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Why can’t I hear you?

May 7, 2022

I often find I am not a very good listener. Perhaps you have felt the same way. I’m not talking about my attention drifting, although that happens lots too. I’m talking about the need to interrupt when someone is making a case. When I’m talking with someone about something I disagree strongly with them on, I feel my insides becoming agitated, and just listening is excruciatingly difficult. And while I try to hold my tongue, I find myself forming a rebuttal, critiquing what they are saying, and preparing my counterarguments for when I get a chance to strike. But what I have failed to do is truly listen.

We are seeing A LOT of this type of thing in society. The recent re-sparked abortion debate is just another example. Why do we find it hard to listen and empathize with the person with whom we speak even while we may not be persuaded by their arguments? Why is it that we can’t acknowledge a convincing point, or that there might be something missing from our perspective of the issue? Are we afraid that being reasonable comes across as weak? Do we think that considering that we might be wrong is somehow a confession of sinfulness?

I once heard a quote, that I do not know the source of, that said, “the lover of truth need not fear any person’s rebuke.” If we only loved truth more than the need to be right, we might be able to listen without feeling threatened. If we could carefully and considerately articulate what we are hearing so that the other knows they are being heard, or perhaps, how what they are saying is coming across, then maybe we might have less rancor, more understanding, less hurting, and more healing.

Why do I find it so hard to apologize when something I said – even if it’s been taken the wrong way – has hurt someone? Why do I feel so vulnerable that I cannot concede that the other person makes a good point that is worthy of my consideration? Surely such listening is a sign of maturity, not weakness.

Don’t we all wish that just once a member of parliament might say something to the effect of, “My worthy opponent in the opposition makes a good point, worthy of consideration? It gives me pause to reconsider my position. In light of what he has said, might I suggest that my motion be tabled while he and I discuss more in-depth to find an agreeable way forward that would be best for all Canadians?”

It seems that such maturity and willingness to listen are missing from all strata of society. But I don’t like it. I wonder if there are any others out there hearing me on this and might we all become better listeners, less reactionary and vilifying of those with whom we may disagree or perhaps not understand.

A World of Words

April 30, 2022

I use words for a living. Each week I have to write a speech, or perhaps it might be more like an essay, of approximately 3000 words. It requires research and thoughtful consideration as I try to write something that will inspire, and teach while at the same time not be too lofty that the ideas are not understood, nor too rudimentary that I’m written off as simplistic. In addition to preparing a weekly sermon, I also try to blog. Those of you who follow me know very well that this is very much an on-and-off activity that is more often off than on. I am also coming precipitously close to completing my doctoral research dissertation. This requires different types of words. Heady, technical, and densely philosophical words. These are not the type of words I try to blog with and it requires a different type of energy to produce. And of course, in my attempt to be an “influencer” I send out tweets (@mervbudd) and Instagram posts (@mervbudd). Here I must be short and pithy. I need to cre8 words 4 othrs. #inventive!

If you were to look at my office you would see that I am surrounded by books. literally, I have shelves of books as well as piles on my table. And this doesn’t account for any of the electronic books that I have stored on six different reading apps on my iPad. I have books about words and how they can stick in people’s minds. Books about how to read books, recognizing that not all books are equal. I also have books about how to write (admittedly I feel this is an area I really need to grow in).

Sometimes it can feel as if I live in a world made up of words. But words, in and of themselves lack real substance. They are simply puffs of wind that escape the lips, lines of ink or pencil scribbled on a page, or microscopic dots arranged on a screen. They linger waiting to be heard or read but fail to actually do anything until they are. And now, considering myself a bit of a “word expert”, I feel as if words can be largely substanceless. Words cannot hold a hand or provide a hug. Sure they might touch your heart, but such comfort is feeble to one who is physically suffering, needing food, shelter, or medicine. Words might motivate but they fail to discipline. They can inspire but not mentor. Words, at the end of the day, are flimsy.

But there is one word that defied all this. It was that word that became flesh and blood. The Word who can touch our minds intellectually but also our bodies physically. The Word who inspires us volitionally but can also comfort us materially. It is no small wonder to me that “God became flesh and dwelt among us.” God is far too practical to leave us with empty phrases. The words of any speaker are only as trustworthy as the character of the one who speaks, having proven their trustworthiness in physical time and space. This is why I put my faith in this Word. He has proven that He is dynamically present not merely to my mind but to the whole of who I am. He speaks and I am touched in ways that human words can never duplicate.

Perhaps this is why Christianity is so unique among world religions. Every other spiritual leader left a legacy of words, but Christ did not write a book, nor did He give simply a list of laws to be obeyed. He left an example that could be imitated. He lived among humanity so that He could be touched and seen and handled. This living word dwelt among us so that He might touch us both spiritually and materially. He wed the physical and spiritual. This Word has a earthy feel. He does not deal merely with ideas and stories, He is a Word that can be encountered.

The Slow Death of Fine Phrases

April 23, 2022

I think I may be getting old but I’m finding that perfectly good, useful even descriptive words and phrases have died out. For instance, whatever happened to the word “dreamy” to describe someone attractive? I can’t remember the last time I heard that used (especially in reference to myself).

Of course, some words need to be discontinued. I remember an old history professor describing the death of a martyr being burnt at the stake. He described how they tied his hands behind his back while they surrounded him with faggots. Then they lit the faggots on fire and watch him burn.

I can understand why that particular synonym for “sticks” was discontinued but why the cool words (and by cool I mean sick, but by sick I don’t mean nauseating)? For instance, whatever happened to “groovy”? Perhaps those who used it were just too laid-back to defend it when it was wiped out?

Suddenly there are no “bee’s knees”, “fiddlesticks”, or “Jiminy cricket” to be heard. And I can’t recall the last time someone “scarfed” down their food. It wasn’t even that long ago that if someone said, “Sup?” They were asking if you had eaten, now they’re asking “what’s up?” Which itself is an obscure question, the answer to which has nothing to do with what is above you.

And for goodness sake don’t you wish that more young “hooligans” were getting “dressed down” for “shenanigans” like “scoffing” chocolate bars at the “five and dime” store?

It seems to me that the language is changing too fast. It just got me wondering what’s so wrong with how we used to speak? Perhaps some of you think it’s “swell”, but today it has me in a bit of a “tizzy”.

How about you? Leave a comment about a word or phrase you haven’t heard for a long time?

Something Profound

April 16, 2022

As a preacher, I always feel this pressure to say something profound at Easter. Something that will grab people’s attention, spin them around and cause their mouths to gape open. A need to speak in such a way so that the people hearing or reading will find their hearts moved, their minds convinced, their will reoriented and their character changed. That is a lot of pressure.

When you think about it, it’s also quite ludicrous. What on earth could I possibly say that is more profound than the record found in the New Testament concerning Jesus on Easter morning? What more moving, more earth-shattering news can possibly be told than that death itself has been conquered? That a human who was dead for three days came back through death and made a way that others can follow out of death once they have died? What news can compare with this greatest of all good news that announces that life is greater than death, that love is more powerful than evil, that light overcomes darkness, and that joy, no matter how long it is squelched, suppressed, covered up or ignored, can’t help but burst forth like a dead man from a tomb?

But, of course, we are, by and large, skeptics at heart. We’ve all received the texts announcing that we’ve won some lottery we never bought tickets for or have been left an inheritance from someone who we’ve never met. Our bologna detectors are pretty sensitive these days and surely this news is a case of “too good to be true”. But if it was true what would it take to convince someone? Eyewitnesses? We have their testimony. On-going testimonies of encounters. We have that every year for over 2 millennia from every nation, every class every stratum of society. Historical verification? Check!

At the end of the day, perhaps the only thing missing for those who are skeptical is a personal encounter, and that can not be given – only received. Jesus comes to those who seek Him. Or to put it another way, Jesus does not go where He is not wanted. And that too is a profound thought. The one who conquered hell, with fury, might, and power and who burst through the grave is too gentle to intrude into another person’s life without an invitation.

It’s an open invitation why don’t you explore the offer?

You gotta’ see the humor.

April 9, 2022

After a less than ideal vacation where my wife got sunstroke and I spent two days sleeping with stomach flu. We went to the airport to return home where we waited for a 9-hour delay until it was announced that our flight was canceled.

We quickly booked a hotel where we could stay for the next 2 days. And, considering how our week and day had gone, I was just looking to relax. This desire was not to be satisfied.

When we got to the hotel we arrived to a very crowded line of teenage baseball players who were down for a tournament. They were all special needs and boy were they excited! I stood at the back of the line and after waiting 15 minutes and not moving, I decided I would go to Starbucks to relax with my wife and let the crowd die down. After all, what could go wrong at Starbucks?

The Starbucks was just next door so I told my wife to sit down and I would get the order. A grande dark roast with 2 cream and sugar and an English breakfast tea with milk and sugar a very basic, simple order. So simple, in fact, they allowed a brand new employee to handle it all by himself. After placing my order I waited at the end of the counter until I observed the young intern talking with the manager, he headed towards me.

“We don’t have a dark roast. Would you like Pike Place.”

I really don’t like Pike Place (I find it too bitter) so I asked if he had a blond roast.


“Well, could you do a pour-over?”

He went to ask the manager. He told him they could make a fresh pot or make an Americano. I opted for the quicker Americano option. While that was being worked on he started to prepare my wife’s tea. He got the cup and started pouring in half and half cream.

“Excuse me,” I said, “is that half and half? Don’t you half 2% milk?”


“How about 1%?” I countered.

“We only have skim,” he said.

At this point I noticed his manager looking.

“We have 2%,” he said.

“Great I’ll take that.”

The trainee then took the cup with the cream in it and stared at it wondering what to do. Talking to nobody in particular he asked, “Do I just rinse out this cup and put the milk in?”

His manager told him to get a fresh cup. Then he walked him through the very complex and intricate process of making the tea. After putting the bags in the cup I heard him say, “Do I just add hot water then?” *sigh*

Starbucks was not the bastion of sanity I was hoping for. He put the hot water in and let the tea steep and handed me my Americano. I opened it to see that it was black. He had forgotten the cream and sugar.

“You forgot the cream.” I reminded him.

“No problem” he replied as he grabbed the 2% milk and poured it into my cup. “Tell me when to stop he said.”

Apparently cream was a problem. He then handed me some sugar and then turned back to the tea put the sugar in and asked me if he should stir it. “That would be nice,” I said as I carefully bit my tongue from saying what I was thinking. He took a stir stick, stirred the tea, and wound the tea bag strings around the stir stick. As he pulled the stir stick out he realized that the tea bags were attached and didn’t know what to do! I carefully walked him through the complicated step-by-step process of untwirling the stir stick in the opposite direction – an apparently particularly difficult maneuver to perform – in order to get the strings untangled. Finally, he had done it! His seemingly first independent coffee order was completed. I took our drinks over to where my wife was sitting and sat down. It was then I realized that he had neglected to give me a stir stick to stir in my sugar. I retrieved one and sat down to enjoy my moment of sanity in the midst of our insane day. I took a long slow satisfying sip of my Americano. It tasted odd somehow. I took another sip and realized, “I know that taste.” They had made my Americano with the Pike Place beans. I drank every bitter drop. It kind of matched my mood.

I looked over at my wife and we just started laughing. Sometimes you just gotta’ see the humor.

How to stop the spread.

March 8, 2021

When it comes to stopping the spread there are three key actions to keep in mind:

  1. Keep Isolated
  2. If you go out keep your distance and do not touch other people.
  3. Wear a mask around others

This is good advice if the spread we are wanting to stop is COVID-19 but it is exactly what we should not be doing if we want to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately many do keep isolated, afraid that somehow the bad influence of others may somehow rub off on them but forgetting that we have been called to rub off on others. We must be around people if we are going to spread the Good News.

And for goodness sake if you are going to be with people draw close, get to know them and don’t be afraid to be used to touch their lives and to have their lives touch yours. This is how friendships are built, how love is shared and how the Kingdom spreads.

Lastly, take off your masks when you are with others. For too long Christians have given a false impression by hiding behind masks of self-righteous pretense and false holiness. Nobody expects you to be perfect and don’t believe you when you pretend you are. Better to be genuine, vulnerable and real with others. They may just then feel that you are safe enough to confide in and you may be able to confide in them about God’s Kingdom.

By all means follow the advice of experts to stop the spread of COVID-19 but, when it comes to sharing the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom help share the spread!

Subtleties, Shades and Nuances

February 9, 2021

I love seeing my friend’s artwork which they post online. Pen and ink drawings, water colours, quilting, landscape art – I’ve got some very talented friends. Back in high school I took some art classes and it soon became apparent to me that the difference between good artwork and great artwork is the subtleties of colour and the shading, the gentle nuances that plays with light and the almost imperceptible dappling of contrasts that people look past in seeing the whole. It is these features that allow your mind to think you are seeing something which isn’t actually just a flat piece of paper with lines and colour. The artist knows how to draw your attention to what they want you to focus on. The empty space is as important as the space that is filled. The background doesn’t just sit there, it leads the eye. And there is a feel to art, a mysterious sense of ethos that is communicated to the person looking that can move them.

I’ve read how Bill Murray was about to take his life when a picture at the Art Institute of Chicago saved his life. It was the 19th-century French realist painter Jules Breton, who depicted a young peasant woman working in a field at sunrise called The Song of the Lark. Somehow that picture gave Him hope and changed the course of his life.

It was a moving encounter with a picture entitled Ecco Home, by Domenico Feti, with the inscription below “this have I suffered for you; now what will you do for me?” that moved a young Count Zinzendorf to commit his life to service for Christ and helped to launch the prelude to the modern missionary movement.

The power and the beauty of art all hangs tentatively on those subtleties, shades and nuances.

God is an artist. For many this a beautiful realization. We love how he paints sunsets with purple hues. We feel the playful joy of the fall leaves changed colours, or the haunting, reflective mood that is set by shadows and light on cresting snow drifts. But apart from nature we sometime forget these subtleties of God’s hand. Some people simply want a black and white moral code. They prefer a Bible that is absolutely literal and denies the poetic nature of the psalms or the figurative symbolism of apocalyptic writings.

“In 2012, an amateur art restorer in the small village of Borja, Spain, turned her attention to a fresco of Jesus Christ called “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”). Alas, Cecilia Giménez’s “fix” rendered the face of Jesus — painted in 1930 by Elías García Martínez — wholly unrecognizable. Ecce Homo 2.0 became a global laughingstock, compared to a blurry potato and a monkey.” – so reports this article in the New York Post. So it is with many modern “interpreters” of the Bible.

Behold the Man? – Botched fresco of Jesus

I find that sometimes critics of the Bible, fail to catch the nuances that are often present and often sketch a crude, unflattering and misrepresentation of what God is actually communicating. I find other, so called scholars, who want all shade and smudges with no fine, but firm, lines to help distinguish the foreground from the background and blur its message so that its core truth is all but whitewashed.

The Bible is the kind of book that a small child can read to understand, with epic stories of heroes. But it is also the kind of book that a grown adult can stare at with ever increasing intensity and find that the author reaches out through the pages and communicates great truth which moves their heart. It is the kind of writing which intellectuals can scrutinize and dissect and find deeper complexity and wonder as they analyze its composition. That does not make the Bible a bedtime story book, a love letter or a textbook. It is all this and so much more. And as such, the next time you read it and think “I don’t get it?” or “Is that all?” remember that it was written by an artist, look more deeply for the subtleties, shades and nuances.

That Elusive Itch

January 27, 2021

I read the news first on January 27th, and I was instantly intrigued. Perhaps you also may have heard the news. Toronto now has some stores bringing in the rarest coffee in the world! Coffee from the rare Racemosa bean. It only grows in a specific 150 square Kilometer area located in the coastal forest belt between northern Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mozambique, found growing wild in the coastal forests north of Lake St Lucia.

Those who know me will know that I like coffee – a lot! However, I’m not a coffee snob. I couldn’t discern an Arabica bean from a Robusta. I’ll drink anything from Starbucks to McDonalds. Instant, pour over, brewed, pressed, flavoured, expresso – I like it all. And to be honest I don’t really taste that much difference. Sure, there are subtle nuanced differences but if I’m honest, coffee is coffee. I can drink it black to double, double.

So why is it that reading the announcement of a new bean – the rarest in the world no less – makes me so desirous to try it? I honestly don’t think I’ll drink it and think to myself, “That is the flavour I’ve been seeking all my life!” I think the reason is much more rudimentary than that. I think it has to do with the unquenchable desire to experience something new and novel (or at least it sounds like it will be).

I suspect we all have that longing somewhere deep down that can easily be awakened. Perhaps yours isn’t awakened by a new coffee bean, but perhaps it’s the lasts i-something, a new car feature that’s only in the latest model or some exploit you’ve seen on YouTube that you can’t wait to try. There is a restlessness within the human species that’s longing, craving, dare I say, pining for something we can never quite put our finger on. Sure, the latest, greatest, newest whatever will distract us, perhaps appease the urge, distracting us for a while but eventually it will come back. It always does.

Could it be that our longing can be satisfied, but not with anything on earth? Is it possible that we have an “itch” for something transcendent, that is found beyond this world? The great English scholar, C.S. Lewis said, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.”

There is an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Why is it that we are fooled not just twice but over and over again thinking that somehow the next big thing our heart desires will somehow satisfy a piece of us that nothing else has ever touched? Perhaps instead of investing in what’s newest, we might try investing in something quite ancient. What if instead of pandering to the restlessness of distractions propelling us from one thing to the next, we spent time being still, acknowledging our distractedness and invited God to satisfy us?

Roughly 3000 years ago the lyrics of an ancient song said of God, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” His hand is open to each of us. What stops you from reaching out and receiving?

Same old, same old.

January 9, 2021

It’s just over one week since 2021 arrived. Statistically most of the resolutions we made will have been already broken. The resolutions we make go in one year and out the other.

We had hoped that the end of 2020 would usher in a better year and yet 2021 doesn’t look much different from 2020 – at least not yet. And now that for most of us, the holidays are over and we are back to the old routine, it feels like we’re right back where we left off. It’s the same old, same old.

The phrase “same old, same old” indicates that something is boring, plain and predictable. And for many it feels like there life is in a rut, caught in the endless, repeating cycle of what they’ve always known. And even though we all know the worn and trite meaning of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, we somehow look to each New Year hoping that maybe this year can be different.

So if the year doesn’t change our circumstances, and given the weakness or our resolutions, we can’t change our circumstances, what choice do we have? I’d like to suggest a change in perspective. Not a lowering of expectations per se, but rather a new orientation to how we view them. How we view are circumstances is really the only thing we have complete control of.

You’ve probably all heard the story of the two twins, one always optimistic and one always pessimistic. The parents, wanting to bring some balance to both their “distorted” perspectives, decided one birthday to give the pessimistic child a room full of every toy they could think to buy, while the other was given a room full of manure. As they went to visit the child with the toys, he was crying in the middle of the floor because they had forgotten to get one toy he really wanted. When they visited the other child, he was as happy and excited as could be digging through the manure. When asked why he was so happy he said, “With all this manure there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

For most of 2020 many have focused upon our losses and our problems. We’ve had our head down and our nose stuck in social media bemoaning all that’s wrong in the world. What if we chose to look differently, not ignoring the problems, but simply not dwelling on them and looking for them. What if we chose to see the good and the beautiful? What if we focused upon our moments of joy rather than times of sorrow? What if we expressed more gratitude and did less complaining? What if we celebrated what we have that hasn’t been taken, rather than mourn what we’ve lost?

It may not change our circumstances, but neither did complaining and whining. But what we might find is that hope and joy are found apart from circumstances and are always available if we are looking for them and that would be different from the same old, same old!

One tragedy, two tragedy, third tragedy – true tragedy.

April 17, 2019

On April 15th the world witnessed a tragedy. An architectural wonder, that took lifetimes and decades to complete was destroyed in the matter of hours. The world mourned as the Notre Dame was turned to ash and before the flames were squelched millions of dollars were pleged to rebuild it to a more glorious form and future.

But there was another tragedy that day. The only known female of four remaining Yangtze soft shell turtles left in the world died. Hunted to near extinction and now the species is on the pericope of being lost to the world forever.

I love the architecture and beauty of the Notre Dame but I can’t help but wonder how a creature of God’s making, a one of a kind living breathing, glorious creature is all but ignored. No money committed to help preserve the remaining three turtles . No crowds mourning for its demise. Hardly any headlines or tweets or mentions of the second, arguably equal if not greater, tragedy.

And perhaps, the true tragedy is the third tragedy that such a disparity of concern unveils. Are we as a species becoming less humane as a species. Does the tale of these two tragedies reveal a preoccupation with all things anthropocentric and a hardening indifference to the world of creation?

Regardless of the religious nature of the building, the soft shell turtle was a greater testimony to the creativity of God and His love of beauty. And perhaps this third tragedy of humanity’s callous indifference, or at least misplaced prioritization of concern, signals the ever looming extinction of our essential humanity.

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