Dear Mom,

Dear Mom,

It’s been nearly six years since you left us, although you didn’t depart altogether. Every now and then, I find you in my shadow, banging pots about in the kitchen, flavouring this, tasting that. You carried me in your womb, your prayers, your heart and now I find myself bearing you, in divers ways. The other day, for instance, I found myself peeling a potato, and felt you hand guiding mine, sliding along the contours of this root of the earth, sensing that a potato was capable of bearing love, and that cooking for those I love is as holy as was my pious prayers at the altar today, where I sensed you yet again.

You have given me many things, Mom. But one of the best is a respect for women. I am surrounded by strong women: my wonderful wife who has imbibed deeply from her own Mother’s well of wisdom and has also found some wisdom of her own; my courageous daughters who continually redefine success for me; sisters and in-laws whose faith buoys me; friends and colleagues who leave me in awe with their talent, their dedication, their ability to know exactly what to say to me when it needs to be said.

You have given me the gift of eyes, Mom. What a precious gift that is! As yours faded so many years ago, in some small way I think they migrated to mine, and every now and then I think I see through you… well, only in part, dimly, through a glass darkly, as the good apostle says. I will never know what it means to be a woman, but from what I can see from where I sit, it is a marvel and a challenge, a contentment and a frustration; a holy calling.

Men sometimes stereotype women as emotional, but those leaky eyes I encounter here, and there; this turn of the head when cheeks become beds for rivered emotions; this weeping is pleading for justice and a burden for peace and healing. These tears often prophetically announce that things are not as they should be, and are begging for a world more just. I stand in awe of such tears and wish them for myself: to be able to cry peace and righteousness; to be fit to sob for the healing of creation. This I covet when I find myself paralyzed. But the women in my life, Mom, show me the way, just like you did for so many years: be not afraid; look for the opportunities to brighten someone’s world; invite people into relationship; knock at the door until someone opens; be of good courage; pray always and in many ways.

I miss you so, Mom, but I know that you are in a good place. I also know that you are never so very far away. That veil separating us is thinner than we imagine. And I thank God for your example: you were not perfect and you taught me that I don’t need to be either. You taught me that love takes many forms, and it needs to be embraced for its diversity. You taught me things that you did not know you taught me.

Today is Mother’s Day but I think on you every day and know that what made you a marvel was not so much that you are my mother, but that you were you, that you are you. Your being you, unapologetically, reminds me every day that the sacred slips into our lives askew: now in a potato peel, now in a tear, now in song, now silence, now.

Lovingly yours,

Allen

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Missing Out?

This weekend I was re-acquainted with an acronym I met some years ago: FOMO, short for “fear of missing out.” I came across it in an article by Jim Balsillie and Norman Doidge, the former famous for his role in the development of the Blackberry, and the latter for his work as a psychologist. The article addressed the role of smart phones as addictive devices, pointing to the science behind the claim. It was a most illuminating and important contribution into a long, hard conversation that needs to continue on many fronts. I commend it to you.

But FOMO didn’t begin with smart phones, or the internet, or the computer, or the modern advances of technology in our society. FOMO is at the heart of human experience. The other day in class we were pondering Chagall’s painting of Isaac’s blessing of Jacob, who bought out Esau’s birthright for the price of some pottage. This may well be an example of FOMO times two: Esau that he would miss out on a meal, and Jacob (and his mother) that he would miss out on a blessing. I am sure we can all find our own examples of ways in which we have succumbed to FOMO in our personal, work, social lives, etc.

At the core of FOMO, I think is a failure to see what is within. We only worry about missing out because we miss what is within. Religion has sometimes contributed to this, certainly I can speak to this from the perspective of Christianity run amok. Some years ago it was a rather popular corrective to counter a traditional treatment of original sin with a focus on original blessing. This was intended to undermine what was seen to be an obsession with what is wrong with people. Original sin or original blessing? Which rings true for you? I think that most of us have had enough experience – both with ourselves and with others – to know that there is truth in both. We really are made in the image of God and we really do fail to be who we are. But the latter does not erase the beauty of the former, and so we all experience human beauty, courage, and curiousity in ourselves and in one another, aside from the brokenness we know so well. But it would be a mistake to think that we need God because of the latter erasing the former. The truth of the matter is that we don’t only need God because we are flawed: we need God because God made us to need God. This isn’t a flaw. This is a gift.

Of course, it isn’t only God we need. We need one another, and this also is a gift. When we look deep within ourselves and see an ache for relationships, we should be glad. We can rejoice because this ache is a trace of God in us. This is what we are created to be: in need of God and one another. I recently read an article pointing out that the greatest indicator of longevity in a longitudinal study was regular face to face personal interaction. This need not be deep abiding relationships, although these too were important. Rather, the person who meaningfully and regularly interacts with the cashier at the grocery store etc. is likely to live longer, and more richly too, I would guess. It is, of course, no small irony that we use our devices to combat FOMO when we really should set them down and take time to reach out to those God puts in our path: no matter their race, creed, social status etc. Perhaps then we will discover the grace-filled joy of reaching out that dissipates the feeling of missing out.

Photos, Mirrors and Self Reflections

The Christmas season is a time for photographs in our family. With the kids home, and the grandparents around someone inevitably pulls out a camera, or tablet, or phone and snaps pictures that are shared in the plethora of social media platforms that mark our era. I’m not real big on having my picture taken, but I endure it all the same. I’m never really happy with the result. I generally feel like the person looking back at me from a photograph isn’t really me. I think that has a bit to do with mirrors.

I get to know myself via the mirror. In my mind, I know that the image in the mirror is not really mine. It is reversed for one thing, with the hair part on the wrong side and my face’s asymmetry reversed. But I get to know myself – or I think I do – from that image I imbibe day in and day out. And when my eye beholds photographs of me, they always seem wrong. But I don’t think the dissonance should be attributed to the mirror’s reversal alone. There is more to it than meets the eye, as it were.

The self I see in the mirror is ever only a self alone. Rarely, very rarely do I see myself with others in a mirror while the opposite is the case with photographs. I am generally photographed alongside of family and friends, and I appear differently. Could it be the case that I am differently around others? Could it be the case that my countenance actually changes in the presence of others? Could it be that the self I think I know from the mirror – a naked self in abstraction from social settings and relationships – is not really the same self that others know? But no, that is not quite right since it is not only others who know me socially. I know myself socially as well as individually. And each me is really me, but differently. All of this makes me wonder what makes a self.

Some religions imagine that the self really only is in its relationality. I think there is a truth to that, and it shows up in Christianity most fundamentally in the idea that I truly am Allen coram Deo – before God. Before the mirror, and before my family and friends I can pretend to be this person or that, but before God I am stripped bear of any pretense and utterly transparent. The self I project to others and the self I project to Allen are ordered to Allen coram Deo: I am a human being with all the mystery, the flaws, the glory, and the pettiness that defines who I am. This is the Allen that is known to God; the Allen that is welcomed unconditionally in love.

It is good to remember that the Allen I see in the mirror and in photographs are but snippets of the person I am, the people we are. We are made in the image of God and so are a mystery, even to ourselves. And so I am, we are, forever surprising ourselves and others as well. Of course the opposite obtains as well. Others astonish us, and this wonder serves as a apt reminder that to be human is to be more than can be captured by ether mirror or photograph. To be human, above all else, is to be seen by God whose very seeing sees into us what we might not see in ourselves: grace and the gifts fitting for me – poor as I am, yet rich as can be.

For Mom

Today we laid my dear mother Lakadia (Kay) Jorgenson (née Sommer) to rest. She died on October 2, 2013 at the age of 84 years. Her four children were at her side and she died in peace. Mom was someone who loved to cook for, care for and welcome others. She taught me lessons I am still learning and for her I wrote the following which was printed on her funeral card.

Tenaciously
her chest rises, falls
breathing in, breathing out
bearing witness to the glory of the
Lord who succored this sojourner from
Poland to Ponoka and points in between:
Pier 21, New Sarepta, Edmonton, Wilson Siding.
She mirrored mother earth in giving birth – groaning
in travail as she awaited the day of groaning no more. In
faith she stitched service into socks and kindness into afghans.
In hope she sowed compassion among beans and barley and berries.
Lovingly she kneaded care into bread that fed family, friends, and
wayfarers too. With a soft grace she tended Ken until his end
and then, at hers, Your wings wrapped her round as
her breath wound down – like a butterfly slowing
its beating wings into a posture of prayer.
At the last, Holy Breath, You took
her to Your breast where You
held, where You hold her
tenaciously.

Love, Allen

The Other the Merrier

The mast went up on our sailboat yesterday.  My wife and I went down to Hamilton Bay in the morning, did a little more work on the mast light and main sail’s halyard.  While we were working on our boat, there were sailors drifting in and out, working on their boats and sharing requisite gibes with one another.  After a quick lunch we got the mast ready for raising by the crane, where we bumped into Paul.

Paul is a bit of a character.  He is probably one of the friendliest guys I know, with a heart of gold, and some of the strangest views about pretty much everything.  We gave Paul a hand with his mast, and he returned the favour.  Rob, Calvin and Matt stopped by.  The language was colourful, as is wont to be the case when sometimes bull-headed men debate the relative merits of a rope being on this side, or that, of this or that.  I chuckle a lot at the repartee of this rag tag community.  The best line (herein edited) went something like this:  “If we could hook this crank up to your mouth we’d get this mast up a lot quicker.”   Feel free to supply the excised expletives as you see fit, should you decide to use it yourself.

The boating community is sometimes quite quirky, and really rather diverse.  Plumber and teachers, doctors and engineers, social workers and businessmen alike gather at the marina.  A common interest draws together some otherwise utterly uncommon characters.  Being together with such a disparate community is half the fun of sailing.  But it isn’t only the difference, or the otherness of one another that makes these communities work.  We gather together around something that we have in common.  Our differences don’t exactly disappear in our common interest, but they are radically re-ordered.  Community arises in a common cause.

In an interesting way, the marina works contra the current of contemporary culture.    Our computers, to advance one example, find out what we like based on sites we visit and flavour advertisements to our presumed consumer profile.  Technology profiles us for efficiency’s sake, and in so doing upends the possibilities of bumping into advertisements, or articles, or people that are unlike us or our interests.    Many forces herd us into communities of the like-minded.

We are, in my estimation, desperately in need of occasions that introduce us to people, or ideas, or worldviews that are alien to us.  Society historically made use of many institutions to draw together disparate peoples.  This still remains true to some extent, but “the times, they are a’changin,” as the bard sings.  But it is still a gift to rub elbows with people who are different, and for that reason, interesting, if not sometimes annoying.  Of course that interaction is gift times two when it involves a boat, or a book, or a whatever.  Where are some places that you meet characters who enrich your life?