He’s my Brother

“The road is long
With a many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there.”

The Hollies, Songwriters: B. Russell, B. Scott

Considering that my father-in-law was an only son, his father’s fears for the male line were greatly alleviated by the number of grandsons who arrived to inherit his name.   The photo above shows my in-laws’ first four sons (they would eventually add two more, and a daughter).  Parenting a rough and tumble household of mostly boys had to be a time-consuming task in itself.  How they ever got out of the door on Sunday mornings all dressed up for church, I can’t imagine.

And there were other more heartbreaking challenges.  Their second son, Cor, pictured on the right, lagged behind in development.  He was slow to walk even with the coaching of his older brother, and slow to talk.   The school system at that time, burdened with baby boomer numbers, itself was handicapped in educating children like him.  He had difficulty processing language, and only learned to read because of the perseverance of his mother, who spent hours patiently tutoring him. He longed to be able to keep up with other kids, wished he could have “a million brains.”  But he also had a keen, uncanny affinity with the weather, sometimes in prediction and sometimes in memories of weather settings of events many years later.  He loved to pore over encyclopedias, with their pages of facts.

He worked on the farm with the others, and in his early twenties earned his driver’s license.  He was employed at several foundry companies, and then at an Ancaster bakery for many years. Not necessarily exciting work, but it paid the bills, and gave him some independence.  He enjoyed visiting the local Tim Hortons and being around people in the mall.

Cor was married for a short time, but for much of his life he lived alone, fiercely independent, buying and maintaining his own house and his own car.  An illness, and later diagnosis of possible schizophrenia eventually brought him to hospital and the nursing care he needed.

For his siblings, always aware of the differences that caused the other children to consider Cor’s behaviour strange, of the constant frustration as Cor struggled in school, the family stigma, his anger issues and vulnerability, there remained a constant ache.  Society has little tolerance and much fears around those with mental illness, and they struggle to find a place.

As much as people vow at the outset, over a lifetime this weight does become very heavy.  As Cor grew older, he lapsed into silence, into a place where he couldn’t be reached.  We were painfully aware of our inadequacies as family and that of the medical or spiritual community to draw him out.

Cor passed away suddenly on April 22, 2021.  It was time to let God carry him, when we couldn’t.  We can’t be sad for him, because he’s now free to explore a wonderful new world.  But we can perhaps take his legacy, and make life a little easier for people like him by early intervention, by appreciating their unique gifts to our society, by patiently coming alongside at their pace instead of ours.

And though we ourselves may be slow learners in this regard, we can at least be willing to be taught.

Judge Not

Image by succo from Pixabay

“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.  But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?”  James 4:12

I’ve been reading a study on the book of James, a book that has an uncomfortable way of speaking directly to armchair Christians.  To James, faith is not faith unless it is accompanied by action.  He says that we need to be humble, to grieve our sins.  We need to stop the envy, slander, and quarreling that can destroy a community.

When we judge others, we take the law into our own hands, set ourselves up in God’s place.  We judge people for not keeping the law or our standards.  Even worse, sometimes we even judge others to be unworthy of God’s grace, especially if they’ve caused us difficulty or hurt us in some way.  We are the angry older brother, believing he had slaved without appreciation.  We are like Jonah, unwilling to do anything to facilitate restoration for the Ninevites who have been so cruel to Israel.

Sometimes we judge hastily, with casual arrogance, believing we have all the facts.   In the Divine Comedy, Dante has Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican friar,  offer a series of reasons why it’s so unwise to judge prematurely.

“Let the people, then, not be too certain in their judgments,
like those that harvest in their minds
corn still in the field before it ripens.

For I have seen the briar first look dry and thorny
right all through the winter’s cold,
then later wear the bloom of roses at its top.

And once I saw a ship, which had sailed straight
and swift upon the sea through all its voyage,
sinking at the end as it made its way to port.|

Let not Dame Bertha and Master Martin,
when they see one steal and another offer alms
think that they behold them with God’s wisdom.

For the first may still rise up, the other fall.”

                                                              Paradiso, Canto 13

Our senses can mislead us to make judgments of another’s character or competency from very little evidence.  Their deficiencies are sometimes glaringly obvious, while we forget to tally and be thankful for all the ways in which they contribute.  The church, as a caring, loving community, still can fall prey to petty grudges and habits of criticism.  But God’s servants are ultimately answerable to Him.  We wouldn’t think of criticizing someone’s child to his face, but God often hears his children find fault with each other.

And that why it’s so important that we focus our vision, that we  do not take our eyes off God’s providence for us.  We can always trust that He is concerned for our welfare.   Envy and backbiting  diminish as we remember that we can ask our loving Father for what we need day by day, that even the difficulties in our lives are uniquely planned for our ultimate good.



Keeping Watch

Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority

It’s Maundy Thursday of Passion Week as I write this, the day we remember that Jesus celebrated his Last Supper with the small group of men who followed him for his three years of ministry.  To teach them that they will need  humility to serve others, Jesus himself washes their feet.

Just previous to this, Jesus told his disciples a number of parables that warn them that they must be watchful, must use the time they will now spend apart from him wisely, that they will be responsible to develop the gifts he has given them,  to take responsibility for the welfare of the new community that will spring up after His resurrection.

All those who lead in the church know the weight of this charge.  We are to be like watchmen over God’s vineyard, or like shepherds who watch over the sheep.   In Ezekiel 33, God clearly spells out the necessity for a watchman not only to be alert, but also to communicate danger.  If he fails to do this, the blood of his people will be on his head.  If they fail to heed his warnings, they themselves will be held liable.

In June 2019, as I accepted a new church leadership responsibility, I began to experience frightening dreams.  In one dream, I am driving to visit my mother in a nursing home.  As my friend and I navigate the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) to Niagara, buildings alongside the road were collapsing because of an earthquake.  In the dream I saw the outside elevator cars on the Skylon Tower flung out on their cables.

As you cross a threshold, fear needs to be dealt with.  In a liminal time, people tend to experience more dreams. Their symbols are like those in classical literature.  Only God can interpret dreams, and so we need Divine help.  Why would the Skylon be chosen as the dream metaphor?  It’s a watchtower over a powerful Falls, but it’s also in Niagara which is a place of orchards and vineyards.  It’s a place that receives visitors from all over the world.

In June 2019, Israeli archeologists and assisting soldiers reported the unearthing of a 2700 year old watchtower, believed to be from the time of Hezekiah.  It was a reminder that now, as it was then, God’s people always needed to be alert, to watch and wait.

Late in 2019 the pandemic began, its successive waves like the aftershocks of an earthquake.  Our seniors in nursing homes were at great risk, our health care systems, economies and political systems shaken.  We have had our eyes opened to the dangers of continuing in this path of greed that is destroying the earth itself.  Travel and tourism has been greatly curtailed.

The Old Testament king of Judah,  Hezekiah, called people back from their idolatrous worship of stone idols to once again serve the living God, restoring the temple to its vital function. He had men collect wisdom literature, the proverbs of Solomon.  He interceded for his nation in prayer when threatened by foreign invaders.  But he also took action to prepare for times of danger by blocking the Gihon spring, channeling the stream down to the west side of Jerusalem.  And he built watchtowers on the country’s border.

In this time, too, the church must live out this watchfulness, ensure that it is prepared so that we can properly care for the welfare of each member and the communities in which we are placed.  It’s not easy to do, as we are isolated physically.   Like the Skylon Tower in my dream, right now we often feel our only connection is far-flung cable.

Still, the body of Christ can be unified in a vibrant way through prayer.  Like Hezekiah, living in dangerous times, we are called to intercessory prayer, to watch, and to take action in whatever way we can.