Spotify and the Spirit of God

Recently our pastor, Aaron Thiessen, preached a sermon that challenged my thinking. I am pleased to present this guest posting in order that more people are able to gain some fresh insights. Just as it was for Peter, this may be uncharted territory for each of us. But, uncharted territory seems to be the Spirit’s home. The Spirit asks Peter to eat, Peter says ‘absolutely not’…And the Spirit replies, ” don’t call common what I have called holy.”

This, by way of introduction to a challenging word. The following is Aaron’s message.

So, what would you do if you were in Peter’s shoes, when the Spirit appeared in that Gentile home, ‘just as’ the Spirit appeared to the Jews at Pentecost?

It all started with this baffling vision earlier in Acts 10… Peter was hungry, and so in a vision the Spirit showed him a sheet descending from heaven, filled with all kinds of animals from across the globe — and the Spirit  commanded him to eat.

Now, this might not seem like a big deal to us today, but this request is incomprehensible for Peter. He was a Jew, and there were things on that sheet that God had commanded Jews to never eat. It was a pillar of his faith, it was a pillar of his culture, it was a pillar of what set the Jewish minority apart from the ever-encroaching sea of Gentile influence. Jews just don’t eat pork.

So Peter sees the vision, sees the animals on the sheet, hears the command to eat… and 3 different times he says, “Absolutely not!”

Peter faithfully resists. As Willie James Jennings puts it, this vision is a moment when “an old word of God confronts a new one,” and Peter has “to struggle to allow his vision of faithfulness to God to expand into uncharted territory.”

Apparently, uncharted territory is the Spirit’s home. The Spirit asks Peter to eat, Peter says ‘absolutely not’…And the Spirit replies, ” don’t call common what I have called holy.”

…Let’s talk about jazz for a second.

So for me, today marks exactly 80 days of physical distancing, [so much for 40 days and 40 nights] and one of the few bright spots in that, is that it’s allowed me to catch up on my Spotify suggestions. So for those of you who don’t know, Spotify is a music streaming service, and as you listen, it’s got

an algorithm that starts to pick up on what kind of music you enjoy, and it will begin to suggest certain artists that it thinks you’ll like. I actually have it set up so that right after I finish an album, Spotify will immediately queue up one of these suggested songs to keep the vibes going on. So Spotify’s algorithms have figured out that I really like jazz — and it’s freaky, it often suggests songs that fit in with why I like jazz.

 For me, I love jazz because it gives space for a kind of ‘double-creativity.’ All music is creative, of course… but jazz captivates me because, first, the genre really invites creativity and experimentation on paper — like, with strange time signatures and incorporating dissonance. But second, as soon as that

song has been written down, it gains another life as soon as it’s performed.

It’s almost like it’s created twice, because of improvisation. Improv is a pillar of jazz. It can be obvious, like during a solo… but it can also be subtle — a creative turnaround in the bassline, a unique flair from

the drum kit, a riffing back and forth between the soloist and the rhythm section… and if it’s a live recording, the audience might get drawn into this

creative act as well.

Now, jazz improv isn’t without context . Even when it’s chaotic, it comes from somewhere — it comes from the contours of the chords, from the skills of the musicians, from the performance event itself. But this improvisation, this second creation… it can take a written song to brand new places… changing tempos, altering keys, bending genres… “Don’t call common what I have called holy.”

These words are the Spirit’s variations on what has been written. [“You have heard it said, now I say unto you…”] The song that God has been singing throughout the Jewish tradition… the Spirit has now  taken it up, modulated it… kept that ancient tune but complexified the rhythm. The   Spirit has lead the song ahead of Peter, upending these ideas of pure and impure food… and Peter doesn’t yet know how to play along.

“Don’t call common what I have called holy.” I imagine those words must have been ringing in Peter’s head as our story continues toward the scene of our second scripture reading. The Spirit leads Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile. Now, this experience was crossing even more lines. Peter himself says it in Acts 10:28, “You understand, it’s forbidden for Jews to associate or visit with outsiders, right?”

And he wasn’t lying. Jewish views of Gentiles at this time were on a bit of a spectrum — and while there some Rabbis that were very generous with outsiders, there were many who had a desire for total separation between Jews and Gentiles. They couldn’t marry, they couldn’t eat with each other… some went so far as to suggest that Gentiles, as a people who worship idols, were themselves a source of impurity. Peter’s comments about the forbidden nature of this encounter suggest he grew up with a more isolationist viewpoint.

But the Spirit’s song has shifted to a new key, and Peter is learning to follow the music… and so here he was… in the home of a prominent (and off limits) Gentile, being asked to share the Gospel.  And this time, Peter doesn’t say ‘Absolutely not.’ He goes with it. He speaks, he tells the story of Christ… … and to the bewilderment of the Jews in the room, what they experienced at Pentecost… it happens again.

In the same way that the first disciples experienced the Spirit come upon them on the original Pentecost, the Spirit sees fit to move again, changes keys, alights upon humanity once more — but this time, this time it’s these Gentiles speaking in new languages and praising God. Like, for Jews, Gentiles were one day expected to be adopted into the God’s family, yes, but not so soon… and what about Sabbath, and circumcision, and those food laws? … Now, if the food thing was the Spirit improvising on a jazz number… this here, this Gentile Pentecost… it’s as if the band stops, there’s a break in the music, and the Spirit is the lone soloist carrying the time, suspending and holding everything together in a singular performance. As Wynton Marsalis writes, “[A soloist in the break] is a pressure-packed moment, because you have to maintain the time flow of the whole band by yourself: Our time becomes your time—yours and yours alone.”

So the soloing Spirit absorbs and carries the time of the Church into a radically new space, a space completely unexpected. Or to use a more dangerous analogy… it may have felt to Peter like his Spotify album has come to the end, and the Spirit’s algorithm has now queued up something else — still jazz, still has all the signature elements to it… but this is a new discovery.

So what would you do if you were in Peter’s shoes? I love the way the Common English Bible puts it — it keeps a hint of confusion. Verse 47: “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” Like, I get this sense of him saying,”well, the Spirit’s set the tempo… I guess we get in the groove.”

If we had time, I would have loved to explore Acts 11 with you all at this point, because that’s the story of Peter going back to the church and having to explain himself. The rest of the church is like, “Hey man, what are you doing? You can’t just baptize Gentiles — like, there’s a few steps that have to happen first. Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” And Peter’s only possible response… is to tell them his experience of the Spirit’s movement in that place. The Spirit went ahead into uncharted territory… and so he faithfully improvised along.

…So what about us? Well, we live in unprecedented times, in uncharted territory. And that might mean the pandemic right now, and the protests in the US… but I also mean before all that, in a larger sense. We are living in a time where the cultural relevance of the church is being questioned. Where the sins of the church’s past have come back to haunt us. Where questions abound about how we pass on faith to our children, or how to do cross-cultural dialogue, or how the church should navigate a fractured

political sphere, or how we can partner to care for the environment. And if you’re anything like me, my response to this kind of uncertainty can sometimes include elements of, “Absolutely not.” And sometimes, yes, that may be the faithful response. Peter’s ‘no’ was faithful.

But if this story reveals anything to us, it’s that uncharted territory is the Spirit’s home. That the Spirit is all about double-creativity. That Pentecost is not a one-time thing, but is something that happens — and is already happening — all the time, even in these ‘out-of-bounds’ places, even if the rhythm is different. This is the holy improv that we celebrate today. May we have eyes to see, and ears to hear the music. May our time become the Spirit’s time, and the Spirit’s alone. Amen.

May 31, 2020, Aaron Thiessen

A Time of Jubilee!

I was pleasantly surprised last Saturday (May 9, 2020) when I read the Winnipeg Free Press. Joel Schlesinger in “A Clean Slate” made reference to both Jesus and the Old Testament laws. This on the Money Matters page of the paper! Schlesinger asked the question, “What would Jesus do?” in our economic times. Schlesinger then points us to the Old Testament and the principle of debt-forgiveness. The article then states, “Now debt forgiveness may sound like a big slice of dreamy pie in a heavenly sky. But according to one renowned financial analyst and author Michael Hudson, the notion was top of mind for the Christian messiah.”
This professor of economics (University of Missouri-Kansas City) goes on to say that Jesus asked people to return to the Old Testament principle of debt-forgiveness and declare a jubilee—a Judeo tradition of regularly forgiving the indebted. What a concept!
I went back into the Old Testament (see Leviticus 25) to check on this principle. The Jews worked in seven-year cycles. Every sabbatical year the land was to lie fallow or at rest. After 7 cycles a Year of Jubilee was declared. This had interesting ramifications. This 50th year was to be a year of rest, and also the year of all debt-forgiveness, release of slaves and servants in order that they could return to their homelands. Can you imagine the potential turmoil this could cause?
I can only assume that in the 7th cycle landlords, money-lenders and other masters worked hard to secure a future for all. How would they treat people differently if, in a few years, these individuals could receive a “paid in full” statement or were allowed to leave for home?
Does this have any relevance to today? Schlesinger seems to think so. He goes on to speak about bankruptcies and possible solutions; and suggests that because bankruptcy often lasts seven years it may have some roots in the concept of Jubilee (every seven or 49 years). Debt insolvency is growing in Canada. Now during this pandemic, the problem is only getting worse.
Economist Parisa Mahboubi, senior policy analyst for the CD Howe Institute, says, “Debt forgiveness may be something to consider for this crisis because the interest rate is so low….The biggest concern now is to make sure individuals and business suffer less until the economy starts to open.”
Mahboubi goes on to say that if this pandemic situation becomes untenable, perhaps jubilee or similar notions will be on the menu again.
What a situation! Imagine what would happen if debts were forgiven and people could start again. Think of the feelings of hope, the sense of joy and the overall optimism such a “Jubilee” would bring. Do we dare to think in such terms?
If economists and “Money Matters” writers mention the biblical concept as one way out, should we in the Judeo-Christian tradition not see the possibilities? Think what the leveling affect this could have within our church community. Jesus frequently spoke about forgiveness and gave examples of debt forgiveness—remember Zacchaeus and the debts he forgave! Think also about the parables of Jesus, many of which challenged the hearers to forgive the debts of others. Then we could add the story of the rich man who could not let go of his wealth, or the farmer who hoarded his grain and built bigger grain bins—and for what?
Jesus wanted his listeners to forgive others. I believe this included all types of debts. Does this have relevance for us today? How do we put into practice the “Jubilee” concept? Does sharing the wealth become part of this concept?

When Disruption Happens!

God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him
When the earth spins out of control,
We won’t be afraid.
When mountains crumble and the waters run wild,
We won’t be afraid.
Even in heavy winds and huge waves, or as mountains shake,
We won’t be afraid.
When the Covid-19 pandemic roars through our midst
We won’t be afraid.
When friends and family wonder how they will manage
We won’t be afraid.
When vulnerable seniors are locked away in homes
We won’t be afraid.
When we wonder what may come next to fight this pandemic
We won’t be afraid.(Psalm 46, adapted from the Voice and the Message and used throughout this article)

The Covid-19 pandemic has totally disrupted our lives. After weeks of social and/or physical isolation, some jurisdictions are hoping to loosen the regulations. People do not want to wait. Recently, a demonstrator in Tennessee held up a homemade sign which stated, “Sacrifice the Weak; Reopen TN”. Is this the thinking in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic? Or, is this the general thinking of those who consider themselves “strong”?

When we see and hear these strange reports,

We won’t be afraid.

Paul Hsieh, in Forbes (February 28, 2020), wrote about research that suggests doctors may exhibit a “left digit bias” in their recommendations for patient treatments. The article, headed “If You’re 80 Your Doctor might Treat you Differently than when you were 79. Here’s why” mentioned numerous biases against full treatment of people 80 or over. Just as customers are more likely to purchase an item priced at $4.99 than $5.00, so doctors may more readily help a person who is 79 than one who is 80. Recently, a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that age affected the frequency of cardiac surgeries performed after heart attacks. The researchers checked concerning admission to hospital two weeks before patients turned 80 and then two weeks after the patients turned 80. Researchers found that patients who just turned 80 were 2% less likely to receive cardiac bypass surgery than medically similar 79-year old patients even when only two weeks shy of their 80th birthday. Is it possible that physicians are categorizing the slightly older patients as being “in their 80s” rather than “in their 70s”? I turn 80 this year—will that affect my medical treatment?

When we note these biases,

We won’t be afraid.

During this Covid-19 pandemic there has been a constant cry for more PPEs, more masks, more ventilators. Some have raised the question, who gets the ventilator when two (or more) people are sick? One is a younger adult (40+ years) and the other is a senior (80 +)? A horrible choice, but I suspect that the medical staff would opt for the younger person.

When we hear these reports of equipment lack,

We won’t be afraid.

We have heard numerous stories about residents in personal care homes and the neglectful treatment they have received. Are we surprised that so many Covid-19 deaths have occurred in these homes? I think not, if we have listened to the news stories. How is it possible that the elderly are treated with such disrespect? Has our individualism so warped our beings that “loving one’s neighbour” is merely a nice statement without actual meaning?

When we become aware of elders who are fearful of neglect, we will seek to help.

We won’t be afraid.

The push to allow assisted dying has spread throughout our country and many others around the world. When is a person ready to submit to a procedure that shortens a life? What happens when others—family and health officials—are involved in making these life and death decisions?

 When we no longer have full capacity to make decisions affecting us,

We won’t be afraid.

Throughout history we note that the elders in a community were looked up to or sought out for advice. The wisdom of the elders was revered. Today, I would venture to say that the elderly are “put on a shelf” or even “warehoused” with the thought that they may not have much to offer. After all, does it matter if the weaker ones are left behind?

When the earth spins out of control,

We won’t be afraid.

God says, Step out of the traffic!

Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything”

The Aftermath of the Passion Week

From the Last Supper through Good Friday and into the Sunday of Easter—what a horrifying series of events. What would the aftermath bring? Surely, up until Sunday the disciples thought this was an absolute disaster. How could they carry on? What could come from all this? The aftermath looked bleak and untenable.

The disciples locked themselves away and moped about. They had given several years of their lives, for what? Maybe they should just forget this Jesus and go back to their old careers—fishing, tax collecting, carpentry or whatever! There were rumours. Several women claimed they had seen Jesus, Could that really be true?

Jesus stopped the disciples in their tracks! What? How? Who is this? Everything went topsy-turvy again. They had come to some sort of acceptance of the loss of their Rabbi. Now what? The risen Christ had just burst into their lives, more power-filled than ever. What did all this mean?

The aftermath of these events was not disaster. No, the aftermath was an unexpected release of power. The disciples changed from students to leaders. Now they were apostles, Christ’s leaders spreading the message of the kingdom throughout their world. Finally, most of the words of Jesus made sense. Now they understood.

Today, just as happened to the disciples, we need to “open ourselves to the irrepressible power of God bursting in where we least expect it”.* What power, what joy, what peace is waiting to burst through into our lives? Are we opening ourselves to these gifts from God? This is the wonderful aftermath of Christ’s passion and suffering and his amazing resurrection. All power is now available for each of us.

 

*Quoted from a prayer by my pastor, Mary Anne Isaak.

Easter–Through My Eyes

Jesus called his disciples together.
He wished to have the Passover with his friends.
The excited joy among his friends
Soon turned to sadness as Jesus spoke in words
They really could not grasp or understand.
His actions changed the Passover to the Last Supper
What did he mean? Why send Judas out to do what he was to do?
‘Twas all a puzzle as they followed Jesus to the garden.
They watched, horrified, as their Rabbi was hauled off
By soldiers led by their friend, Judas.

Jesus stood in the Judgment Hall
Quietly waiting for a verdict
Predetermined by the Jewish leaders filled with hatred
And a knowing fear that something did not fit.
Pilate too, felt this fear and washed his hands of any blame.
The disciples saw and felt the same.
Peter, always the impetuous one,
Went inside to catch a glimpse
Hoping none would challenge him while there.
How wrong he was—three times!

Peter lied to hide his true indentity,
But Jesus knew and
As the rooster crowed, Peter knew it too.
He left to hide his face from all who noticed who he was.
He left in shame and fear.
The disciples were afraid as well.
What would happen now, seeing their Rabbi stripped and bound?
Laat week Jesus was the hero riding into town!
Today he was despised, put on trial, the verdict rushed by all.
Guilty, Crucify, Guilty, Crucify, Guilty. Crucify!

The soldiers hung him on the cross,
They cared not how this pained him physically.
And surely mocked him as he suffered in his spirit.
Jesus was alone amidst the crowds around,
He cried to God who had a greater plan
Far beyond the thoughts of those who
Hoped that Jesus would now be gone forever.
He was taken from the cross
And put into a stranger’s tomb.
A guard was put beside the sealed up rock.

Hallelujah, what is happening? Dear women, what story do you bring?
You say the tomb is empty, but how can that be?
The soldiers saw a flash of light and fell in awed bewilderment.
Their leaders challenged them to lie and claim
That someone came and took the King away.
Hallelujah, that’s not the way it worked!
The soldiers had seen the truth but lacked the courage to tell the truth,
That God raised Christ from the grave
And now this resurrected King, once so rejected and despised
Is sitting next to God to intercede for each of us.

Christ is Risen! HE is risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He IS risen indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is RISEN indeed!
Christ is Risen! He is risen INDEED!
HE IS RISEN INDEED!

From Care-givers to Care-receivers!

Changing from care-giver to care-receiver is hard. Much harder than we ever imagined. For much of our lives we have been those who cared for and about others. Being concerned about elderly parents; watching over young children and watching them grow up; teaching college kids to gain independence. In the more recent past, Susan and I have been care-givers for older siblings. We watched too many of the pass away, we are the youngest in our families.

This seemed to be the normal for our lives. We want to make sure others, family and friends, are well taken care of. Traveling to visit family, bringing a meal to a friend, enjoying coffee with friends—all these are enjoyable parts of our “care-giving” lives. Very normal, routine activities.

Now, we are apparently part of the “most endangered” age group and need to be careful how we live. The medical experts strongly advise we stay home, that we socially and physically distance ourselves from others and that we avoid public gatherings.  Without warning, we are thrust into a role completely unfamiliar. Yesterday we were care-givers; today we are expected to be care-receivers. What a drastic change!

Suddenly our children have become the care-givers. And, what wonderful givers they are! We are so thankful for our children and their spouses. Their care-giving means a lot to us, but also means that we need to be care-receivers with grace!  Our children’s care includes daily calls just to check how we are doing; asking if we need any groceries; making sure we watch our “social distancing”.  We realize these are special circumstances, but we realize all the more that this caring, maybe more evident now, demonstrates so clearly the care-givers that they are. For this we are so very grateful.

I must say that accepting care is not easy. Change never is. However, if the new care-givers are as concerned and genuinely caring as we found our children to be, then accepting care is not only possible, but a joy. Change is possible!

 

Covid-19 Pandemic

I hope each of you are well. We are fine, but do miss the interactions with other friends and family. We are coping, probably better than many, because we are well and so loved and helped by family. For this we are eternally grateful. I wrote this reflection to remind us of the situation we are now in, but a situation that we may control instead of it controlling us.

We are living in a strange new world,
A world where everyone is vulnerably afraid.
A world in which the news revolves around
Coronavirus or Covid-19 as now it’s known.
Health officials suggest the best way to fight
Is repeated hand washing and also social distancing
Hand washing I understand!
But what does social distancing involve?
A new concept often connected to another phrase
Self-isolation—meant to keep each one safe from ill.
We are social beings, needing speech and touch.
How long can we remain separated from family and/or friends?
And, what happens when the kids are home
Frustrated that parents now need to keep them occupied at home.
The Covid-19 pandemic is frustrating all of us,
Young and old alike.
With many stores and businesses now closed,
We have nowhere to go; no place but home to spend our time.
And those who worked are now without the pay
But still the bills are piling up.
Our country, one of many in the world, is struggling to maintain some sense of sanity
Keeping the population cool and calm.
We need to show compassion, caring and a love for all.
Now is not the time for selfish disobedience of  the rules.
All this does nothing to get the sickness under lasting control,
Unless we seek to follow what the medics say
We are really hindering the process needed to gain the upper hand
But, cooperating with the medics might just help them fix the problem for us all.
Possibly for the first time in many years
Several decades at the very least,
The politicians listened to, and agreed with,
The doctors and the nurses fighting the pandemic.
To keep as many people safe as possible
The experts—the medical ones that is—agreed.
That three things must be done.
First, each person needs to wash and wash and wash
Not just with water but with very soapy water,
And if that is just not possible, a hand-sanitizer must be used.
Second, social distancing, staying about two metres apart
And never in large groups where hugs and kisses might occur.
Third, self-isolation, meant to keep all, especially the older folks,
Safe and separated from the crowd.
We need to listen to the experts in the field.
By cooperating with compassion
Our world, our country and out lives
Will once again be filled with joy, peace and well-being for all.

Making Memories, not 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 out 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 without hindrance. 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!

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. Recently we drove down to Morden, MB to visit a sister. However, the trip was part of the memory-making. We noted the changes in the fields as the warmth melted the snow and the black earth began to show.

This weekend, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, our church service was cancelled. Instead of staying in and feeling lonely and sorry for ourselves, we called another couple and drove to a city park to its restaurant for a very enjoyable lunch and conversation. On the way home we remarked that this had been a great sharing time, more in-depth than our sharing at church.

Many times a week we walk in a local mall, and then have coffee and conversation with friends. Once back home, we often reflect on the good conversation—what a good memory. At least once a week we meet with a group of friends for meaningful conversation over a Tims coffee. Again, great memories.

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 appointments to dominate our lives. Making memories is life-giving; making appointments is life-maintaining. We need both.

The Blessing of Hope

Why go to church? What may one expect to give and/or receive? What purpose does meeting together really have? Is sharing a time together an opportunity for recharging? Does the gathering bring us hope?

I believe that I go in order to be recharged, prepared for the week ahead. I want to receive a blessing of hope—an “uplift” for the week. I do not want to be admonished each week about the things I “must do”. I sometimes feel that I need to follow a fairly prescribed path and direction. Where is the freedom in Christ, where is the joy? I wonder whether, in the midst of all the efforts to be an accepting congregation, we are forgetting the blessing and joy of hope. I hear a lot about creation care, aboriginal reconciliation, opening our church to diversity, and learning to accept all. These are all great—something each of us should support. As Christians, recognizing these basic tenets of life should be a natural part of our lives.

As many of my age did, I grew up with recycling and reusing, with creation care as essential parts of our lives. My parents had experienced the “dirty thirties’ in Saskatchewan and had learned to use everything, not once but many times. This habit became the norm for the family. Everyone pitched in to help; everyone reused and saved. In spite of tight economic times and yet no matter how tight things seemed to be, my mother always had room for visitors including wandering Indigenous and Romany folks coming through the area. My parents did not speak about others’ rights nor creation care nor diversity but our family practiced it most every day.  No one was turned away. Our home was always open. My parents practiced the blessing of hope

We grew up with parents who lived out their faith. For them, the important part of life was a relationship with Christ and then everything else took second place. How is this working out in our church today?  We are occupied with presenting a positive face to all. However, sometimes it seems that we are majoring on minors. These are good initiatives, but where is the hope, the love and the faith.

I need to receive some hope for the week ahead, and for the month or two ahead of that. I need encouragement. I look for an uplifting word that helps me recharge and helps me meet the struggles of the week. I come to meet friends with whom we can share our joys and pains. I really want to hear a word that brings hope and joy. That uplifting word would help in bringing excitement and wonder as I and others leave a service filled with love and hope. A blessing filled with hope will inspire me and excite me for the week ahead.

This is why we gather together. This is what we need each week.

Having an Open Mind!

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”
— Malcolm S. Forbes

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go to school and gain an education. I loved school. I loved learning new things. I am well past the age of attending school on a regular basis. However, I must agree with Forbes when he speaks of “education” not “schooling”. I believe he used this word intentionally. Education implies life-long learning, practical experience.

I am very thankful that many of my life experiences have taught me at least as much as my school learning. I have tried to learn from experiences, from others, from puzzling circumstances. I trust my empty mind has been filled with openness. I certainly want to believe that my learning has never forced my mind to be closed. An open mind always allows for more knowledge and hopefully also acceptance.

When I was a kid a lot of things were wrong—movies, smoking, dancing, homosexuality, hanging out with “others”, and pre-marital sex. We were challenged to have a closed mind to these and other similar issues. These were wrong—keep the mind closed! Openness may result in changes which would be hard to handle. As the saying goes, ‘once the genie is out of the bottle….’

Thankfully, more education and life-learning has helped change my mind on many issues. Probably the biggest change came when I realized that God is more interested in loving us than in condemning us. God loves me and you. Through God’s grace I am learning to love, irrespective of conditions! If God loves each person, how dare I withhold love! Consequently, I am learning to accept and love, no matter the situation.

We are living in a diverse society. How wonderful to connect with people who may be different from me. I happen to be a straight, white male, but I continually endeavor to educate myself and open my mind to others. I may not understand all the ramifications, but I need to open myself to the mutuality of love. God loves each one; how can I do less!