People are not Labels


Have you ever found yourself labeling those different from you? We all do it at some time or another. We have biases that we have learned, unconsciously accumulated and are mostly unaware of. These biases have snuck in the backdoor and now we see whole people groups as labels. These labels fuel our fears pressing us to avoid certain kinds of people and seek the company of those who are more like us. Studies confirm that we trust more easily people with the same skin colour as us. They are pointing out the truth of unconscious biases. 


The challenge confronting us is to remove the lens of labels and change the way we see. We begin by examining our hearts to see if we indeed harbour fears and biases. This is no easy task for biases often disguise themselves as concern. It goes a little like this: We are concerned for the safety of our country, our families, and our future. “If we let all these people in they will make it worse for all of us!”

So here’s my thought when it comes to the mass of humanity so different from you and I fleeing their countries and arriving on our shores: Realize from the start that these refugee populations crossing mountains and seas are enamored with very same concerns that you and I have. These concerns are what compels them to leave their countries, homes and families. They just want to live safe. That is why, in many cases, their fathers, mothers and extended family love them so much that they urge them to flee and find safety and a better future in some far off land. Sometimes they do leave together as a family. Many times they get separated. Other times one child is sent off with hopes high for the entire family. I think of H. who left brother, sister and parents in Aleppo at the request of the family. Miraculously all his family survived and he too of the horrendous journey to Germany! He is safe. His future is secure. His family can breathe a sigh of relief.

You see, they all did not leave solely because of the bombs or persecution or poverty. They did not leave, as in the case of many, because of the pressure that gangs exert on their children to join. Those factors admittedly played a part, but it goes deeper than that! It is a desire to find safety that compels them and thus a better future for the ones they love most. That’s all. When you hear it like that you realize that these souls sound a lot like us! Maybe we can now see through new eyes knowing we have more in common with the refugee than we thought?

My God, We Need Change!


Some days I think, “What difference can I really make?” I am nothing but a tiny dot in this vast universe. I have practically no political influence and my voice is reduced to 5,000 friends on facebook and some twitter followers! If you are reading my blog, I am surprised, but honoured, because deep down, I want to make a difference somehow in this tiny little planet called earth.

I want to see our world able to thrive, survive, be alive with all the beauty that can be! I want a world where animals can roam, forage, and run like the wind. I don’t want to see another dead whale with a belly full of plastic bags and bottles! Let every environment be clean and our living spaces are safe for children and adult alike. Listen, I want a world where women can be respected and not fear for their safety. I want a world where war is no more, violence is shunned, marriages are sacred, rich nations help poorer ones to become better. I want a world where religion is about living out the highest ideals and living it humbly.

And even though I am a minor player in the grand scheme of things, I will continue to live out the change I want to see in the spaces that I inhabit here in my city of Paris. And maybe, just maybe I can bring some hope and love to someone, somewhere and somehow.

May we all bring the change we hope for and need in 2019!

And So the Moment Happened!


History talks. She reminds us and shows us things. “I am not here just so you can recount stuff,” she said to me out of the blue!

And the conversation began.

“Do you remember when you used to think your path would never end,” she asked?

“I do, all that walking and all I could think of was my sore back and feet,” I replied.

“You were always in a hurry back then,” she scolded.

And I didn’t learn much either, I thought. “I just wanted to get over there as fast as I could,” I said meekly. “Now it seems I want to slow ‘er down a bit.”

These days I’ve been living and walking in the older version of me, in what now seems as though weeks are like days and the minutes have shrunk to seconds. I no longer want to hurry. I want to smell the air, hear the rustling leaves, even taste the earth.

“Well, you look much better, connected to the moment when you walk a little slower, don’t you?” History chided. I thought she was making fun of my gait. It’s true I am 57 years and I am not prepared to believe that I am that old either.

“Too bad time slowly washes us wrinkly white and we come out looking perpetually tired like a piece of driftwood,” I laughed.

“Why? It’s not all that bad. I like it when I see you stopping more,” History added with kindness. “Yes, that’s looks better on you.”

“Well, I guess I am letting things happen more. I don’t have to judge each moment like before. It’s like I can  relax,  stop and take it all in, the good parts and the boring bits.”

“Like the seals and whales,” History asked?

I remembered  this history, to how I heard my traveling partner, Patricia, shrill with joy, “Seals!”

“Seals, really?” I stopped the car quickly.

And I glanced and I saw them too, those silvery grey wonders dancing on the waters of the Baie des Chaleurs. The doors opened as two humans crossed the road. I was running with my iPad in hand, and I jumped the fence and started filming those bopping seals. There I was, happy, all the while giving a running commentary.

“Ha! Seals!” I said confidently, “Look at them!” I continued while squinting my eyes against the bright sun, “See how lucky am I! God thank you, thank you! You knew how much this would mean to me.”

My traveling partner had her phone out recording too. Was she recording me? We had both watched long and hard for this, hours of travel along the coastline. It was either whales or seals we longed to see. And then after a few minutes, yes that long, I noticed the seals were not seals. I laughed to myself now knowing they were some sea birds bobbing for fish. I deleted my video, not in the least disappointed. It was the moment that counted.

And I have to admit that this story was repeated twice. Yep, it was actually the second silly moment of that day. This was the trip we saw seals and whales. And both times I deleted both videos and my commentary with it.  It was really kind of funny.

History spoke up while chuckling at me, “You won’t forget this trip, will you? Those bird-seals and the rock-whales. However, the thing you should always remember is how you let the moments happen.”

I promised History to try and remember the lesson.

When I turned back towards the car and saw the happy eyes of my beloved traveling partner, they too reminded my heart. We were both learning to let things happen, no disappointment and without judgment. “It was not to be,” she said, “You always find what you look for, right?”

“Right,” I answered! “Let’s keep letting the moment happen.”

“And finding the seals and whales and the beauty of the moment,” she added.

Heaven surely must have laughed out loud as she looked down on us that day and wondered where we got our wisdom. You could say hearing History start up a conversation with me played a role in slowing us down. gaspe

Goodness is Contagious


Just last week I experienced a beautiful human moment. As I was looking down from our Parisian balcony, five floors above, I saw an old man walking with a cane. I could tell he was begging as he took his little steps forward. He motioned to people with his hand that he was hungry. I continued to watch. But sadly no one wanted to even lift their heads! For some reason I dug into my pockets for a coin. It wasn’t much of a coin. And I dropped it from the fifth floor hoping he’d hear the ping. He did not and kept limping forward. But other heads below lifted and looked above to see where the coin descended from. One lady even grabbed the bronze coin and looked up at me questioning on her face. I motioned with my hand pointing sheepishly at the beggar that just passed her by. She understood. And she walked to the beggar and gave him my coin. I waited to see if she’d look up. She didn’t, but was looking down into her own purse by then. She caught up to the beggar a second time and gave him another coin, most likely worth more than mine! Then she looked up at me. I waved. She waved back. A beautiful human moment between strangers took place.

 

small-acts

“Joy is an Act of Resistance.”


“Joy is an act of resistance.” This stirring phrase is a revelation to me on how to live in troubled times, and anytime!  It is a call for an inner revolution that transforms our response to our outer realities. As a realist and one who is susceptible to seeing the negative side of everything, it is a summons to choose joy no matter what I perceive to be happening on the ground! Joy insists on resisting the negativism and self-doubt and lean into the positive possibilities come what may!

Last Friday I went to an event that brought refugees and the rest of us together. I saw the event on Facebook and was intrigued by the idea of playing sports and eating food with refugees. I clicked I would go. Since it was Ramadan and many refugees come from Muslim countries, the food would wait till after sundown. Okay, I can do that!

So that evening I trekked the 30 minutes  underground on Metro line 8 to Ecole Militaire station and then walked the rest of the way. When I came to the sprawling ‘Champs de Mars’ next to Gustave’s marvel, the Eiffel,  I searched for what might look like a group of refugees  ready to play games. But I just couldn’t find the group among the myriad of picnickers. I walked and walked some more. No luck. When I asked some guys selling beer to tourists if there was a playing field somewhere they gave some dubious directions and walked some more in the wrong direction! Of course the joke was on me!

So I pretty well gave up and sent a few ‘woe is me’ texts to my wife and making the last full circle of the ‘champs’ I had decided to leave. “Oh well, at least I got to see the Eiffel Tower” I sighed. Then in the corner of my eye I saw a makeshift volleyball net being erected. That’s them, I was sure of it. So I made my way to join. Time to forget my tired legs, my feelings of frustration, and my empty belly. Time to hang out, and play sports! Right?

raineiffelWrong! The skies decided otherwise, and opened up and dropped rain drops. The lightning eventually partnered with the increasingly heavier rain drops and I found myself huddled under a tree with complete strangers. Some hard-core sports types tried to play volleyball but soon gave up too. The event was over in a flash. Then I noticed an unused mini umbrella at the foot of the tree still wrapped tightly in its bindings. Seeing no one else go for it, I did. And holding it up I was joined by two others, refugees wanting to stay dry like me. The conversation began to flow and what seemed like a waste of time for the realist, became a moment of joy to live into. We said our goodbyes and ran at once under the wet heavens and earth to our metro and bus stops. The rain really did wipe out our night!

The next morning listening to a podcast with my wife I heard the phrase, “Joy is an act of resistance.” I had to write it down. Afterwards the podcast was done Patricia asked me how have I seen this act of resistance, this joy at play in my life? She knows my natural tendency to negativism. So I had to think hard. And then I realized how precious my rain filled adventure actually was. She said, “You were present. You made an effort. ” I saw it, just as she said, I realised that even though I was cold, I was present in the moment and surrounded by people from countries none of us would choose to live in. No, this wasn’t a waste of time. I knew then and there I needed to resist more. Joy was calling my name!

So I will pray and invite you to pray these words with me even if you aren’t a prayer kind of person: “Help me, God of creation, to resist all negativity in my life. Don’t let my thoughts go there. Make me know your joy. Let it be in me today. Let me feel it all day long. No matter the responses around me or circumstances I find myself in. I resist all negativism and complaining. Amen”

 Hebrews 12: 2, 3  Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

 

Dear God, Wash Those Tears Away!


Wash the tears away, all away
The horrors of today and the cries of yesterday
Dear God, wash those tears away!

A little child lies on the dirt
No breath remains, no longer alert
A bomb, lethal gas, Oh Syria, you hurt!

She was only 12 when he came
The darkness covered, but he had no shame
It’s my fault, she said for years, I am to blame!

DumptearsTears…. 
Stream…
Down…

This man here lost all he had
Years on the street left him half mad
A little bread, a lot of wine, still he was sad!

And this young body was ravaged by disease
Daily pain kept bringing him to his knees
He groaned daily with tears, “Oh my God, please!”

These ones wore labels the others gave
‘Useless’, ‘You homo’, ‘hey ugly’, ‘stupid slave’
Both he and she wore them sadly to the grave!

Wash the tears away, all away
The horrors of today and the cries of yesterday
Dear God, wash those tears away!

The gun fired off again and again
Student voices screaming, it’s insane
Broken dreams, red-stained streams, now all that remain!

Sigh…sigh the memories we loath to replay
Unspeakable hurt we carry, too hard to keep at bay

They broke us all in many different ways!

Tears…. 
Stream…
Down…

Cry now, yes, it’s okay
It’s not your fault that you feel this way

The wounds you carry will not hold sway
Mourning lasts the night, but then comes the day!

He’ll wipe your tears, stop the stream, and wash the pain away!

 

Revelation 21:4 (KJV)
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Acidvicimtears

Toilet Talk Never Trumps Truth


Donald Trump has done it again, he has managed to insult all eleven million people of Haiti and a pile more in some countries of Africa. He did it with a vulgar comment. He called those places “s…-hole countries,” (Pardon my french!) And then he actually made a comparison to show how much better Norway was and asks why can’t we get more of them to America? It is shocking to hear those kinds of descriptors from the president of a country that prides itself on being a melting pot of cultures and nationalities.Trump-6 Maybe that is another problem, melting!

Margaret Mead and James Baldwin once had a conversation on America that went like this:

MEAD: It isn’t a melting pot, is it?

BALDWIN: No, it isn’t. Nobody ever got melted. People aren’t meant to be melted.

MEAD: That old image from World War I is a bad image: to melt everyone down.

BALDWIN: Because people don’t want to be melted down. they resist it with all their strength.

MEAD: Of course! Who wants to be melted down?

BALDWIN: Melted down into what? It’s a very unfortunate image.

I love this conversation. It’s hilarious, yes, and I agree, people weren’t made to be melted down! People all have an identity. I carry continually around in me dutch ancestry. And its true of us dutchies: wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t budge! I am proud of my heritage. And you are probably too of yours. No one asked my permission though to be dutch or to like Gouda or to be anything? We are who we are. Every last one is uniquely made and shaped by many factors. Deep down in every person’s heart is a desire to be real, accepted, loved and to make a difference in this world.

Trump isn’t the first to show prejudice, it has been around as long as man has. A nice guy named Nathanael once heard about this new prophet in town and asked where he came from. Philip said, “Nazareth.” That was all Nathanael needed to hear to discount this new prophet guy named Jesus. He says, my paraphrase: “Are you kidding me! Can anything good come out of that shit-hole Nazareth?” (Apparently Nathanael spoke french too! Pardon!)

But Philip wisely said, “Come, see for yourself.”

The biblical record agrees that Nazareth was so obscure that it wasn’t even mentioned once in the Old Testament. It was a rude and crude place where they spoke with an accent belittled by the whole population. They even had a label for those who came from that area, ‘Galilean!’ That word was not a compliment, but a racist epithet. And guess what, this despised place is Jesus hometown for thirty years!

Isn’t it so much like God to do something like this? Mmhm. “Lets make sure that Jesus goes and lives in the fringes!” (Fringes = the backwater, the wrong side of the tracks, the trailer park, Hicksville, a s-hole of a place)! Paul reiterated this weird way of God, that is to chose men and women that the culture of the day overlooked and exploited and abused, the nobodies, and God does this why? This is the point: “To expose the hollow pretensions of the somebodies.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 Whoa! That’s God!

With one little word, ‘Nazareth’, Nathanael was immediately blinded to the amazing possibilities of the grandeur of Jesus.

I am sure that many Africans and Haitians today wished they could live in a country like Canada or France, (maybe not the USA right now). Life has not been easy for them. Earthquakes and poverty and famines… But imagine, to hear a man from the highest position of authority of one of the wealthiest countries say that they don’t count, that they come from an outhouse country; must be devastatingly humiliating. How can this president or anyone be so blind to the beauty of whole races and cultures? But yet, maybe, hopefully, his insensitive comments might have the opposite affect too. May it spur them on to greatness.

My first language was Dutch. I was so good at speaking dutch that when I went to school for grade one in New Brunswick I didn’t understand what was going on. I must have looked overwhelmed. The school told my parents to stop speaking Dutch in the home so I could catch up. But to this day I still have a slight accent when I speak English. I have often been asked if I come from Newfoundland or Ireland!

But though I experienced some language challenges young, I was taught well that I am a unique-never-to-be-repeated-creation of God! This God knew that one day the Dutch boy who barely passed grade one would speak for Him not only in English, but in Thai and now in French, (accent and all)!

I love this question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It reminds me that what God is after is not my pedigree, my nationality, my invincibility, nor my brilliance, my superpowers, my perfect accent, or my attempts to do great things, He is after the real me! He chose me, and He called me by my name.

So here’s the thing, this amazing guy that spent his childhood, teenage years and young adulthood living in the worst of place in Israel, from this, um, outhouse town, Nazareth, comes God’s very best. And before Jesus did anything significant, not a single miracle, not one public teaching, the Father breaks his silence and says, “I am so proud of this one, that’s my son (accent and all)!”

That’s why I believe that when God looks at you and I and every Haitian and whoever, you get the point, He doesn’t see us through the filter of disgust, disappointment or doubt. He doesn’t see our skin colour, eye-shape or hear our funny accent… He just sees us through grace and love. He knows you have His DNA and he knows that He can inspire you, develop you, and deploy you to be a blessing no matter where you were born.