Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Salary of Smoke

In this summer of bloodshed and war, I worry about how to pay my bills. In Canada live in a cocoon of security and have no friggin’ idea just how precarious the art of living can be.

The luxury of options, choices, paths to take open up before me like groceries in a SuperStore. I struggle with these decisions while most of the world has their ingenuity tested trying to live off of what ends up in the dumpster behind the mall.

As of this long August weekend I am officially unemployed. I prefer the term “self-employed” or better yet – and I’m practicing this one – I am an artist.

The most common response so far to this claim is a guffaw, or a sidelong smirk, or the “No really – what are you going to do?” question.

We’ve just purchased a large century home in downtown Peterborough. Just when my job security ends. Just when I step off the paycheque gravy-train. Just when I should be freeing myself of financial constraints and obligations … Lynn and I invest ourselves in this house, this neighbourhood, this city.


I’m not sure why. Call it a gut feeling. Call it a hunch. Call it a calling.

Kind of like the decision I made about 30 years ago to pursue a life of service in the Jesus way. I knew it was probably a bad choice. I knew it was probably going to lead to hardship and testing and trouble – and yet I jumped into those dark waters with both feet.  

Kind of like the decision I made two years into my theological training to quit full time studies and pursue an economic ministry. I had no idea what an “economic ministry” would look like. Nor did anyone else. I had a hunch. I had the inspiration of 3rd world Missionaries’ shoulders to stand on. But even from there I couldn’t see over the mountains to be climbed. I had a calling. So I jumped.

Kind of like the decision I made to leave Toronto thirteen years later. Just when I finally knew what I was doing – what an economic ministry was... Just when I was getting good at being an Executive Director. Just when I knew what would work and what wouldn’t – learning every step the hard way. We loaded up the truck and moved to Fenelon Falls. I had a calling to save my marriage. I had a calling to save the congregational church. But if salvation could be achieved with high hopes and hard work, then there’d be no wars would there?

If feels kind of like the decision I made to move to Peterborough almost four years ago now. Alone, but with the hopes and prayers of good friends, ancestors and angels, I rented a room from a poet and moved into the next adventure because … I had a hunch. I had a feeling. I had soooo many ideas but no plan, no funds, no where to start. So I jumped.

Never thought I’d end up in another pulpit. Never thought it might be a place to prepare for what’s next. (I thought it was what was “next”.) Never knew that the church at George Street would be god’s stepping stone. Never guessed that it would be the incubator for the romance and the working partnership that Lynn and I have hatched.

Never guessed that in three years I’d be launched into a new adventure. Stubbornly refusing to plan my next steps – I kept my focus to the day by day – walking my talk.

And so here I sit perched on the front porch of this new place. Keys are dropping from the two maple trees that stand like sentinels at the front walk. Ideas for “what’s next” drop with them. (like I always say “I have a lot of ideas – and some of them are actually good”)

I’m perched like a hummingbird in a cage. The door’s been opened. But I’ve been in the cage so long I’ve forgotten how to fly free. Sure, I’ve journeyed afar. I’ve seen how the other 90% of the world lives. I’ve hovered and drank from the nectar of what those cultures and conditions grow. I’ve been battered about by the storms a bit. But I’ve always returned to my chosen cage where domesticated flowers grow in familiar gardens. 

(If you have a hard time imagining me as a hummingbird…well then…there’s also a part of me that is the great soaring turkey vulture…always looking to capture the big picture too.)

I have a hunch. I have a feeling. I have a calling to be pursued yet ahead.

Last August Lynn and I honeymooned in the Rockies. On a mountain top I turned with intention to the four directions. To the South lay the river valley of my childhood and youth - lush and green. To the East as far as my eyes could see spanned ridge after ridge of mountains climbed and conquered.

To the North stood row upon row of purple and grey white-headed peaks. They whispered songs as ancestors who patiently watch and wait. But in the West there stood an impenetrable wall of rock. It rose like a challenge to my not yet aged heart, mind, and body. I couldn’t see what lay beyond it. But it called.

God’s in Charge, Not You   Ecclesiastes 5: The Message my additions in red.

Watch your step when you enter God’s house. (your day)
    Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice,
        Doing more harm than good.

Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think.
Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think She wants to hear.
God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better.
Overwork makes for restless sleep.
Overtalk shows you up as a fool.
4-5 When you tell God you’ll do something, do it—now.
God takes no pleasure in foolish gabble. Vow it, then do it.
Far better not to vow in the first place than to vow and not pay up.
Don’t let your mouth make a total sinner of you.
When called to account, you won’t get by with
    “Sorry, I didn’t mean it.”
Why risk provoking God to angry retaliation? (filling my head with regrets)
But against all illusion and fantasy and empty talk
There’s always this rock foundation: Fear God! (love justice, serve with lovingkindness, walk with humility and humour)

A Salary of Smoke

8-9 Don’t be too upset when you see the poor kicked around, and justice and right violated all over the place. Exploitation filters down from one petty official to another. There’s no end to it, and nothing can be done about it. (but this is not the kin-dom we live and serve in) The good earth doesn’t cheat anyone—even a bad king is honestly served by a field.
10 The one who loves money is never satisfied with money,
Nor the one who loves wealth with big profits. More smoke.
11 The more loot you get, the more looters show up.
And what fun is that—to be robbed in broad daylight?
12 Hard and honest work earns a good night’s sleep,
Whether supper is beans or steak.
But a rich man’s belly gives him insomnia.
13-17 Here’s a piece of bad luck I’ve seen happen:
A man hoards far more wealth than is good for him
And then loses it all in a bad business deal.
He fathered a child but hasn’t a cent left to give him.
He arrived naked from the womb of his mother;
He’ll leave in the same condition—with nothing.
This is bad luck, for sure—naked he came, naked he went.
So what was the point of working for a salary of smoke?
All for a miserable life spent in the dark?

Make the Most of What God Gives

18-20 After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live. (what riches, what accomplishments, what trophies or triumphs we might achieve – each is just a flower in God’s garden that grows and blossoms and fades. The point is – to grow!)

1 comment:

Lois Cossar - former church musician! (UCC ) said...

This is way cool Alan! I really understand about living by the hunch.I wish you many blessings on you in whatever you end up doing and however many times you change careers and by the way I too really like the way The Message puts Scripture.