faith, Poem

Shame to Seed

God loves you with a love that cannot be earned and therefore cannot be lost

Randy Alcorn

Man balled up in self-judgement, with a beautiful flower growing from his back, not yet fully in bloom.

Shame to Seed

My shames themselves a shame
I roll myself, a ball of blame
In knots entangled
I lie, self-strangled

And Gods, They look on
so patient to loose this noose –
my very own notion,
a home-brewed and poisonous potion

I wrestle myself in fits, to wilt
and Gods say,

Forgive this whom you’ve Humanly built

My eyes shutter at their full reflection
and Gods say,

No,
You look up now
see Our beauty, flowering flaws
We planted you just so, you see,
so see how you twist as you grow –
the bloom is still in disguise
so lovingly you’ve been buried, to rise


Our children in this Garden of Boundless Grace
You are never in races to reach for your Sun
In this Garden of Ours, for every last One –

Let Us rest, in repose and mysterious wonder
and watch as Our Garden grows brilliant and tall

from the dark and dirt and struggles thereunder.


Poem Shame to Seed by B.B. Butterwell to public domain with CC0 1.0 Universal

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faith

Sunday Reflection, 2022-07-10

Following up about a service I had the privilege to present, I am happy to say it went well and my laptop didn’t fail me and I enjoyed speaking publicly, which is another thing I often doubted I’d ever do.

I’ve wondered whether it was necessary to share the words I put together online as well, or just leave them entirely ephemeral, having been written for the purpose of being delivered out loud, to a small group, and then to fade away. Maybe that’s where sermons get their power from: everything is for that present moment, and not for posterity. I don’t know.

I was fine leaving the words hang and then disperse, but then I have been trying to not let second-guessing rule my life this month, and so I thought I would share this particular reflection here, in case it’s of use. I like calling it a reflection rather than a sermon, since I have no credentials, and the word sermon has a different meaning to me.

If you happen across this while trying to put together a sermon or reflection of your own, feel free to use whatever parts of this make your job easier – I have benefitted from the words of many strangers myself, while trying to put my own thoughts together for these things, so I would be happy to pay it forward, in some small way.

I would probably edit a few parts, were the service still upcoming, but this is what I got around to preparing in time for the day.

I had these words at the top of my service cheat sheet, to remind me to slowww dowwwnn… something I was given very kind and helpful feedback about, following my previous service:

BREATHE AND DON’T RUSH.
NOTHING IS NOT ON FIRE.

The reflection was preceded by the following verses:
Matthew 7:1-5
Colossians 1:7-14


The topic of this reflection is judgement.

SPOILER ALERT: I have to admit up front, I don’t come to any tidy conclusion about judgement by the end of this reflection. It’s a big topic and my capacity to judge well is a work in progress. I’ll just share my thoughts from these past two weeks, and pray that I have exercised good judgement in putting these words together for you, today.

[The Underlying Worry]

There were four recommended readings for today:

  • Amos 7:7-17
  • Psalm 82 (or the Psalm of Asaph)
  • Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:1-14
  • Luke 10:25-37 (the story of the Good Samaritan)

I wanted to choose from one of these recommended readings, but I was unsure which one to pick. I wanted to choose wisely, and then maybe say something helpful and wise.

I worried that I might fail to do this well. That I might write something boring or too long, or too short, or off-topic.

I worried that I might misinterpret the scriptures, or consult bad resources online, and then say something flat-out wrong-headed, counter-productive, or misleading.

I worried that God would judge me for misquoting His book, or the congregation might judge me for wasting your time.

I worried that I shouldn’t be talking about myself and my own problems quite so much, when I’m supposed to be talking about God, and what God might want.

I worried about a lot of things that I might do wrong.

I had started judging my own performance before I had even begun to perform. I was failing in a handful of imaginary ways already, and I hadn’t even written a single word. I had worried myself into a corner, and judged myself prematurely, as unlikely to succeed.

I had an uphill battle to contend with, and it was of my own making: I had been judged unfairly. Never mind that it had been me doing the judging. I was the victim and the perpetrator.

To be plain, I have some anxiety issues! At the start of this month, my worrying about everything in the world and judging myself too harshly finally came to a head, when I realized that I was both worried about worrying too much, and also worried about worrying too little, or about the wrong things.

Was I being too anxious, or too careless? I couldn’t even tell anymore. My worries had tied themselves entirely into a knot. I was tangled up, and didn’t know what to worry about anymore.


[The Experiment]

A new month had just started, so I decided to try an experiment, for my own peace of mind, and the peace of mind of those around me. For the month of July, I was going to behave differently in some way, and then expect different results. This seemed to make sense. I had to somehow address my relationship with worry, self-doubt, and self-judgement, and I needed to do it kindly, and with God’s guidance.

So I made up some rules, and I kept them simple, but that isn’t to say they haven’t been challenging:

RULE #1: No coffee – caffeine is said to make people jittery, and I could use a little less of that.

RULE #2: No judging myself for being fallible and imperfect, because that’s what I am.

RULE #3: Have Faith that things will improve, because they can improve.

These items were my homework for July, and still are.

So I decided to believe that God would clear a path for me through the month of July, while I put my head down and proceeded to do these three things, to calm myself down, and let myself off the hook. I could put down the burden of being my own judge, if only for a few days, and practice believing that God still had my back, while I did it, and wouldn’t judge me for trying something different.

I’m ten days into my experiment. I’m happy to report that the no-coffee thing has been manageable. Tim Hortons does a passable green tea, and I have no real complaints.

Faith is going to be a struggle my whole life, I’m already aware of that; that seems to be its nature – it’s like a muscle, it’s never done needing some exercise, it’s often put to the test, and sometimes it gets mighty sore.

It’s the no-judgement challenge that has been most perplexing, and the thing I want to say a bit more about, because a common theme running through the scripture recommendations for today, which stands out to me this month, is the big topic of judgement.


[Judgement]

Once I had given myself the permission to not judge myself for a whole month, I soon realized that I would have to extend that courtesy to others as well. This seemed only fair. I wouldn’t judge myself, or anybody else either. We’re all in this together.

It became apparent very quickly how much I do both of these things – judging myself, and judging others – and how hard it is to stop. I’ve found myself pumping the brakes frequently these past few days when I notice that I’m starting to judge somebody, for something or another.

Judgement feels like a weight on my spirit – it adds its own momentum as I move through the day. It drags and pushes me around, it directs how I’m going to feel next, it gets my heart rate up, it follows old routes of negative thinking, as it hauls out well-worn maps, telling stories about myself and other people, and all their problems.

Judgement chips away at my freedom to choose, because it chooses for me.

When I judge, it’s the stories I’m telling that are in control of where I’m going. At least, until I pump the brakes.

What might I achieve with all that opportunity and energy and freedom, if I could kick the habit of judging myself and others? I would have time and space for other things, wouldn’t I? What would that feel like? I had never really thought to try this before, so I don’t really know.

Judging can seem like a natural and proper thing to do, if you don’t think about it too hard – to respond to what somebody does by passing a judgement about that behaviour, and therefore, that person – well, that’s just natural, isn’t it? If you behave badly in somebody’s eyes, expect them to judge you for it.

But can it be just as natural and proper, to not respond to a person’s behaviour by judging them? I don’t know yet how natural that might feel.

Try this experiment when you go home, if you’d like: Try getting through one day without judging anybody – not yourself, not your partner or your family, not your neighbour, not the stranger you met in traffic this morning, not the politician you’ve come to thoroughly dislike, or the protester you powerfully disagree with… not even your perceived worst enemy. Can you just decide not to judge them at all, for one day? Can you stop judging yourself as well, as a reward for doing that?

Can you stop telling the stories of people’s shortcomings for a single day?

I can’t, I admit. But I’ve only been practicing for a few days, and I’m curious to see how I’ll feel about this by the end of the month. Maybe I’ll be better at not judging by then. Maybe it will even begin to feel natural. Maybe I’ll extend the experiment into August, and then who knows?


[What does the Bible say?]

When considering the readings, and how they might provide some insight into this July challenge, I can see a few kinds of judgement at work in the Bible:

One is the kind we mean when we say, use your best judgement – like in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, where he prays that they, in his words, through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding, reach the fullest knowledge of God’s will; or in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus challenges a lawyer to judge which of the three characters who encounter the injured man turns out to be that man’s true neighbour.

This kind of judgement is about discerning truth, by using one’s heart, mind, and what they believe about God’s will – that is, what is right – to evaluate a situation, and come to a good decision. It’s imperfect, because we are imperfect, and don’t have all the facts – but we can get better, though practice.

Another kind of judgement happens quite often in the Bible – God’s judgement of humankind. This comes in the form of consequences, admonishments, and warnings, such as Amos’s visions of God’s plumb-line, which he hold up to us, to measure how rightly we’re living, or whether we’re leaning this way or that; or the Psalm of Asaph, where God gets critical of those he’s entrusted to positions of authority over others, for how their judgements, ostensibly made in God’s name, have become corrupted.

To Christians, this kind of judgement – judgement of humans – is naturally reserved for God alone, since God alone is the author of the rules of right and wrong, and no mortal can be above those, or have the perfect knowledge to know for certain who it is they are judging, and what their own prejudices might be bringing into their judgement.

And then there is the judgement of others and oneself, which Jesus warns about in the Sermon on the Mount, when he famously says, Judge not, that ye not be judged.

In reading more online about this famous statement by Jesus, I was warned against making the common mistake of misinterpreting this statement to mean that no-one should ever judge anyone else for anything. That’s not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not saying, never judge what a person does.

And this is where the challenge of avoiding judgement gets harder – when is it proper – or even called for – to judge yourself, or another? When is it not proper to do so? Is there a way to tell for sure? I need to know, in order to do my experiment correctly. How do I judge what is the right way to judge?

It might be a distinction between judging someone’s being and judging someone’s behaviour. Maybe that’s the key difference.


[Judging vs. Judgement]

Making a judgement about your being, as an imperfect being myself, is a bit self-righteous and presumptuous of me – It ignores all the blind spots that I don’t even know I might have. Who am I to judge your inherent worth, or character, regardless of what I think of your words or actions?

Judging my behaviour is something you might be trusted to do, provided you, in Paul’s words, through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding, reach the fullest knowledge of God’s will. In other words, if you’re being sufficiently fair and informed about it, there’s nothing un-biblical about you judging my behaviour to be in need of adjustment. You might even be called on to tell me so: Mike, Smarten up, stop doing donuts in the parking lot, somebody could get hurt.

I don’t see anything wrong with that kind of judging others – it’s their actions, not their spirit, that you have an issue with.

It’s a mystery to me how we achieve that fullest knowledge of God’s will, but for Christians anyhow, we’re meant to glean them by considering Jesus’s lessons as best we can.

When do we have the right and responsibility to judge another’s behaviour? Certainly when they are breaking the law, provided the law is just and sensible . Certainly when their actions endanger themselves or others. Certainly when their actions impinge on the human rights of others. Beyond those things, I must admit, I just don’t know. Who am I to judge?

When do we have a right to judge another’s being? We don’t – that’s not our right, or our burden.

[Conclusion]

I have no tidy conclusion to make about judgement today, but my encounter with scripture during this exercise has forced me to reconsider what constitutes using good judgement in evaluating a situation, which can include the actions of others, and what constitutes being just plain judgemental.

Being less quick to judge seems like a wise move, in the absence of perfect understanding.

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faith, Poem

What to Do When Honestly Blue

When I say I’m stressed, people tune out and go away –
so when I’m stressed, what should I honestly say?
When I feel I that should say I’m through,
what then should I honestly do?

Am I wrong in how I feel
or just wrong in the ways I deal?


I had a good and at times contentious talk with one of the old fellers at Tim’s this morning. I’ve noticed something about this particular one – if I start in on how I’m stressed, he gets up and leaves, or changes the subject.

Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe it’s a weird kind of lesson from an elder – maybe it’s a mentor thing. Maybe they don’t need to hear about my woes, maybe that stresses them out. I don’t know.

All I know is the world is stressed these days, and I’m not any more entitled to talk about my stress than anyone else, really. I might be less entitled than many, but no more entitled than most.

So I wrote this poem as the old feller was beating a retreat for the coffee shop door. I started to tell him how my stress is getting to me, and he didn’t want to hear it, or didn’t have time. That’s OK. I probably need to think positive thoughts. That makes more sense.

Also, maybe I’m not that that stressed. Not enough to burden anyone else with it. Maybe my stress is manageable. It’s more manageable than it could be. I wrote a poem. I managed something.

You might find yourself wanting to tell somebody that you could be feeling better, really. To have them nod and look empathetic and concerned, and say, that must be hard, I hear you. You have a right to feel that way. Things could be worse for you, with both know, but I know things could be better too. They will be, I promise you.

Maybe that’s the situation you find yourself in – wanting to tell somebody that you’d like them to tell you things will be better, even if they could also be worse. To tell you it’s OK to be self-indulgent now and then, and feel a little tired of struggling, even if you have no intention of giving up the struggle.

This poem is for you, from me. I know what it’s like, a little bit, to feel lucky and still beleaguered; to feel stressed but to still know that so many others feel that way too; to wish things could be better, while understanding they could still be worse. To wonder what you’re allowed to say about all of this.

For what it’s worth, I hear you. I promise you, your days will get better, even if things could be worse.

Keep walking forward, believe in the better days, just beyond the bend. I won’t mind if you grumble a bit as you go.

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faith

Lettered Betters, Part IV

About Sowing, from Frontline Study, with Rev. Fritz Holtz

My Lettered Better today is Rev. Fritz Holtz, because I found a post by him about being a good communicator, while I was trying to solve a puzzle.

I’ve been asked to give another service at the local church. I’ve done this twice now, it’s not something I ever imaged, 2 years ago, I’d ever do. I’m not really a church person. I was baptized in a church, I was made to go to church growing up (mostly regularly, our family wasn’t too strict on the whole thing), and I’ve believed in God most of my life – all of my life, if you count when I was trying to be an atheist, and couldn’t quite figure that out.

I’m not a church person. I don’t know the terms and the histories and the underlying meanings and the protocols and all of that. It’s a real mystery. Sometimes people around me in church reveal a knowledge of specifics that seem to come to them naturally – that is, they have been “in church” for long enough to Know Things.

Like, for example, what the term “Proper 10” means. I was kindly sent a cheat sheet to help me prepare the upcoming service – picking from a selection of scriptures, and then reflecting upon those. The cheat sheet’s title reads:

July 10 – Fifth after Pentecost
Proper 10

Well, OK. Thanks for the cheat sheet. What the heck is a Proper 10? Maybe I need to know that, to do the best job I can. Sometimes I cut corners and don’t do all my work as thoroughly as I can – this is a busy life, after all, and one must pick their battles – but then other times, I like to try and do something close to a thorough job. Like trying to understand the context I am about to step into, and comment on. What is a Proper 10?

I could have asked the person who sent me the cheat sheet, but then that would be cheating. I’m only going to cheat once on this assignment, and I have the sheet already. I Googled it, of course: Proper 10.

Admittedly, I didn’t try for that long, and I actually used DuckDuckGo, but still, I didn’t get any immediate answers, just more writing that presumably goes along with whatever Proper 10 is. I did not yet consult Wikipedia- I wanted to see what a generic search would do. I’ll Wikipedia Proper 10 now:

Nope, no love. Wikipedia couldn’t care less about Proper 10. How about actual Google (sorry, DuckDuckGo):

Whaa

Uh, I don’t know. Year C? Ordinary 15 B? Do I have to look up what a lectionary is? I could, but then I’d have to learn even more words – I just know it. It’s a trap of words.

How about Bing? Maybe this is what Bing is for.

Anyway, Proper 10 is a Christian thing and everybody who is a real Christian either knows this secret information, or is pretending to know. Maybe we all forgot. It’s a date, or an event, or something. Fine. Is there a Proper 9? There is. 11? Yup. 18, also yes. There is no Proper 180. I mean, skateboarders might beg to differ, but you get what I’m getting at. I’m going to do some process of elimination, give me a minute. Switching to StartPage

[typing sounds]

My inconclusive conclusion is that there are 29 Propers, Christian-wise. That’s as far as I’m going with that. What does Sowing God’s word have to do with this, anyway? I don’t know.

My search for the answer led me to the Internet, which led me to sermons and thoughts about Proper 10, rather than the definition I was looking for. Rev. Fritz’s blog was just one of those, and the one I chose to click on. I enjoyed the post.

Maybe what I needed wasn’t knowledge about proper 10 anyway. Rev. Fritz, on behalf of his wife, tells me this: We are all sowers. Nothing more, nothing less. He means, I think, that we have to speak truth, as best we can, and what follows from that is really out of our hands. We are called to speak truly to each other, but we are off the hook, as far as how our words matter to those who hear them.

It doesn’t matter, I guess, what Proper 10 means. I’ve decided instead to ask the congregation if anybody can tell me. Maybe that will provide something to the service that I can’t, on my own. Otherwise, I’m going to just speak plainly about what I struggle with, understanding scripture, and try and say a true and hopeful thing. I’ll ask God for help in doing this well.

And then I won’t worry about all the things I don’t understand, and all the things that are not mine to control. All it takes is one seed somewhere, and you just can’t know what might come next.

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Uncategorized

Thoughts in Church

I’m blogging from church. Nobody’s here yet except me. I have maybe three to five minutes before the next early bird arrives. I’m sitting in the front pew – which is something I never do.

I was given a key in order to help with the church’s website. It’s on Wix. What a holy mess it was. I fixed it up a bit. I joined the choir, though my answer to the question, “Do you know this hymn? Surely you know this one.” is almost always, “Sorry, no. I’ll follow along.”

I am a church-goer. Jesus knows how much and how little faith I have in the particulars, on any given Sunday. I’ve never had the door closed on my face though – even if Jesus had that power to close it. In fact, I was given a key (see above).

There’s a meeting after service today with a consultancy, which is in the business of helping small congregations which are only getting smaller as time goes on try and figure out how to pivot, in church-like fashion. What would Jesus do with a gradually emptying building? He never owned buildings. Maybe that’s the answer, I don’t know.

I’m looking forward to the meeting, because I enjoy problem-solving. Say a prayer for this small group of people that we can navigate the coming years and do something good for the community which surrounds us.

Have a great Sunday,

BB

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Decision

Fear in Succeeding

I’m over a dozen chapters into “my book” now, and the characters and their issues are becoming important to me. They are an investment in time and effort and as they move forward, I am feeling responsible for doing right by them. Right now, I’m hovering at an important chapter and I’m afraid to start it. What if I start the first sentence with the wrong word, and then that leads to the wrong first paragraph, and then by the end of the first page, my book has gone somewhere other than where it should have gone? Because I started with the wrong word, maybe because I had a coffee instead of a tea, or because I watched Youtube videos last night until one in the morning, instead of getting a bit more sleep.

How do writers ensure they write their best thing, rather than their second-best or seventh-best thing? How do they know when to write and when not to write?

I started writing this story as a challenge to just get words out in some sort of volume within some time frame. This meant I succeeded as long as I hit a word count by a certain date. The story didn’t need to be great – it needed to be readable enough and of a certain length. This freed me up to not care about writing my best stuff at all times… but it was a trap! Once I was several chapters in, I wanted the story to be good, and to continue being as good as I could make it, no matter how many words, over what period of time.

I now have all the time in the world to procrastinate on chapter 15 if I want, because the word-count challenge is over. I succeeded at that. Chapter 15 can remain unwritten for a year, if I want to leave it that long. Or I can start it right now, and force it out by the end of the day. I can write it and then throw it away and then start again, a dozen times. There is no measure of success except the ones I choose. Even joining the word count challenge was just a choice.

I’m afraid of ruining my characters’ stories now. I don’t know how to measure that.

The only insight I can offer into my own question is that a book can’t write itself. I have to start typing, and then something will come out, and whatever that is will be a product of what I’ve put into myself lately: Youtube videos, muffins, coffee, exercise, anxiety, hope. The book is not separate from me at all, but an extension. The characters as well. My job as a writer is to make them their own, as best I can, but really they are still just projections of what I’m thinking and feeling and learning as I write. What else could they be? This means I can try controlling where it will all go, but those plans of mine may only take me so far – at some point, my day-to-day life will take the wheel, and the characters’ lives will be steered in new directions.

For example, Chapter 13 only happened because of something that was going on in my life during that particular week. But chapter 13 became a major insight into one of the secondary characters – the mother of the protagonist. Something not entirely under my control, happening in my own life, has clarified something very important about my book’s main character, right about when the book maybe needed that to happen. This changes everything going forward, hopefully for the better. What would have happened to my character’s backstory, and therefore future, had something altogether different happened to me that week?

I’m talking about something anyone who has written a book likely already understands. There’s nothing new here: write what you know. That’s what they say. I never really understood what this meant, but maybe this is what it meant: don’t pretend to be somebody else, when you’re writing. It doesn’t mean you have to know how to cast magic spells, in order to write about wizards; that’s not what write what you know means. I think it just means, let your own life into your writing. Then your writing can have real life.

Notice I’ve not spent this morning writing chapter 15 – I’m writing about not writing chapter 15 quite yet. I’m excited and nervous. I want these characters to overcome and to grow beyond what they started out being. What do they need me to experience next, for these things to happen for them? If they are extensions of me, then maybe the answer is simpler than I think. What do I need to do right now? My legs want to go for a walk. So I guess that’s what I’ll do. Chapter 15 will happen when it happens. When else could it possibly happen?

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Information, Uncategorized

Ghost, Writing

I have been invited by somebody quite close to me to share my speculative fiction story on their blog thing. Since the story is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, this seems entirely, legally appropriate, and so that is what I’m agreeing to do. They are not paying me any money for this. If you knew us both, you would understand that this is no problem.

I have several chapters written already, and more than several more to write yet, before anyone at all might choose to call it a proper book – but that’s certainly how it might someday look.

Unless I get hit by a bus first. But then, somebody else could just keep writing it, so I think we’re OK.

If you’d like to read it, go here: https://wimselloop.wordpress.com/2022/06/05/wkuf-ch00/

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Opinion, Wonder

Fundraising

I happen to know this person who knows this other person who is in love with another person and is a father to yet one more, smaller person. All of these people live in mostly different places, and some of them want to live in the same place and others would like for that to happen too, and maybe visit someday with the others, who by then would no longer be apart, but together, and wouldn’t that be lovely.

I believe that it will.

https://fundrazr.com/digital_dad

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Activism, Letters

Squeaky Wheels

Case # CAS-1331776-W1J8R0

Dear BB;

I am so sorry to hear about the 80s hair metal music being played at our [REDACTED] location. I can understand how frustrating this must be to experience when you would like to relax and read in the restaurant. We take this kind of feedback to heart and appreciate you for bringing this matter to our attention.

I assure you that we will follow up at the restaurant level to ensure your concerns are addressed and corrective measures are taken. We always appreciate hearing from our valued guests.  

I would also like to offer to add rewards points to your Tim Hortons Rewards Card for the value of a Hot Coffee or Tea of your choosing. Please reply to confirm the email address associated with your Tims Rewards Account so that we can add the points.

It is through feedback from valued guests, such as yourself, that we are able to continually improve our level of service, quality and cleanliness.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to help and thanks for being a valued Tim Hortons guest!

Best,
Rachel
Tim Hortons Guest Services

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A/B, Animals, faith, Opinion

Dogs

God,

You sent us dogs so that on mornings when we might decide to hide out by sleeping in, we instead must walk the dog – the one who might otherwise need to take a poo on the kitchen floor.

They get us out our own front door – and that is what best friends are for.

Amen, and thanks again for all the dogs,

B.B.

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