Friday, October 26, 2007


“He’s an idiot. Just like Nelson. Did you see the chick he brought to the party? I wouldn’t be caught dead with her.”

I glanced over at the table next to me where the man’s nasally voice carried over the music playing in the background. He looked to be in his late twenties, and he was slouched in his chair, his jeans baggy and low on his waist. His hair was long and floppy, and he shook his head periodically to move it off his forehead. The corner of his lips were flipped into a smirk.

“Did you get the work from Jans?”

I didn’t want to listen in to the conversation, but they both had the types of voices that carried easily over the other conversations around the cafe. I fumbled in my briefcase for a pair of headphones.

“Jans is ridiculous. Sometimes he’s okay, but this idea of his is just stupid.” He snorted. “How about that service on Sunday? What the heck was that about? New ministry. Whatever.”

I’d finally put my headphones on, but I left the music off. I couldn’t help but stare at the two guys, especially Mr. Negative. He remained in his slouch, and every person that stood or strolled past got a once over, his lips still curled into that impenetrable smirk.

“Hey,man. Check out the old guy-“

I frowned and turned on the music to drown out his voice, but it was hard to concentrate. I clenched my teeth and forced myself to breath slowly. What a jerk. And church? He went to church? Wow. Way to communicate the good news, I thought. My body had gone rigid. Some things bothered me more than others, but I was completely offended by the boor sitting beside me.
I bent back to my textbook and let the music take me back to my schoolwork. When I finally looked up an hour had passed and the guys beside me were gone. The residue from the negativity however, clung to me like a bad odour. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why I’d become so offended. It wasn’t like he was talking to me, or about me, and even if he was, I didn’t care. So why had I found him so offensive?

I picked up my coffee and decided to take a stroll to think about it. I slipped between the tables and headed towards the bookshelves. This particular Starbucks was attached to a huge Chapters bookstore, but the tables were nearly always occupied, and so I limited my time here to once or twice a week. A far cry different from my old Starbucks back in Ottawa where I’d often joked with staff about getting me a cot. I wandered down the aisles, curious as to why my reaction to the guy beside me had been so visceral. It only took me a few minutes to understand my response.

As far back as I can remember, I have loved all things inspirational. Stories, movies, books, people. It seemed to me at a young age that too many people had given up on life, on pursuing their dreams, and they’d done so early. How many times had I heard someone say “I’m just trying to make it through the day,” or “Same old, same old,” or “fifteen years to retirement.” Slumped shoulders, sad eyes, and hard fought smiles. I’d seen it so often. And not just in others, either. I’d seen it in the mirror, too.

Life wasn’t easy, even on the richest continent on the planet, because life was inherently tragic. But even during the darkest times in my life I'd clung to the belief that joy was possible, especially when we could encourage one another, when people made an effort to celebrate their humanity with one another. The antithesis of that, however, were the Dream Killers, the people who buried their own hurts and pain beneath their cynicism and preening arrogance. Quick to cast doubt and shadow on anything positive or hopeful, they sucked the life out of everything and everyone around them. I not only resented their behaviour, I resented the people who exhibited it and took their attitude as a great personal offense.

I sipped my coffee and headed down the escalator for a breath of fresh air. Just thinking about the Dream Killer beside me made my stomach churn. I started thinking about Jesus, and wondering if he was ever truly offended by certain behaviours. It was tempting to think that the behavior I resented was the behavior he resented too. Easy to think of the Pharisees, and how much they must have offended Jesus. Easier still to call the people who offended me Pharisees.
Unfortunately, it was an oversimplification and certainly egocentric. We all think we have it right -- about the way we’re supposed to act and supposed to think. We all like to think that the things that offend us would have offended Jesus. It’s a ridiculous notion though, because while I love God with every fiber of my being, I know people who are offended by my ideas about faith. (Christian satire, for example) Conversely, I’m offended by some of their ideas about faith, especially when it comes to prosperity and healing and pietism.

The cold air hit me like a slap as I walked through the doors. Fall had come, and winter seemed around the corner. The clouds boiled gray and menacing and the hint of rain, like a fine, icy mist, permeated the air. I’d just finished my midterms, and I felt both tired and exhilarated all at once. Except for the nugget of discomfort still lingering from the Dream Killer.

So what were we to do with this idea of being offended. It happened often enough, perhaps too often. Taking offense to something or someone created a barrier, a barrier that was all but impossible to break through. In other words, it separated people. The problem, as far as I could tell, was that Jesus had called us to love our enemies. So how could I love my enemies if I was busy getting offended, revealing my disdain and displeasure for certain actions or certain persons.

I walked along the sidewalk past some of the other stores. I stopped outside a flower shop, and stared at some of the bouquets through the glass. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that when I was offended, it wasn't about the person or the behaviour.

It was about me.

My reaction revealed something important about myself. The more I thought about, the more I realized that while it was okay to not like certain behaviours, it wasn’t okay to be offended. It was, in fact, unacceptable.

Who was I to take personal offense? Did I not offend people every day? Did I not offend God by my tendency towards selfishness and self-promotion? The thing about being offended was that it was generally in response to an inflated sense of pride and indignation or a previous hurt that we'd yet to deal with. It also excused us from doing the hard thing, the thing that Jesus asked us to do. To love people that were difficult to love.

I flicked my gaze from the flowers to my reflection in the glass. I would never understand people who put others down. I would never understand why people seemingly went out of their way to discourage those around them. I would never understand the way people could take the Bible and use it as a club on people. From now on however, I would do my best not to be offended.

The truth is, we all do things we regret, and we all have blind spots. Many times I’ve had to apologize for my actions. I’ve said something offensive or I’ve criticized something or someone without thinking. And yet, God not only tolerates me, but he actually understands and still likes me! And if that’s the case, how can I possibly act like I’m so much better than the people around me?

I smiled at my reflection and headed back towards Chapters. I’d never like the Dream Killer, but from now on I would work less on being indignant, and work harder at loving them.

My prayer this week is that God would reveal to us – not only the things that offend us, but why they affect us the way they do. May he help us to understand that the first step towards tearing down barriers is to recognize ourselves in the people around us. And may he give us the patience to see beyond the surface, and the strength to love that which we don’t understand.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lost in Time

The street was quiet, the gray skies muted overhead. I'd read the email three times, and I sat on the cold concrete steps outside my house with my head in my hands, my emotions rippling just beneath the surface. The noise level in my life had risen so much the past month that it was difficult to sort out exactly what had happened and how much my life had changed. It was all kind of hazy, as if I'd suddenly leapt inside one of my dreams and not woken up. On so many levels this was a good thing, but reading my latest email had sent me plummeting from my dream into my old life.

There was little wind and no movement as I looked out across my new neighbourhood. What was I doing here? A student? At thirty-five? Perhaps it was because I'd always worked with young people, but I'd never really 'felt' my age. And since I'd never had kids, I didn't feel any different now than I had when I was twenty-five. Time, however, is inevitable, and it passes along with the seasons no matter how we feel. Donald Miller asks the question in one of his books if time passes through us, or if we pass through time. I'd never been able to decide. Until now.

I stood and moved to the edge of the driveway, my thoughts a tangled blur of lives and life, of the past and present, and of what had been and what never might be. I sipped my coffee and stared down the quiet street. A squirrel scooted from a tree across the street, and I watched him run and disappear into another tree until the road was still again.

When I was twelve, I scratched my name and address into the wood panel of one of the lamps in our living room. A month later I wrote my name in wet cement at the apartments where I delivered newspapers. Needless to say, neither my parents nor the owners were happy with either decision, and weren't shy about letting me know their 'disappointment'. I didn't blame them, but I couldn't explain my actions either. Not really. At twelve, I was beginning to develop my sense of self. It was also the first time I truly wondered about being forgotten. How a twelve year old is supposed to explain this to his parents, I'll never know, but I still remember being gripped by a great fear that I would pass away from this world as if I'd never been here.

For some reason that summer, I was possessed by that one thought. Who would know that I ever existed? By marking the lamp and the concrete, I was hoping to leave something behind, leave a reminder that I'd lived in this place. In this house. On this street. At this time.

Well, the lamp was sanded and redone, and the concrete replaced a few years ago. Yet the same questions still emerge in my life as an adult, and coincidentally, the same fears. My latest email had reminded me just how precious, and fragile, my illusions about my fears and struggles could be.

I headed back to the stoop, and leaned against the brick. I'd sent a birthday email to my newly remarried (four months) ex-wife the day before, and today she'd replied. Happy, she said. Honeymoon in the romantic capitals of Europe. A great wedding. Doing wonderfully. Starting a family soon. Please don't write again. For the best.

She was right of course, on so many levels. She was starting over, and it'd been years since we were married. And she was happy, happier than I'd ever seen her in all the years I'd known her. And while I was comforted and gladdened by her contentment, I could not help but wonder about what had been, and what never would be.

When you're young, at least until you're thirty, it's easy to believe that life will work out the way you want, that you can be anything and do everything, that you will pass through time when and how you choose. At thirty-five, your perspective changes. I hoped to marry one day and start a family, to leave behind a legacy, some sort of evidence that I'd been here, that I'd made a difference, but for now I felt like a lost stranger along an empty highway.

A divorce does a lot things to mess with your psyche. In my case, the evangelical counseling that landed the failures of the marriage completely on my shoulders (the man is the head of the household. It failed because you failed.), along with my ex's newfound happiness, weighed heavy. Maybe I wasn't compatible or suited for marriage. Maybe all those things she'd said to me so many years ago were true.

"Hello. Hellooo."

I jumped at the greeting as my youngest housemate strolled up the driveway. I forced a smile onto my face.


She looked at me, about to walk by.

"Are you okay? What's wrong?"

I felt my eyes mist and I tried to grab hold of my leaking emotions.

"No, I'm good, just got this email today..."

I couldn't hold back my emotions and quietly told her what I was feeling even as my emotions spilled into my eyes.

She sat on the stoop behind me and put her arm around my shoulder, listening, until I stopped talking. For a while, we just sat there, and I leaned my head against her knee.

I looked up at the gray skies. The things I'd expected from life as a kid had not yet happened. I wasn't sure they would. In so many ways, I didn't recognize either the path I was on or the trail I'd walked to get here. Maybe that's why I was back at Seminary, I thought, because even through the years I doubted and walked away from church, it never left that the question of our life and time was too easily pushed aside for the current cultural distractions. I suspected it had always been that way. Just as I suspected that it saddened God how easily we let other things keep us from him.

My housemate sat with me for a while longer until I thanked her and headed inside. For all that I love my life, for all that I am grateful for being able to pursue my dreams, there lives the realization that time is moving. That I am moving. And that one day it will all simply stop. On that day, I'm sure that I'll look back on my life and wonder how I got there. I'll wonder what happened to the days and years that slipped through me, and how it all went so fast.

It is the most wonderful quality of time that while it whisks through us at an incredible rate, we pass through it slowly, able to savor every moment, every second, every opportunity. And these days, I longed for someone to share my time with, to bring some kids into this great, crazy world of ours, and laugh along the discoveries of life with them. Until then, however, I needed to let it go, as hard as it was, and try to look ahead.

"Hey, are we going to the bank?"

My house mate yelled up the stairwell, and I paused in the kitchen. I'd forgotten we were going to do some errands together.

"Yeah." I said. "I'm coming."

We all have moments of reflection, and those moments can be healthy. But my prayer this week is that we would hear the eternal heartbeat of the One who made us, that we would remember the good things that has done in our life, and above all, that we would not allow the scars of the past to rob us of the future God has planned for us.

"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."

-Psalm 77:11-19