Thursday, December 14, 2006

'Tis the Season...

I've got a confession to make. I'm weak!!! I was determined this year NOT to get drawn into the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas. I had a plan. All I had to do was stick to the plan. What was the plan? The plan was to stay away from the malls - to do most of my Christmas shopping via CBM's gift catalogue (supporting various CBM ministries in honour of friends and family members) and only shop online or in store for specific items. A budget with no stretching. No browsing, comparison shopping, deal hunting. No frenzied shopping sprees. No late night ebay transactions. My focus would be on the softer details of the holiday season: creating memories, savouring time with family and friends, serious self-reflection, maintaining a generous spirit in the midst of all the chaos and busyness swirling about me, soaking in the songs of the season and deep contemplation of my favorite Advent devotional. By now you know the plan has been diverted. It's 11 days until Christmas the plan is pretty much in shambles. On more than one occasion (in fact with disturbing regularity!) I've gone into a mall with the best of intentions and ... lost my way? Looking for that one item on my list, I've wandered about stores, picking up this and that - wondering if I should perhaps revise my gift list, or possibly add to it - the prices are so reasonable, after all. There is a seductive allure in the buying but it leaves me feeling weak and guilty - even disoriented. Now, back in my office, it's quite clear. I am certainly not immune from the consumer bug. And it's not a matter of "knowing". I know better. I know that the people on my gift list are people who have everything they need and most of what they want. I know, on the other hand, that there are literally millions of people around the world who have inadequate access to food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education... hope for the future. It's an uncomfortable tension. The gift catalogue idea is at least a partial solution. I can send money for:
  • a water project in El Salvador,
  • seeds, tools and farm animals in Bolivia, Kenya and Rwanda,
  • prison children in Bolivia,
  • books and bicycles for pastors in various developing countries,
  • community clinics in Kenya;
  • student sponsorchip in Angola, Bolivia and Indonesia,
  • Guardians of Hope in Africa (helping victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic),
  • care for refugees in the Middle East,
  • care for marginalized children here in Canada,
  • support for a pastor in China or the Sudan,
  • community microcredit in India,
  • care for a family in India, or
  • ongoing support for CBM field personnel in countries around the world.

A little money can go a long way in the right hands! Last year my husband and I gave gifts to our families AND made donations of equal amounts through the CBM gift catalogue. We were a bit surprised and greatly encouraged with the response to this gifting strategy. It turns out that everyone on our list actually preferred to have money given in their name, rather than have another gift under the tree for themselves.

If you're interested in the gift catalogue, you can find details at:

Check it out. It's a great way to support the work of CBM and The Sharing Way while also honouring people on your gift list. And, it will free up more time for to really enjoy those softer aspects of the holiday season!!!

Monday, November 20, 2006

A question of timing...

"One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." Exodus 2:11 Reading Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest (see Oct. 13), something pierced through the usual jumble of thoughts in my mind and I saw something I hadn't seen before. Moses had the right idea back in the days when he acted on behalf of a Hebrew brother who was being persecuted by an Egyptian. Right motive - surely God could see that - apparently wrong thing to do. He ended up fleeing for his life and then spending 40 years tending sheep in Midian. One day, while the sheep were grazing at Horeb, God gave Moses an assignment - go back to Egypt and lead the Hebrews out of slavery. Moses wasn't impressed. In fact, he did pretty much everything he could to wiggle out of it. But God wasn't taking "no" for an answer. It was time for justice to be done! But why now? Think about it: 40 years had passed since Moses tried to do a "good thing" for his people. Now, all of a sudden God shows up with a plan. Why didn't God help Moses 40 years ago when he was anxious to step in and address the injustices facing his people? Chambers says: "In the beginning Moses had realized that he was the one to deliver the people, but he had to be trained and disciplined by God first. He was right in his individual perspective, but he was not the person for the work until he had learned true fellowship and oneness with God." This, by the way, is not a prescription for pious inactivity. In terms of our willingness to be used by God to address injustice, where are we in relation to Moses' experience? Are we rushing ahead? Are we trying to wiggle out of an assignment? Are we witnessing "plagues" that don't seem to serve any purpose? Are we wondering where God is in the midst of global poverty? Or, maybe this is all wrong. Maybe we shouldn't expect God to "direct our paths" specifically. Maybe we should stop talking about justice and just get busy doing justice on the basis of general principles gleaned from Scripture and our own conscience. But then, here's the way Chambers concludes his piece: "We may have the vision of God and a very clear understanding of what God wants, and yet when we start to do it, there comes to us something equivalent to Moses’ forty years in the wilderness...We must also learn that our individual effort for God shows nothing but disrespect for Him— our individuality is to be rendered radiant through a personal relationship with God, so that He may be "well pleased" ( Matthew 3:17 ). We are focused on the right individual perspective of things; we have the vision and can say, "I know this is what God wants me to do." But we have not yet learned to get into God’s stride." As we consider our efforts in acting justly, we must constantly assess whether or not we are walking on our own or getting into God's stride - being yoked with Christ.

Monday, October 16, 2006

An unsettling irony

  • Two out of five women and one out of five men would trade three to five years of their life to achieve their weight goals.
  • In 1970 the average age of a girl who started dieting was 14; by 1990 the average dieting age fell to 8.
  • Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents. (Shocking Statistics, from the University of Colorado website)

How do we wrap our minds around the stark reality that 826 million people in the world will go to bed hungry tonight while here in North America the diet industry is booming?

In the US alone, the diet industry is worth over $100 billion dollars, and that's per year! People are apparently willing to spend money—lots of it—to shed pounds, and the weight loss industry is laughing all the way to the bank.

It's not just the money—people go to absurd lengths to compensate for overeating or whatever else may cause one to be overweight— expensive diet pills and drinks, food and vitamin supplements, and even cosmetic surgery. And it's not just women and girls who diet or struggle with body image issues. Men are overweight and diet too. The sad thing is, there's a valid reason all this dieting. According to Stats Canada, in 1998, 47.9% of Canadians were overweight and "the estimated total direct cost of obesity in Canada in 1997 was more than 1.8 billion dollars." (from Contrast that scenario with this one: According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.” That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year. (from It's an unsettling irony...

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Vow of Generosity

What if affluent Christians could be persuaded to take a vow of generosity? Let me explain. Last year I noticed that many Christians gave up something as a discipline for the 40 days of Lent. I toyed with the idea of giving up coffee, or chocolate, or potato chips—maybe even all sweets. Before I could settle on the "what", one of those splinters began to move. I got to thinking, "what is really the value in me giving something up?" Rather than giving up something, what about intentionally practicing generosity for 40 days? Maybe it was just a way to avoid giving up sweets, but I've got to tell you, it was a powerful, transformative experience. I looked for opportunities to lend or give away things that could bless someone else or to go out of my way to help in random or not so random ways. It was pretty neat to see opportunities to be generous materialize. I confess that at first, I didn't jump right in. I'd see an opportunity to do something generous and then I'd weigh the cost. More often than not I had to overcome some reluctance and sometimes the opportunity passed while I was still thinking about it. Gradually, my hesitation became less-and-less and responding out of a spirit of generosity became more natural. So, somewhere along the line I got to thinking of the vow of generosity idea. See, if I give up something, who does that benefit? I understand that there might be some value in disciplining ourselves—most of us are pretty spoiled and take a lot for granted—giving something up reminds me to be thankful for all that I have. But if I take a vow of generosity, God can use me to bless others in diverse and incredible ways. Here's the challenge—give it a try. A formula that resonates with me is:
Live Simply, Give Generously and Practice Hospitality Give it some time—a month, 40 days, whatever works for you—and do it intentionally. If my thinking is correct and God blesses this initiative, it will become a habit or way of life. If you're a journaller, keep a generosity journal. If you haven't seen in already, watch the trailer from the movie Pay it Forward: Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Like a splinter in your mind...

Lois Mitchell "You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."
Morpheus, The Matrix.
Have you found yourself feeling that way? You've been involved in church life maybe for years, but you just have this sense that something's not quite right. There's a splinter in your brain or your soul. You can't get away from it. Neither could we. Who are we? We're Lois Mitchell and Marilyn Smith, part of the new Justice Initiative at Canadian Baptist Ministries. We've been doing a lot of reading and thinking lately about global issues. There's lots of stats - I'm sure you've heard some of them. Things like:
  • 20% of the world consumes 80% of the resources
  • only 8% of people in the world own a vehicle
  • 826 million people will go to bed hungry
  • 1 in 5 people in the world don't have access to clean water

Marilyn SmithYou get the picture. What does God think of all this? As we look at the injustices in the world we'll look at ways to begin to dislodge that splinter. That's what this blog is about - living simply, giving generously and practicing hospitality.

What would our communities look like if our churches actually do this as the primary expression of their faith in Christ?

What do you think?