Three cross-country skiers stopped near a barn-board woodshed. One of us said, “Look at those beautiful birds!”
Little birds, about the size of sparrows. Hanging onto the barn-boards right side up, upside down, crosswise… The males were red, though not as red as cardinals or robins. The females were more drab.
Tentatively, we edged forward, so we could see them better. And take some pictures.
A woman followed us down the trail. She didn’t know us, and we didn’t know her. But she saw what we were watching.
“They’re red crossbills,” she told us. And then she explained how their hooked and curved bills enable them to pry pine cones open, so their tongues can flick the seeds out.
We got into conversation. So did other arrivals. Someone got out her cellphone and Googled crossbills. These ones later turned out to be white-winged crossbills, for the white bars on their dark wings. By the time the original three of us left, a small knot of people had gathered together, chattering animatedly about birds.
Conversation for its own sake
Some relationships are long lasting; some are as fleeting as that encounter. The wonder of relationships is that they can happen anywhere, with anyone.
Relationships don’t have to be lasting to be worthwhile. Certainly, long term friendships are worth working at. Letters, phone calls, emails – all help to sustain those relationships. But even when you haven’t seen someone for ten years, a good relationship can be picked up again almost instantly. There may be a lot of catching up to do, but the relationship itself doesn’t have to be re-built from the ground up.
But even short-term relationships, the kind where you never expect to see this person again, have value. In the line waiting for a grocery cashier. On a sidewalk. In an elevator. In a family. In a club or church.
They can brighten a day, bring a smile to two or more faces, provide unexpected insights.
The thing that makes us human
I’ll venture that relationships may be the ONLY things that matter. Certainly more than money or possessions. Maybe even more than life. Is a life devoid of relationships worth living? Some recent studies claim that the primary cause of death among the very old is loneliness. An absence of relationships.
In other matters, people can argue for hours about whether a particular action hurts or helps – and whom it hurts or helps – and whether it’s right or wrong, legal or illegal. But no one seems to have any difficulty recognizing the difference between good and bad relationships.
No one would prefer a lousy relationship to a healthy one. We don’t all know how to build healthy relationships – indeed, some people seem to foster hostile relationships – but we all know we’d rather have warm and friendly relationships than cold and prickly ones.
My theology sees God in our relationships. Not just between humans, but between all living things. Because the strongest relationships we know are based on unconditional love, that becomes our defining characteristic for God, too.
Granted, relationships won’t match the classic definition of Almighty, able to move mountains. But they can certainly move people.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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My column about unauthorized baptisms clearly hit a lot of you in the heart. Affirming letters came from Larry Smith, Isabel Gibson, Anne McRae, Ruth Buzzard, and George Brigham, plus these more extended responses.
Jeff Johnson forwarded my column to his “twenty-something” kids. Occasionally, he hears back from them when he has sent something he consider meaningful. This time, Jeff wrote, “I heard back from both of them – ‘definitely a good one’ from my son and ‘Wow, this made the tears roll down my face, too’ from my daughter.”
Hanny Kooyman “loved how you colored beyond the lines. In my humble opinion – this is what makes faith alive and a valuable experience, rather than starchy ritual. And I also think that this is what many today are still looking for, instinctively knowing that there is more than the eye can see…”
Bob Rollwagen: I think you did something that young man will never forget. Why does the Catholic Church only accept ones baptized by them? Are they not part of The World Council of Churches?”
But Steve Roney would assure Bob, “In Catholic terms, the baptism of that fellow participant was perfectly valid. And it would be recognized by the Catholic Church. Anyone has the power to baptize -- even people who are not themselves baptized Christians -- so long as the baptism includes the Trinitarian formula.”
Tom Watson said, briefly, “Of course it was real, and really sacramental.”
Linda Schaeffer commented, “I’m not ordained clergy, but I cannot imagine a holier experience than what you described…We are not ‘in charge’ -- God is!”
“Once in my fifty-one years of ministry,” John Shaffer recalled, “an individual responded to the invitation to join the church, but he refused to be baptized. As we discussed it, I realized that baptism was not essential to salvation, so why would it be essential to church membership? (Part of my logic was that 'Quakers are good Christians and they reject the outward form of the sacrament' and the thief on the cross made it into Paradise without baptism, so why not this person?)”
Heather Lee described another spontaneous sacrament: “I worked in a residence of six men with a variety of mental and physical challenges. D was a man in late 40s for whom weekly attendance at the local United Church seemed important. He also volunteered on Thursday's folded bulletins, then enjoyed a cup of coffee with the secretary, and was given a couple of cookies. One of the cookies usually came home wrapped in a napkin, to be squirreled away in some safe place and enjoyed later.
“One Sunday evening after supper, D went to his room and returned with a napkin-wrapped cookie.
“He stood at the foot (or head) of the table, unwrapped the cookie, said a few words (none of what D said was in any language we could identify), then moved purposefully around the table, breaking the cookie and giving a piece to each person while speaking a few more words.
When all seven people had been served, D was back at his own seat. He ate the rest of the cookie. smiled broadly, said a few more words, clapped his hands and sat down with a big grin.
“The other staff member asked, ‘What was that all about.?’
“I said, ‘We have just been served Communion.’”
So did David Gilchrist: “I worked in a logging camp in 1948, and got talking to another young chap -- a Baptist lad -- who missed going to Church on Sunday as much as I did. So we asked for the mess hall for an hour on Sunday morning, and a handful of other loggers joined us.
“We shared in leading an informal worship, where we chose a Scripture passage and a couple of hymns that we could remember the words for -- at least a verse of two. Then one of us would share some thoughts on the passage we had read, and how it touched our own lives.
“But at the end of each Gospel, it tells about the Last Supper, and it says that Jesus told his disciples - ordinary fishermen, and other lay folk - to celebrate together in remembrance of him. We didn’t see anything about having to have someone with his collar on backwards, etc., so we got some grape juice and a bit of bread from the cook, and held our own Communion Service. We had no idea we were violating the Rules of the Church! And, yes, we also felt that our Communion with God and with each other was as real and valid as any ‘official’ Church experience.”
Frank Martens offered the only contrary reaction: “If you are going to discuss such ‘stuff’ on Wednesdays, please take me off the list – remember, I am an atheist who misspent five years at Prairie Bible Institute at Three Hills AB, and another two years at Alberta Mennonite High School in Coaldale. Confession was obligatory at PBI, one of the reasons I left there. At least Mennonites didn’t feel it that necessary.
“I will never, ever, understand religionists of any stripe.”
Psalm 27 makes me think of a little dog lying still under a hedge at the corner of our block. I saw it as I drove by. I don't know if it was alive or dead. But my heart aches for that little dog, and for the family that had lost it.
7 I raise my head and howl at the sky.
Hear my cry, and come to me!
8 "Where is your home?" my heart pounds;
"You are lost, you are lost, you are lost!"
I need to find my people.
Find me, my friends! Do not forget me!
9 Do not be angry with me for wandering away;
do not punish me for straying from your side.
You have taught me, you have trained me;
Now show me that you can save me, too.
10 When I was small, you took me into your home;
You took me for your very own.
11 Do not desert me now, when I have wandered into unfamiliar territory,
by paths you did not teach me.
12 Do not abandon me to an alien world,
where I can trust no one.
I fear for my life.
13 I will lie down here and wait.
Soon I will hear my human’s voice calling me;
I will see familiar feet coming towards me.
14 I can be brave, if I know she is coming for me.
I shall lie down here, and wait.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet