Popular Posts

Friday, 29 November 2013

Readings for a Holy Holiday, Week One

   Yesterday I was sent an online survey asking my feelings or impressions of the upcoming holiday season.  At the end, it informed me that, according to my answers, I value a "Holy Holiday".  Apparently over 50% of Americans and over 30% of Canadians feel the same way.  For that reason I'd like to share (again) some daily readings and photos for a Holy Holiday.

December 1 The Alpha and Omega

December 2 The Creator

December 3 The Potter

December 4 The Son of God

December 5 The King

December 6 The Prince of Peace

December 7 The Sun of Righteousness

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Myth Busters: Bible edition

   I find it quite remarkable that although we in the English-speaking world have had the Bible in the common speech for over 400 years and have so many copies of it in circulation yet so many myths about it continue to persist.  In my Kindergarten class at a Christian school I also find myself debunking misconceptions and correcting details that my students have picked up.  Here are just a few examples so that you will understand where I am coming from:
  • Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit is never specified to be an apple.  This persistent myth comes John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.”
  • Almost every illustration of Noah’s ark in children’s books makes it look like a puny vessel with giraffe heads sticking out of the top.  The figures given in Genesis (measured in cubits but with metric or imperial equivalents in the footnotes) indicate that this massive triple decked boat may not have looked much like our modern idea of a ship.
  • The Magi or “wise men” were not kings.  A Christmas song is to blame here.  And although they appear in Nativity scenes, it is almost certain that they arrived weeks or even months after Jesus’ birthday.
   Some readers may wonder why this is such a big deal to me.  If we have the Bible, we ought to read and know what it says.  There are many languages and cultures without access to this sacred text, so how can we justify being sloppy with it?
   A related concern I have is about video versions of the Bible made for children.  Since these youngsters do not have the biblical narrative internalized yet, they are easily deceived into thinking, “It happened this way because I saw it in the movie.”  Film makers, who try to jazz up the stories by adding chocolate bunnies, sheep that tip over and nicknames for biblical characters, actually do a disservice to biblical literacy for the youngest viewers.  While older children and adults can understand the divergence from the main story line, four and five-year-olds cannot.
   Sharing Bible stories accurately is a responsibility I take seriously.  I don’t want to add to mythology!


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dating Advice from Yesteryear

I am not posting this excerpt from my maternal grandmother’s memoirs (dated 1997) as a way of deriding her way of thinking.  On the contrary, I see that so much misery can be avoided when men and women place genuine commitment ahead of sexual intimacy.  She and my grandfather loved each other and reached the milestone of 50 years of marriage.   

  I was married in Maassluis on May 19, 1932, and the pastor who led the church service was named Rev. Rieberg.  Our wedding text was John 2:2, “And Jesus was also a guest [at the wedding].”  It is a beautiful wedding text when we can also invite the Lord Jesus to our wedding.  We can certainly have wonderful celebrations and also a wedding, but everything we do needs to be done with the spirit that Jesus will be present there.  We can be joyful, but we must remember that not just “anything goes.”
   Mrs. VanLien, for whom I had previously worked, gave me the right kind of advice in the area of relationships.  She would say, “Child, when you are going out with a man, there are some things you should set boundaries around.”  She also said that if you want to get married properly and with purity and you grow closer together, you still need to say, “No” to certain activities.
   “Child, it is much better to get married in purity, even if all you have is a table and four chairs.  Later on, that young man will be so grateful that you did not compromise,” she continued.
   That is really how we were raised and instructed, if we were going out with someone and we wanted a church wedding.  Then it is wonderful to get married.  Marriage is a big step.  You need to really get to know each other and each other's personalities.  There will be times when you think to yourself, I didn't think you were like that.  A wife will have these thoughts about her husband, and a husband about his wife.  But where there is genuine love, then you will grow towards one another.  Then it just gets better and better.  Then you have not unwrapped the gift before you get married.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Slow Cooker Granola/Muesli

I thank my sister-in-law for introducing me to this easy way of making granola.  The oven method I had used previously deterred me from making it often.

Slow Cooker Granola/Muesli
7 cups of large flake rolled oats (if you have other flakes on hand, you can use them too)
2 cups of mixed seeds and chopped nuts (includes almonds, coconut, sunflower seeds, etc)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup liquid sweetener (honey, maple syrup or brown sugar with 2 Tbsp of water to liquefy)
salt to taste (I don't usually add any)

Mix all together into ungreased slow cooker and turn on HIGH for 45 minutes.  Stir.  Reduce to LOW power for 30 minutes (or less if you see the edges turning more than golden brown).

Add chopped apricots, raisins or other dried fruits to taste and stir in.  Once cooled, store in an air tight container and enjoy.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Stone that Grew: A Cautionary Tale

This is based on a true story, which brought home to me as a child the difference between fiction and falsehood.  

   It all started with a pebble I found in the grass at school.  I was bored, so I kept throwing the stone into the air and catching it.
   All of a sudden a younger student named Sally walked over and asked me what I had in my hand.  Before I knew it, I started a story.  “It is a seed,” I said to her.
   “I don’t believe you,” countered Sally.
   “Well, I was just on my way to plant the seed.  You can watch me if you like.”  I dug a small hole at the edge of the schoolyard.  As Sally looked on, I gently lowered the seed into it and packed the dirt tightly.
   “Well, it still isn’t a seed,” Sally insisted.
   My story had to expand.  “We will see tomorrow--” I said mysteriously, “a tree will grow.”
   After supper that night, I went to my backyard to cut a branch from one of the tall trees.  Then I rushed off to place it in the correct spot.
   At recess the next day it was Sally who ran to me full of excitement.  “You were right!  It did grow,” she said breathlessly.  “I thought trees grow very slowly,” Sally added.
  “Oh, but this is no ordinary tree,” I said under compulsion.  “It is a magic tree that grants wishes.  Why don’t you make a wish?”
   “O.K., I’ll wish for money,” said Sally.
   “Close your eyes and wait for the tree to get ready,” I said.
   Meanwhile I searched my pockets for coins.  None.  All I had were some licorice candies (Dutch dropjes) in the shape of pennies.  I arranged them on the tree and told Sally to open her eyes.
Original art by author

Sally eagerly searched the small tree and found only the black discs I had placed there.  “What are these?  Where is the money?”
   “This is money, but it is candy money,” I replied.  “Try one,” I suggested.
   But the tasted was strong, and Sally did not like it.  Growing heartless, I told Sally that she had to eat one or else the tree would not grant any more of her wishes.
   After she had finished the candy, she said, “What about real money?”
   “Well, the tree is very young.  It can only grant one wish per day.  You can ask for real money tomorrow…. Oh, and don’t tell your mom or dad about the tree because something bad might happen.”  My tall tale was getting taller.
   To get ready for the next day, I gathered dimes and nickels so that the tree could give them to Sally.  I also cut a bigger branch to replace the original “tree” because the leaves were beginning to droop.
   The next morning I arrived at school early, but Sally and her mother were there waiting for me. 
   With a stern look, Mrs. Lambert called out my name, “Harriette.”  The way she accented the first part of the name made me feel she was calling a boy.  “I need to talk to you.  Sally could not sleep last night and would not tell me why.  She said she could not tell about a wish-tree.  Why did you make up such a thing?  It scared her.”  Her fierce eyes awaited my response.
   Instead of saying that it all started with a pebble, I lied again, “I wanted to give Sally things, and this was the only way I could.”
Original art by author
   Mrs. Lambert’s face told me she did not believe me; I turned away ashamed.
   My stone that grew could grow no more, and my story had come to an end.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Shopping as Investing

If you know me at all, you know I don’t particularly enjoy shopping.  I’d rather give money away than spend it on myself.  When I need something (and my definition of need is rather Spartan), I look at my shopping trip as a type of investment.  Let me explain:

1)      Shopping as an investment in my community.  I try to shop close to home, supporting businesses that are more likely to employ fellow residents of my city.  I try to purchase items that are made in Canada whenever possible, even if that means the price is higher or if it takes more effort.  I was shopping for winter boots on Monday night but went home empty-handed because all I could find was “Made in China.”  (For the full story of my last pair of winter boots, see my post from last March.)  Two days later I tried a different store and was successful in finding a pair made for the Canadian climate by a Canadian manufacturer.
2)      Shopping as an investment in people.  Shopping can easily become an impersonal transaction.  Consider the trend towards shopping in which there is no face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with another human being.  I recall hearing that my grandfather used to do all the shopping for his family at the general store.  He presented his list and the proprietor would gather the items for him and have a chat at the same time.  When the general store in the village closed down and he was forced to shop at a self-serve grocery store in town, he literally could not cope with the impersonal nature of the experience.  My grandmother, who did not know how to drive, was chauffeured to the supermarket and began making the purchases from then on.  To invest in people, I do not shop online.  I try to have conversations with the salespeople and show appreciation for their work.
3)      Shopping as an investment in a product.  I am not at all interested in disposable things.  Rather, I am looking for things that will last a long time whether it is footwear, a furnace or furniture.  By purchasing things that will last, not just for me but for others who might use the item after me, I am trying to avoid waste of resources both monetary and material.

Please leave a comment if any of these types of “investment” are part of your shopping experiences.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Why the Arts Matter

   In the past few days three things came together for me regarding "the arts."  First, I finished reading a book entitled Simply Christian in which author and theologian Tom Wright introduces the subject of faith by sharing some universal longings and experiences that point to something beyond themselves.  One of these is the experience of beauty, whether in the world of nature or in music, visual art or photography.
   Secondly, the night I finished reading this book I was seated in the balcony of a concert hall awaiting the performance of a symphony orchestra.  When the lights dimmed and I set the book aside, I experienced the beauty of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion working together to make meaningful sounds.  The modern composer John Williams, whose work is featured in the soundtracks of well-known films since the mid 1970’s, had his signature on all of the music played that night.  In particular,  the pieces were taken from films in which Williams collaborated with director Steven Spielberg.  I have never heard a clarinet played with such grace and energy as in “Victor’s Tale” from the movie The Terminal.  In spite of myself, I closed my eyes for the “Theme” from Jurassic Park.  Although I had not previously watched many of the films that were presented musically it was nevertheless a rich experience of beauty.  Regardless of what Williams may believe about God, I sensed the glory of God as I listened to this music.
   Third, my family and I watched (in two segments) the film Mr. Holland’s Opus.  What struck me about this production was that when cuts had to be made to a high school’s program because of limited funds, music and arts programs were slashed.  The way in which the music teacher, Glenn Holland, is honoured at the end of the story shows that music and art are not “frills” that an academic education can do without.  By helping them become proficient in playing an instrument or teaching them to appreciate different styles of music, he was teaching them about life. 
   Coming back to author Tom Wright, he likewise sees a place for the arts within Christian belief and living.  He says,
“They [the arts] are highways into the centre of a reality which cannot be glimpsed, let alone grasped, any other way.”[1]
While people need to specialize today to get jobs in engineering, IT, management, finance, and medicine, let them continue to nourish themselves with the things that remind us we are human: good literature, art, music, film, drama, and worship.

[1] Tom Wright, Simply Christian, London: SPCK, 2006, page 201

Friday, 1 November 2013

Beyond Random Acts of Kindness

This is a re-post of something I wrote in January about counter-cultural giving.  Since today is Random Act of Kindness Day where I reside, I thought it may be worth a second look.

Sometimes giving becomes a fad in our culture.  The phrases “pay it forward” and “random acts of kindness” are jazzy and capture the public’s imagination to do something nice for people they do not know.  Because these forms of giving are considered random they appear to be easy to tack onto your already busy life.  Excitement is created as we celebrate Pay it Forward Day on April 25 and Random Act of Kindness Day (today where I live).  The irony, of course, is that what had been called random is now planned or expected.
   Counter-cultural giving is more than a fad.  It needs to be present every day of the year and is motivated not by a cool concept but a loving heart.  To be consistent and sustainable, our giving needs to be rooted in God, whose generosity to us is beyond measure. 
   One of my nieces in Alberta felt led to organize a Random Acts of Kindness Party to celebrate her birthday last fall.  She and her friends gave out oranges, chocolates, gift cards and cash to community workers as well as to unsuspecting strangers.  This outpouring of giving did not come about because it was trendy but because God had first given love and the capacity for caring to my niece and her friends.  When her party ended, it was neither the beginning nor the end of her lifestyle of giving.