Friday, December 28, 2007

The Unanswered Smile

"Are you all right, Steve?"

The orders buzzed in the air as I tried to repeat them. I felt like I was speaking Greek. I ripped through another set of cups, marking and scrabbling and trying not to look at the line that extended all the way to the entrance.

"How are you, Steve?" My co-worker asked again. "Do you got it?"


The noise seemed to buzz in my ears. Laughter. Talking. A continual funnel of activity that accelerated until it no longer made sense. I was trying to remember everything I'd learned. Impossible.

"Let's switch."

Touloue came over and gently pushed me towards the register. I nodded without complaint. Sweat gleamed from my head. I smiled at the customer in front of me and took her order. She didn't smile back, apparently upset over the slowness of the whole process. I apologized, and when I called out the next order, the next customer didn't smile either. I repeated the humbling process of apologizing and smiling and doing my best to serve them. Five customers passed through, and still no smile. I looked up and the line was gone. I sighed and finally relaxed.

I'd started at Starbucks a few weeks before, and I was learning in the fire, as the saying went. I wished that I could respond faster to my customers, but there was so much to learn. Even for a grad student it was overwhelming. All I could think about however, were the downcast eyes and frowns on the faces of our clientele. A part of me wanted to yell, another part wanted to apologize. I understood their response. They'd come for their drink, and they paid good money for it. An interruption was intolerable at a place like Starbucks. That's why they paid five dollars for a latte. Still, it seemed... inhuman to me. I was clearly doing all that I could. Did they simply not see that? Or did they not see me? Mostly, I couldn't help but wonder about even smiling at people if they weren't going to respond. Why bother if they weren't going to look at me?

Any one who has ever worked retail can tell horror stories about mean clientele. As a rule, the clientele at Starbucks were terrific. Most of our clients were good-natured, and a simple apology was more than enough. That wasn't true of our society however. I'd worked enough jobs to know just how inhumane people could be. And if you tried to be nice, if you tried to be kind... they could drag you through a pain that often led to indifference. A pain, a rejection that questioned this whole idea of seeing the good in others.

I thought about that as I filled up the refrigerator with more milk, just another simple job that helped the cafe function smoothly. For whatever reason, I couldn't get those frowns out of my head. A part of me wanted to see those customers again and tell them what I really thought: "Hey, did you know I was a grad student. I'm smarter than you, did you know that?" And than go on in graphic detail about how I was better and more deserving of life's goodness than they were. More than that, I thought about how often people had stopped smiling at one another... simply because no one bothered to return it.

A genuine smile is a wonderful thing; it communicates so much with so little effort. It is an extension of our soul, an extension of our hope and dreams and camaraderie, an olive branch to a stranger. Even absent language, it is a uniting and intimate thread that is able to connect any human on the planet. There are few things as powerful as a smile. But when it is rejected...
The customers remained sporadic for the rest of the evening. I smiled and greeted them, and for the next two hours, I felt a welling sense of purpose as they smiled back and exchanged tidbits of our lives. (Small talk is only small when people remove themselves from the conversation. There's nothing small when the offering is genuine.) By the time the evening was finished, I felt strangely refreshed. Despite everything, my low wages, the fact that my bosses and supervisors were ten to fifteen years younger, and that no one would ever regard my job as significant, I was content. I was learning more than I'd expected about people, and about myself.

Most of us give little or no thought to our daily visits to the coffee shop or the convenience store or the gas station. We think of them as side trips in our life. The more I see, the more I realize that they are not side trips to life, but life itself. Our lives are reflected most keenly not in the number on our paycheck or the size and quantity of our possessions, but in our interaction with other humans. Especially in dealing with people who cannot help us with our success.
But have we missed it? Have we set our lives, and our life goals, to be so impersonal as to forget the one calling to which God places above all others? Have we forgotten our neighbour? Not our friends or colleagues, but the strangers on the way to work, the woman working at the supermarket, the one who we believe sits below us.

Who we are is most clearly revealed in our interactions with people we are most likely to disregard.
Why not then, offer them the simplest of gifts? Step back and think about what is important. To do so is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who considered all people -- from high to low -- as worthy of His attention.

My prayer this week is that no matter how many smiles go unanswered, that we will continue to believe in those around us, that we will continue to hold out for the best of God in everyone, and that those smiles will be reflected in our own life.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chasing After the Wind

"Let me see what she wrote."

The Kid nudged me to the side so she could see the screen. I moved over, somewhat reluctant to believe that the 'girl' I'd been chatting with for the past few days was not a Christian woman at all. The Kid shook her head as she scrolled down our conversation on MSN.

"Oh, Steve. C'mon! It's so obvious."

The woman onscreen was asking me to receive two boxes of money and than send her some. It sounded fishy, but I was still struggling to wrap my mind around the idea that I'd spent at least two nights chatting with some Chinese man trying to swindle me. The Kid knew better. She told me what to write, and within two minutes, the chat was over, and "Sarah" was gone.

I thanked Keti, my twenty-year-old roommate (a.k.a. The Kid), and went outside for some air. It didn't bother me that it took a twenty year old to help me figure out something I should've figured out myself. We all had blind spots, especially during the holiday season. And I wanted to believe the best of people. Despite a bad experience, I wasn't about to give that up. That wasn't the reason I needed some air.

Water dripped from the eaves as I stepped onto the porch. After one of the fiercest snowstorms in the city's history, we'd been hit by a mild spell, and the piles of melting snow dripped and dissolved into puddles at the end of the driveway. The snowman we'd built was smeared with dirt and threatened to topple over. I gazed at the clouded sky and than turned to the two families laughing in the street next door. The holiday season was in full swing.


Christmas is a great time for family and friends and couples. It is also the most difficult for many others, especially those who are single or alone. For the past two weeks, I'd been somewhat addicted to these dating sites. Oh, I'm not sure that I actually expected to meet someone, but after spending yet another night watching friends and strangers hug and celebrate the season, it was difficult to slide into my bed in my little room without wondering what it'd be like to be with someone. To have someone next to me. It seemed like it'd been a long time since that had been a reality in my life. This last fiasco had only proved the obvious. Despite my friends, despite my family, I was looking for something more.

I leaned against the cold brick and looked into the clouded night, trying hard not to sigh. Would it always be this way, Lord? I stood there for a long time, listening to the drip of water, the receding laughter of the families next door, and thinking about yet another holiday season alone. For obvious reasons, I knew that I'd made a mistake this past month. It was a subtle thing, but it was something inevitable to all of us. I'd fallen into the "if only" trap. I'd started looking at the people around me, and thinking, "if only."

If only I had a wife, I'd be happy. If only I had a family, I'd be happy.

And while those things were something I desired deeply, I knew that the 'if only' trap was a black hole for real happiness. We poured the contents of our life into it in the hopes of something greater, without realizing the things we'd been given. Three days before Christmas, I'd allowed myself to be led down a road that only led to more pain.

I strolled to the end of the driveway. The family next door called out a greeting and I waved back. Christmas was supposed to be a time to be thankful for what God had given us. It was hard though, not to think about our dreams. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became.

"It's not fair, God. Why am I alone?"

Images danced around in my imagination, and slowly faces began to appear before me. My family. My friends. My housemates. And while I longed for a wife, I'd spent many bitter holidays locked into a relationship that had been so unhappy as to make my current situation pale by comparison. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while I would always hope for that special someone, I'd been blessed with a life that was really quite wonderful.

Perfect, no. But then, life wasn't supposed to be perfect. Rather, it was a journey, a long journey. Better to keep the perspective of a long life, than to heed to the impatient voice of a world that told us we just needed one more thing to be happy.
For so long I'd been raised in a culture that rarely distinguished between want and need. It did, in fact, do whatever it could to blur the lines between the two. But as I began to thank God for all that He'd given me, I realized that I had everything I needed... and so much more. And whether it was spending too much time on dating sites or panging for that new car, there was too much about life that was good to spend time chasing after the wind.

This Christmas, remember that while there will be always be things we desire, the real joy is found in appreciating all that we have. We may not all have a spouse or the perfect spouse, we may not have the family we wanted or a family at all, and our friends may not seem to be the friends we'd always hoped for. But Christmas is a time for second chances; it is a time when we remember that God gave us a second chance. When He showed us just how much He loved us.
My prayer is that this season we will remember not what we've lost, but we've gained. That we'll remember the 'if only' trap is just that, a trap. And that while we've been blessed in so many ways, Christmas is the time when we remember the locus is not on what we've received, but what we give.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


P.S. Special love to my housemates and friends this Christmas. Love you all. :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Five Year End Observations PT I: Includes the Feminized Church, Dating, the Status of Women, and the power of "How are You?"

I apologize for not updating as often I'd like the past two weeks, but I ran into the buzz saw of exams and assignments and a new job, which left little time for some of my other passions. :) I'll be updating three times a week again from here on out.

Year End Observations Part I:

i. I've noticed that I get more emails now than comments. It isn't good or bad, and I love responding to you all, but don't be afraid to drop a comment either. When you notice the comment section is empty, it doesn't mean the section is empty, if you get my drift. The reason I sometimes advocate comments is because I want to encourage you all to be as transparent as possible. Posting allows others to see what you feel, what you're going through, and encourages them to do the same. This is the type of community we all should be striving towards. We all struggle, we all hurt, and when we share our pains and joys with one another, we exist in the manner God intended for us, I think.

ii. I generally have more women readers than men. I've added things to appeal to more guys, but this idea of women being more religious oriented than men has existed for a very long time. As far back as the time of Abraham and the Torah. In the OT, it becomes pretty clear with any careful reading that women tend to be more 'religious-minded' than the men. Early this year I wrote quite extensively about the need for church to gear itself towards men. I still believe that, even more strongly than I did.

iii. There is a strong interest in the evangelical community about the status of women, and the role of women. Some traditionalists (Complimentarians)believe that the role of women is clear and limited. Biblically, they're wrong, and yet they continue to receive strong support, espcially from other women. I heard one woman say on a radio show (Focus on the Family) that her role was "ducking" so that the Holy Spirit could speak to her husband. They ran marriage seminars. I can't think of anything more disturbing than that. Ducking? This woman felt her place was not to talk to her husband when she had problems, but merely to pray. My face just about fell off when I heard that, and so when I mention the status of women as being important, this is why. (For some of you more liberated folks)

The other problem is that too many churches are using the Old Testament to back up their ideas about women. What they don't know is that in the torah, women had more rights than they actually had in Jesus' time. When I say Jesus was a feminist, I'm not being funny. He was. We must interpret Paul through Jesus, and understand that the things Jesus did were completely outrageous. (Receiving support from women for his ministry, talking to the woman at the well, healing the women who touched him) Completely! The OT is continually misrepresented by self-serving men and women who are afraid to take control of their own lives. Forgive me if that sounds harsh, but the Bible isn't always easy. (For those who would like more of a breakdown, send me enough comments/emails and I will write about it)

iv. The dating world is ridiculous. My gender is disgusting and rude, and too many women are going after jerks, thereby rewarding these jerks for their behaviour. There have been moments these past six months where I've sorely wished that I had the gift of singleness, that I didn't want a family, but I do, and so I have become witness to an unbelievable amount of ego and vulnerability and stupidity and meanness. The absurdity of humanity is manifested in the dating world, let me tell you. For those of you who have someone or who are married, STAY THE COURSE! Believe me, you do not want to go back there...

v. The power of "how are you?". Having moved away this past September, I have been both saddened and encouraged by the people who have stayed in touch and those who haven't. They say that all it takes is a move to reveal who your real friends are. And that's true. A number of people never bothered to drop me even a quick email, to see how I was doing, and I can't say it doesn't hurt. It does. But I've been guilty of that in the past as well. I know I've done it. People have moved into new lives and I didn't even think about it. It is amazing, especially when you're in a new environment, what a simple "how are you?" can mean. Our lives are disjointed enough, aren't they? Everywhere we go we see people texting or talking on the phone with one another, and yet the gap of loneliness remains huge. This Christmas, I encourage you to send out five cards or emails to people you haven't talked to in a while, and simply ask how they're doing. I think you'll be surprised how much it means.



Friday, December 14, 2007


She wraps her fingers around the mug. Enjoys the way the warmth spreads through her arms. She hasn't slept a lot lately, not with her exams and outings and the things that come with college life. But this is her last year, so the parties have slowed down. She hasn't thought about much because you don't think it about it much when you're in university.
University is about doing. And agreeing.
She hadn't always thought that way. Not her first year, when the boys and the freedom led her to believe all things were possible. Not in her second year when she worked as a residence counselor, when her experience and quick wit made her the envy of most of the young freshmen. And not even last year, when her profs began to make a little more sense, when she realized just how bright and intelligent they were, and actually started listening.

This year has been different.

He slides into the chair in front of her, and doesn't notice that she's been thinking about serious ideas, or that she's been thinking at all. She watches as he flicks his cell phone open and makes a call. He still hasn't said hello. At the table next to her is a couple of other women slightly older than her. Both of them are on the phone. Music plays in the background. It's jazz, but she doesn't know that. Nor does she know the hundreds of hours of research that have gone into selecting the perfect music to create the perfect ambience for the cafe. She doesn't notice the exact spacing between the tables that allow it to feel like home or that the standard greeting by the people working there has been taught during a rigorous training program.

She's waiting for him to get off the phone.

He's good looking, with his floppy blond hair and chiseled cheeks. Malevolence plays around the corner of his lips. It's not an act but she pretends that it is and calls it cute. He treats her poorly, but occasionally smiles. She calls that "cute", too. In fact, she calls nearly everything she wants "cute".

Nobody listens anyway.

He's off the phone now, and he slides his hand up the inside of her arm. He doesn't say anything, and she doesn't pull away. She likes it. Expects it. She smiles at him, and she gives her sex away when she does, letting him know that he's chosen wisely. He smirks, nods, and than pulls his arm away. He's on the phone again.

They talk for two hours about nothing. He's in politics. When they're done agreeing that they're right, about everything, he slides his hand up her arm and this time sticks his tongue in her mouth. She expects this too, and responds. He leaves, but she'll call him later. And she will.

They met two nights ago.

Her coffee is cold now, and she brings the cup back to the counter. She can't remember drinking it. It doesn't matter. She has beer in the fridge. And vodka. The night will pass.
The air is cold, but she doesn't mind. It's good to walk. The stars are covered tonight, in part at least, by a gray mist. She wishes she could see them. Sometimes she thinks about God. She wonders about the possibility, but has never really explored the idea. Her parents don't go to church. Her mom believes in something. But she doesn't see the point. Why? And why God?
There is a layer of snow on the sidewalk, and it puffs away from her leather boots with every stride. Tomorrow is not really tomorrow. It is simply another today. And it will be filled with the same distractions, the same calls, the same sex (even when it's another boy), the same arguments, the same happiness. She thinks that there is an insanity to life, and than tries to stop thinking about it. Doesn't that make her insane?

The evergreens on the corner of her street are heavy with snow, and she reaches out and knocks the snow off, thrilled when the branch swings upward as if free. She spends the next thirty minutes freeing the branches she can reach. The snow flops into her hair and face and neck and she squeals in delight as the cold and ice trickle down her neck. She examines the tree branches. They have two long slick needles on the end of each bud, and in the darkness, they look like long fingernails. Once, when she was young, she thought about helping animals. Now, she worries about her paycheck on Fridays. Not as a student. But in the future. The number of zeroes will indicate her success or failure in life.

A cat squirts out from under a parked car as she walks past her neighbour's house. Instead of running away however, it stops and looks at her. She bends down, and it slowly approaches her. She holds out her finger. The cat looks at her with its unblinking eyes, and than licks her finger.

She starts to cry.

When did life become so meaningless? Is life only one distraction after another. Her professors, these wise and learned men and women, have told her to live for today. But tomorrow is today and today is absurd. Why do anything? She wished she knew more about God, but she doesn't. She wished that she didn't need boys to like her, but she does. She's not afraid to tell the truth about herself, but she's not sure which truth to tell, because it all seems true.

She pets the cat for a while, enjoys the warmth of the fur beneath her fingers. She looks up at the sky, where the mist has cleared. The stars sparkle like diamonds against the black. They are too far to touch, to smell, to hear, and yet, they are strangely comforting.

She has met so many smart people in her life, but no one has ever really explained the stars. Not really. She's standing outside her house. She can hear the music from inside, her housemates are having a party. She doesn't want to go in. She doesn't want to have the same conversation she just had.

Isn't there more?

She's been told all the reasons why not to believe in God. In truth, she's met some pretty stupid and mean Christians. But still, it isn't the silliness of people she's thinking about. She's thinking about the possibility. About the probability. There are so many distractions in life. We don't call them that, but she knows it to be true. Most of her life is built on distraction -- on TV, on sex, on drama, on school, on work, on money, on clothes, on stuff, on feeling good -- and she's suddenly tired of it all.

"Hey, you coming inside?"

Her friend is calling her.


"You okay."


The door closes as she sits in the snow bank. They think she's drunk. Maybe she is. She's decided to wait, and see if she can find God. If she can find hope. because if she can't, well, what's the point?

Tomorrow is today.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Lament (It's Okay to be Sad)

I slipped and nearly lost my balance as I struggled up the hill. The rain pelted down and slapped across my face, melting the snow until the street and sidewalk filled like tiny riverbeds, the ice glistening beneath it. Each step seemed smaller than the last, my feet squishing into puddles, the wind blowing and pushing against me. I shouldn't have come out, but a late walk usually helped when I couldn't sleep. A time to pray and reflect on the day and on life. Tonight however, my thoughts slipped and skidded into a seemingly unavoidable sadness. What worried me was that I'd been sad quite a bit this past month. I'd begun to worry about my faith. What did it say about me that the days were longer than I was used to, that even as I learned and grew, the days had not grown shorter? If anything, the more I prayed and thought about this crazy world, about life, the times of sadness had increased.

When I'd first become a Christian, and than rededicated my life to God so many years ago, no one had warned me about this. In fact, I'd been taught just the opposite. I'd been taught that God would help me, that my life would straighten out, that Jesus would fix things. The essence of my testimony was the simple efficacy of my own life. In other words, the better things were for me, the better God looked. I'd learned the hard way however, that while too many Christians clung to this unbiblical idea, I'd found many like myself, lonely sojourners who believed in God, who clung to His goodness, and yet witnessed the depth of despair not only in their own life, but the lives around them. And tonight, I worried again. How far had I drifted that such sadness had become a larger part of me?

I looked up at the heavens, but the sky was little more than a grey mist, the empty street shimmering under the dim lights, the quiet unbroken but for the sound of the rain. I'd walked full circle around the block, and now I slid and staggered down the hill. A bus chugged and than hissed to a stop beside me. I hadn't realized I was near a bus stop. I looked, but it was empty, and I backed away from the curb and waved to the driver. I saw her smile under the faint glow of green lights from inside the bus as she waved back and pulled away. I watched until it had disappeared down the street, and made my way across the deserted road. The brief human contact made me smile and than sigh. I was tired. To say that the last month had been difficult for me would not be doing it justice. I'd been shattered and broken a thousand times, or so it seemed.

"I don't get it, Lord. I don't get it." I said, muttering as the rain began to fall harder. "I love you, but I can't say I understand. Why is this so hard? Aren't things supposed to get easier?"

There was no response but the wind and rain and crisp wet smell of grass and cement. I'd received so many emails the past few months from people experiencing the same kind of lament, exasperated by their struggle and uneven faith and times of sadness. Many of them had been taught as I had, that we served God because He made our lives better.
I would never teach that again, I thought as I turned on to my street. As much as I loved God, I would never recommend His pursuit if you were looking for a better life or a quick fix.
"Prepare for sorrow." I said to myself as I unlocked the door to my house and stepped inside. Yes. That would be my motto. Prepare for sorrow.

There is a sense, certainly within evangelical circles, of this idea that God makes things better. That the good Christian is a happy Christian. The subtle infection of a marketing culture is at work here. (It looks better for the church to expand if we all look like we're happy.) And the logic, at first blush, seems un-impugnable. Why would anyone go to our church if people were sad? People are already sad. They need something to make them feel happy, don't they?

Yes. That's why we have Oprah. And Dr. Phil. Unlike our self-help gurus, God's role in Creation is not to make us 'happy'. But the role of truth, of God's Ultimate Truth, is to make us see. To see the world for how it really is, to see what really matters, to see Creation in all of its fullness and darkness. That is the purpose of our faith. What makes this so important is that people stay away from God because we are too busy trying to give the world a fresh gloss of paint, to hand people "rose-colored" glasses as it were, so when they walk into a church so they no longer see the filth and dirt and tragedy all around them. The role of faith is exactly the opposite. God wants us to see it, to face it head on, to wrestle with it.

If we cannot see the tragedy of life, we cannot see God.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites had special prayers of lament that were part of their worship. Psalms 3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 22, 25-28, 38-40, 42-43, 51, 54-57, 59, 61, 64, 69-71, 86, 88, 102, 108, 109, 120, 130, 139-143 are considered tepilla, Psalms of Individual Lament. I list them here only to reveal that this idea of sadness in the life of faith is not normal, but necessary. Maybe this is partly why so many Christians struggle today. They have forgotten the importance of sorrow; they believe that somehow their sadness is a reflection on their own sin, their own lack of faith, on their own inability to be a better person, to do a better job exemplifying God in their life.

That is a great lie, and the implications are staggering.

Walter Brueggerman (an Old Testament scholar) suggests that the loss of lament within the church has been extremely costly. He suggests that our relationship with God loses reality when we lose the ability to lament, to be sad, to ask questions, to cry out, to struggle. I agree.

It is our sadness that testifies to the reality of our relationship with God, not our happiness.
It means we have brought our real selves before God, that we have looked upon the tragedies and heartache of the world and our life and have wrestled with them, that we have truly entered into a relationship with Him. And somehow, the ability to lament, to cry out... makes our lives real. And gives God a chance to move. When we see the world for how it really is, sadness is inevitable, but in our lament, somehow, sin some way, God gives us joy. (Psalm 73) And to explain it, is well, it cannot be explained. But to exclude sadness from the core of our faith is to misunderstand what faith is, and where God meets us.

It's cold out tonight. An icy wind rips across the front steps and I tuck my hands deep into my pockets. The clear night sky seems fresh, and the stars seem to shine as I turn my face to the heavens. For the past two hours, I have been unable to stop thinking about the importance of lament, of sadness. I have been unable to stop thinking about so many who have written me this past year about the struggle of life, and the guilt they have felt with acknowledging their struggle. The idea of "perpetual happiness" creates torment in our lives, and it undercuts the very nature of a real relationship with God. It is not only okay to be sad, but it is the very fabric of our humanity upon which God reveals His great love for us.

God wants us to lament, and my prayer for you is that you will no longer hide. That you will no longer hide your worries and anger and sadness. That you will no longer be afraid to present yourself as who you are to the One who made you. Life is hard, and there will be days when we wonder if God even cares. But the only way we will ever truly see Him is if we present Him with not only our joy and thanksgiving, but our lament as well.

"O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes."

-Psalm 6:1-7


Sunday, December 02, 2007


The snow falls lightly out of the darkness, a few flakes at a time, as if unsure where it should land. It floats in front of the streetlights and then disappears somewhere onto the quiet street. I sip my coffee, thankful that the icy wind that has ripped through the city the past few days has disappeared. I am puzzled by the strange sense of contentment that lifts and sighs through my emotions, but I don't question it. For once, I am able to be thankful without analysis, which is as much a gift as any other. A car heads slowly towards the house, and I wait until it passes before turning my face upward to watch the snow dance in the pale light.

It's almost midnight, and even as I sip my coffee my mind thinks back to another time, a time long ago, when another race of people waited on heaven's precipitation. Only it wasn't snow they were waiting for, and it wasn't for the scenery or sense of peace that their eyes would turn anxiously to the heavens each night. Their story has been told many times, the story of the Israelites and their journey out of Egypt, but we have been hard on them, especially here in North America. In particular, we have mocked their 'lack of faith' at God's provision.

I remember the first time I heard the story of manna, and my disdain for the Israelites. How could they not trust God? Hadn't He just proven Himself (by ten plagues) that He was real? Hadn't He led them out of Egypt? Even now, I can't help but shake my head at my arrogance. If that had been me, what would I have done? Would I have been as faithful?

The snow has begun to fall harder, and it gathers on my coat and hat with a quiet rustle even as I'm drawn back, to a time when snow wasn't snow, a time when it meant so much more.

The Israelites had just left Egypt, a struggling new nation that had grown from its roots as a nomadic tribe into burgeoning peoplehood nearly three million strong. They'd watched in both awe and disbelief as first clouds and fire had hidden them from the Egyptian warriors, and then later as the wind and rains had swept away the Egyptian army upon crossing the Red Sea. God was clearly on their side, or so it seemed.

The days were long however, and while free from their chains, the concept of freedom was nearly as difficult to grasp as freedom itself. The nights were cold, and the days were hot as they marched onward, endlessly, trudging to nowhere. Food was scarce, too. The desert was arid, and there little in the way of farming or game. Finally, Moses took their cries to Yahweh, and Yahweh answered.

Every morning the ground was covered in white flakes, thin wafers that tasted like honey. The people were given a warning however, not to collect more than a day's worth of food. Some of them tried, and it rotted and produced maggots. Instead, they were forced to wait on God, wait for the Almighty to deliver this strange bread. Every morning. One day at a time.

I can only imagine what it must have been like, to wait every night for this miracle, to wait until the morning dew had passed to prepare their breakfast. I have heard some thundering sermons about the Israelites in this story, about their lack of faith, about their inability to grasp just how much God had done for them. But I can't imagine being in their shoes. We do everything we can here in North America to not trust God. We put our faith in RRSP's, retirement plans, bonds, stocks, bank accounts, psychiatrists, medecines, self help books, Jesus prayers, formula worship, worship CD's, everything we can think of to avoid trusting in Yahweh Himself. Those things aren't necessarily bad, and sometimes God uses them to help meet our needs, but the call to a dependent, daily relationship echoes through the story of Exodus to today. It echoes through to me.

The snow is thick now, and it blows across my face like a white sheet. The street glows bright under the streetlamps and for a minute I hear the strains of Christmas carols from a house across the street before it is quiet once again. Just the feel of the snow on my face and the heavy crunch beneath my boots.

I am learning to depend on God more than ever these days, learning that there is something inherently biblical about leaning on Him for my day to day needs. There are days when, like the Israelites and the rest of humanity, I want to stock up my bank account and squirrel away my future so that no one else can have it. But there's a tie, I think, between the amount we trust God and the clinging, grasping hold on our possessions. The more we cling, the more we provide our own security, the less our need to rely on God. Maybe that's why it is so difficult for us to relate to those who don't have, why we still cling to this idea that people just need to work harder if they want security.

I'm not advocating bad stewardship, but I wonder we spent our money a little more unwisely so that from time to time at least we would have to go to God for help, (and not just for our financial needs -- but for everything) that would be okay with Him. Better that than the presumption that we can look after ourselves or that we deserve it because we're disciplined and poor people are not or that the only lives that matter are our own.

I head back up the driveway. Some of the snow finds its way onto my neck, as I adjust my hood. I stop at the stoop and hunch forward, watching as the snow swirl across the lights. The more I read the Bible, the more I am impressed that these were people like us. Like me. I take heart in their weaknesses because they are my weaknesses too. Mostly however, I draw confidence in the One who showed that He would always be there, so long as we are willing to call upon His name.

May God remind us this week that God longs to give us our daily bread, that He longs for our company and time, and that no matter where we are, we have only to ask to find His provision.