I wanted to buy an airline ticket for my 16-year-old granddaughter, to come home for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, using the points on my credit card.
I found the flights online. I chose the dates. I couldn’t complete the booking. The program denied access. It slapped my wrist, so to speak.
So I dialed the number on the back of my credit card.
I was expecting trouble. Sadly, I expect any negotiation with a giant corporation to be more a curse than a blessing. Especially if I have to converse with a synthetic voice that’s supposed to pick up key words and respond intelligently.
Instead, I got an amazing agent.
She couldn’t book my flights either, because the company has rules against issuing tickets for unaccompanied minors. But she set up an end run around the system so that I could book my granddaughter’s flights directly with the airline, and then get points applied against my payment.
The airline’s agent was equally helpful.
The transaction took an entire morning on the telephone. But instead of having to beat my way through an impenetrable thicket of rules and regulations, the two of them made it easy. Even pleasant.
I thanked them both, just in case these calls were -- as we’re often advised – “recorded for monitoring and training purposes…”
Name them one by one…
Later that week, a priest urged, “Count your blessings -- too often, we let our blessings slip by, unnoticed.”
I hadn’t thought of those phone calls as blessings. But they were.
I don’t often recognize the telephone itself as a blessing. But later that same day, I got a call from an old friend on the other side of the country. Without the phone, we might never have made contact again.
That was a blessing.
Hot running water is a blessing when I scrub my pots and pans in the sink.
When I sit down to watch the nightly news – although I have doubts about endless newscasts being a blessing -- my dog lies on the floor and lays her head on my foot. She is definitely a blessing.
The Canadian medical system is a blessing.
Even though most people would want to avoid it, the experience of looking after my wife in the final months of her life was a blessing.
Having friends is a blessing.
Masks are a blessing, when they protect my health and the health of my loved ones. And hearing aids are a blessing when those masks conceal people’s lips.
Just being alive is a blessing.
The words of an old song come back to me: “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” Thanks to that priest’s comment, I now realize that my blessings don’t have to be big things like winning a lottery or falling in love. Many blessings are the little things, the overlooked things, the everyday things.
Whether or not I attribute those blessings to some beneficent “Lord” pulling strings, the important thing is that I recognize them as blessings. That I am grateful for them. And that I radiate that gratitude so I might also be a blessing to others.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To comment on this column, write email@example.com
“You titled it ‘An Alternative Alphabet’, Dick Best wrote about last week’s column. “But you never got past ‘A’. How could you do that?”
JT: The letter “A” got enough response that I can’t imagine getting 26 times as much!
Diane Levinson had her own “A”: “How about Accuracy? I don't believe that Jesus died to ‘atone’ for our sins but, rather, because of our sinful nature, including fear and self-interest. His resurrection was a glorious lesson that a meaningful existence is available to everyone should we choose to follow Jesus' example.”
Sandy Warren also mused on Atonement: “The Atonement has always been baffling to me. C.S. Lewis offers an explanation in his book ‘Mere Christianity’ that helped me somewhat. However, it wasn't until traveling around in parts of the ancient world and realizing how common the practice of sacrifice was across many cultures that I finally came to an understanding that made sense to me. Atonement wasn't a new concept with Christianity; it has been woven into myth and religion from time immemorial. Same with the association between deity and virgin birth, for that matter. (I am grateful that I live in a time that is not overly focussed on heresy!)”
Sandy added, “I loved the 23rd Psalm as said by a traveler returning to the familiar comforts of home!”
Jane Wallbrown also wrote about Atonement: “Your explanation is the correct one. I well remember trying to explain it to my growing new church....One evening, in great frustration for whatever reason, I explained atonement as this: ‘at one with God.’ [I invited them] to envision the very best orgasm they had ever had when they felt totally ‘at one’ with their partner. THAT was atonement. One with God. Sin was acting in ways that pulled you away from your partner. Separated you.
“It worked. We were all happy with THAT!”
Bob Rollwagen focused on the Eden story: “I enjoy reading history. Each author has their own views mixed in with the facts. I guess that is because they have unique life experiences that influence their understanding of the circumstances …
God did not write the Bible. Too bad, then we would get the straight goods. It was written by learned scholars over hundreds of years. Men, primarily. I am sure Eve was more aware than she is given credit for. Fortunately, women have an ever increasing role in historical recording circles. “A” could be for Actual, Accurate, Attitude, Absolute, but unfortunately today we have Anonymous, Annoying, Aggressive and Aggravating. I wonder how the Bible would read if social media had been available in the Garden.”
“I guess you can count me among those with an adolescent attitude,” wrote Gloria Jorgenson. “I have always wondered about a God who loves us all equally and yet lets some be born into a very short life of misery and deprivation. I watched a show about the children born in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. I wondered why children who weren't even conceived at that time have to bear the brunt of that mishap.
“One of my sons says he believes in a creator who created the universe but not a god who cares for you after that. When questioned about why a god would allow horrible things to happen, another son proposed that if he didn't, this earth would be heaven and there would be nothing to strive for.”
Steve Roney tackled me point by point. I’ll include only a few.
‘You seem to assume that the sin in Eden was not eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but having sex. I see no evidence of this from the text. Perhaps you are assuming the Bible follows a strict Victorian taboo over discussion sex, and will speak of such things only very obliquely?
“You describe atheists and agnostics as rebellious by nature. This depends entirely on the context. There is nothing rebellious about being an atheist in Communist China; you are being a conformist. A Christian is committing a significant act of rebellion. In Saudi Arabia, or several other Muslim countries, being an atheist would indeed be an act of rebellion; but so would being a Christian.
Being ‘culturally Christian’ is a different matter from being Christian. Christianity is always counter-cultural: it worships an executed criminal as God.”
I used a human analogy to question the notion of God showing love by sacrificing his only son. Steve responded, “
Jesus is not just the Son of God, but God, one in being with the father. So the Father is not killing the son; God is sacrificing himself. Nor, obviously, did God kill Jesus. Man did. You are blaming the victim for the crime.
“You object to the idea that God ‘plays favourites in wars.’ But of course he does, and should. Do you think it made no moral difference whether Hitler won World War II? Whether the South won the Civil War? Would it really be immoral for God to intervene? If someone breaks into another person’s home to rob and rape, is God obliged to not take sides?
I get to use this paraphrase of Psalm 99 once every three years. When I first wrote it, I envisioned the highest mountains on earth. We may have climbed them but we have not conquered them’ they remain as inhospitable to life as outer space.
1 Like a halo of holiness, the spirit of God envelops the earth.
In the stillness of space, God's spirit gives life;
let us acknowledge our insignificance.
In the emptiness of infinity, God's spirit creates life;
let us acknowledge our interdependence.
2 Look up if you would see God;
raise your sights beyond your repetitive routines.
3 But do not attempt to face God as an equal --
fling yourself face down on the earth
before the creator of the heavens.
4 God, you love to do right.
In your dealings with your creation, you are always fair.
5 We humans grovel before your greatness.
Humbly, we kiss the humus from which you fashioned us.
You are holiness itself.
6 The humus holds the recycled cells of those who came this way before us;
Step by step they searched for you, until you found them.
7 By the pillar of fire and the whispering breeze,
by bonfire and whirlwind, by prophecy and parable,
you showed them your way.
8 Because they tried to follow you, you forgave them their failings;
9 So pledge allegiance to the Holy One!
Gather at the foot of the mountain,
where even the rocks reach up towards our God.
Our God is holiness itself.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, email@example.com.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message or subject line) to email@example.com. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, email@example.com, or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry I posted some new poetic works there a few weeks ago. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at email@example.com, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to firstname.lastname@example.org (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)
To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)