Thursday December 30, 2021
There should be a day for celebrating lost causes.
My little hummingbird didn’t survive the cold snap after Christmas. She showed up here after all the other hummingbirds had migrated south. I assume that the “atmospheric river” swept her up from the coast and dumped her in an Okanagan winter.
I had not bothered taking down my sugar-syrup feeders when all the other hummingbirds had fled south. So there she was, one day in December.
Temperatures dropped to minus-6 Celsius. And still she came back, every day.
She was so desperate for life-giving nourishment that she came to drink nectar even while my daughter held the feeder in her hand.
Then, over Christmas, temperatures plunged. On Boxing Day, my daughter and I rebuilt my hummingbird feeders three times, trying to keep the sugar-syrup from freezing solid. We started with a Christmas tree bulb underneath the syrup reservoir. Then a chandelier bulb. Finally a full-fledged tungsten-filament heat-generating 60-watt bulb.
In one sense, we succeeded. Our light bulbs kept the syrup from freezing solid. But we couldn’t keep the hummingbird herself from freezing.
My little bird hasn’t been back for several days.
Not even St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, can warm up a minus-25 arctic air mass covering half a continent.
Worth doing, for their own sake
Saving one hummingbird may have been a lost cause, but it was worth doing.
That’s why I think we should celebrate lost causes.
There is, to take a current example, no way we will ever get rid of the Covid-19 coronavirus. We cannot make it pack its bags and go back wherever it came from. Its variants will still be here, generations from now.
Defeating a virus is a lost cause.
And yet our nurses and doctors and paramedics and care workers don’t give up. They may be so bone-weary they can barely drag themselves down those endless hospital corridors. But they keep trying to save lives.
St. Jude would be proud of them.
Jude had his own lost cause. He was, according to tradition, one of Jesus’ less well-known disciples. His real name was probably Judas, which would leave him constantly being confused with the Judas who sold Jesus to the authorities for 30 silver coins.
But then, Jesus might have considered his own mission, to change the focus of Jewish religion, a lost cause too. But he made the effort anyway.
I think we need to celebrate lost causes because, face it, life itself is a lost cause. Not one of us will get out of it alive We can’t undo past mistakes. We can’t count on happy endings.
So should we – as a psalm suggests -- sit by the rivers of Babylon and weep?
I suggest that lost causes are worth celebrating. It’s worthwhile living as if happy endings are possible. It’s worthwhile building bridges with people of other religions. It’s worthwhile listening to other viewpoints.
And yes, it’s worthwhile trying to save the life of a single hummingbird. trapped by an unforgiving cold snap.
Living with kindness and joy is worthwhile for its own sake, regardless of the outcome.
As another New Year rolls around, let’s drink a toast to all those lost causes that make life worth living.
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I used the same column last week for both Soft Edges and Sharp Edges. Here are some of the responses.
Retired Lutheran pastor Jim Henderschedt: “I had just finished writing and sending my devotion for today and then read your ‘Incarnation’ article. We are so much on the same page that it seems like I was looking over your shoulder, or you over mine. Yes! ‘In us, as us’ says it so well. Thank you for your witness and willingness to share your wisdom and vulnerability.”
Randy Hall passed along a story he uses “when I try to convey something of the mystery of the incarnation.
“Charles traveled to attend his 40th high school reunion and enjoyed seeing his former classmates. But there was a problem. No one recognized him. Less hair, more weight, glasses.
“Then he thought, ‘I know what I'll do.’ He went back to his hotel and told his teenage son that he HAD to come with him to the reunion. When the two walked in the door, classmates came to Charlie and said ‘Now we recognize you, Charlie. Your son looks just like you.’”
Bob Rollwagen: “We are Incarnate. You have summed it up very neatly.
“I have a colleague who sees himself as Christian. He has kissed the Pope’s ring twice. He is a leader in his circle and very intelligent but all I see is a group creating self-serving events to maintain a comfortable life style that labels disadvantaged groups for the purpose of bringing Christian meaning to their frequent ventures into benevolence.
“Has God been working for millions of years to evolve his/her/ their creativity which appears to still be a work in progress? Or is God a human creation that has attracted more precise definition over recent centuries resulting in the current unrest brought about by wealthy political families?
“Jesus is hope. Jesus will continue to be born. Jesus, under many names will continue to be born.”
Steve Roney wrote of some misconceptions of God, “It is also of course a contradiction to speak of God existing ‘before time.’ There cannot be time before time. Eternity is not an infinite extension of time. It is outside of time. You are probably fully aware of this, but it seems many make this mistake. It has implications.”
Judy Lochhead sent along: “Leonardo Boff’s ‘little reflection I made on the occasion of Christmas.’ (Which I have taken from Matthew Fox' daily reflection, which arrived in my inbox the same day as your reflection.)
Every boy wants to be a man
Every man wants to be a king.
Every king wants to be ‘God’.
Only God wanted to be a boy.
David Buckna: “I think this column contains your clearest statement yet as to what your own personal faith is. (But it could still be clearer.)
“[For example] you state: ‘The Incarnation has become central to my theology’, but nowhere in your column do you say Jesus is the second person of the Trinity (aka the Triune God).”
I had asked Mirza Yawar Baig how he, as a Muslim cleric, reacted to my column about Jesus as God. He replied: “We don’t believe that Jesus was either son of God or God Himself, because Jesus (Peace be on him) didn’t teach that. That was added into Christianity by Paul, Constantine and others.
“Jesus (Peace be on him) was Muslim (that is, someone who submitted to his Creator/Lord and worshipped Him alone) and neither claimed to be the son of God nor God himself. That is what Islam says also. That Jesus (Peace be on him) was a messenger and prophet of God (Allah) and that he was sent to bring the people back to the worship of their Creator alone without partners. How then could he have made himself a partner of God? Or son, or claimed to be God himself? He didn’t. Others did and deviated from his message. We believe that this is a great and false accusation against Jesus (Peace be on him).”
Eduard Hiebert’s letter goes back to the previous week’s column about latent prejudices: “After reading this weeks comments, especially Mirza Yawar Baig's experience of prejudice and self-awareness conditioning, I'm sorry I did not get around sooner to sharing a quote which I have found to be helpful:
‘The definition of any social unit -- family, nation, religion, or race -- is inseparable from an intrinsically preferential, prejudicious definition of the in-group as superior to the out-group. Even in cases where the definition is sophisticated enough not to claim superiority for the in-group, the ethical standard is set in such a way that the member owes more loyalty to the in-group and is comparatively less condemnable for despising or exploiting the out-group.’" (Boxzormenyi-Nagy, Ivan + Geraldine M. Spark. Invisible Loyalties. Hagerstown, Maryland: Harper and Row, 1973.)
The psalm for Sunday Jan 2 is 147:12=20. The psalm for New Year’s Day is Psalm 8. My choice was immediate – Psalm 8. This psalm is so marvelous it seems almost sacrilegious to attempt a paraphrase.
My God, my God! How amazing you are.
I would describe you in terms of the stars or the skies,
an old-growth forest or the farthest reaches of the universe,
But they are your creation, and you are their creator.
You are all creation.
Our weapons, our bombs, our power to destroy, dwindle into insignificance
compared to the cry of a newborn baby.
On a starry night, with your glory sprinkled across the skies,
I stare into the infinite ends of your universe, and I wonder,
Who am I?
Why do I matter?
Why do you care about me?
We humans are less than specks of dust in your universe,
our timeframe shorter than a second in the great clock of creation;
Yet you have given us a special place in your family;
you have trusted us to manage your earth, on your behalf --
to look after not just the sheep and the oxen, but also the wolves that prey on them;
To tend the birds, the fish, and even creatures we have never seen at the bottom of the sea.
My God, my God! How amazing you are!
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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