A NEW APPROACH:A RE-OPENING ROAD MAP

When our children were younger we gave them jobs to do, especially on Saturdays. They often did not appreciate this. They wanted to do their own things, to play, to socialize, and to laze in their rooms. Our suggestions were often ignored, until we forced the issue and demanded that the jobs be done. Too frequently this led to frustrated and unhappy children. Eventually we came up with a better, more acceptable plan.

We still assigned tasks; we still expected the completion of those tasks. However, we made one major stipulation. You are free to do as you please—once the tasks are done. This meant that if a child would start working first thing in the morning and complete the task in short order, the rest of the day could be filled  with whatever that child desired (within certain family limits). This certainly helped set a better tone for the family. We all worked to get our jobs done in order that we could participate in the fun activities that lay ahead.

Why am I bringing this up? Let me tell you. The medical experts want us to shut down the fun activities for a certain length of time. These “rules” do not seem to work—the Covid-19 numbers continue to rise or at least remain too high. Surely there is a need for a different approach.

Why not hold the proverbial “carrot” in front of us? Set up the shutdowns but specify that when certain targets are reached, then, and only then, will restrictions be lifted. At this point we go through the motions of being careful, but know that the restrictions will be lifted on a certain date. Will this also be the case if we do nothing or very little? It seems that the medical experts are more interested in opening up on a certain date than they are in making sure we do our “jobs”.

I would strongly urge the powers that be to make a change. Why not set up restrictions with the proviso that these will be lifted once a target is reached (such as x number of cases or y number of deaths)?  In this way the entire population has a stake in reducing the Covi-19 outbreaks. Once we have achieved our goal, we are able to “do our own thing” and enjoy life as we desire. If we refuse to obey the restrictions, these will remain in force for a long time, until we realize that obedience to the rules will bring us freedom—whenever that may be. Setting a date for “opening up” has not been working. Maybe this “work before play” approach will bring more of us to our senses and push us to finish the tasks at hand in order that we can enjoy our lives.

Let me end with two illustrations from other constituencies.  First, the “Re-Opening Roadmap: A Gradual, Measured Approach to Easing Public Health Measures” as provided by the government of Saskatchewan.

This “Re-Opening Roadmap” is a three-step plan gradually to lift current public health restrictions as Saskatchewan reaches significant vaccination levels.  It also provides Saskatchewan people with an incentive to continue following public health measures and a clear reason to get vaccinated.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said.  “This is not only a re-opening plan. It’s also a plan to encourage people to get vaccinated and to keep following all the public health orders and guidelines.  Those are the two things we all need to do in order to move forward through the three steps of re-opening so we can enjoy a great Saskatchewan summer and get back to normal.”

The Re-Opening Roadmap includes three steps based on vaccination thresholds, vaccine availability and timing between steps.  The thresholds are related to vaccines received by residents, not to specific dates.

The second example comes from Minnesota where Governor Tim Waltz revealed a three-step timeline for ending nearly all statewide COVID-19 restrictions.  Again, this timeline is based on acceptance of restrictions now in order that the opening of the state may occur as soon as possible. Although dates are suggested, Waltz states that these are projections, dependent on the Covid-19 outbreaks.

“Good” Friday

What’s Good about Good Friday?

Reflecting on the meaning of this day.

In Hart’s cartoon, B.C., one character said, I hate the term ‘Good Friday’;

Why?

Because his Lord was hanged up on a tree that day.

The response is equally provoking—

How would you feel if He took your guilty place?

Good!

That is really all one needs to say.

Good.

Good Friday—a  time of sorrow and pain

Because the Lord took my place,

And yours as well

He suffered.

Christ sacrificed his kingliness and lined up with the sinners all around.

Wow!

He walked that lonely road up to the garbage dump

And allowed the soldiers and the crowd to nail him to that cross.

He suffered in silence all alone

And died.

This is Good Friday but thankfully we know that’s not the end.

Sunday’s coming!

Now we quietly remember all that God has done

And partake of communion as we remember what Christ did for us.

We reflect on what the suffering means and what it brings to us—

Resurrection!

Streetsweepers of Jerusalem

I am glad we cleaned the streets so carefully.

I always want the best for our Sabbath celebrations.

But now it’s over and a spot check is a must

To make sure all is ready for the week ahead.

One never knows what may be left after the weekly celebration day.

We, you and I, the streetsweepers of Jerusalem, carefully make sure all is clean.

 But, as we swept away what little dirt we found,

I heard a commotion on a far off street,

And wondered what that all could mean.

Jacob and I stopped to listen and soon became aware

Of an unscheduled parade coming down a nearby street—

In fact, the street we had just cleaned.

What could the meaning of this be,

And why had we not been notified?

Would this mean more work for us,

And on a day which, for us, was usually

A day for family and for guests?

What were we now to do?

Listen—Jacob, the sound is getting louder

And the crowd is getting bigger!

Let’s hurry with our sweeping so we can rush on home

Before this crowd comes through.

And forces us to move aside.

Sweep, sweep, before all is for naught

Ah, but Abram, too late for that my friend,

People are tossing clothes and branches all over the roadway.

We’ll just have to do that street all over again

Before the markets open for the day.

No getting home early today

If we expect to have clean streets before the shops re-open.

But, Jacob, look

Someone is in the midst, riding on a donkey.

What is the meaning of this?

Well, my friend, Abram

Let’s set aside our brooms for a bit

And check on what this parade is all about.

Good idea!

But let’s push through to get a better glimpse

Before the Romans squash this demonstration.

They certainly never want a riotous crowd.

Jacob—isn’t this quite a sight!

People are everywhere, even crowding right up to the shops along the way.

Look at the mess they’re making;

Tearing down all those palms,  and tossing them down along the road.

Jacob—you’re taller—can you see?

Obviously we will have to clean this street again.

This is a disaster! No going home early for us.

What a sight!

Someone riding a donkey—that’s a laugh!

No one in their right mind rides a donkey,

And certainly not down a street in Jerusalem!

Jacob do you know who that is?

I heard someone yell something about Jesus from Nazareth.

Who is he? And what does he think he’s doing?

People spreading branches and leaves along the road? 

What does this all mean—is he trying to incite a riot?

But look my friend, everyone seems so happy.

No one is yelling against the Romans;

No one is set on a path of destruction.

This crowd is somehow different.

Jacob, maybe we should just leave all alone

And get our sweeping done.

And yet this is too exciting—we can’t leave now!

I guess I will just have to work later than I expected

Jacob, you are taller than I

What are you able to see?

Ach, my friend Abram,

This is the man the Pharisees hate

Because he threatens their lives of wealth and power.

But what this means, I just don’t know.

Jacob, look, Is that not Reuben, whose dad, Simeon,

Blessed a child some years ago; a child he said was our Messiah.

Reuben, what is going on, do you know?

What’s that?—this Jesus is the same person

Whom your dad blessed many years ago while in the temple?

Wow—really? Are you saying THIS is the MESSIAH?

But, riding a donkey?

Doesn’t seem very “kingly” to me!

And yet, he looks so serene, so—so authoritative.

And, listen to all the people flocking to him.

The crowd is jubilant but not destructive;

Joyous but not yelling; excited but not angry.

What a lot of noise—yet not really a noise,

But rather a sound of praise and worship.

What does all this mean?

Reuben, Jacob—what is going on?

This Jesus, this Messiah—what is he trying to accomplish?

You really think he is setting up his “kingdom” now?

But, riding a donkey?  And talking about peace?

Certainly different from other insurgents.

There must be something to his claim.

He’s not riding a chariot; not carrying any weapons;

Not working to incite the crowd.

What do you think, Jacob?

I’d like to follow him to see what happens?  

Let’s leave our brooms where we hid them and follow this Jesus.

We can clean up later, or come very early tomorrow to finish the job.

I can’t believe I’m actually doing this—but I just can’t help myself.  

I must follow.

Jesus is so persuasive, without saying anything.

He has such a holy air about him.

Truly, “blessed is the King that comes in the name of the Lord.”  

I just feel so filled with joy and excitement.

This Jesus, he must be the Messiah!

I must worship him—he is the one who comes in God’s name as our, as my redeemer.

I want to obey him in everything.

This Jesus, he is the Christ,

The Redeemer for us all.

—————

Hey Jacob, wasn’t that quite the weekend?

I am still so excited,

Jesus has become the most important person in my life.

And now I want to worship with Hosannas every day.

Wow—what a time as people shouted praise.

Once home, I was wide awake—hardly slept at all!

Don’t worry Jacob, I’ll do my share of the sweeping.

But it was hard to get up so early this morning.

Yes, yes, I know we have to get all the streets cleared before the markets open.

We’ll have to work hard.

But I am so convinced about Jesus—he must be the Messiah.

I want to follow him and do whatever he asks.

He has changed my whole outlook.

What an exciting time—the Messiah has finally come.

Oh Jacob, this is so wonderful. God is so good to us.

Life now is so exciting.

I wish I could follow Jesus wherever he goes.

That would be the best.

Oh, Jacob, I know, I know.

Someone has to stay to do the work.

But following Jesus would be so wonderful.

I am so filled with joy, I can hardly do my sweeping.

And…these streets are sure a mess again aren’t they Jacob?

This mess will take a long time to clear away.

But I don’t mind.

I feel like this is a job I’m doing for Jesus.

This street really is a mess—

Look at all the branches, jackets, coats, scarves and caps.

We better pile all the clothing into a basket and mark it “Lost and Found.” 

Someone will come asking for this stuff.

What did you say, Jacob?

I am following the Messiah if I stay and do a good job.

God wants me to be the best sweeper that I can be?

Yes, maybe, no surely, that makes sense.

But this certainly is not as exciting as waving branches

While shouting “Hosanna.”

—————

But yes, serving Christ is an everyday thing.

Yes, serving Christ is an everyday thing.

We can’t always be shouting excitedly,

But we can excitedly go about our everyday affairs!

Is Sunday a day of excitement and praise,

And Monday an existence of humdrum boredom?

Are we connecting our Sunday experience to our weekday work?

The Sunday excitement must translate

Into committed action on Monday—

Christ must affect our everyday lives.

Knowing the “Hallelujahs” of Palm Sunday does not bring completeness.

It must impact our work on Monday.

As followers of Christ, we too need to work between Parades.

Monday through Friday shows others what we really are about.

Our attitudes, our work ethic, our relationships

Demonstrate the impact that the Hosannas have made.

When we live in submission to Christ,

We live with a jubilant attitude that carries us through each week.

Christ’s presence in us does not mean

That we must change our daily lives—what it does mean is

That our daily lives are to be lived in a different attitude.

If a street cleaner, then remain a street cleaner; if a teacher, continue teaching;

If a business person, remain in business, if a service worker, keep on serving.

Following Christ, for some, may mean remaining in the place where you were found.

What a thought—proclaiming Christ’s message between parades;

Between the highs of Sundays,

And  in the humdrum days between.

May Christ’s Palm Sunday joy give us the impetus

To get beyond the Crucifixion Parade

In order to “keep on doing” what we have been doing,

MAKING MEMORIES, NOT JUST APPOINTMENTS

Recently I heard an ad on TV that set me thinking. I must confess that I do not remember much about the ad—no remembrance of the product being sold; no remembrance of the TV show in which it was aired. But, what I do remember is the one phrase. This struck me and got my creative juices flowing.

The phrase—Making Appointments, not Memories—was said by a relatively young person. I believe he was bemoaning the fact that as people age they forget to enjoy life but merely keep a calendar of appointments, mostly medical. This hit me, as my wife and I have been busy checking our calendars to make sure we don’t miss our next “appointment” or doctor visit.

Making appointments to maintain good health is important. I am so thankful that we are able to visit clinics and doctors with little hindrance (except for the time lag!). However, I am also very thankful that these appointments do not control our lives. We still are able to enjoy life, and are making memories more frequently than we make appointments!

During these months of pandemic we have been forced to change our lifestyle to adjust to all the protocols. No more visits with friends at a favourite restaurant; no more hugs with our grandkids; no more gathering at church; no more touring with friends in our vehicle. However, no way were we planning to hibernate away from all activities. We just needed to adjust and make other memories.

Recently we took a drive out to a park, just to enjoy God’s creation. On another occasion we took a drive along the river to check on the ice breakup. In fall, we drove down to Morden, MB to “see” a sister. We were able to chat for a while as we sat outside, physically distanced. However, the trip was part of the memory-making. We drove through the Pembina Hills and enjoyed to changes in the fields and hills. Some places the harvest was complete. In some the trees were a beautiful fall colour.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2020 we toured Manitoba, enjoying the many sites, including the creative town symbols scattered across the province. We might never have done this if all was normal. What memories we were able to make—and many pictures to capture the sites.

Prior to the pandemic, we enjoyed frequent visits with friends as we as together over our cups of coffee at a local Tim Hortons. Now, our conversation is via ZOOM. What a wonderful gift! We are able to enjoy great conversations while safely at home. Each week a group of us shares several hours of wonderful conversation—including news of happenings in each family. Then, once a week, several of us “meet” together for supper, each in their respective homes, but sharing a meal together. Again, what a feature to add to our memory bank.

Yes, the ad is accurate in that we make many appointments. But it is inaccurate in that the appointments overtake the memories. May we never allow the various appointments to dominate our lives. Making memories is life-giving; making appointments is life-maintaining. We need both.

Light That Keeps the Dark Away

Back in 2015 I wrote a blog entitled, Light or Darkness, and that both find their way into our lives. Since that time I have noted the numerous times that light and/or darkness are mentioned—whether in songs, in writings or in speeches.  Probably the more well-known song about this was written by Leonard Cohen as he stated, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Recently I was reminded of this light vs. darkness tension. Many in the world celebrated Holocaust Remembrance Day during January. We were reminded of the horrible atrocities committed during WW II by the Nazis. One wonders how so much darkness could prevail in the world. Prince Charles, who is patron of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, in a tribute speech stated: “We can be the light that ensures the darkness can never return… This is our time when we can, each in our own way, be the light that ensures the darkness can never return.”

Some of us have very faint recollections of WW II. Many were not even born at that time. Does this mean that we can forget all about the horrors of that time? Most certainly not! Somehow, the atrocities against fellow humans continues day after day. Those of us in the comfortable North American scene often only read about atrocities; we are affected very little. However, as we reflect on the recent happening in Washington, DC, we must admit that peace and freedom are very fragile. How little it would take for us to be wrapped up in darkness and tossed aside. All this because we did not allow the crack to let in the light.

If we are the ones to insure that the darkness never returns (although it seems to be close at hand), then we must walk in the light of peace and love. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Darkness is bombarding us from all sides. We can be the light that ensures the darkness never returns. The hatred shown so frequently in many places needs the love which we demonstrate, to drive out this hate.

We are reminded that “perfect love casts our fear” (see I John 4:18). As we continually show love and compassion we can be the light that takes away the darkness. Let us always strive to show that love which projects light.

I want to end this short treatise with some words from The Hill We Climb, the now well-recognized words written and spoken by Amanda Gorman

“When day comes we will step out of the shade,

Aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it”

A White-washed Canvas—A New Start for 2021

 A canvas filled with life situations

                   Filled with sadness and grief;

A canvas covered with the stories of those who came before

  And wondered where God was when all those troubles came.

A canvas filled with stories of rebelliousness and strife

                  Filled with hatred, pride and uncontrolled revenge.

This canvas, an ugliness that forces all to turn away, can be renewed

                  As the artist compassionately views the scene.

To start afresh a white-wash is required

                  A white-wash that covers all the old

And gives the artist a canvas cleared of all past grief.

When Jesus spoke about the Pharisees

                  Calling them a white-washed sepulcher

Was he providing a cleared canvas ready for a whole new scene?

                  A white-washed canvas

Prepared for scenes with splashes of new colours?

What a wonderful canvas filled with beautiful brush strokes.

                   God’s involved but always stays creatively unchained.

He paints a canvas demonstrating his trademark on the world

                  With brushstrokes showing only good.

God wants every canvas, every stroke and blazing colour

                  To show he cares that beauty shows its face.

This canvas—white-washed—Jesus strokes to paint an all-new story:

                 The lepers have a lease on life,

                  The many fed with fish and loaves,

                  So many others given an abundant life

But more than merely life—

                Their lives are splashy colour strokes

                 That fill the canvas

                  Making it much larger than it looks.

How will Christ fill the canvas of our lives?

                How will the strokes of beauty fill the scene?

And how will this New Year flow onto that canvas

                Prepared so wondrously by Christ for us.

Leaving 2020 to get to 2021

When we entered 2020 we had such high hopes that this would be a great year, filled with activities, travels and family visits. What a crash, when all our plans came tumbling down. Suddenly we all were isolated from our friends, fearful of catching this unknown virus, something called Covid-19. Life as we had been experiencing it became wishful thinking.

We expected this pandemic to run its course within a short time. But one week turned into two; one month turned into two; two months turned into four, then more! Would this never end?  Will we ever get to see and touch our kids again? Will we be able to visit with friends without making sure we keep our distance, wear a mask, and stay in small groups of up to five? Will a potential vaccine really help to bring this horror to an end?

Thankfully, 2020 is coming to an end! The pandemic however is still here. We still need to isolate, to socially distance, to wear masks. However, hope is on the horizon. Vaccines are here and being administered. Our turn will come!

We are approaching 2021 with new hopes and wishes for something different and better than 2020. But wait—was 2020 really that bad?

Here are some reminders of the many great things that 2020 offered:

  1. The opportunity to learn new technology which connected us to friends around the world. This probably would never have happened if not forced by the pandemic restrictions.
  2. This same technology has brought possibilities of having our family connected for special events.
  3. Staying safe has meant no travels to see family outside of Manitoba. However, it did not mean no travel at all. Exploring new parts of Manitoba (or whatever place you are in) has been fantastic. We  have found these day trips for exploration have made our days much more bearable.
  4. Needing to stay socially distanced has given us much more time at home, a time which we have used to work on numerous puzzles and read many more books.
  5. We miss our friends and the close connections, but, again, with new technology, we have “met” via computer to visit, to have coffee or to have a meal together.
  6. Some of us enjoy singing in choirs or smaller groups. The restrictions and safety concerns meant, “No Singing or Music Making”. Creativity brought new ideas to the fore. Soon music groups and choirs were working hard at recording songs in unique ways—all with staying safe at home, yet part of a virtual choir. A challenge met and conquered.

While mulling over all that 2020 brought, I attended our usual Zoom Sunday worship service. Our pastor’s prayer struck a chord. Because of impression it made on me, I need to include it here. For me it summarizes all the riches and blessings that are ours, even as we express frustrations with the restrictions brought on by Covid-19. Thanks to Mary Anne Isaak for sending it for inclusion.

“You, LORD wrap us in your identity and deck us out in the splendour of faithfulness and integrity,

clothes fit to celebrate a dream come true like a bride and groom dressed for a wedding.
Hear, Lord, as we name our joys:

of glimpses of loved ones, even if on the internet.

of warm homes and enough food, even if shared with less company than we desired.

of time for reflection,

of strength when we kept loneliness and discouragement at bay,

of the opportunity to gather for worship.

Gardener God, just as rich soil causes seeds to sprout and grow, so too, you will produce a bumper crop of honesty and integrity among us and among the nations.

We pray for those who care for the earth,

for those who care for education,

for those who care for justice,

for those who care for health.

We pray for the church in all places that we may bear witness to your reign of justice, peace and joy, that there may truly be a bumper crop of honesty and integrity and joy in all the world.

In the name of Jesus, Amen. “ 

So many other good things, too numerous to list. We shall survive, and more than just survive. We have every opportunity to make 2021 a great year. To help that along, we need to stick to the “basics” for a bit longer. Let’s continue to socially distance, to wear masks, to stay apart and away from large groups. And, let’s remember all the joys that come our way every day.

We’ve got this!

Waiting…

Waiting is so hard

We get so impatient as we wait and wait.

Soon we will be past the advent waiting period.

Waiting for the birth of Jesus,

And then it’s Christmas!

We have passed that patience test.

How much waiting can we endure?

Especially if one is a child waiting for that special gift!

Waiting means we are not the ones in charge;

Waiting tells us we have little or no control over the event we’re waiting for.

Is this causing our impatient pacing forth and back?

Is it possible to wait peacefully and not impatiently?

Reflect for a moment on the many in the Bible that waited

And waited until desperation seemed the only route.

Think about the Israelites, struggling in slavery in Egypt;

Think about Samuel’s parents wondering if a child would ever come;

Remember John the Baptist’s folks, who waited decade after decade

Until a miracle occurred and Elizabeth gave birth in her old age.

When we think about the many that have gone before

And the demonstrated patience shown for weeks and months and even years,

Are we not able to endure the short season of advent

In preparation for the coming of the child who was destined to be

Messiah and Redeemer for the world?

The gifts we share remind us of the wonder and the joy brought to us by our God.

But waiting is not exclusive to the advent time each year.

Waiting affects us every day in many other ways.

This year, maybe more than any other we’ve experienced,

Requires extra bytes of patience as we face the Covid-19 bug.

In spring we all assumed that all would be normal very soon,

We could wait that long—if even for a month or two!

But soon we found that Covid would not end without a fight.

Many have become impatient with the tight controls and

Want this all to end, so normalcy could once again control our lives.

Where is that vaccine? It’s been at least nine months—why the long delay?

And now, now that it’s here, why do I have to wait my turn?

Surely if I am to stay alive, I need it now!!

But wait—just as Advent will soon be over.

And the waiting will be done,

So we should always remember

That patience says “Maybe not yet,

But soon, when all is ready for the best.”

Let’s help each other endure the wait with compassion, love and courage.

All in the Same Boat…?

We are still in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Some doubt, others fear, while all of us wait for assurances that we will be all right. How do we describe the situation in which we find ourselves.  G.K. Chesterton stated, “We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.”

My interpretation of this statement may not be what Chesterton had in mind, but I think he would approve of various interpretations. I venture to say that the common interpretation puts all of us in one vessel, all facing the storm together. Is this how we look at life—we are stuck together and therefore, what happens to one happens to the other. After all, as the common Covid-19 expression states, “We are all in this together.”

We, through this, seek to demonstrate a loyalty to each other, a determination to help one another no matter what. What a lofty goal! Is this possible, especially during a pandemic that is creating so much havoc? Possibly this is something we need to strive towards. Doug Klassen, Mennonite Church Canada, wrote recently, “Throughout history, the Christian church flourished during times of epidemics and restrictions. Early Christians created community by ministering to their immediate neighbours. These communities worshipped together, but the hallmarks of their identity were acts of love and charity to the lonely, vulnerable and suffering.”

Where is the church today? Is it joining with others to state “We are in this together”? I do not plan on spending time on restating the numerous comments made for and against the actions of the church in the face of Covid-19. I am not in a position that I can offer judgments. If we really are together in the same boat then we need to get along and help each other to the best of our ability.

I have found that a sermon preached  by Michele Rae Rizoli, (Toronto United Mennonite), touches on these issues. Rizoli challenged her listeners that, “as a church, we are the body of Christ, our character as peacemakers, justice seekers, mercy extenders, is urgently being called out. We must reveal these traits.”

Rizoli went on to share the following statements which I have gleaned from her sermon. “Let us keep on asking ourselves: What is the Spirit saying. I’d like to suggest three things: Do not judge; Strive for reconciliation; Trust in God.  

“First let’s have a look at Romans 14:1-12 where we read “Do not judge.” The apostle Paul was speaking into a very real community conflict in his time: folks arguing about rules around what was OK and what wasn’t OK to eat, because these things had deep religious meaning for them. People haven’t changed that much, and though we don’t fret as much about food, could anyone else identify with the feelings in this passage? I know I could. What if I changed a few words?

“Have a listen: Some believe in wearing a mask all the time, while the weak do not wear masks. Some desire to gather in person, while others feel safer at home. Those who mask must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who wear them, for God has welcomed us all. Some judge one social distance to be better than another, while others judge all distances to be alike. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

Rizoli continues, “I find it tremendously unnerving when people are not wearing masks, not wearing them properly or disregarding all the widely agreed upon rules for everyone’s protection. My temper flares unreasonably inside of me and I want to call them names and consider them less than myself. What is revealed is a great lack of patience deep in my gut as fiery darts come out of my eyes and judgmental thoughts fester inside of me. It is not at all a Christ-like attitude. “Why do we judge? Sometimes it is because we are afraid, sometimes it is because we are self-righteous, sometimes it is because we are suffering and we want others to suffer the same. It doesn’t seem fair when they are not following the rules. But if anyone is dealing with this rush to judgment every time you go out in ppublic, it’s pretty clear that Scripture is calling the faithful not to judge. Our true character must be grounded in love for each other, whatever the other’s views and practices.

Rizoli then lead into the second concept: Strive for reconciliation. “Our second scripture passage is at a crucial point in the story of Joseph and his brothers. If you want an interesting read, I suggest you spend some of your time looking at Genesis 37 to 51 – reader discretion is advised. The very very short version, the trailer, for our purposes today, is that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was not treated like a brother. They took his ‘amazing technicolour dreamcoat’ —the special garment his father had given him—covered it in blood and lied to his father that Joseph had been killed. They considered themselves better than Joseph. They created a false narrative. Lots of important things happen as God takes good care of Joseph. At an crucial turning point, Joseph arranges to feed all his brothers during a famine, including their elderly father, and then the father dies. At this point, the brothers become very afraid, because they know that they wronged their brother and that they no longer have their father’s protection. Their true situation, their past sin, is revealed. In this moment we don’t know what will happen next.

“We too as a society and as people are confronted with a shared history where fellow human beings — indigenous and people of colour, for example— were not treated as siblings but rather were traded, sold, mistreated, stolen from. The climate insecurity, the ravages of the virus upon racialized communities, the shameless and hateful political discourse in which we are living, all reveal what was always there: we have not treated each other as siblings, as brothers and sisters who love each other as ourselves, and that is not what God wants for humanity. This is hugely important and now is a time when we are being confronted with it and asked to change. The Church’s true character as peacemakers and justice-seekers is being called out. Now more than ever, we must strive towards reconciliation and Shalom.”

After these challenges, I ask, “Are we really all in one boat, fully loyal to each other”? How do we deal with a pandemic and also deal with our judgmental thoughts. If we are in one boat, we better learn to help each other. Are we able to trust God for directions?  I ask that we learn to accept each other; to be reconciled, and to trust God for the wisdom needed to help each of us get through this pandemic.

The Long Way Around

At a recent breakfast as Susan was reading from Exodus 13 she came to verses 17 through 22. The Israelites had recently managed to escape Pharaoh’s clutches and now wanted to get as far away from Egypt as possible. I can just imagine parents yelling, “Move, move. We need to go, and quickly.” The Israelites were spared as God punished Pharaoh and his people. These slaves had no intention of sticking around any longer than necessary. Everyone was anxious. I am sure they all wanted to move, move and quickly.

But, then we read the story in Exodus 13. Maybe the people were in a hurry, but not God. Let me quote, using Peterson’s The Message.

 It so happened that after Pharaoh released the people, God didn’t lead them by the road through the land of the Philistines, which was the shortest route, for God thought, “If the people encounter war, they’ll change their minds and go back to Egypt.”

18 So God led the people on the wilderness road, looping around to the Red Sea. The Israelites left Egypt in military formation.

19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the Israelites solemnly swear to do it, saying, “God will surely hold you accountable, so make sure you bring my bones from here with you.”

20-22 They moved on from Succoth and then camped at Etham at the edge of the wilderness. God went ahead of them in a Pillar of Cloud during the day to guide them on the way, and at night in a Pillar of Fire to give them light; thus they could travel both day and night. The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people.”

Seems that the Israelites wanted to leave the death and destruction as far behind as possible. However, God recognized that this could create havoc. What if they rush right into the midst of another war? They will want to stay far away from any battle and therefore will return to Egypt, where they endured a horrible existence. But, this existence was familiar.

Now, instead of being able to rush along the shortest route away from everything, the Israelites were taken along a wilderness road, looping around to the Red Sea. God, via the pillar of cloud and fire, guided them around the troubles.

This interesting incident should remind us that we frequently try to rush things along. We ask our GPS, what’s the shortest and fastest route. We plan trips and determine to find the air route with the fewest stops, because we need to get to our destination quickly. We may not “encounter war or wish to return to Egypt” but may miss the route that allows for a more relaxed travel situation.

Obviously, the forty-year excursion is longer than anyone would wish. The Israelites certainly wanted a shorter trip. But then, maybe if they had listened more carefully, God might have given them quicker access to the ‘promised land’.

Susan and I have frequently traveled to parts of British Columbia, usually going as quickly as possible. We need to ‘get there’ or we may miss something. In recent years we have discovered that a slower, more scenic drive gets us to our destination in a much better frame of mind. We were able to see many wonderful sights—realizing that the journey may be just as important as the destination. Is this part of God’s strategy—getting us to slow down in order to enjoy God’s wonderful creation, and, to arrive at the destination in a relaxed state of mind.

Think about this for a while. Quick trips may have a place, but slowing down ‘to smell the roses’ may well keep us safer and better equipped to enjoy all that our destination has to offer.