Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Good luck!

Recently a number of books and research projects have been exploring the role of luck in success.  The findings seem to be that while talent, hard work, passion and creative commitment are all important to success, luck is a very big factor in the actual distribution of success.

One study, in fact, found that "in general, mediocre-but-lucky people were much more successful than more-talented-but-unlucky individuals. The most successful [persons in the study] tended to be those who were only slightly above average in talent but with a lot of luck in their lives."  (From

While not discounting my own role in the successes and failures of my life, somehow this finding does seem to diminish somewhat my tendency to compare my success or failure relative to others, and to draw moral conclusions (usually negative about myself) about myself in comparison to others.

I wonder also -- going a little more theoretical and big-picture for a moment, if it reveals the lie in the Protestant work ethic that has so shaped our society over the last few centuries -- the teaching that God (or life or society, if you are not overtly religious) rewards those who work hard, and that we earn (and therefore deserve, and deserve to keep and use as we wish) all that comes our way.  

When we consider the pride that this ethic can generate in the lives of those who are successful, and the self-loathing, bitterness, depression and anger it can nourish in the hearts of those who are not successful, it makes me wonder at how much our religion can be part of the problem.

But also at how religion -- re-examined and carefully understood and practiced, can also be part of the answer.

This morning I came across this passage quoted from the Qur'an 4:36:

Serve God and do not associate any thing with God, and do something beautiful to both your parents, and to the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the neighbour who is near and the neighbour who is farther away, and the companion by your side, and the traveller, and those whom your right hands possess; surely God does not love the one who is proud, boastful.

The Jewish Scriptures say the same thing.  In fact, the commandments to care for the orphan, the widow and the alien are the most-repeated commandments in the Old Testament.

The Christian ethic is no different.

And even the scientific mind comes to a similar conclusion.  The article cited above ends by noting that "the researchers argue that the following factors are all important in giving [all] people more chances of success: a stimulating environment rich in opportunities, a good education, intensive training, and an efficient strategy for the distribution of funds and resources."

I wonder if what's different, though, because of the research about the role of luck in life and in the success anyone has, is that we now have reason to see the redistribution of resources (i.e. better sharing of what people have) not so much as good-hearted charity by those who have, but as simple, humble honesty about what and how we have.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Long live (in) the Olympics

Well, I guess I no longer have to wonder when I'll first miss my Wednesday deadline!  

Where on Earth did this week go?  And how did it get to be Thursday evening already?

And where did the Olympics go?  All week Japhia and I have spent a few moments each evening looking together at the empty TV screen, lamenting the end of the nightly feast of what great things men and women are capable of.

I wonder, what did you see of heroic humanity?  What lingers in your mind from the 17-day buffet of human achievement?

Did you see, for instance, the moment in the decisive sixth end of the gold-medal game of mixed-doubles curling, when after struggling through uncharacteristic nervousness and errors in the early game, John Morris passionately urges Kaitlyn Lawes on what ended up being the game- and medal-winning rock, to sweep "hard, Kaitlyn ... hard, Kaitlyn ... harder, Kaitlyn."  And she did.  And they won.

Or the much-anticipated perfect final skate by Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, which they actually delivered for all the world to see?

Or the powerful final skate of Kaetlyn Osmond that won her a bronze medal only three years after planning to quit competitive skating because of injuries?

Or maybe something like the sight of the skeleton racers -- athletes sliding down an iced track at more than 100 kms/hour lying head-first on their stomach, unprotected save for a crash helmet, on the merest little sled that would barely hold a ten-year-old?

And do you also remember some of the commercials?  Like the one about the young woman born without complete legs, and the way in which the odds against her becoming a world champion downhill skier diminish and keep diminishing through miracle after miracle of the human spirit until she truly does become a champion?

Or the one about a young gay man who comes home to his mom with a figure skating flourish and a black eye he suffered at the hands of others who could not accept him, and a young woman wearing a hijab and ostracized for it by the other girls in her skating club, and the boy with a prosthetic foot struggling to be one with the other speed-skaters? All of whom maintain their passion, and win their chance and their place in the light?

It is amazing what the human spirit -- what we, are capable of, individually and together.

Sadly, no more Olympics until the summer of 2020 and the winter of 2022. 

But I wonder what will remain between now and then on the daily table of my life?  And what images and visions of true achievement and what glory of real humanity from the past few weeks will persist and be incarnated in my own days and nights of human-divine-olympian living?

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Psychology (and Theology) of the Good Life

Ever wonder about the things that rise unbidden from your memory? 

Today at breakfast I was humming "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder."  I haven't thought of that hymn for decades, but it was the closing hymn at a funeral service I led yesterday. And somehow it became the soundtrack for my oatmeal and smoothie this morning.

I remember liking it as a kid.  In part because the tune has some life to it, and you can be so dramatic with an elongated "ro-o-o-o-ll" and "yo-o-o-o-o-nder" in the last line of each verse and all the way through the refrain.  In part, too, because I really found something comforting in the promise of being part of a company of happily saved souls.  And I think it really was the promise of being part of "that company" more than of escaping hell, that attracted me.  Overall I was probably more lonely than convicted, even though at the time I would have told you the opposite.

And then there's the other thing I found myself mulling over from yesterday -- an interview on CBC's The Current with Laurie Santos, an evolutionary psychology professor who teaches a wildly -- even insanely, popular course called "Psychology and the Good Life" in which she distils current evolutionary and psychological research about human life and happiness, into practical daily disciplines, understandings and practices that students can learn and commit to, to live good lives.  When pressed, Laurie says it comes down to developing three things in your life: time for yourself so you can know your own true needs rather than just what our culture tells you to want; daily practices of mindfulness and gratitude; and a commitment to being nice to, and doing good things for others with whatever resources and assets you have.

The course is so life-changing that thousands enrol in person and on-line, students send materials back to their younger siblings still at home and to their parents, and people from around the world find ways to access it.  

I was excited just hearing the interview about it while I drove to the church to prepare for the funeral I was leading.  And where we would sing "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder."

I wonder how these two things connect in me.

Maybe for me it really is less about making it into "that happy company" on the other side of the distant shore, and more about being part of that company here and now.

p.s. You can find the interview with Laurie Santos at

And you can hear a youtube version of "When the Roll" with lyrics, at

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A rose - even dry, dusty and crushed, never stops being a rose


Ash Wednesday is February 14?

Valentine's Day is Ash Wednesday?


So I wonder how your day has gone?  Off to church in the morning or at noon to confess your brokenness and receive the sign of ashes ... and then out for a candlelit dinner with your sweetie, hoping the low lights will help keep un-noticed the smudge on your forehead so your partner won't ask what you had to confess? 

Can you really do romance and confession on the same day?  Can sweet-talking to your honey and honest soul-searching with your priest and your faith community be done in the same 24 hours?

Maybe. Maybe it's even a wonderful gift that the calendar has given us this year.  (And just wait till you see when we get to celebrate Easter Sunday this year!)

Anyway ... back to Ash-Valentine's Wednesday.  

Roses are good (and yes, I still have to go out and buy some because I forgot on my way home!), and I'm sure Japhia will be glad for them, and I will be glad I got them.

But equally good and gladdening to us, I think, are the messy smudges of dried-out, dusty and even burned-in-the-cauldron-of-hurt-and-anger-and-honesty rose petal ashes we wear as the sign of being compelled to work over the years -- the last few especially, at the parts of life and relationship that lie beyond the first and even second or third blush of the roses. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Thoughts (and action) on a snowy day

Snowed again today.

It's stopped now and the sun is shining.  But all morning and into early afternoon the air was full of big flakes, and a thick, fluffy fresh blanket of white was being laid upon the earth.

Today I loved it.  It looked beautiful.  It was easy to shovel.  It was such a nice day to be outside.  The snow was a wondrous excuse to get some exercise on a gorgeous day.

But I also know it was terrible for commuters; I saw the traffic reports.  Bad too for people with mobility issues; not many at the seniors' gym this morning.  And not good for people on the streets, the homeless, the vulnerable.

So I wonder about that little voice inside me that feels such an immediate need in most situations to evaluate and judge whether something is good or bad.  

It all depends, doesn't it? 

And maybe the real question in most situations -- today's snow included, is not whether it's good or bad, but what it calls from me.

Today I loved the snow, so I went out in it, cleaned off the car and drove to the gym, came home and shovelled the sidewalk and street, and loved every minute of it.  I felt blessed and gave thanks.

And when I think about the people inconvenienced or even threatened by the snow, what's to stop me from doing something to help them -- from showing love in some way?  Like contributing to a mission that brings sandwiches and new socks to people on the street.  Or like also shovelling the sidewalk (and it's a corner lot -- a lot of sidewalk) of the woman who lives next door, is older than me, and for the health of her heart should not be shovelling?

So I wonder.  Maybe the question in most situations of life is not at all, is it good or bad?  Maybe the better question that makes more sense is rather, what does it mean and what are the possibilities in this situation for me to be a person of love -- to feel loved and to show love to others?

The question of good and bad is impossible.  The question of how I feel loved and how I can show love to others really does seem much better.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A few moments of shared grace in the sanctuary of St Tim's

He was so happy to be able to share the good news with me.  I think he was as close as I have ever seen any person to being a cup of blessing that over-runneth.

I was sitting in Tim Horton's.  Not exactly just minding my own business.  I was sharing a tea break with a young man who has been attending our church for a few months.

And as soon as he (the joyfully over-flowing bearer of good news, not the young man I was chatting with) came into the Tim's and saw me, he came over and began talking.  Quite loudly and exuberantly.  With the biggest smile on his face, the most honest joy in his eyes, and the wonder of what he was sharing with me animating his whole body.

It was about the love of God shown to us in Jesus.  How Jesus died to save all people.  And that it really means all.  Not just the good people.  Not just the people who believe the right things.  Not just the people who do the things that make them (and us) count as "Christian" in the eyes of others.

But everyone.  Absolutely everyone.  Regardless of the limits and boundaries that we so often put on God's loving forgiveness and embrace.

Over and over the message spilled out of him.  That God's saving love embraces every single person in the world.  And how can this not affect the way I look at every person?  And how I look at what I consider all the things I do to make God love me (more than others)?

Only once and for a few fleeting seconds did I wonder what other people, not being able not to overhear, thought of this.  ("Hey honey, I went to Tim's today, and I think a church service broke out.")

But aside from those few regrettable seconds of self-consciousness, I was honestly happy to listen, to witness his joy, to take in the good news, and consciously let it shape the way I looked at others around me, and looked at myself as well.

The incident reminded me of taking my father-in-law to Tim Horton's in the later years of his life when some of his filters had begun to fade.  On one occasion as we stood waiting our turn to order our coffee and muffins, he turned to face the person behind us in line, looked the startled man in the eye, placed his right hand on the man's left shoulder, and said quite simply, "I would like to share a blessing with you, that I hope may change your life.  May I?"

The man said yes, probably not knowing what else he could say safely.

Then with all the easy solemnity of a man who had spoken these words at the end of many liturgies all his life, Bill said in a quiet, conversational tone: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."

All the while looking the man straight in the eye and with his right hand resting on the man's left shoulder.  Then he dropped his hand.  He and the other man both smiled.

And we turned to go to the counter to order our coffee and muffins, and then go find a place to sit.

Who says that church -- or at least, the shared memory of God's love, can't break out anywhere we go?

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Hallowing the days

Today was my fifth work-out at the gym since I began last week.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 am.  Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday barring illness or emergency.

The work-out feels good physically.  And just as good for my spirit is the simple regularity of the practice, and my grateful commitment to it.

I've long known about, admired and sometimes experienced the formative and healing effects of living in a way akin to monastic hours -- regular, daily practice of a wholistic cycle of activity, rest, study and prayer.  The most healing summer vacation I ever experienced, for instance (and my frazzled, fragmented spirit at that time really really needed it to be healing) was two weeks of rising at 6:30 or 7 am, having breakfast with Japhia and driving her to work, coming home for 2-3 hours of physical labour on some project around the house or yard, stopping for lunch (that I would take time to prepare and enjoy), then spending 2-3 hours in the afternoon on the back deck reading, reflecting and journaling, until Japhia returned home and we had supper and the evening together.

I realize that having one's day and even one's whole week structured and routinized is not unique.  So I wonder what makes some structures and routines formative and healing -- like living within a sacred rhythm of monastic hours; and what makes other structures and routines deadening and exhausting -- like living on a hamster wheel or in an endless, mindless, repeating maze.

Whatever the difference is, I am glad to be feeling like I'm living the first of the two right now.  Such a welcome change from how I have lived at other times.

And as the new year continues to unfold, and you have your own opportunities to shape and re-shape the regularities of your life that in turn shape you, may you find your way into whatever monastic-houred kind of life is good for you.