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Photo by Mariia Zakatiura on Unsplash

January 24

You’ve heard the expression “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”? Well, today, it is the absolute truth. It really has been changing pretty much every five minutes or so. From the vantage point of my office window I can see either heavy snowfall and grey skies, or bright sunshine and blue skies through scattered puffy clouds. It is both a humourous and intriguing experience.
This quickly changing weather is not a random series of meteorological events beyond understanding. It’s not a cosmic joke or God playing dice in our part of the universe. The broken cloud cover is all one needs to see in order to know why things are changing so quickly: a lot of the clouds are grey and snow bearing. Thus, as this big, uneven canopy travels overhead, there are moments when it’s all cloud and snow, and moments when the skies are clear and the sun is visible. It’s not rocket science; it’s just clouds doing their thing.
Understanding is a powerful thing. Glancing out of my window briefly, I see the clouds getting greyer and greyer further down the horizon. In a few minutes it will probably be snowing once again. I know the weather will change because I understand (a little bit) how clouds work. Because of this understanding I can accept the weather that is coming without shock or surprise. In fact, being forewarned, I know not to take any trips, a double incentive to stay put given our current Pandemic-caused lockdown in my province.
Knowledge, you’ve also probably heard, is power. The more we understand, the stronger we are. By actively listen to friends, seeking not just to hear their words but to absorb their meaning and to hear exactly what is being said we can better know who they are and what they’re all about. Truly knowing our friends allows us to be in a full, healthy relationship so that we can enjoy our time together, build one another up and avoid hurting one another.
Just as understanding makes for better friendships, it also makes for a better relationship with our Creator. The more we know, the closer we can get to the Holy one in whose image we were made. We learn about our friends through being together, sharing stories and listening beyond the words we speak. Knowing God happens the same way. God’s story is shared in the Bible; in turn, we share our story with God through prayer, and meditation and the way we live our lives.
As part of God’s Creation, we can learn something about God even through things like weather that changes every five minutes. Understanding natural processes gives us insight into God’s creative process. Being made in God’s image also means that we can learn about our Creator from our fellow God-made creatures since they reflect who and what God is. That’s a pretty amazing gift: we can learn about God through virtually every experience and person that touches our lives. …


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Work in progress (photo by author)

I have always been a maker. My earliest memories of “making” was in the first house I remember living in. I was four or five years old and had received both a box of Lego, which are pretty small building blocks, and Flintstone foam building blocks, which were big enough to create a boy-sized shelter. While the Lego lasted (and is still part of my collection…) the foam blocks were too soft to survive physically, but they will forever remain in my heart.
In my next home Lego and Meccano (a steel building set that used nuts and bolts together) were the order of the day, until I discovered plastic model kits. Thanks to those kits I was able to own everything from a wee VW Beetle to a massive Ford Freightliner 18-wheeler. Heady times indeed for a boy who could barely reach the pedals of a real motor vehicle.
Thanks to my Dad’s skills and interests, I learned to take and print Black and White photos, basic home renovation skills, simple automobile mechanics and got into electronics, as well as woodworking. Over time I bought my own woodworking equipment along with other tools that have allowed me to build numerous pieces of furniture, machines and models of all kinds.
In addition to these physical creations, I also learned to make music, write opinion pieces and even compose music and lyrics. Listing all these things makes me think I can’t stick to one thing for very long, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re curious about everything. As I said, I have always been a maker, and will keep on making things for the rest of my life.
One skill I lack, however. I am not a creator. I write non-fiction because I don’t have the creative mind to create interesting characters, fantastic settings or tightly woven plot lines. The furniture and the electronic projects I built were always based on someone else’s designs. Other than being able to compose original melodies, I don’t really have an inventive bone in my body. I may be able to connect ideas that will lead to an interesting message or a slightly different perspective but I can’t write an original story from scratch.
I don’t mind being a maker rather than a creator. It gives me all the more appreciation for those imaginative geniuses that think of a new design for a coffee table or lead us into fantastic new worlds with the stories they create. I also don’t mind that I’m not a great cook, can’t sew and have no interest in gardening, other than trying to make my yard look somewhat acceptable. Each of us has our own unique gifts, and with those gifts we reflect our Creator.
We were all imagined and made by God; each of our talents and skills reflects part of God’s image. Whether you are a maker or creator, caregiver or entertainer, whatever you do that moves and fulfills you, you are a physical expression of our Creator-God. …


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Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.”

Ok, I acknowledge that the verse is sexist, but the underlying theme of Isaac Watt’s “ever-rolling” cannot be argued: “Time keeps on slipping, slipping slipping into the future.” Watt and the Steve Miller band express the inviolable truth that our temporal reality is a continuum that knows no end. …


When I was in my mid twenties I faced a bit of an existential crisis: my inherent pessimism was starting to negatively impact my life. You see, I was a generally happy guy, but I started noticing that I put a negative spin on far too many things. Whether trivial or major, in my eyes things were always a little worse than they really were, a view that I realized was not good.

I came by my pessimism naturally. My mother was the kind of person who saw the glass not only as half empty, but also leaking, filled with dirty water and too expensive. While she had a brilliant wit and smiled easily, her overall take on life was that there wasn’t anything bad that couldn’t get worse, and that what was good would go bad soon enough. …


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Our “Welcome Statement” in banner form.

My denomination, The Presbyterian Church In Canada, holds a “General Assembly” every year. This is meeting where the polity, policy and theology of our denomination is discussed and, if necessary, changed. We also learn about what our various teams and committees are up to, celebrate Communion together and generally have formal and informal opportunities to grow and come together as followers of Christ.

It’s a pretty big deal, with 1/6th of our leadership attending from across Canada.

A few years ago, at a pre-conference meeting advocating for full inclusion of LGBTQ people and celebrating their unique gifts, we were presented with one congregation’s welcoming statement. It was a work put together by the Minister of Stittsville Presbyterian Church together with some local high-school students. One of the hot-button discussions within the PCC is full inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ people, so the welcome statement created by Stittsville Presbyterian Church is a wonderful document, even though LGBTQ people are not yet universally or officially accepted within my denomination. We’re working on it, but between hard hearts and the way our voting process takes place, it’s a slow, hard slog. Nevertheless, there is progress, as indicated by the welcome statement I’m about to share, and the fact that many congregations, like Stittsville Presbyterian Church and my own, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Coldwater, are fully inclusive, welcoming, affirming and accepting of LGBTQ people, and basically anyone who comes through our doors. …


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Photo by celery soup on Unsplash

Looking east, towards the street from the front window of my house, I could see a gentle rain softly soaking the ground. Then, turning my head to look south, I saw a mix of blue sky, white fluffy clouds and no rain whatsoever. Weird, no?
Upon further investigation, stepping out onto the front porch, I still saw rain falling gently ahead of me, but I could also see the same blue sky and white fluffy clouds above. Definitely weird indeed.
It’s one thing when we talk about weird weather because it can change quickly and unpredictably. It’s another thing entirely when there is rain and sun at the same time. That’s a whole different level of “weird”.
“Weird”, however, shouldn’t be considered too unusual, especially when talking about the weather. I say this not just because we never quite know what to expect when it comes to moment by moment climatic conditions, but because in many dealings with people, the word “weird” is not always out of place. While most of us seem to be fairly “normal” on the outside, my experience has taught me that “weird” is by far the most normal of human conditions.
It’s one thing to say we’re different. That is a given. We know that no two people are alike; we don’t, however, know what those differences are, or how they might manifest themselves in our relationships. That’s the weird part. Our different tastes, behaviours and interests can seem strange in the eyes of the other. What we might think of as normal for ourselves might be quite weird in the eyes of the person we’ve just met.
That’s OK. Being weird is just another way of realizing that we are not only different, but that our perceptions themselves are unique to each and every one of us. What might be normal to me may seem quite odd to you, but at the same time, knowing that we are different and maybe even weird helps us to accept each other for who we are, rather than who we expect each other to be.
Looking outside and seeing the weird weather was an unusual experience. It was also a rather wonderful moment, especially seeing the bright blue sky and the white fluffy clouds as a background to the gentle rain. It might have been rather wet at the moment, but the blue sky was a sign that soon the rain would be gone and it would be a wonderful, sunny summer’s day very soon.
I see my fellow human beings the same way: we are both weird and wonderful with each of us bringing something unique and special to the day. Our individual tastes and interests might differ, but in that difference we not only get a glimpse of God’s amazing creativity, we also have a chance to build each other up where we fall short, or to see things from a different perspective.
I might seem rather weird to you, and you might seem rather weird to me, but we are equally wonderful in the sight of God. …


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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Our front garden is nearly complete. Last year Lois and I decided to convert our front lawn into a Bee and Butterfly haven, so we dug up the grass and planted a variety of different plants that are supposed to be friendly and inviting to our intended guests.
This year, we’ve finally gotten around to putting down a thick layer of mulch on the flower bed. The Black Cedar product we chose smells fantastic, and provides a dark contrasting base to the various plants that are already there. We hope that the mulch will also help reduce the growth of weeds so that our garden will be more easily maintained.
All of the choices we’ve made are aimed at making the little piece of property in front of our home more attractive to Butterflies and Bees. We want to offer them a place where they can be fed and nurtured because they are an important and precious part of the earth’s ecosystem. Lois and I wanted to do something good and holy for the environment, and this seems to be the right choice for us.
The choice we have made might seem trivial in some ways. After all, it is a particularly small garden, so the impact on the overall Butterfly and Bee population will be equally trivial. Still, it’s something, and there’s the added bonus that the grass no longer has to be cut regularly, which means that our carbon footprint as also been reduced, even if it’s only a trivial amount.
What matters in all of our choices, whether it’s replacing a wee patch of grass with a Bee and Butterfly friendly garden or investing millions in preserving an endangered rainforest, is our intent. As people of faith our choices should always be made with the intent of making a positive difference.
The question might be posed in the form of that now cliched question: “What would Jesus do?” Some folks might find that it trivializes Jesus’ impact on our lives. Others consider it more of a fashion accessory that helps them look good on the outside, even if they don’t use it as a guide for the choices they make. For me, it’s a valid and important question that helps me make decisions that not only reflect what I believe, but also help me act on those beliefs in real, palpable way. While Jesus might not have been a gardener, the garden Lois and I planted reflects Jesus’ care and concern for humanity by contributing to the overall health of the God-given ecosystem that sustains us.
Some choices we make have a great impact on our lives and the lives of others. Some choices have a far smaller impact. The scope of our decisions isn’t important. What matters the most is what influences our choices and what our overall intent is. Asking the right question helps us make wise and holy choices. …


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An original Enigma Machine. Photo by Mauro Sbicego on Unsplash

Codes are one of the most useful tools in the spy’s well-camoflaged toolbox. Properly coded and decoded messages allow the spy to communicate their plans with fellow conspirators, get stolen information past security measures, and generally go about their business undetected and unhampered.
Codes also appear beyond the world of spycraft. Secret societies encode their sacred texts to keep them from unworthy eyes. Artists embed coded messages as a way of protesting without getting caught. Writers sometimes include them in their books in order to add an extra layer mystery and intrigue.
Clearly, codes matter and have a variety of uses. One place codes are not found, however, is in the document we know as the Bible. That’s the plain and simple truth. While some parts of the Bible are written as allegories or parables, those are easily identified and readily understood. On the other hand, one book of the Bible, “The Song of Songs”, has been interpreted as an allegory for Christ, but it is not. It is exactly what it appears to be, nothing more, nothing less. The Song of Songs is simply a book dedicated to physical love, and has nothing to do with humanity’s relationship with Jesus.
The association between “The Son of Songs” and Jesus is an example of the way people read beyond the texts of the Bible. Many people that call themselves scholars or theologians seek to find coded messages or hidden meanings within the pages of the Hebrew and the Christian testaments. They go out of their way to predict the future, or to prove that current events are referred to in ancient prophecies, and generally go out of their way in order to give meaning to God’s word that is simply not there.
The Bible must be read carefully. The context of its various texts, that is when they were written, who wrote them, who their original audience was and how all those factors inform the story being told, must be understood in order to be able to discern what it is saying to us in our modern context. Sometimes there is meaning to be discerned. Sometimes the Bible is simply a historical document describing what happened to God’s people a long time ago.
Finding hidden or coded messages in the Bible is a fool’s game that is, at the least, an exercise in futility, and at the worst, an unhealthy, harmful pursuit that distracts us from what God is actually trying to get across to us. Using the ancient text of Scripture to prove modern conspiracy theories as an example of how searching for coded messages that aren’t there at all hurts us. Whether or not conspiracies exist, what really matters is the way we follow Christ’s example and live by the principles of justice, mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness He models.
Understanding Jesus helps us to understand God and how we relate to our Creator. That is the single most important purpose of the Bible, and it is one that is clearly written. Seeking hidden meaning or decoding secret messages has no place in the life of those who would follow Jesus truly and faithfully and His message to us requires no decoding whatsoever. If you can love others as much as Jesus loves you, you have successfully decoded and understood the single most important message in the entire Bible. …


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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Bible is a tricky thing. While its title simply means “Book” it is far more than that. It is actually a grouping of books spanning millennia, each attributed to God, or having been inspired by God, yet each one being penned by different, and sometimes multiple, authors. Making things even more confusing is the fact that it was translated from a number of languages, some so old and lost to us that we don’t even understand what all the words really mean. Finally, what we call the Bible was assembled in the 4th Century AD after much debate, disagreement and compromise.
Given this brief background, you can understand that reading the Bible is a tricky thing. What we discern from it we do through different filters of language, translation, human intervention, lost words, contexts and settings very different from our own and our own personal lenses. Read absolutely literally and at face value it can lead us to confusion as much as to clarity. Reading it simply as an instruction book can result in untold harm and unmatched good. Reading it alone, without help and support from trained professionals like myself can lead to frustration and misunderstanding.
Reading the Bible requires commitment, faith and help. While there is great beauty in it, there is also great violence and malice. Understanding God’s willingness to slaughter entire nations and Christ’s call to love even your enemy calls for sensitivity, patience and careful study. Sometimes the answers are easy, sometimes they are difficult, sometimes there are no clear answers.
Reading the Bible, as challenging as it can be, is vital for a vital faith. It helps us understand where we came from as human beings. Its historical portions provide countless examples of what to do and what not to do. Its numerous characters let us see ourselves in all our goodness and badness. The Prophets speak God’s words, at times directly, at times in glorious imagery, but always in truth and honesty. The Gospels focus us on Christ’s life and meaning, while the letters help us to understand what it means to follow Christ.
The Bible is as complex and intricate as is God and just as a full understanding of God can only be achieved when we realize just how diverse we humans, created in God’s image are, a full understanding of the Bible can only be achieved through careful, diligent, life-long study. More realistically, we can only ever see the Bible, and God, in part, dimly, as in an imperfect mirror.
The Bible, as tricky as it is, cannot be neglected. A full faith life calls for us to read and study it as best we can. At its simplest, it teaches us how to live a Christlike life that honours God and serves humanity in love. At its fullest, the Bible gives us an insight into the complexity of the human condition and our complicated relationship with our Creator. As such, it must be read carefully and with the assistance of those whose lives have been devoted to its study.
The Bible is a tricky, yet beautiful thing. We humans can be pretty tricky things, too, and it’s only fitting that the main document we use to understand God isn’t a straightforward read. Read carelessly, it can lead us to confusion and dangerous places. …


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I can see my house from here (way in the back on the left side)

As I walk along the street from my church towards home, I see trees and I see houses. Normally, I would simply take the scenery in stride, but today I am struck by the contrast between the houses and trees. What I notice the most is how straight the buildings are compared to tall living things that surround them.
What’s more, I’m struck by the differences between the trees themselves.
Some trees are nearly perfectly vertical, while others lean a bit more. Some stand all alone, seemingly choosing to do their own thing. Others are gathered together and appear to be all angled the same way, swaying as if they are all following the identical piece of choreography.
While the houses are as different from one another as are the trees, they are all nevertheless quite similar. Every line is straight and true. Every angle is crisp and perfect. If there are any curves, they are deliberate, a definite and carefully planned part of the architectural design.
While the trees and houses are completely different in many ways, they are also similar, in that they are structures that must withstand the vagaries of the weather. It’s how they achieve that desired end that moves me and makes me wonder. I am fascinated by how differently they approach the same challenge.
Each species of tree follows its own unique DNA plan, individual results vary. No two trees are identical. Trees are also designed to move in response to external forces, allowing them to bear up to wind or flex under the weight of a bird perched on a branch.
Houses do not flex in the wind or react to a bird alighting upon the roof. While the structures on my street are as varied as can be, they can also be completely identical, with only their address number marking any difference between them, as if stamped out by the same, giant cookie-cutter.
All living things, even we humans, are not perfectly straight or identical. God designed life with the ability to flex and more. We humans, however, don’t seem to follow God’s design choices. We build rigid, perfectly straight, structures that stand out like the proverbial sore thumb in the midst of the swaying, curvy environment of plants and animals.
Our lives reflect those rigid structures as we try to organize our lives, faith, relationships and even creation itself. Such organization helps us but it can also hinder us. Religious dogma can separate us from people who do not share our beliefs, and even set us apart from God. Societal structures divide us from one another according to gender, race, wealth or other identifiers. Our personal rigidity can divide us from others or even deny us our own true selves.
Jesus’ life had little structure. He was consistent in what he sought to do but changed His approach depending on who He was with. It was Jesus’ plan, but it was more of a thumbnail sketch than a precise program.
There is something to be learned from Jesus’ flexibility and from the way God created all living things, including us. …

About

John A. Giurin

100% Italian, Born and raised in Canada, Presbyterian Pastor, Maker, Singer, Writer, Musician, Theatre, Married, Father, Learner, choosing Love, he/him

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