Living In a Discordent World

The world seems so noisy lately.

So much anger, fear, mistrust, accusation, heartbreak, sorrow. So many words swirling madly in all directions, unanchored, unhinged. So many voices drowning out the steady quiet rhythms of our own hearts. 

Speaking definitively in support of OneThing can lead to a shaming attack for being anti-TheOtherThing. Supporting AllTheThings only increases the pandemonium with contradiction and a crippling erosion of integrity. 

Stick to objective facts, they say. Don’t respond based on emotion and personal belief, they say. But then objective facts somehow morph into alternative facts…and we keep spiralling into post-truth cacophony.  

So. Much. Noise.

Today, I am “aweary of this great world” and its deafening bedlam. 

In exploring the confusions of his own life, Augustine speaks of an unquiet heart seeking rest in its Creator. I feel the unquiet of my own heart and am drawn to this rest, to the Creator whose words still speak life, and who, as the Word, “became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.”

Grace and truth. Yes, these words of quiet resilience and unwavering purpose speak a kind of stillness in the midst of the chaotic roar of -isms and schisms, memes and mantras, facts and phobias.  And in this stillness, I can know the God whose purposes are profoundly undaunted by all of the world’s noise throughout all of history. 

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The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare)
Confessions (Augustine)
John 1:14; Psalm 46:10

Careless and Broken

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 
So Nick, the narrative voice in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, summarizes the lives of his frivolous cousin and her unfaithful husband.

🚴🏼   🚴🏼.  🚴🏼.  🚴🏼.  🚴🏼. 

I didn’t have to cycle back to the campground where I was hanging out with friends for the Canada Day weekend. I could have just thrown my bike in their truck with the kayaks after our afternoon paddle at Pyramid Lake. But since I had pedalled up the hill to the lake, I felt I had earned a nice downhill cruise. It’s a cyclist thing.

I wasn’t even on the main road yet when I came down a small dip and into a blind corner. And just around that corner? 

A large wedding party, all decked out in peach-coloured dresses and dark suits, stretched across the road for a photo. I braked hard, automatically unclipping my right foot from the pedal to anchor myself to the ground upon stopping. Unfortunately, the loose gravel on the roughly paved road made my bike slide to the right. I fell hard to the left, my freed right foot rendered useless in preventing it.

But pretty dresses and formal suits were all still intact.  

Thanks to a certain TV show and a plethora of YouTube videos where people’s painful mishaps are a form of entertainment, my crash evoked some laughter and hoots from the wedding party. Followed by a couple are-you-okays. 

I’m not sure yet, I replied as I gingerly stood up to assess the damage. 

The wedding party responded by turning to face the photographer and resuming their photo shoot.  Now start walking towards me, I heard her instruct. 

I moved my bike, flagged an oncoming car so they wouldn’t plow into the oblivious wedding people, and then went into shock – my body’s natural response to the badly broken elbow I now cradled as I sat in the ditch.

The wedding party continued with their photo shoot, eventually moving off the road but remaining within my range of vision. Surely if I could see them, they could see me. Sitting there in pain, no doubt white-faced from the shock, clutching my left arm, steadying my breathing.

If they did, they didn’t care.

🚴🏼.  🚴🏼.  🚴🏼.  🚴🏼.  🚴🏼

Careless people. We all know them because we have all fallen victim to them at one point in our lives. Carelessness comes in many forms: neglect, self-centredness, insensitivity, flippancy. Sometimes carelessness is deliberate: gossip, slander, exclusion, abuse, cruelty. Our news feeds scroll story after story of people being careless with the lives of other people. I could provide links to current stories, but by next week there would be new ones to replace them. Maybe even by tomorrow. 

This was certainly not my first encounter with careless people, just the first requiring hospitals, air ambulance, and surgery. As painful as it is, being smashed physically is still easier than dealing with the aftermath of someone’s carelessness with heart and soul. Physical healing generally has a predictable timeline. Six weeks, the surgeon said. Emotional healing charts its own course. Either way, like Tom and Daisy, carelessness is oblivious to the brokenness it leaves behind. Someone else has to deal with the mess. 

But here is another truth, an insightful perspective from a friend: carelessness comes from brokenness. We are a broken humanity on so many levels- our families, our racial and generational interactions, our governments, our work places, our forms of entertainment, and our relationship with the One who created us. All that brokenness leaves us centred on our own pain, the injustices against ourselves, our rights to something better. ‘Our lives matter’ has become a necessary mantra in various forms. Or hashtags. We do matter. All of us. So why do we chose to live with such careless disregard of others?

It is easy for me to speak of the times when I have been broken by someone else’s carelessness. I have fresh wounds, physical and emotional, and even old ones still have tangible scars. But what about the times when I have been careless? How many people are left wounded and scarred in my wake? How many messes have I left behind as I retreat into whatever fulfills my sense of self at any given moment?

I am deeply humbled by these thoughts, knowing in my heart that I have without a doubt been the careless one, even if I can’t (or won’t) recall a specific instance. Carelessness and foggy memory have a comfortable complementary relationship. 

But what humbles me even more is that God chose brokenness in order that I might be made whole. He was wounded, pierced, crushed for my sin. Purposefully. Deliberately. Rather than a carelessness that ends in brokenness, His purposeful brokenness ends in forgiveness and restoration. 

Oh what a marvellous grace, a grace far greater than my sin and carelessness. Far greater than what I deserve.

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Somewhere in the middle

To the northeast hot dry winds breathe fury into a beastly fire that engulfs neighbourhoods and propels thousands toward safety and temporary shelter.

Only weeks later, slightly to the northwest, winds pummel heavy, sodden clouds, forcing them to release their payload in a pelting deluge that swells over banks and rips away roads and bridges.

Somewhere in the middle is where I live.

While the land around us felt the aching thirst of impending drought, we were far enough away to be spared the devouring hunger of the flames so devastating to our fellow Albertans.  The storm, however, settled in on its haunches for three days, haphazardly pruning our trees, and pouring itself into every conceivable low spot.  We were saturated, to be sure, but still only on the fringes of the real destruction an hours’ drive to the west.

Sometimes being in the middle provides a measure of safety.

Sometimes being in the middle, the in-between spaces of life, is messy and hard. “Middle-ness” is everywhere:  between hope and despair, expectation and reality, idealism and practicality, past and future, here and there, beginning and end.  I am a middle child, not the perfect middle usually associated with odd-numbered siblings, but a ‘middle’ none-the-less, sandwiched between an older brother and the sister next in birth order.  Society classifies me as middle-aged – no longer young, but not yet a senior either.  Sometimes it feels like the last twenty-odd years of my life have been lived in the middle –either in the middle of something really hard, or in the brief spaces between consecutive really hard things.  The pattern has repeated so often that as I sit here still catching my breath from the last Hard Thing, I keep looking to the horizon for ominous signs of the Next Hard Thing.  A perpetual middle-ness that has at times left me wary and weary. My soul resonates with Mark Hall when he honestly sings about living in the incongruous place between who we are called to be in Christ and the failure-ridden realities of the daily effects of sin – our own and others’.

Sometimes being in the middle is fertile space for growth and blessing.  For those of us living in the more northerly climes, the middle of the year means summer warmth and green growing things – that important space between planting and harvesting. As a school teacher, these middle months also provide a pace of days not measured by bells and marking piles.  What resonates most with my soul though is the fact that grace is also most at home in middle-ness – in that space between salvation and sanctification, though not wholly separate from either of them, it brings meaning and purpose to our existence here in the middle between what was and what will yet be.  It sustains.

Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien was more insightful than imaginative when he wrote his epic saga of Middle Earth. Although my lived version is very different than his created one, I think there is a deep truth hidden in the reality of living somewhere in the middle.  We were created for greater things, but live with the daily pull of the lesser.  Earth is indeed only the middle ground, an in-between place where battles are fought and ground lost or gained, a place where hearts are broken and mended, a place where grace saves and sustains.  Ultimate victory, healing, and sanctification await beyond the middle – beyond this messy, hard, humbling, redeeming process of becoming what God has already made a way for us to be.

Somewhere in the middle is where I live.  With thankfulness – not the glib, trite, or even politely appropriate kind, but the kind that is fought for daily and arises out of submission to a Sovereign God – for what was, and is, and what will yet be.  Sola gratia.

 

 

 

Recirculating Problems

My trusty car, Maggie, developed a problem as soon as the weather turned cold. Actually, the problem existed before frosty mornings became the norm, but we weren’t aware of it until we actually needed a fully functioning defrost system. Although I’ve only seen the notorious London fog on cheesy detective movies, I could easily imagine myself in the thick of it when I tried to peer out the side windows. No matter how high or for how long I cranked the heat and the fan, the windshield had wide frame of frost and a narrow field of vision. Clearly, Maggie had problem. No pun intended.

It took some head-scratching conundrum-mumbling and an extended stay in The Shop while mechanical surgeons dissected Maggie’s Dodgely dash, but almost three thousand dollars later they discovered that the problem was a broken door. The little door that either recirculated air inside or allowed in fresh outside air was broken in the recirculate position. All that hot air I was blasting at the windows was just circulating around and around and condensing and freezing – the opposite of what I needed it to do. Blurry fog and opaque frost on windows aren’t exactly conducive to safe driving. Little broken things sometimes cause big scary dangers.

Sometimes life feels like a little broken door somewhere keeps us in recirculate mode. Although outer accoutrements might change, the same core disappointments, discouragements, hurts, and griefs keep going around and around, coalescing and creating a numbing fog that permeates thick and deep in our souls. It’s exhausting, this recycled living. We long for clarity, for fresh air, for newness in the midst of the reoccurring and wearying old. We wish someone would fix the little broken door and give us a chance to rest and recover. To defrost and defog.

But perhaps, just perhaps, we also begin to see through the haze and weighty blur that there are other things that keep coming around again and again as well. The presence of cloud or fog does not change the fact that the sun continues to make its rounds each day, the stars continue to spill their glitter across inky skies, and the promises of God continue to bring new hope with each faithful dawn.

And perhaps, just perhaps, we come to recognize that maybe the little broken door isn’t meant to be fixed. Not yet. Maybe being revisited by discouragement and grief keeps us revisiting the One who promises that He will yet make all things new. Perhaps we come to depend more fully on God’s providential perspectives when we are most mired in the foggy places of life because it is in those spaces that we are most aware of our own inadequacies and of His complete sufficiency.

Perhaps the broken little door that allows the recycling of hard things also recirculates the grace and strength to face them….again.