Love Thy Neighbour

love

“God is calling us to so greatly love others that we do not desire for them anything that might separate them from God.” – Rosaria Butterfield

 

This quote not only speaks to how I ought to love my students and coworkers, but how I ought to love everyone who crosses my path. It’s a challenging quote, because it calls me to sacrificial love. It’s a love that puts the good of the other ahead of my own comfort.

I’ve been contemplating the meaning of friendship lately. I think my biggest question in relation to my friends is, how do I best love this person? Rosaria’s quote above really speaks to the meaning of love and what I desire for my friends.

To love someone well means relying on God for wisdom, even to know what love is and what love demands in each circumstance. I am continually confronted with the reality that I do not know how to love. My love is often confused with sympathy, or tainted with my own selfish desires.

So often I’d just like to have a set of rules that tells me how to behave. I’ve had this old book on Etiquette for years, and there’s something tempting about reading it and knowing exactly what the “polite” thing to do is, and how to behave in a socially acceptable way. But then I am confronted by Jesus with the woman at the well; Jesus accepting having his feet washed lavishly with perfume and long hair; Jesus eating with tax collectors. While He didn’t necessarily set out to break all the rules and offend people, He certainly didn’t let social conventions stop Him from loving people.

In my sermon notes from June 12th, I wrote this: “Christ is the love of God embodied in a person.” (I don’t remember if that was a direct quote from Joe or not?) Then later, I wrote this down: “Love means we obey God with respect to the person.”

Those two truths really say it all when it comes to love, don’t they? Christ is the very definition of love, and by walking in obedience to God, we are being conformed to His loving nature.

So, does love confront sometimes? “In the gospels, Jesus seemed to be confronting and rebuking His disciples and others with an extreme forcefulness. Jesus was driven by tenderness and compassion to deal forthrightly and convincingly with any issue that might have separated His loved ones from Him.”[i]

I’d rather avoid lovingly confronting someone because it’s uncomfortable and I don’t want to deal with their potentially negative response, or experience rejection. But if I don’t do it, then I’m failing to love that person.

How do I receive it when someone confronts me? As uncomfortable as it may be at the time, and although my initial feeling might be anger or annoyance, if I’m wise I will dismiss those feelings quickly and consider their words carefully. Mostly when this has happened, what I actually end up experiencing is gratitude that the person loves me enough to risk being honest with me.

Love is a risky thing. As C. S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

It’s riskier not to love.

 

 

[i] Intrater, K. (1989). Covenant Relationships. Shippensburg: Destiny Image.

 

Advertisements

Metamorphosis: Lessons from the Butterfly

butterfly

A package for me arrives in the school office, and as the children and I pass through on our way to the lunch room, I quickly stop and check the return address. I smile as I announce to the children, “It’s from the butterfly farm!” Squeals of excitement erupt through the line up, and they can hardly wait to finish their lunch so we can unpack the special delivery.

Tiny larvae wriggle in the transparent container as I pull it from the box, with the children’s expectant eyes all fixated on the box’s contents.

The questions begin:

What are they eating?

How come they’re so small?

How many are there?

How long will it take ‘til we have butterflies?

These little squirming critters don’t look very impressive.

“Gross!” exclaims one girl, and internally I agree! Wriggling around atop their food they are a little reminiscent of maggots.

“…how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!”[1]

“Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”[2]

We place the containers in an empty fish tank in a prominent place in our classroom, ready to watch them eat and grow. Each day the children check on them to see if they are getting bigger. “Eat, guys, eat!” they urge.

By the end of the week they are ready to be moved into their own individual containers, an operation which has to be performed by me. Squeamishly I fish them out with a paintbrush and gently drop each one into it’s own small home with a lump of food: wheat germ and soy. Now they eat, writhe, and rapidly grow – but one of them doesn’t get any bigger and its food is left uneaten.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”[3]

The children are fascinated by these creatures’ acrobatics! The maturing caterpillars climb all over their containers and even hang upside down. Their skin changes color and they develop little spikes all over their bodies, like a suit of armor.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”[4]

Ten days go by, and finally one of them takes action and begins to form a chrysalis. It’s a beautiful golden tomb of sorts. There’s no turning back now. Never again will they be caterpillars.

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.”[5]

The chrysalis formation is mysterious. “How do they know how to do that?” the children ask. There’s no explanation, other than that God made them to do that!

I pin the little golden pea-pod shaped cases to some netting that I fasten atop the glass tank. They hang silently in rows, glistening slightly. I ask the children to imagine what is happening inside, but from the outside it’s hard to tell that anything is going on in there at all.

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”[6]

One caterpillar doesn’t form a chrysalis. It just keeps eating. Eventually, it stops moving, but nothing seems to be happening in there.

“Is it dead?” the children ask.

“Maybe,” I reply.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”[7]

A few days of waiting, and then one morning a new creature inhabits the tank! It flaps it’s wings and sports fancy antenna, a long skinny curly tongue, and delicate legs.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[8]

We watch the others emerge, one by one. They burst forth from the chrysalises, and hang upside down for a time, pumping meconium through their wings. They are undeniably beautiful.

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”[9]

We make them a little garden in the tank with some natural objects (or as one student commented, “You made them a jungle gym!) We give them flowers and fruit. The children are delighted as they watch the insects flutter about, taste the sweet food, and climb over the flowers.

On Monday, we will walk the tank to the park and release them into the wild. They will not live long. The hope is that they will go and lay their eggs before their short lives come to an end.

“For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”[10]

[1] Job 25:6

[2] Isa. 41:14

[3] 1 Pet. 2:2-3

[4] Eph. 6:13

[5] 1 Cor. 15:36

[6] John 11:39-40

[7] John 12:24-25

[8] 2 Cor. 5:17

[9] 1 Cor. 15:42-44

[10] 2 Cor. 4:11-12, 16-18

Life and Death

life and death

Image: Creative Commons

By Tina Olesen

My heart broke over the children in Attawapiskat who wanted to die rather than continue to live in the terrible conditions in their community. It is so unnatural for children to want to die. Everything about a child speaks life!

What is happening in our culture that death is becoming increasingly attractive, even to the young? Death seems to them a better option than continuing to live in despair.

Proponents of assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion use similar logic – death is seen as preferable to suffering.

Death is often merely seen as a sort of “power outage” – fade to black. No more pain, no more suffering, nothing. However, there is no evidence for that fantasy idea of death; and for most people there is much uncertainty about what will happen to them when they die.

Our culture has a love-hate relationship with death. People want it when they think it means the elimination of suffering, but because they don’t really know for sure what happens after they die, they fear it.

That’s why the rich are arranging for their dead bodies to be frozen so that they can be thawed out in the hope of a cure being discovered in the future. Some are even going so far as trying to find ways to live forever by having their human parts replaced with robotic ones. They are scared to death of death.

It’s really all about control. They’d like to be in charge of when their lives end. They want to control how much suffering they experience.

This position assumes that we know what is best for ourselves. But how many of us have ever come to a point of despair in our lives, when we literally thought we’d be better off dead, because we weren’t able to see that relief was just around the corner? Would we now think, looking back, that we should have taken our lives at that point?

Despair and hopelessness can make suicide seem attractive, but it’s only a lie of the enemy of our souls.

What suicidal children need, and what we all need, is hope. And that hope has to be anchored in Someone who loves us, who died for us, and who holds our future in His hands.

George Müller picked up over 10,000 unwanted orphans off the streets of Bristol in the 1800s and lovingly fed, housed, clothed, and educated them, all with money provided in direct answer to prayer. He and his wife took no salary for themselves, and gave away anything that was over and above their basic needs.

Nowadays many of those orphans would probably never have been born in the first place, but rather aborted so they wouldn’t have to suffer poverty.

Yet a man like Müller was willing to lay down his life – his personal gain, his salary, his time, his privacy, his comfort – and give his life for God’s glory in the care of these children. He showed them the love of their Heavenly Father and what it was to hope in Jesus Christ.

We can learn from Müller what it means to give others a reason for the hope that is in us, and a reason for living. Ironically, we do this by dying – dying to our selfishness so that Jesus can live in and through us and bring life to others.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

 

The Hardest Part of Teaching

Image: Creative Commons

Image: Creative Commons

 

By Tina Olesen

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that the hardest part of teaching is having to keep the pressure on your students to do the things they do not want to do.

You don’t get a lot of thanks for continually telling your students to “focus” or “finish your job” or “quiet down”.

When your students seem to be hard of hearing and they are ignoring you…

When you’ve told a child something for the tenth time that morning…

When your students have to do something hard, and they are whining, and you feel like whining, too…

This is the least exciting part of being a teacher, and one I have to discipline myself to do! How much easier it would be to let my students off the hook, to let them fool around, to let them disobey me. Yet, I would not be serving their best interests.

How do you keep at it?

When I was a beginning teacher, my assigned teaching mentor recommended that I set up a “token economy” in my classroom, so my students would get “points” for compliance, which they could trade in for rewards. She argued that we have to motivate them to obey. I found out quickly that it only resulted in the children becoming increasingly selfish. When I would ask them to do something, they would say, “What are you going to give me if I do it?”

If we pay our students to comply, they aren’t going to learn how to make themselves do the things they don’t want to do, even when there’s nothing in it for them.

If we want to see our students grow up into men and women who will do the right thing, not because there’s anything in it for them, but just because it’s the right thing, then we won’t bribe [1] them to do it. But that will mean patiently dealing with resistance on the part of our students.

There is always the temptation to try to gain the hearts of our students by buying their affections. We want to feel good, we want to be liked. These affections are shallow, though. What runs deeper is when a child can look in your eyes and know that you love him enough to hold him accountable and voluntarily (even cheerfully) suffer his apparent hatred.

And so teaching is a vehicle for dying to self. Will I do the right thing by my students, even when it means willingly suffering their complaints, ingratitude, rebellion?

The question is, doesn’t Jesus suffer mine?

The hardest part of teaching is not dealing with the monotony of repeating the same instructions over and over again, or forcing myself to be faithful in the little things of child training.

The hardest part of teaching is looking into the face of your little rebellious student and recognising yourself there. It is continually coming face to face with my own pride, my own impatience, my own sin. It is agreeing with Jesus about it, and facing the fact that I am helpless to do anything to change it. Pride does not want to acknowledge that Jesus shed His own blood so that my sin could be dealt with.

So, I turn my back on my pride, and I come to Him. Perpetually. Humbly. Desperately. I let His love convict me. And He is right there, to cleanse, to forgive, to heal.

This is the glorious truth I can offer my students: the truth that although we are all rebellious sinners (myself included), Jesus came to save us from ourselves.

Last week, the seniors of our church were having a meeting together in the room beneath my classroom. I heard them singing and I paused for a moment and joined my heart in song with theirs:

 

Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,

Jesus, I come to Thee;

Out of my sickness, into Thy health,

Out of my want and into Thy wealth,

Out of my sin and into Thyself,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

 

Out of my shameful failure and loss,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,

Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,

Out of distress to jubilant psalm,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

 

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into Thy blessèd will to abide,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,

Out of despair into raptures above,

Upward for aye on wings like a dove,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

 

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,

Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;

Into the joy and light of Thy throne,

Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the depths of ruin untold,

Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,

Ever Thy glorious face to behold,

Jesus, I come to Thee.


 

[1] (Yes, of course there are times I give my students treats, to celebrate together. I’m not knocking that! It’s just not tied to performance. It’s a free gift.)

 

The Faith of a Child

By Tina Olesen

Have you listened to seven-year-olds pray? There is no hesitation, no holding back, no posturing, no self-consciousness. Just simple faith, and often a boldness that we adults shy away from.

One of my favorite subjects to teach is Bible. We have our daily time where we gather on the carpet, and begin with prayer.

This week in Bible we have been focusing on the cross of Christ. In one of our conversations about it, a student asked, “Why did the disciples leave Jesus when He was on the cross?” (Sometimes they ask me even tougher questions than this!)

One of the other students wanted to answer, so I let him. “They were scared.”

“But why were they scared?” came the incredulous reply. “They had God on their side!”

Another student interjects seriously, “But there were Roman soldiers. Those are tough guys.”

They all paused to consider this, some nodding in agreement.

But nothing could move this little man of faith. “They still should have done something!” he insisted earnestly.

We paused to consider that for a moment. Then I said, “You know, you’re right. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be brave. Even if it means dying for Jesus’ sake.”

“Yeah, and it doesn’t even matter if we die, ‘cause we’d be with Him anyways!” came the bold reply.

I looked at his face. He was dead serious.

So I told him, “This is what Jesus meant when He said that we should have the faith of a child. He wants everyone to have faith in Him like yours.” He beamed!

And it hit me afresh how it’s our faith that pleases God. Not the fancy words we try to use in prayer. Not the things that we do to try to get into His good books or impress Him. It is faith in His character that makes Him well pleased.

As I pondered this conversation, and how I am going to follow it up next Bible class, I thought about the disciples after the resurrection and after they were indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. What a radical difference there was in their faith! Then they were ready to lay their lives down for His sake, and by the power of His Spirit, they did.

This truth goes deep. It is the faith we display in His character, despite our circumstances, that proves to the watching world that Jesus is real, and that He is worth risking it all for. In doing so, we experience the sweet pleasure of God in our faith.

Sometimes it is overwhelming to me to think about the world that I am preparing my students to live in, but then I remember that it is in the times of the greatest challenges to the Christian faith that followers of Christ most display the faith in Him that proves He is worthy of our very lives.

“Yeah, and it doesn’t even matter if we die, ‘cause we’d be with Him anyways!”

 

 

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Toronto skyline By Tina Olesen

Almost two years ago I visited Toronto for the first time. I remember feeling an odd sort of sadness as I lifted off from Pearson and watched the city slowly disappear from beneath me. It was huge, brown, and kind of ugly looking; yet I felt something tugging at my heart. I didn’t know exactly what it was. A few hours later I looked down over the green expanse of Vancouver with the ocean beyond and the contrast was remarkable. Home again. Or was I?

Fast forward three months. I have all my most important possessions crammed into an aging but trusty Toyota, and I am headed east. This script is replayed over and over again:

“Where are you headed?”

“I’m moving to Toronto.”

“Toronto?! Really? Why?!?”

I don’t know if it’s because people from Toronto who retire out west tell horror stories about the winters, but Toronto seems to have a bad rap in those parts.

My first winter here made their “Why?!?”s echo through my head. I had never before in my life scraped ice off the inside of my car windshield…

I nearly had a breakdown over the traffic. Why are people allowed to park in the right travelling lanes? Enough said.

Adjustment comes in phases. First the excitement of meeting new people and making new friends. Then the longing just to sit and talk with someone who knows you, who has known you for years, and not to have to give your background all over again. Then, surprisingly, your new friends begin to feel like old friends. You feel like you would miss them just as terribly.

Missing my loved ones and the land of my birth comes in waves. Sometimes I long for the sight of the ocean. Some days I want to lift up my eyes to the mountains and all I see are high rises. I stood washing dishes in the kitchen one day and ached for the sound of rain (I never would have believed that I would miss the rain, but I do!)

The beauty may be subtler here, but it’s here. I’ve had endless wonderful surprises from a loving, caring Heavenly Father. The first snowdrops after a long winter. The unexpected lily of the valley and lilacs that I had no idea were buried beneath all that snow in the yard. The robins who came to play in the sprinkler in early summer.

I still feel somewhat like a transplant, but one whose roots are growing and whose leaves are stretching up towards the sun.

In the 90’s when I was at UVic, the education students in my cohort were all crammed into an auditorium one afternoon, listening to the head of the Faculty of Education. She was giving us a pep talk before we went out to do our practice teaching, some of us to some pretty far flung places in BC. I’ll never forget her commanding but warm words urging us to “Bloom where you’re planted!”

Lately I’ve been thinking about her words again. What does it take to bloom where you’re planted?

For me it has taken a lot of tender loving care from God’s people in Toronto. They’ve embraced me. They’ve nurtured me. They’ve loved me.

It also takes a quiet heart. As the Psalmist says, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” It takes trust in the character of the God who led me here, and who continues to provide for me.

It takes a sense of adventure in exploring a new place, and accepting and embracing it for what it is, instead of continually comparing it with what you know. The possibilities of discovering new territory here are pretty much endless.

The best new territory by far, though, has been the realm of Christian Education. As I stepped into my new classroom that very first day, I experienced the freedom of being able to speak openly about Jesus Christ and exalt Him as Lord and King. I had the whole Bible at my disposal as the teaching tool that can address all of life. I was able to pray with my students, leading them to the One who can bring hope to any situation.

I have the blessing of watching my students grow as they soak in the water of the Word of God and bask in the warmth of His grace and love. “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered,” promises Proverbs, and it’s true.

Repealing the “Spanking Law”

parent child

Image: Creative Commons

By Tina Olesen

Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have announced their plans to repeal the so-called “Spanking Law” as part of their commitment to implement all of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The TRC investigated the past abuse of aboriginal children in Canadian residential schools and made 94 recommendations to the government to promote reconciliation between the offended and the offenders.

One of their recommendations was that the government repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code. It reads:

“Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”

Let’s be clear, this law does not allow for teachers to spank students. In January 2004, the Supreme Court stated that “teachers may reasonably apply force to remove a child from a classroom or secure compliance with instructions, but not merely as corporal punishment.”[i]

Today, the vast majority of child abuse happens in the home, not in schools. Repealing Section 43 will do nothing to prevent child abuse, and may well harm children.

There is a role that the authorities have to play in rescuing children from abusive situations. I spent more than eight years working as a Family Support Worker with children who were at risk for neglect or abuse. I sat in their homes, talked with their families, and heard their stories. I saw children being separated from their parents and being placed in foster care.

As bad as some of those homes were, they were the only homes these children knew. Leaving their parents was always difficult for them, even in the most abusive situations. Even the best foster homes weren’t really “home” for these kids. But in some rare situations, it really is in the children’s best interests to be permanently removed from their natural home.

I think we can all agree, however, that this is not ideal. Most of the time, children belong with their parents, which is why the systematic removal of aboriginal children from their natural families was so devastating.

One of the horrors of the Residential Schools tragedy was that children were ripped away from their parents and had to grow up apart from their families, stripped of their identity and security.

So, why would we want to repeal Section 43 and give the government more power to take children away from their families? It doesn’t make any sense.

Do we really want an already overwhelmed social services system and court system dealing with cases that should never be brought before a judge?

Imagine a scenario where loving parents warn their child not to run into traffic, and when he does he gets a swat on the behind. A neighbour reports this to social services and they have to investigate. Perhaps the child has to be removed from the home during the investigation, which means he may go to a foster home. Then they have to appear before a judge, which could drag on indefinitely with our backlogged court system. Not only do the parents have to endure the avoidable awfulness of such a trial, but the child has to endure the unwarranted loss of his home and family, even temporarily.

Section 43 is already worded in such a way as to avoid cases like this coming before a judge in the first place. It not only protects parents and teachers who are disciplining in love, but it protects children from the ordeal of unnecessary removal and separation from their families.

Those who argue in favor of repealing Section 43 argue that “We don’t allow husbands to hit their wives so why do we allow parents to spank their children?” This is akin to arguing that, “We don’t allow husbands to give their wives a time-out, so why do we allow parents to give their children one?” The parent-child relationship is obviously very different from the spousal relationship.

Their argument also falsely equates assault with the use of physical correction. Do some parents cross the line and abuse their children in anger? Yes, but we already have a law preventing the excessive use of force against a child. Proper parental use of physical correction, done calmly with self-control and with love, is not child abuse.

If the government redefines child abuse to include physical correction, not only will they be setting themselves up for an even more overloaded social services system, but they will ironically be perpetrating the same crime that was committed against children and parents in Residential Schools so many years ago: they will be usurping parental authority and needlessly splitting up families all over again.


[i] http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/banning-strap-end-corporal-punishment-canadian-schools

“While corporal punishment itself is not reasonable in the school context, a majority of the Supreme Court concluded that teachers may use force to remove children from classrooms or secure compliance with instructions.” See http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/lop/researchpublications/prb0510-e.htm