In Search of Beauty

Canela People and Beauty
They looked neat and tidy. We noticed it when we moved into the village to live with the Canela people of Brazil. Their appearance was clean and sharp and it wasn’t their clothes—they wore hardly any. Their faces, hair and bodies were striking, even beautiful. We had been in contact with other indigenous people groups who, in comparison to the Canelas, were unkempt, messy and scruffy looking.

Canela flutists making beautiful music on the village central hub.

Canela flutists making beautiful music on the village central hub.

One of the principal reasons the Canelas look so good is the way they wore their hair. Both men and women cut their hair into bangs across the forehead, and then cut around the sides of the head leaving just a few centimetres at the back uncut. The hair below the cut is left to grow long. The result is that their faces are always free of hair. They also bathe at least twice a day and, for special occasions, they decorate their bodies with intricate red and black designs.

The net effect is beauty. This drive for beauty extends to other areas of Canela life too. When our mud and thatch house was almost finished, one of our Canela neighbours came along with a sharp bush knife and trimmed the overhanging palm thatch so that it would be neat and straight. It didn’t make the roof any better able to shed rain or provide shade, it just looked better. He needed it to look beautiful.

God and Beauty
God needs things to look beautiful too. An inspiring story comes from the history of Israel after Moses had led the Israelites out of their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. God wanted a portable temple, a place where the people could meet Him. He provided the design and the finishing details. Exodus 35 and 36 tell the story of its construction. Only the finest materials and the very best work were acceptable.

God picked two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, filled them with His Holy Spirit, not to preach, not to speak in tongues or do miraculous healings, but to create beauty and teach others to do so. “God filled them with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills, to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts.” (Exodus 35:31) He also gave them the ability to teach others to work as engravers, designers, and embroiderers.

John Keats said it well, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” Bezalel and Oholiab would agree.

The Purpose of Creating Beauty
Human creativity comes from God. Our imagination, from which flows good things—inventions, solutions to problems, works of beauty—was built into us by God. He means for us to use it to make beauty around us. He means for us to use the beauty that comes from Him to bring Him glory.

Satan Perverts Beauty
Satan, of course, seeks to pervert our abilities to create beauty and use it for our own glory. Or worse yet, to do evil and produce ugliness instead. There was a time, long after the creation of Adam and Eve, that God saw that “every imagination of human hearts was only evil continually,” so He sent a flood to wipe them out and start over again with Noah and his family.

Creative Beauty in Our Families
I see God given creativity in relatives all around me. An architect nephew who designs skyscrapers. A carpenter brother who builds houses. A niece who produces excellent videos to promote ministries all over the world. Grandchildren who are graphic artists. Another niece who writes devotionals, creates beauty out of old socks. Her husband paints stunningly beautiful landscapes.  Others are interior decorators, designers, cooks, bakers, and carvers. Each member of my extended family has skills to create beauty around them. By the way, we are not an exceptional family, all families have the potential to create beauty.

And God has given me, the old grandpa, the ability to write stories and blog posts, putting words together in creative ways, to produce new and distinctly different writings. All this creativity for only one purpose: to bring glory to the God who gave it.

Mother’s Day and Gender Equality: Some Thoughts

My Mother and I, seventy-nine years ago.

My Mother and I, seventy-nine years ago. She had only six years of school, but she raised five children who each had at least fifteen years of school.

This weekend, the second Sunday of May, billions of people around the world will be celebrating Mothers’ Day—not just in most European countries and North America—where the idea started about a century ago—but in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and the Philippines.

This focus to honour our mothers made me think of the status of women in the world, especially when we learn of cultures that put women down, even to the point of denying them basic education.

Recent History of Male Chauvinism
Respect for women, even in our more “enlightened” western societies is a relatively recent phenomenon. Canada is 150 years old this year, but for the first 33 years, no province allowed a woman to vote. In Quebec, it took 74 years before women could vote. Switzerland, although famously democratic since 1848, did not allow women to vote for 123 years, finally granting this right in 1971, only 46 years ago.

Ancient History of Male Chauvinism
Western cultures were heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman cultures of the Mediterranean area who held a worldview that despised women. Although democracy was practiced 2,500 years ago by the Greeks and Romans, only free adult males could vote—one-third of the total adult population. No women or slaves could be involved in politics.

Biblical Christianity—the Source of Gender Equality

  1. This anti-woman, chauvinistic Mediterranean cultural attitude stands in stark contrast to biblical Christianity which has taught for 2,000 years that in God’s eyes “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28.
  2. Jesus Himself deliberately chose to reveal some major theological truths, not to his male disciples, nor to male Jewish religious authorities, but to women. It was to a woman from Samaria that, for the first time, Jesus clearly stated He was the long-awaited Messiah, telling her, “I that speak unto you am He.” John 4:26. In the same story, the disciples, still steeped in their pre-Christian, Jewish culture, were surprised that He did the totally unexpected—talk with a woman.
  3. It was to Martha He disclosed His power over death, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies” John 11:25.
  4. After His resurrection, He showed Himself first, not to Peter, James or John, his closest male disciples, but to a woman, Mary Magdalene, John 20:16.
  5. Besides the chosen twelve disciples a large number of other disciples followed Jesus, many of them women. Jesus taught them as any Jewish rabbi would his male students. In one incident, when He was teaching inside a house, He was told his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to see Him. “He looked at those seated around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3, 34-35. Had there been only male disciples sitting there, He would never have made a reference to them being His mother or sister.
  6. “Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said.” Luke 10:39. The expression “sitting at the feet” of a rabbi was used to describe a disciple receiving instruction from the rabbi. Jesus was a radical who constantly went against the male chauvinism of his day by treating women as equal to men.
  7. The early church also valued women in various leadership, teaching and prophetic roles and called them disciples, a term, until then, reserved for men only. “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha who was always doing good and helping the poor.” Acts 9:36. When this woman died, Peter came, prayed for her, and raised her back to life—a notable miracle, performed on behalf of a woman!
  8. And the women disciples not only “helped the poor” they preached and taught as well. At the end of one of Paul’s missionary journeys, Luke mentioned them staying with an evangelist named Philip and specifically stated that he had four virgin daughters who prophesied. Acts 24:9.

Gender Equality is a Christian Concept
Biblical Christianity has always taught the concept of gender equality—that women and men can both participate equally in every area of life. Churches or individuals that put women down are influenced not by New Testament teaching, but by their own cultures, originating in a pagan Mediterranean worldview.

 

l’m Sick.

“I’m sick.”

Never thought I’d have to write those words to explain why I didn’t write a blog post, or failed to keep a speaking engagement.

I guess there is a first time for everything.

Today I had to forego a speaking engagement at the annual conference of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities. The first time in living memory that I have had to cancel any speaking engagement, anywhere, because of sickness.

This is the second week in a row that I can’t write an InSights & OutBursts blog post.

I checked my diary. I have not been this sick since leaving Brazil, where parasitic infections tended to knock out even the strongest of us at least a week once a year.

So, I should be praising God. “Thank You, Father in Heaven, for twenty-seven years of blazing health!”

Yes, that does sound better! And I need to remember, He is still in control and uses even sickness to develop me into the kind of person He wants me to be.

ThermoThe basics: I got the flu almost two weeks ago, (yes, I even had a flu shot) and for six days I had sore throat, fever, headache and cough. Then that was over.

But the fatigue kept on. No energy to do anything. Sleeping sixteen plus hours a day. Feeling totally wiped out, useless, no good, and a burden on myself and others. It might take another week to get fully over this. What a waste!

On the other hand, a couple of weeks of being “out of it” prorated over twenty-seven years of health works out to maybe half a day of sickness once a year. I should NOT be complaining!

Here’s hoping I’ll be back to blogging next week.

Our Triune God Loves His People to Work in Community Just as He Does.

The Story
On Sunday morning, the tinkling of teaspoons in teacups was the signal for me to slip out of bed and join the fun in my parents’ bedroom. Settled between them with a cup of tea and some Maria biscuits in my saucer, I joined them to sip, dip and nibble. After fifteen minutes of joy, my Mom would leave us to make breakfast, and the story would begin.

The stories usually were about a young man going out into the world to “seek his fortune.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but as he walked along the road, he would meet someone who had a special ability. One could swing his sword so fast he could use it as an umbrella during a rainstorm. The two would decide to seek their fortune together. Soon they would meet others with different special talents, and they would join the group.

Eventually, they would meet a problem, a princess held by a giant, for instance, and the young man and his group would devise a plan to defeat the giant and rescue the princess, each member using his unique skill. The result was often measured in bags of gold for each of them.

The Impression
Each story my dad told was different, but each had that same theme, and they made a profound impression on me. I make up similar stories to tell my children and grandchildren. When my wife and I went to Brazil as linguists, teachers, and Bible translators, I saw myself as the young man going out to gather a group of people with compensating talents to work together to “seek our fortune.” Wycliffe was a good fit for us since the agency values people with a wide variety of skills, but all of whom see themselves as a vital part of every translation team.

Working Together: It's the Right Thing to Do

Working Together: It’s the Right Thing to Do

The Result
As Jo and I lived with the Canela people, God led us to connect with men and women who had a natural gifting in various areas. We helped them develop these talents. One young man became very skilled at extracting rotten teeth. Others loved teaching people to read. An artist illustrated the translated Scriptures with sketches of Canela life. Several learned to type, and one had the knack of making sentences flow smoothly. At times, a dozen people worked together on various aspects of the translation work.

This way of working together interdependently fitted right in with the Canela culture. Together we accomplished things so massive, difficult and complicated, no single one of us could have achieved them as an individual.

The Contrast
Unfortunately, our North American culture glorifies independence. Our hero is the lone pioneer, conquering the wild west, building a log house for his family with his own hands, and clearing the land with his own axe.

Businesses, and even churches, in North America, spend much time and money teaching people to work together as a team. It doesn’t come naturally to us. We have a cultural bias against the concept. Only in sports like hockey or football do we value the team.

The Trinity
In that respect, Canela culture is far more godly than North American culture. Here’s why. God said, “Let Us make man in Our own likeness.” God is a community of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They made human beings in Their likeness, to be people with the same need to live and work together in community as They had.

This kind of working community is a far cry from the military and industrial model of exploiting the labour of individuals to accomplish objectives set by generals or executives. The strength of the interdependent community lies in its people, not in its bosses. The more people grow in a deep appreciation for the variety of contributions from others in the community, the more productive the community becomes.

The Questions
So, is yours a godly (god-like) family? That is, does your family work together, as the Holy Trinity does?

What about your church? Are all the members engaged in ministry, each contributing to the whole with their own talents and abilities?