Bono on the difference between Grace and Karma

I’m always amazed at what Bono has to say on faith. Incredible that this is one of the biggest rock stars in the world today.

Grace + Truth

Bono_on_Bono_Cover“It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma…

You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or opposite one.  Its clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe.  I’m absolutely sure of it.

And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “As you reap, so will you sow” stuff.  Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news…

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The U.S. and Eh?

1609661_615833311797037_1219666808_n“Would you like white or brown toast?”

The first time I went out for breakfast after I had moved to Canada from the United States, the waitress asked me this question. For just the splittest of seconds I thought to myself, “Isn’t all toast brown?”

Of course, now I know that in Canada when a waitress asks you that question, the American translation is: “Would you like white or wheat toast?” Perhaps the visiting Canadian could ask at that point, “Isn’t all toast wheat?”

I have had the privilege of calling both the United States and Canada my home. Some have made the observation that there really is no difference between the two countries. Most often those “some” are Americans. After living in Canada for over thirteen years, I’d have to say that, yes, the two countries share an amazing amount of similarities. We share a common language – one of the two official languages of Canada, that is – and there is little lost in translation except maybe when I Canuck might say, “Excuse me. I spilled some poutine on your Chesterfield. May I have a serviette, please?”

We share the massive landmass known as North America. Though somehow the U.S. got all the useable land while Canada got all the mass. I remember flying back to the States from Europe in January a number of years ago. At one point we made our way over miles and miles of endless white. While peering out the windows we could not make out one tree or any life forms in all that vastness. Then the pilot came on to say, “We are now making our way over Canada…”.

We share the largest undefended border in the world. Though don’t say that to any of the U.S. customs officials zealously guarding said border . When you cross at a hotspot like, say, Port Huron, MI the U.S. guards there will grill you as if you are trying to enter East Berlin. While traveling from Canada to the U.S., we once had an American official dump our entire bag of apples as we weren’t supposed to bring produce into the country. On the bag were the words, “Product of U.S.A.”.

There are many other things we have in common. But there are also a number of differences. These differences are not so drastic as to lead to war (not since 1812, at least); they’re more like the quirky differences between you and your college roommate – for the most part you get along fine, but he really has to stop clipping his toenails into the kitchen sink!

I grew up American. So much so that I thought that outline of the States on the weather map during the evening news was a map of the entire world. Being American just was what it was. I never really thought about it too hard until I visited and lived in other countries as a child and teenager. Even then, those visits were brief, and I was soon back Yankee Doodling along. But having lived in Canada for a number of years, having been married to a Canadian wife for longer, and having my two U.S. born kids become steadfastly Canadian, has given me a different perspective on my new country.

Canada is home now. When I travel back to the U.S., even to my stomping grounds of youth, it doesn’t feel like I’m home again until I’m actually home again, in Canada. My home feels kinder and gentler, less judgmental, more goofy, more authentically human to me.

I don’t mean to dis my former country. America is a grand land. Frankly, I am overjoyed that the U.S. is the Super Power in the world today; the other alternatives make my stomach twitch.  Despite its shortcomings, the U.S. of A. is about the people, about freedom, about giving everyone a chance to prosper. Not perfect by any stretch but unlike any country in the world.

However, in Canada I’ve found a country that seems to have been crafted with me in mind. Or maybe that’s the other way around. Nevertheless, I now have a home that feels like it’s really my home. Canada doesn’t take itself too seriously, seemingly having a humility microchip planted in the collective brainstem. The U.S. applies a gravitas to just about everything it undertakes; from foreign affairs to Super Bowl coverage, from presidential elections to the Bachelorette. Canada knows it has a minor role in the grand drama of World Events. The U.S. knows it has a starring role in the production but often emotes and preens like a self-conscious Tom Cruise. Canada knows there are a lot of funny things about itself – like moose and Mounties and Celine Dion – which are consistently skewered for laughs. The U.S. does not like laughing at itself; it will laugh at the political party it hates or the celebrity who takes the public pratfall but does not like being the butt of the international joke.

To be fair, Canada has the advantage of being the wacky uncle at the Christmas party while the U.S. has to be the responsible hostess. Canada can go for laughs and finish all the cheese dip. The U.S. has to keep the party flowing and clean up all the mess when it’s done.

I have been American. I am now Canadian. Not a huge leap. However, I am thankful to call the Great White North my home and semi-native land. I love my Tim Horton’s coffee, my hockey with all its excitement and idiocy, my Canadian musicians who craft their own unique blend of northern soul. It’s everything I need it to be; not perfect by a long shot from the red line but a great place to pitch your yurt. Mixed metaphors aside, it’s a beauty way to go, eh?

Thinking About Women

Rosie-the-Riveter-poster-sI find myself thinking about women a lot these days.

Being a man of the male persuasion, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I’ve thought about women now and again in my life; though more so “now” than “again”; and often what my brain is doing shouldn’t be counted as actual thought, that would be making it sound way too intellectual and sensitive. Certainly, when a man sees an attractive woman his brain must be functioning at some level. Maybe at about 3% capacity but functioning a bit all the same. I am no different than any other easily distracted and attracted man.

However, when I say that I am thinking about women a lot these days, I don’t mean that I’m daydreaming about being stranded on a deserted island with a Victoria Secret model. Instead, I am feeling a great freedom these days to truly consider the women in my life and the great contributions they have made and continue to make for me and those around me; to truly consider women as so much more than the attractive counterpoint to men.

This headspace feels like freedom because being caught up in the sexual attraction brain freeze is a form of incarceration. When women become almost solely objects of desire, men lose the opportunity to experience the fullness that can come with the contributions of women to their lives. Either the superficial attraction becomes the focus or the lack thereof, and men miss out on the other gender that, to borrow from a sappy movie catchphrase, completes them.

Though I have always given lip service to the idea, only recently have I truly seen that women continue to be undervalued and unappreciated in our culture – our supposedly advanced and sophisticated culture – and men are the ones who need to do something about that. I am as guilty as the next guy in sometimes seeing women as the “window dressing” of life. Nice to look at, a great distraction, but not fully formed human beings in my mind; not people who have amazing gifts, abilities, thoughts and passions. I am guilty of focusing on the wrapping paper while being clueless about the gift inside.

What has got me thinking more deeply about women than I ever have? Getting older has probably helped (with, one would hope, the corollary of getting wiser); becoming more self-aware and aware of the other selves around me also contributes. But mostly it is concrete examples in my life at present that are driving home the point of how much I owe to women in my life – their encouragement and guidance, friendship and strength.

I’m thinking of women a lot these days because I’m thinking of the great group of women co-workers I have at the day program where I work. We all care for adults with special needs and I have come to greatly love and appreciate all those I work with, male or female. But in the women I see such an amazing combination of elements. They are compassionate, nurturing, funny, resilient, goofy, tough, honest, bold, adventurous, creative, innovative, thoughtful, courageous, vulnerable and strong – sometimes all in the same shift! In an environment that can be physically intimidating and emotionally draining, they continually shine.

I’m thinking of women a lot these days because I’m thinking of the woman I call my “little sister in Christ”. She is a fellow worker in the weird and wild gong show known as Christian ministry. When she lets loose with her powerfully honest voice, singing lyrics drawn straight from her soul, it grabs a hold of my heart and doesn’t let go until long after the song is finished. We say mean things about each other with a fondness and admiration that only brothers and sisters can get away with. For me in my stumbling and fumbling walk as a pastor, she has helped pick me up time and time again.

And, finally, I’m thinking about women a lot these days because I’m thinking of the one woman whose life story is being written along with my own. The woman who has given more to me than I have the right to ask of anyone. She has challenged me to be who I have been created to be because she so deeply loves who I have been created to be. Authentic, intelligent, insightful, faithful – she is so many things I aspire to be and cannot be without her there to spur me on to be so. She is the woman who continues to help me become more and more of the man I should be. And I am deeply, deeply in love with her.

Nothing can top this way of thinking about women, guys. There are so many banal and boorish ways available to us of shutting our minds off from truly considering women as the people that they are. It’s up to us to shut down those things and open up to the life-giving reality of being fully human together as men and women.

Pride and Pick-Up Basketball

basketball on a courtI have never had the burning desire to be considered the best at something. But it has become clear to me recently that I most definitely have the burning desire to not be considered the worst at something.

Last year I was happy to stumble upon a group of people playing pick-up basketball at a school just across the street from me. I hadn’t played basketball for almost 13 years so I jumped at the chance (but not too high – white man and all that). The group played every Saturday morning from 9-11a.m. It seemed like the thing for me.

The group was mostly French Canadians so I felt a bit awkward at first as I cannot speak the Language D’Heaven. But I could handle the pace and it felt good to get back to basketball after such a long hiatus. I’ve never been all that good at the sport. One keen observer once noted, “Ron doesn’t have a lot of skill. But he uses everything he’s got!” In truth, I can’t shoot to save my life but I can pogo up and down and bang bodies like a punk rocker in a mosh pit.

However, this particular group had a way of dividing up the teams that smelled too  much like pre-teen spirit to me. If there were too many people for two teams, “captains” would be appointed who would choose – junior-high style – the players that they wanted for their teams. The first time this happened, I assumed I would end up somewhere in the middle of the pack, as that is where I had assessed my skill level among this group of players ranging in age from early twenties to early sixties. This was not to be. In fact, the first time it was done, I was left to the very end and, even then, not chosen by any team so much as allocated. I was a leftover.

Certainly, this was a blow to my pride but I dismissed it due to the fact these people didn’t know me that well yet. When they had a chance to play ball with me for awhile, they’d realized what a valuable asset I am to a team and not leave me hanging on to be the “Mr. Irrelevant” of Saturday morning basketball.

However, it happened again… and again… and again. Each time was galling. Each time I’d play so hard, race the floor, do anything I could to show these deluded people the error of their choosing ways.

I came out to play faithfully almost every Saturday morning from October to April, determined to get better at this game and prove everyone wrong about me. But when the chance came to play again this past fall, I didn’t have the drive to go back. The excuses came easily: It was too big of a time commitment on a Saturday; the risk of injury was too high for a forty-something like me; I never connected with this group of players; I didn’t really have any fun. Clearly,this wasn’t the thing for me.

But recently I’ve been reflecting on it more. Sometimes it is a harrowing journey pondering things because the path leads to places that you thought you passed a long, long time ago. Could it be my lack of motivation to go back and play basketball wasn’t tied into any of my excuses but to the proverbial inner adolescent that still lurks in me? I wasn’t an athletic kid. I was the comic-book-reading-sensitive-artist kid. To be bullied was common. To be chosen last or simply allocated was common, too.

I’ve never been a prideful person. I’ve never been driven to be the best. But when I felt I was considered the worst it was something I couldn’t bear. Pick-up basketball had slammed my pride. What was meant as a recreational activity, something to give me exercise, had become an angst-filled experience, an exercise in self-pity and self-absorption.

One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, wrote this in his book “Wishful Thinking”: “Self-love or pride is a sin when, instead of leading you to share with others the self you love, it leads you to keep your self in perpetual safe-deposit. You not only don’t accrue any interest that way, but become less and less interesting every day.” My own dalliance with one of the Seven Deadly Sins had kept me from fully giving my Self to those Saturday morning pick-up games; had kept me from experiencing the joy that can come from giving the joy of my Self to other people.

Why should it matter that I might find myself in a situation where I could be considered the worst at something? Being the best or being the worst in itself does not give me value. What gives me value is being the Self I was created to be, and being that Self in abundance. Self-love can only lead to hiding that true Self away in order to protect it, which can only lead to a lonely and dismal life.

I likely won’t go back to Saturday morning pick-up basketball any time soon. A wound to the pride, especially one self-inflicted, takes a long time to heal. But I hope when other opportunities present themselves to me to be my true Self I will be so unabashedly. After all, life is a gift and we don’t fully enjoy it until we give it away.