Black Licorice

I took last week off primarily to ensure, along with Nancy, that our granddaughter got to and from Art Camp at the AGO. Most days it was an hour on the TTC each way. Crowded. She always was offered a seat, but was only really interested if it was the one at the front of the train so she could see where we were going. We enjoyed the trips and the conversation when it was possible. Mostly she likes to observe the people around her.

A typical 5-year old going on 15 years, her usual response when you asked her what it was like was “Okay.” Later in the week she opened up a little to us and allowed that she hated it because they made them work all the time. Fortunately, her mother assured us, she was having a good time but maybe found it a little structured. I get it. It’s summer after all. Judging by the amount of conversation invested in the subject her favourite activity was the egg drop on Thursday. It involved each camper group building a boat with a parachute attached. An egg was nested in the boat and the egg was transported up 2 storeys then released. Although each flight was met with enthusiasm, apparently none of the eggs survived.

At the end of the final day we were invited to the Camp Art Show to see everyone’s pieces on display. She did remarkable work. I say that out of some pride and being impressed with her blending of colours and media. Also because I struggle to make stick figures. Hell, for me, would be an eternal game of Pictionary. There was a happy vibrancy to everything we saw, including her work.

I knew, from my many years as a counselor and camp director, that camp can be difficult for younger children. Day camps don’t generally engender much homesickness (although when we chatted about my experiences she thought it was not fair that I got to go to camp and stay overnight in a sleeping bag) but it’s good to plan ways for a camper to get through each day so they can say they made it when facing the next. Each day I packed her knapsack with an emergency supply of black licorice, for which we share a fondness. It was gone by the end of the day, but she knew it would be replenished for the next day.

Our faith tradition is full of stories of trusting for the future one day at a time. From the daily mannah in the wilderness to Jesus’ words “don’t worry about tomorrow, it has enough trouble of its own” we are discipled in how to deal with anxiety. Seek the promised land, seek the way of the Holy One, and what you need for each day will be provided. Seek compassion and justice, see the persons around you, help design better parachutes, seek vibrancy in colour and texture.

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Rainier Cherries

For our 25th Anniversary Nancy and I spent a week on the West Coast and then went to Edmonton for a few days to celebrate her graduation with her Master’s Degree. The University laid on a wonderful buffet meal after the ceremony. Before it began I was looking for a water fountain and wandered into the dessert room. There was no one else there except me and an 8 year old boy. I don’t know who he belonged to but he was utterly unconcerned as he walked down a long table sticking his finger into the centre of each pie and tasting it. I now understood why some bakers leave that little circle where there is no crust. When I found Nancy later I whispered to her “When you choose a dessert, skip the pie.”

The week before we were at the market on Granville Island and a fruit vendor offered me a sample of a white cherry. I asked why he was selling un-ripened cherries. He only smiled and held it out again. Mercy. “What are these?” “Rainier cherries.” I bought two quarts. A few years later I found them again in our local grocery store. In Ontario. Mercy. Now I watch for them every year. They just showed up locally. They’re candy that’s good for you.

Paul, writing to the Galatians, tries to help a young church figure out its sense of who is in and who isn’t—who belongs and how they decide this. He builds up to a conclusion that asserts that in Christ there are no barriers, no differentiation, no inequalities. He encourages them to test their understanding, include all the pie.

For me the key passage is the end of chapter 5, where he describes the fruit of the spirit. This is pivotal for how we judge ourselves and how we might allow those we trust to judge us. Not by appearance but by what our lives produce: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, understanding, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Some are more familiar in our lives than others. Few will object to our cultivating them and offering them to them. Which I think is outreach: “What (who) are these?” We continue to proffer ourselves and allow people to decide.

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Basketball Fever

So love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. Memorize the Holy One's laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. -Deuteronomy 6.6-7

This is one of my favourite basketball stories, written by Walter Wangerin about his son, Matthew.

It is the world, not our children, that will prove selfish and unrepentant. What will we do to keep them from becoming like the world?

Teachers will be unfair. Coaches will scream. Friends will trash them for other friends. Bosses will play favorites. Promises will be made and not kept. Will they buy into an unjust world, looking out for number one? Will they become helpless victims? Will they decide never to trust anyone?

The saddest change of all would be for them to accept the guilt for all the hurt visited on them, believing they must deserve whatever they receive. And if they cannot discern what wrong they did, soon they will conclude that it is the wrong they are.

For three years in high school, Matthew played the point position on his basketball team. Something of a leader. Even off court he wove the players together by driving them hither and yon in the LeSabre, by gathering them at our house before games and giving them haircuts. I remember with pleasure the laughter booming in our basement. All but two of the players were black.

The team was more nervous and less easy when being bussed into the counties of southern Indiana to meet small-town high schools in all-white communities. In the dark mid-winter of 1988---just as the bus and the team were slowing down to turn off the highway into the parking lot of a rural school a violent fire flared beside the windows. Their eyes went wide. The driver gunned the engine. The team was perfectly silent. It was the first time any of them had seen a cross afire.

Matthew couldn't believe that anyone would burn the cross of Jesus. Nothing had prepared him for this. It was so vile, so obscene. Everyone else in the gym was happy, laughing, ordinary. He entered the court, wood-legged with your blank-eyed mask, the slack-faced declaration that nothing matters. You pretend indifference even while your heart ticks so quickly that you feel pulse in your throat, and your ears are acute, hearing the whispers of “n____, n____.” It doesn’t show in your face. Take the ball, shoot, warm up, stretch, don’t look to the stands. Shoot, shoot, shoot.

At the core of our Christian faith is something stronger than fairness: grace. It is absolutely necessary for life. Without it, our children die. With it, they see their own worth. With it, they can forgive. With the knowledge that Jesus Christ loves them unconditionally, that he loved them enough to die for them, they can stand up to the unfairness of life. With grace, they can see the worth of others. They can see the need for fairness and see the unfairness in life. They can see that they need not be ruled nor crushed by the world. They need not buy into it’s injustice, need not be helpless victims, need not blame who they are for the evil that happens to them. God is with them.

Matthew’s team won. No razzle dazzle, no slam dunks, no show---a steady game, a solid win. That’s all. The fans in the stands were not happy. Neither was Matt's coach. He was angry, jumpy, nervous. As the teams walked off the court, one man halfway to the rafters bellowed about the “n____ win” and the coach blew up. With a roar he began to climb the risers, prepared to split the skull of a very fat and very frightened fan. At the same time, people began to scramble toward the coach, balling their fists and shouting. And then both teams swept up the stands like birds in flight. Amazingly (Matthew told me), he was not afraid. He was the first to reach the coach. He tried to restrain him and got tossed aside for the effort, but he wasn’t scared. He truly did not expect a fight because of what had happened during the game.

Early in the second half---by habit I suppose---Matthew complimented his opposite on a good shot. Just a nod. An acknowledgment of skill between equals: “Hey man.” And “Hey.” said the opponent. Not once. Several times over Matt indicated by glances and touches his praise and his pleasure in the contest. In response, the white guard smiled---grinned. Matthew was an outstanding player. His compliment carried weight. There was a mutual relationship here, independent of the other noises in the gym. Matt’s mask cracked. He smiled too.

The rest of the team observed this weird, uncaused behaviour (except as God causes things that otherwise would not have happened). Both teams began to shut out the idiocy of sinful fans and apoplectic coaches and all the players attended to what they liked anyway: the game! That’s why, when the coach arose in a rage, Matthew wasn’t really afraid. It was a single team, a mixed team, white and black, all of the players, rural and city that swarmed into the stands and interposed itself between a choking coach and a fat fan and a possible brawl among adults.

You see? The children are free.

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