My daughter Sarah graduates tonight.
The math doesn’t add up. It wasn’t that long ago we brought her home from the maternity ward, a dark-haired, swarthy-skinned, wide-eyed little thing, half polecat and half princess. She was already spoiling for adventure and hunting mischief. And it was quite recently she was a feisty tyke, all of four, ready to take on a whole gang of nine-year-olds in the park behind our yard because they’d snatched her brother’s toy. There must have been four of five of them, but her fury terrified them into surrender. And, goodness, it was only a week ago, maybe three, she got her braces on, and then quick-as-you-blink got them off again.
You see what I mean. How we got from “It’s a girl!” to cap-and-gown involved some insidious time-warp, where years folded into minutes. We went from this to that in no time flat. We never had a moment to catch our breath. We never had enough hours to savour the girl at three, and ten, and 14, and now. Already I see this season hurtling by, brilliant and swiftly fading as a falling star.
In early September, I’ll drive Sarah and Cheryl to the Victoria airport. I’ll kiss them both goodbye. I’ll drive back down to the airport four days later to pick Cheryl up. But not Sarah. She’ll be gone, off to school in Quebec. And so that kiss goodbye will have to last several months, and the one after that several months again.
And this will be the rest of my life.
I find myself unprepared for this. That’s pathetic, I know, because nothing could have been more predictable: children come into our lives, disrupt them terribly, make us proud and make us gray, and then walk away. This is as it ought to be, and hard, even devastating, when it doesn’t happen like this. But it takes more getting used to than I’ve gotten used to. I’m still thinking my 20-year old son is just gone for a spell, soon to return to resume life among us. I’m still rummaging for exactly the right words to speak at these coming and goings, trying to find my balance, get my bearings, handle my emotions.
I keep thinking, How can they manage without me? when I know the real question is, How can I manage without them?
But this consoles me: I’d rather all this be so than not so.
Happy graduation, Sarah. I’m proud of you. Keep your eyes on Jesus, your feet on the ground, and your heart wide open to truth and grace. Love the Lord with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.
And don’t forget to call your dad.
I only managed to watch 2 playoff games, though not the devastating finale – I was at my daughter Sarah’s school awards ceremony, which was lovely and had the added benefit that I spent the evening applauding winners.
But the two games I did watch – game 2 and game 5, both victories for the Canucks – gave me a little shock of insight: the difference between heart and talent.
The Canucks abound in talent. What I think they lack – or at least I had trouble seeing – is heart: that fighting spirit, that dignity and defiance in the face of adversity, that graciousness in defeat, that rising again, more determined than ever, after a crushing blow. They never looked hungry. They never looked desperate. They looked mad at times, but rarely focused in it.
They just looked talented. They often outshone and outflanked their opponents – indeed, except for the astonishing skills of Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas, they likely would have been the ones kissing the silver chalice on Wednesday night, or much earlier.
In the end, though, talent wasn’t enough.
The early church was the other way around: they had more heart than talent. The church was mostly made up of people on the low end of the social scale, including a sizable proportion of slaves. It was, to put it crassly, a bunch of losers. The Apostle Paul describes them thus: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
The early church was Super-Starless. It was comprised largely of have-nots and misfits, wanna-bes and also-rans. It was no talent pool. It was a heart trust.
And with that, they turned the world upside down. They prevailed in the face of depravity, evil, poverty, hardship and persecution, and in the end toppled the most powerful empire that’s ever existed. They built the church at the gates of hell, and the gates fell.
It wasn’t done by talent, though certainly that wasn’t altogether absent. It was a conquest of the heart. I sometimes worry when I read various leadership books and attend various leadership seminars that we have forgotten this and are trying to win the day solely on the basis of talent. I think of one well-known Christian leader who advises other leaders only to hire “10s”. A team like that might dazzle. But when it counts, they might just fizzle.
The gates of hell rarely yield to the merely talented. But they tremble and collapse before those with heart.
Oh, and I have a modest prediction for next year’s hockey season: our team, humbled by defeat, will play with a lot more of it.
I recently preached a series called Be Thou My Vision: How the Apostles Teach Us to See God. It was a look at the classic attributes of God through both lens of the Old Testament and the New.
Here’s a link to my message entitled “Mono Sopho Theo,” a look at divine wisdom, and how and why it is most clearly seen in the cross and the church
We are wired for attachment, and not just to others: to things.
I’m sure stone-age people felt a certain nakedness – a rush of dread, a shock of vulnerability – when they got well along in a journey and realized they’d left their flint rock or spear back in the cave, much as we do when, heading down the road, we realize we’ve left our cell phone in our other jacket at home The other day that happened to me. I forgot my iPhone by my reading chair. I panicked when I discovered it. I calculated whether I had time to turn back and fetch it. But I was stuck, phoneless in Mill Bay. I was in technological limbo, cybernetic exile.
All of this is sad and ironic. I spent most of my adulthood proud to be a Luddite – a backward scorner, on principle, of technology. I was especially, and only up until a few years ago, an avid disdainer of cell phones. I denounced them as cancer-inducing cattle prods. They invaded the little solitude the noisy world left to us.
Then I got one.
Now I can’t live without it.
I’ve thought about this a lot. It is in our nature to form dependencies (and usually remain deluded about it, thinking ourselves self-made, but that’s another story). We depend on things former generations never had, and they depended on things that generations before them never had. Our dependencies, to name a few: cars, computers, airplanes (even if we rarely fly, we rely on thingsbrought to us in planes), grocery stores, refrigerators, ibuprofen, bobby pins, scotch tape, well-built shoes, roofing nails, flush toilets, cheap socks, corn and all its derivatives, petroleum and all its derivatives, coffee (including the growers, transporters, roasters, sellers, and machinery it takes to convert beans to liquid).
You get the idea.
Most of these dependencies we never notice until a scarcity brings us up short, like forgetting my phone at home. But other dependencies we’ve fashioned our lifestyle around. Many of us can’t imagine, for instance, life without a computer, yet most of us are old enough to have spent most of our existence without one, and we did fine.
Dependency by its nature is humbling. Dependency means you can’t do everything on your own. You just don’t have what it takes. Without this thing – fire, or water, or eggs, or milk, or batteries, or fry pans – life is much diminished, sometimes to the vanishing point. It’s worth inventorying some of these dependencies from time to time, to be humble and thankful.
But other dependencies are humbling in a different way: they weaken and trivialize us. These dependencies aren’t so much humbling as humiliating. They’re dependencies that have made us flaccidand clumsy and dull. We’ve given up too much of ourselves in the exchange. It’s worth examining some of these dependencies from time to time, to decide if we really need this thing as much as we’ve made out. Maybe our life without it, far from diminished, would be enriched and enlarged.
I think of a line from Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln: “In wilderness loneliness he companioned with trees, with the faces of open sky and weather in changing seasons, with that individual, one-man instrument, the ax. Silence found him for her own. In the making of the man, the element of silence was immense.”
Note to self: next time, leave the cell phone by the chair intentionally.
I will keep this brief: I’m away with Cheryl, celebrating 26 years of marriage, and I have other things on my mind.
The place we’re staying – the exquisite and, under the circumstance, aptly named Honeymoon Bay Retreat Center, is quiet this morning – which it is every morning, I think, and afternoon, and evening. The gardens are bathed in sunlight. A gardener mulches earth outside the window. A thread of spider web, gleaming like silver, spans a pane of glass. On the table beside where I sit and write is a vase of flowers, left for us by Tim & Karla Erickson with a card of congratulations. The flowers: irises, carnations, Gerber daisies, all different shades of pink, yellow leopard lilies, white field daisies (cross-bread to eliminate the foul odour), all set in a sprig of golden rod and a forest of salal.
Flowers are miracles. It’s astonishing to think such a wealth of variety all gathers under a single genus. A pink carnation is as different from a yellow lily as an Amur tiger is from a Tiger prawn.
God loves diversity. He is endlessly inventive in coming up with more species of things than all our sleuthing can name or number. Every year, people rummaging in river beds and reedy marshes and forest floors and forest canopies find new things – bugs and salamanders and hummingbirds, toads and toadstools, and some strain of huckleberry, that we had no knowledge of before. And, sadly, every year, many species go extinct.
Clearly, God loves the much-ness and many-ness of his good creation. I think this is a lesson and caution to any of us who would impose on others too narrow a definition of Christian faith. Many varieties can gather under a single genus. In my life, I’ve seen many fruitless turf wars and shouting matches between branches of Christianity – Charismatics, Pentecostals, Orthodox, Baptists, shades of Baptists, liturgists, mystics, conservatives, etc. Each thought they were in exclusive possession of the full truth, when in fact each was impoverished by itself, and could have been enriched by keeping company with the others.
In John’s vision of the 7 churches of Asia Minor, recorded in Revelation 2 & 3, each church lacks some things and each excels in some ways (well, one church lacks nothing, and one has zero strengths). And each is given a unique and distinct vision of Jesus, meant to help them in their specific situation. How sad that often we take our distinct vision of Jesus, declare it the only right one, and denounce all the others. It’s like a lily telling a carnation it’s not a true flower.
A challenge: make it your business this year to find out what some branch of Christianity you’ve ignored or scorned actually believes. And be open to letting it strengthen your faith.
(So much for being brief).