Living with Pain and the Messiness of Life

Yesterday I had a tooth extracted.  Pretty painless actually and the dental office did everything possible to make it even less painful.  I was offered general anaesthetic but opted for local – after all it was only a 20 minute procedure and generals can have complications.  That saved me $500.  I even refused the laughing gas – again it didn’t seem worth it just so that I could forget about the discomfort of having local injected.  I did take the vicadon I was given afterwards but then wished I hadn’t when the rest of the day receded into a fog.

Last night Tom was reading The Economist, becoming more and more depressed as he read about the impact of climate change and the devastation of deforestation.  A place to mourn and a place that it is easy to become overwhelmed.

Then I came across this great article on Claudio Oliver’s blog

Even without knowing why, a huge number of people around the world, especially youth, feel the inclination and desire to reclaim basic human activities like cooking, sewing, walking, biking, educating children, planting and building. Like an uncontrollable urge, – and even though the masses has been pasteurized toward dehumanization and simple activities of consumption – it has become common to see people trying to make bread, cycling and planting something in their gardens. A distant memory, a kind of dull ache is calling, and many are seeking and finding here and there – in books, free courses, in informal conversations – a way to redeem their humanity.  Read the entire post

So what is the connection between these stories.  Well for me they raised the question: Why do we want life to be painless, and convenient even when it costs us money, time and sometimes even our humanity and the health of our planet?

Part of the reason is that we have bought into a life that has very little to do with reality and even less to do with the life that God intends for us.  Our focus is on creating a comfortable place for ourselves and not on creating a place of comfort and abundance for all God’s creatures.

I am still reading Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Educating for Shalom. This is not a book that you can read quickly and then discard.  And today I came across a section that helped put all of this in perspective for me.  Wolterstorff talks about the fact that in order to move towards the ideal shalom community there are four ways basic places in which we need to engage:

  1. We are called to engage in the endeavor and struggle to bring shalom – modelling it where possible and being instruments of shalom where we see it lacking.  In words we are called to both act justly ourselves and work against injustice.
  2. We are called to pray for shalom recognizing that God’s reign of peace and justice is in many ways in God’s hands not ours.
  3. We are invited to savour, to enjoy, and to celebrate shalom wherever we see it breaking into our world.
  4. We are invited to mourn the shortfalls of shalom in our world.

When I disconnect from own pain and of the pain others suffer, when I live a life of convenience and comfort rather than engaging in the creative productivity God intends me to, I am disconnecting from God’s dream for shalom. My own pain makes me aware that others suffer far more than I will ever suffer.  And becoming aware of the growing movement towards making rather than consuming gives me hope.  Making something – a meal, a garden, a new sweater – are all ways to express the God given creativity that is central to who God has made us to be.  And it excites me because I see that God is very definitely at work transforming and renewing, giving us glimpses of that incredible shalom world we all long for.


Solar Lamps, Solar walkways, Solar Cities

I am a huge fan of solar energy though I realize that it too, like all forms of energy has its problems so I am always looking out for new and innovative ways to use it.  So  this morning I thought I would share some that I have come across recently.

Kerosene fumes in huts kill 1.5 million people each year in Africa.  Indoor fires can be even more devastating exposing mainly women and children to pollution that is equivalent to smoking 2 -3 packets of cigarettes a day.

Now D Light Design, the developers of a solar lamp that aims to replace kerosene-burning lights in developing countries have very deservedly won a prestigious environmental award.  D Light Design says its lanterns, which sell for $10-45 (£7-30), contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions. Read the story here

And I loved this story on how to make your own solar powered walkway too.  Though as the author mentions there is a downside to having a glowing path in front of your house and visible from the street:

it seems to draw in weirdos like moths to a flame. I have on two separate occasions gone out of my garage for a smoke and caught someone on the path–one guy was just standing there staring, and one lady (who was in her forties and clearly on LSD or maybe extasy) was hopping from brick to brick. On the other hand, everyone oohs and aahs over it when they come to visit and I like walking on it, so on the whole it’s a good thing.  Read the article here

And last but not least for those who are interested in the greening of the city – here is a video about the most ambitious and most expensive project of all – Masdar City.  A lot of people are very sceptical about whether or not it will ever be completed but I think that it is a fascinating project which combines modern technology and ancient traditions.

Masdar is a planned city in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. It is an initiative by the Government of Abu Dhabi through Mubadala Development Company. Designed by the British architectural firm Foster + Partners, the city will rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources, with a sustainable, zero-carbon, zero-waste ecology. The city is being constructed 17 kilometres (11 mi) east-south-east of the city of Abu Dhabi, beside Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Soapmaking 101

From the Kitchen to the Catwalk – Is Eating What You Wear the Fashion of the Future?

This morning I came across this fascinating/grotesque/thought provoking slide show in Grist magazine.  A love quirky and creative ideas and this certainly fits that description.  Enjoy!

See the entire slide show here

So what do you think – are edible clothes the wave of the future or should we focus on materials that are compostible, and/or recyclable?  After all rats on the back porch are one thing – but rats in the wardrobe would at least from my perspective be totally unacceptable

Do You Live In A Black and White World?

In the last week I have published several articles that talk about the way we view the world and the dirty devices of the secular work that tend to distort our view of reality.  Today I have been thinking about the fact that it is not just the secular world that distorts our view of reality.  

This morning after my encounter with rats, I met with a friend whose faith has grown and stretched in the last few years.  We talked about how when we become Christians most of us enter a black and white world. Faith seems so simple. We know exactly what we believe.  We know what is true and what is false.  We know exactly who Jesus is and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  In this world, we cannot imagine that encounters with rats could possibly have any spiritual significance at all. Our eyes and ears are closed to what God might want to teach us in a situation like this.

Then we realize that the world is not black and white at all. It is full of vibrant colours, colours that can change depending on the light, or angle from which we view them.  Dark clouds filled with foreboding can suddenly become a brilliant rainbow of red and yellow and blue.  Leaves that were green are transformed into splashes of red and gold and sunsets turn white clouds pink.

Suddenly are eyes and ears are open to sensations we never experienced before (a little like the blind man who first saw people as trees walking in Mk 8:24)).  The foundations of our faith are in upheaval.  Some of us become insecure, others lose their faith because the black and white world they were comfortable in no longer exists.  Others rejoice in the discovery of colour and love a faith that has becomes an exciting journey of discovery, an adventure to uncover the hidden colours in a sunset and to unleash the breathtaking beauty of a rainbow.

So what does this have to do with rats?  In this new and brilliant world of colour and light, as the Celtic saints of old have often reminded me, every encounter entered into and every activity undertaken is an opportunity to learn about the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  So we go out into the world to look and to listen, to learn about God and even the rats can be our teachers.  And that is very humbling.

Rats, Rats and More Rats

This weekend has been great except for the fact that I have been battling with rats on the back porch.  I was gathering ingredients to make granola yesterday and discovered that the rats had eaten through the plastic container my oats were in.  Frustration!  Then I saw that they had also gnawed their way into the rice.  (Screaming and gnashing of teeth at this point.)  So I grabbed every large glass container I could find and tranferred my supplies.  Thinking – that will get them only to come out this morning to find that my peaches all had teeth marks in them.  Round 1 to us I could hear the rats saying.

As I struggled with the frustration I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words – It is the little foxes that destroy the vines.  It is not always the big things in our lives that eat the fruit of our labours, it is often the small and seemingly insignificant pests, like rats.  And like rats these small destroyers are ubiquitous.  Rats have invaded every part of our world, and in many places are forcing native species of birds and small rodents into extinction.

It is not just necessary to produce good fruit I realized, it is also necessary to protect it until it is used. And the better the fruit the more likely it is to be attacked by pests.  So much to contemplate here, but it is time for morning prayers so maybe I will add more reflections later.  But I would love to hear your thoughts.

Planning with Spiritual Formation at the Centre

Today is planning day at Mustard Seed Associates, a day that will hopefully form a foundation for our next five years.  As I was praying about it this morning I realized that because we are in an exciting season of growth and development it is easy for us to set program goals and strategize about tasks that need to be accomplished to move us forward.  But then I started thinking – who are we at MSA and what are the implications for our planning?

MSA is a very fluid organization.  We are constantly looking at trends that we feel will shape the future of individuals, churches and society and using those to reshape our ministry as it functions in the present.  Probably more important than that, we are a faith based organization whose vision and ministry revolves around our understanding of God’s shalom future and its implications for our lives.  And at the centre of that shalom vision is, at least for me,  a spirituality that infuses all of life and shapes all my decisions.  As I thought about this I realized that the place our planning needs to start is with a discussion of our spiritual foundations and I thought I would share this with you because I think that this is the place that all of us should start as we start to plan for a new year or a new project.

In his book Whole Life Transformation, Keith Meyer talks about the need for us to develop both personal and corporate rules of life (I prefer calling them rhythms of life) and it seems to me that as we plan for the future that this is the place we need to start.  What is your personal rule of life and how does it shape your spiritual disciplines and practices?

Superimposed on that is the corporate rule of life – what spiritual practices form the foundations of who we are as an organization and hold us together as a community?  At its heart MSA is a community and we want to ensure that this does not change as we grown and develop.  Group discernment using the QUaker discernment process has become very important for us as an organization but there are other aspects of MSA that are equally important.  Our emphasis on hospitality, sustainability, and a balanced rhythms of life we realize cannot just be things we talk about they must be practices that all of us carry out in our lives.  We cannot educate others for shalom unless we are practicing it ourselves.

We would covert your prayers as we grapple with these issues and shape our lives and our ministry over the coming days.  I would also appreciate your thoughts – do you have a personal rule of life?  What does it look like?  Does your organization have a corporate rule of life?  How does it impact the way you function as an organization?

Mobilizing Hope

While we were at Christian Community Development Association conference a couple of weeks ago Tom & I met author Adam Taylor who really inspired us as he talked about his new book Mobilizing Hope.  My copy of the book just arrived but I will not get round to reviewing it until next week.  However I also wanted to let you know that Adam is currently on a book tour he will be in Seattle next week and would love it if some of you could join him.

Please join InterVarsity Press and Washington CAN for author Adam Taylor:

The Future of Social Justice Activism for a Post-Civil Rights Generation

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Southside Commons
3518 S. Edmonds St.

Seattle, WA  98118

Adam Taylor most recently served as a White House Fellow in the Office of Cabinet Affairs, Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs in the Obama Administration.  Prior to that, he was Senior Political Director at Sojourners, a leading faith-based advocacy organization with nation-wide impact.  He also served as the Executive Director of Global Justice, which educates and mobilizes young people to advance human rights and fight poverty.  Adam is an ordained Associate Minister at First Baptist Church in Washington DC.

Jim Wallis, author of New York Times bestseller God’s Politics writes in the foreword, Mobilizing Hope “is a story of how Adam and many of his cohorts are shaping the next strategies for faith-based social change; a theology for social justice; a spirituality for young activists; a handbook for those who want to experiment with activism and search out their own vocation in the world; and a strategy manual that draws lessons from past movements for change”.

Educating for Shalom

Yesterday I posted two new entries to this blog – one entitled What are We Educating For which focused on Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book Educating for Shalom and the other entitled Halloween is Coming – Reverse Trick or Treating which talked about using Halloween to educate people about child slavery used to produce chocolate sold on the US & Canadian markets.

As I thought about these entries this morning it occurred to me that both of them could really have been called Educating for Shalom because in both these situations we become more aware of what it means to be authentic followers of Christ and in the process we learn to practice our faith in new and very practical ways.

It is easy for all of us to rant and rave about things we don’t like.  It is much more difficult to act in ways that engage critically in the situations we rant and rage against so that positive change occurs – both in us and in others.  Educating for shalom is about gain a vision for world transformation that is based on Jesus’ life and then going out and living to bring that transformation into being. And often that transformation begins in something as small and seemingly insignificant as  handing out fair trade chocolate at halloween.

I am so glad for the small things that we can do that reflect the shalom of God because sometimes when I look at the big things that need to be changed I feel both overwhelmed and useless.  But as I keep reminding myself God does still work through the mustard seed and every small change we make towards radical conversion of our thinking and practices does make a difference.

In a broad sense becoming a disciple exposes our practices and our beliefs to the scrutiny of the Gospels.  The life, death and resurrection of Christ becomes the lens through which we view all things – big and small – not so that we can disengage from the world but so that our thinking, and our actions can all be changed to be more like Christ.  One of the mysteries of our faith is the continual transformation that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to bring about in our lives and in our world.

That any of us can change our thinking is a miracle.  That any of us can be transformed from the self centered, self absorbed people we are without Christ is incredible… that alone convinces me that God is still at work in our world, educating all of us to live the eternal shalom world that will one day break into ours in all its glory.

Halloween is coming – Consider Reverse Trick or Treating

I just came across this cool idea in Green America’s magaine: Greening America As Halloween is still a few weeks away it is something that you might like to think about as you plan your parties.

This Halloween, trick-or-treaters across U.S. and Canada will hand chocolate back to the homeowners they visit as part of Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Cocoa Campaign.  This is their Fourth Annual Reverse Trick-or-Treating! which is organized as a collaboration between several non profits including Green America and Global exchange.  The goal is to publicize the fact that most chocolate sold in the US is tainted by child slavery and exploitative conditions for adult workers.  Fair trade eliminates child labour and ensures healthy working conditions with a living wage for workers.

Thousands of groups of Trick-or-Treaters in the United States and Canada will unite to help:

  • END poverty among cocoa farmers
  • END forced/abusive child labor in the cocoa industry
  • PROTECT the environment
  • PROMOTE Fair Trade

How? By distributing Fair Trade chocolate to adults, attached to a card explaining these problems in the cocoa industry and how Fair Trade presents a solution.

To learn more and request your kit, visit the website here.