that God's strength is perfected in weakness (II Cor. 12:9) and that God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong (I Cor. 1:27). 

So maybe I should be more open to recognizing my own weaknesses so that I can be more aware of the exact places in my life that God is showing his strength and power.



Friday, February 10, 2017

Five Minute Friday: SAFE

Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday. Today's prompt word is "SAFE."


I teach an online course in essay-writing at Queen's University here in Kingston. When I checked my email first thing this morning, there was the weekly electronic newsletter from the university -- and the first words that appeared at the top were "Providing a Safe Haven."

This is how the article with that headline began:

Queen’s announced today a number of additional measures to assist students and academics impacted by changes in entry and transit policies announced two weeks ago by the United States.

“As a university, it is our collective responsibility to do what we can to assist those in need,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “By offering a safe haven for those impacted by this policy to continue their studies or their research, we are reaffirming the values of inclusion, diversity and equality that are central to our mission as a modern institute of higher education.”

I got thinking about what I do as an instructor to make my course a safe haven -- not only for those affected by the travel policies, but for all students.

One thing I have been doing this term is revising our course policy on gendered pronouns. Up to this point, I would have told students (and instructed my TAs to tell students) that a sentence like "A student must do their work" is wrong, because "student" is singular and "their" is plural. And I would advise revisions like "A student must do his or her work" to include both sexes.

*** (here's where the 5 minutes ended, but I had a bit more to say) ***

However, times are changing. Some students do not self-identify as male or female, so they don't consider "his or her" a helpful or accurate alternative. Usage in this area is undergoing a shift in the culture in general; the university has an express policy statement on this very matter.

So I'm changing our course material to reflect this shift, and I'm encouraging students to write in a way that acknowledges it as well. I want them to know that grammar is not more important than people, and that learning to write well is more than just knowing the rules.

I realize this is a hot-button issue for a lot of people, particularly Christians. And I don't see a direct commandment in the Bible about how I should handle a situation like this. There isn't much there about grammar, usage, or noun-pronoun agreement.

But when I rewrite this material, I feel as if I'm serving my students -- treating them the way I'd want to be treated. Maybe I'm making just one student feel a little safer.

Monday, February 06, 2017

My poem, "duplication on chromosome 16," published at ALTARWORK

Today I'm honoured to have one of my poems, "duplication on chromosome 16," published at ALTARWORK, a beautiful site that features Christian writers and artists.

This poem is very near to my heart. I always describe it this way: "It's not science, and it's not a sermon; it's a psalm."

Click HERE to read it.