Monday, August 29, 2011

Captivity: A Review

James Loney's book 'Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War' carried me away from the first page. It's a terrifying read, not so much because of the potential violence that hovers behind each page, but because of the emotional, political and ethical turmoil it provokes.

How do you create peace in the center of unrelenting violence and despair? How do you live day after day with fear? How do you deal with the boredom of captivity, shackled to the same people in the same room, navigating their coping strategies even as you develop your own? How do you hold on to your values, principles and beliefs as your world condenses to a few square feet and the ever-present threat that even that may yet be lost? How, in the midst of all this, do you maintain any sense of humor let alone sanity? And how, ultimately, do you love the neighbor that's too close, (the fellow captive), and the enemy that's too strong (the captor)?

The questions that 'Captivity' elicits are bigger than Loney's experience. They force the reader to reflect on where we're going as humans, and what it means to truly live faith in our time.

'Captivity' is a book that defies summary. It's a book that needs to be read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Compassion and Companionship in a Small City

What if Jesus hadn’t fed the 5000?

What if he had confined his actions to a ‘preaching tour’ without any active involvement with the poor and needy of his time? What if he’d thought they were too different, too dangerous, too unimportant to spend time with?
Well, the answer is simple: He wouldn’t be Jesus.

This means of course that if we want to be followers of Christ, if we want to be real Christians, then we have to get involved. Fortunately, many Churches understand this, and run hospitality and outreach programs.

For example, in my little city of Brockville, the Pier Christian Church’s Common Ground program provides hospitality, prayer and lunch for 50-80 people a day. Common Ground started as a coffee and prayer drop-in program several years ago. Its primary intent was to provide spiritual care to the wider community. At Common Ground everyone is welcome. Participants find friendship, fellowship, faith and food all in one place.

Good Christian ministry should always be more about solidarity than charity. True solidarity means being there for each other regardless of our circumstances, our appearance, our interests, even our sins. A church community isn’t made up of saints, but rather neighbors struggling to help each other and follow in the footsteps of Christ. This is what it means to love your neighbor. This is what it means to love your God.

The Pier’s Common Ground, like other church ministries, serves as a reminder that we cannot worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one the rest of the week. We’re called to be creative, courageous and compassionate. We’re called to walk in the footsteps of the man from Galilee who ate, prayed and laughed with the poorest around him.

What ministries are you involved in? What draws you to it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Siblings and Summer

It’s my sister’s fault.

Alright, fine. It’s mine. I should have posted earlier this week, but my sister Jennifer is visiting from England, and we’ve spent the last few days together at a cottage in Bouchette, Quebec, far away from the internet and landlines.

It was wonderful.

There’s nothing like spending time with someone who’s known you since before you knew yourself. My sisters and brothers know ALL my flaws. They remember EVERY mistake. But they also remember every success, every joke, every trip, every joy and every sorrow.

This means that I have no choice but to be myself, completely and fully, when I’m with my two brothers and two sisters. It’s liberating to know there’s nothing left to hide and it doesn’t matter anyway. They value my strengths, help me deal with my weaknesses, and tolerate my stupidities.

The unconditional love of siblings (or best friends for the only child) is a blessing hard to put in to words, and hard to qualify except as priceless. Over the years our family has grown with spouses and children. Each new member has brought us the gift of their particular view of the world, and new insights into love, solidarity and friendship.

Families can be like complicated and unique treasure boxes, each member rubbing up against the other, sometimes producing irritation, more often (if you’re lucky like me) producing a shine. Good families are built on relationship rather than blood and DNA.

As my sister and I sat by the bonfire at midnight, gazing at a sky brilliant with stars and moon, the only thing more beautiful than the night was the knowledge of the blessings of my ever-loving, ever-changing, ever-growing family.

So I leave you with a question this week: What does family mean to you and where do you find it?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

We Walk Together For a Little While

Many years ago, on a cold December night, I stood on a sidewalk in Kingston outside the Grand Theatre waiting for my date. He was late. It was the last night of term before Christmas vacation.

“Cathy!” My brother James called to me from across Princess Street. “What’re you doing? There’s a bunch of us going to Coppers.”

“Can’t,” I answered, as he crossed over. “Got a date.”

“Ooooo,” James ‘ eyebrows went up. “That him?”

A good looking young man in a leather jacket was heading toward us at a rapid pace.

I smiled. “Yup. Don’t do anything stupid. I like him.”

“Sure,” James said, and threw his arm around me pulling me close.

“Getyourarmoffme!” I hissed. He just grinned until I pushed him off.

My date approached and I introduced them. “James, this is Brian. Brian this is my BROTHER James.”

Later, Brian told me he’d never felt so relieved. Much later. Brian and I celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary last Friday.

Now twenty-two years may seem like a long time, and it might be an eternity in a bad relationship, but a few decades are nothing, not nearly enough time together, in a good relationship, be it friendship or marriage.

We walk with each other for a short time only on this earth, and some day Brian and I will say good-bye. Sooner or later we all grieve or are grieved. But for that short walk we can support each other and love each other. We can embrace companionship and bear each other’s sorrows.

It’s easy to let conflict overwhelm us, easy to blame the people closest to us for our pain, easy to nurse the ways we are wronged. God knows I’ve done that often enough. But it might be easier still to forgive, let go, and fall into friendship and love, if only we would let ourselves.

Friendships are treasures that last beyond human breath, and outpace the beating of a human heart. May you embrace yours, and hold close the memory of those who are gone. Eternity and love belong to all of us.