Posted in Faith

Speak Life

As I write this, my sons are battling it out laser-style in our dark basement. It’s just past 7:30 pm, and we’re hoping to see some of the northern lights before settling in for a slightly later-than-usual bedtime. The telescope is set up and ready to go. I honestly don’t think it will help much, but it’s fun to play around with anyway.

High hopes.

The weather? Cold, then snowy, then snowy again, and then even colder. The past few weeks, it has felt like there were more school cancellations due to weather than actual days of school. And that’s about all of the recap I will give you because I have officially reached the point of winter where I stop paying attention. Minus 30-ish, all the time, and that about sums it up. I’ve resigned myself to grit my teeth and wait for spring.

My husband, tunneling his way to somewhere warmer.

And on this cold evening, waiting for the northern lights to appear, my son decided to put on some TobyMac. Suddenly, I had a thought.

“Ooh!” I called to him from the kitchen, where I was cleaning up after supper. “You should play ‘Elements.'” What song would be more befitting of our arctic-like surroundings?

“That’s just what I’m doing!” he replied.

But as I sauntered over to the living room to watch part of the music video and listen to the song, I found myself getting choked up. The words were more relevant than I wanted them to be.

“…This world, is up in my grill

This world, is shooting to kill

This world always gotta be stealing my heart

This world always tryin’ to rip my family apart…”

“…This ain’t our home, nah, not even close

They camouflage like we’re fighting some ghost

You start to doubt everything that you know

I feel the heat and it’s starting to show

They try to break us, break us, make us wanna give in

Lay down our arms, Novocain us again

Lay down a fight, I could never relent

And I’ma take it all the way to the end…”

“…And I’ma go down swinging, if I go down

I’ma go down swinging, if I go down

I’ma go down swinging, if I go down

I’ma go down swinging, if I go down

Let’s go…”

“The Elements” by TobyMac

I went into my bedroom, under the guise of trying to spot the lights from another window. I haven’t cried in a while, but a few tears squeaked out as I peered at the sky.

I’ve been keeping it together, mostly. Watching the news attentively, praying myself to sleep at night. Grappling for ideas of what to do with my rambunctious children when it’s cold, I’m tired, there’s no school, and we’re not allowed in any recreational environments.

May as well enjoy it!

I’ve felt gratitude that finally, FINALLY there were people in my country willing to make a stand. But my hopes crashed pretty quick when I realized my Prime Minister had no intention whatsoever of even engaging them in a conversation. My heart was stabbed when he painted them all with the same “tinfoil-hat” wearing brush. My feelings were enraged when he, of all people, told me from the screen of my phone to “do what’s right.”

I was disappointed – not surprised – by the biased media reports. The villainization of anyone whose thoughts differ from the dominant political narrative.

It’s old. It’s all old news to the point where I can hardly stand to hear about it anymore. We know what the reporters will say before they say it. We know who they will belittle in their articles. We know who they will undermine. We know when they will use diminutive taglines and quotation marks. Or, even outright insults and mistruths.

And in the midst of this, the feds are introducing an anti-hate bill that will seek to protect ethnic, religious, or other groups of people from hate speech, including online.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, it depends what you characterize as hate speech. Is my blog hate speech? Because I don’t agree with Mr. Trudeau?

The main reason I left Facebook was due to the mockery, disdain, and outright hatred that I often read directed towards my God, my heritage, and my faith. My church, at the moment, is bearing up under a steady stream of online abuse and slander.

Will those qualify as hate speech? Or are those things ok, because they’re directed at Christians?

I’m only basing this on my thirty-some years of life. But these elements…they feel intense.

Storm’s a-brewin’.

A few songs after playing “The Elements,” my son put on another TobyMac favorite – “Speak Life.”

Again, my eyes teared up a little. In the video, protesters are seen, shouting at a person until he is defeated. Then a child whispers something life-giving in his ear, and he stands up again.

This depiction, like the last video, was all too fitting. Because that’s the way to do this, isn’t it? Yes, we engage. We stand firm. But as we do so, we speak life. We use our words for good, and not to harm.

May the Lord give us strength and wisdom, to stand when it’s time to stand. May He protect us, and fill us with life-giving words. May He, and not the media, Bill C-36, or politicians, be the One to muzzle our tongues.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 NIV

Featured image by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Those Prevailing Gates (Thoughts on the Pandemic and the Church)

Trigger warning: this post contains mention of suicide.

Recently, an old friend from high school contacted me.  We hadn’t been in touch for a number of years.  I’m still shuddering in disbelief and shock at the news she delivered: 3 suicides in the past 7 months – all people we went to school with.

I wasn’t particularly close to these people, but I have specific memories of two of them.  The first, I will refer to as T.

He was popular, and athletic; I was quiet, and book-smart.  We never spoke unless it was out of necessity.  Except that one time, at his graduation.  He was drunk.  (Which probably explains why he approached me.)  We were talking about his girlfriend.

“You’ve been together a long time,” I said.  “Do you think you’ll get married?”

“I hope so,” he replied.

I remembered this conversation, a day or two before I heard about his suicide.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.  Except that, otherwise, I would have no reason to think of them.  A woman walked by me at a campground who reminded me of his girlfriend.

Wonder if they ever got married?  I thought to myself, smiling inwardly.  They were together for such a long time.  Popular in school; and confident and smart enough to probably land good jobs and have a few kids, by now.

As I know now, he never married her, but married another woman and had 3 boys.  Apparently, his father had committed suicide when he was young, also leaving 3 young boys – he and his brothers.  Man, the things you don’t know about a person.

The second guy – C – had left school for a while, and then came back to attend Grade 12 the same year I was.  He wore cowboy boots, and a stern expression, and you could always hear the steady beat of his feet as he walked staunchly up and down the halls.  I was afraid of him.  Until, he joined our class and I realized his temperament wasn’t as harsh as his appearance.  He chose our graduation motto – “Well Worth the Wait,” from the song “Long Time Running” by The Tragically Hip.  He was quoted in the local paper, talking about how great it felt to finish high school and how glad he was that he had come back.

 

However, a couple of months before grad, just as the winter was lifting, there had been a tragedy in our town.  Three local guys were involved in a car crash that took their lives.  Two of them were supposed to have graduated with us.

To my surprise, the principal of our school asked me to read a few verses of scripture at the funeral.  I accepted, feeling as though I had been handed something sacred.  As I stood behind the podium of that small Catholic church, overlooking two coffins, I read the weighty words of apostle Paul, and struggled to comprehend them:

“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:53‭-‬57 NIV

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I wasn’t sure what those verses would mean to anyone until one day, after the funeral, C approached me outside the gymnasium at school.  He cried.  He thanked me for reading at the funeral, and hugged me, and talked about how the words had encouraged him.  He said something about death and how the reading had made him realize how little power it had.

Honestly, I didn’t quite get it yet, myself.  But I was glad that he did.

And all in all, I thought that, probably, he’d be ok.

I struggle to reconcile, in my mind, my recollection of C those years ago – hope-filled, and somewhat at peace – with the knowledge that he has now taken his life.  Or how T – who from outward appearances, checked the boxes we use to predict a successful life – would find himself in such a pit that he would leave his sons in the same way his father left him.  Though I barely knew these men, it brings tears to my eyes.  Was there something I could have done?  Something I could have said?  I feel an urge to go back to my hometown, and do something about this epidemic of despair.  But what could I do?

And I think about the church.  I think about how a pandemic has closed its doors.  I think about the congregation, the individual people.  Those of us whose faith has, perhaps, cooled off…being lulled away down a nonchalant path of apathy, self-service, and disconnect.

I see the normalization of substance use and abuse.  The churches must shut down.  But liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries remain open, because people rely on them to cope.  May I remind you: 3 suicides in 7 months, in a tiny, alcohol and drug-saturated town.  How well are we coping?

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Picture taken from https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2018/10/17/health/canada-legalizes-recreational-marijuana/index.html

A culture that also normalizes, or even glorifies, killing and dying, while diminishing the sacrilege of human life.  Where defenseless, unborn children, unhesitatingly and unblinkingly, have their lives taken away.  (And no, the pandemic hasn’t slowed that down, either.)  Where resources that could have gone to improving palliative care are diverted to legalize assisted dying, and the aged or ill can choose to end their lives rather than live out the remainder of their allotted days with friends and families.

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Picture taken from https://www.babycentre.co.uk/8-weeks-pregnant

Where children are regularly fed images of death and darkness: skulls, zombies, vampires, ghosts, demons, and themes of being possessed by evil.  (Just watch the cartoons.)

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I don’t want to point fingers, or shame anyone.  I write this to myself as much as anyone.  But please, let’s awake to the fact that evil has not slowed down.  Let’s not become so enclosed in our self-isolating bubbles that we forget the role of the church in offering hope to the people who may be grappling for it.  Could we, perhaps, seek them out?  Could we find them?

No, I don’t quite know how to, either.  But what is the church, besides a body of people who love the Lord and love other people?  Is the church a building, whose doors are nailed shut?  A system, vulnerable to breakdown and financial collapse?

Or is it individuals, banded together in hope and love?  If you love the Lord, He has undoubtedly saved, healed, or dragged you through something.  Was it despair, that He delivered you from?  Depression?  Illness?  Abuse?  Death?  Addiction?  Suicide?  Divorce?  Tell someone.  They may be scrambling to find the hope that you now have.

Who reached out to you?  Which member or members of the church body held out their hands, their Bibles, their homes, their hearts?  Remember them.  Do not despise or diminish the power of the church.

The church is an essential service.  Undoubtedly so, more than ever.  You can close the building.  But you can’t shut down the church.

Let us not forget, to be the church.

 

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:18‭-‬19 NIV

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Revelation 1:18 NIV

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Proverbs 18:21 NIV

How do you think the church’s role has changed because of the world wide pandemic?  What are our responsibilities, as Christians, in light of the present situation?  How may we reach out to others?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa