There are stories nestled within stories here. I mainly feel compelled to tell the story of a man named George Holecz who I came to know briefly and somewhat indirectly.
George’s story unfolds within a context of a group of men who were a big part of my journey and that group of men — self-described and nicknamed as “Zealous for the Word” existed in a context of a church in Nanaimo BC.
I can see no way of sharing George’s story without telling about the context, since God used the context to create the story.
If you can visualize a story as an egg, Christ Community Church (CCC) in Nanaimo is the shell, the men’s group is the egg white, and George’s story is the yolk in the center.
I like to use yolk, because it can easily sound like joke (especially coming off the tongues of folks with Dutch accents). And there is a good measure of God’s joke here — God’s playful sense of humour. George mirrored some of that playful sense in his character. The outer context loop or shell is a story that shows me that in the Kingdom of God “what goes around comes around” or “you never know where an obedient, faith-driven action will lead.” George’s journey came into that shell and if you know a bit about how God sometimes works these loop stories, it makes sense there and brings glory to God even more because of the context. One central narrative line is how George went from recipient in the story, to participant and contributor, but the most striking one to me is how he has gone from being perpetually homeless-by-choice to going to his eternal-chosen-home. I hope I’ve not given it all away in this brief description and that you will still enjoy a tale of how God can work to bring people home.
Category Archives: Humourous incidents
There are stories nestled within stories here. I mainly feel compelled to tell the story of a man named George Holecz who I came to know briefly and somewhat indirectly.
One of the things I think God has been showing me over many years is that opportunities for what we call outreach or evangelism present themselves all the time – at least that is the case for me – but they are often inconvenient, and you have to learn to recognize them.
I have a string of stories of my experiences that point in that direction. In most of them I was just trying to do something ordinary: help a customer out, buy a vehicle, have it serviced, buy a Ferry ticket, watch a Hockey game in a bar, and hire a dog trainer. In each of these situations, some going back to the 1980’s, I was just “being me” or “doing my job” and a faith or spirituality conversation intruded into what I was trying to do. I need to admit that these are only the ones I remember, and that with most of these I was kind of annoyed, saying to God under my breath “I just wanted to… why is this intruding?” Preaching, in my experience, is sooooo much safer than such conversations, because I get confronted with questions from perspectives I’m not used to encountering. I am educated and equipped to address dangers of slight variations of nuances near or within the Theological perspective I was raised in, but these people ask things that are hard.
So this post is my going public with my intent to compile these stories. If I don’t do so in the next few weeks and months, feel free to hold me accountable to this commitment. As I complete the stories, I will go back an link it to it’s listing above, so eventually all the stories will be findable from this post.
Well, back to packing.
The last Saturday of November started out as one of those kinda aimless days. I had a bit of work-work to do and I had some house work also. Deep down I was an unhappy camper for reasons I can’t always get at. I just know what I feel, not why.
Earlier, I had come to the awareness I am content with my work situation, but I am not fulfilled in it.
In conversing with God about this the way I do, I made pretty clear I was discouraged, and I desperately needed something to strengthen my confidence and hope for the future. And just in case the wireless heaven-line was busy that first time, I repeated it. “Hello: I need a new sign of hope.” It was said in various ways with various levels of lament or gate-of-heaven smashing defiance. A few requests found the happy humbler middle.
I went about my day, tugging my proverbial bootstraps as if by moving the boots I was motivating me.
It worked. I got busy and my request for new hope – for a sign from God – became a vague darkness in the back of my mind and depths of my heart. I remained alert for signals, looking for them to come in ways I expected: an email from a church inquiring further about hiring me; or a phone call from the bank saying there’d been an error in calculations for all my life and they had $10,000 for me… that kind of thing. Nada. None of that happened. I was watching carefully, remember!
During the week I had written a report to the board in of the camp I live and work in, a report in which among the good things I had to share I had mentioned two things I was dissatisfied with, two things that frustrated me in my work. One was an extremely slow desk computer, the other was a lack of a reversible drill, either corded or cordless to make some of my repair tasks more efficient. Numerous times I had done repetitive screw turning by hand. Reporting these irritants was more about venting and getting things known. It was done without serious expectation of change. Maybe it was even a precursor to the glum feelings Saturday morning. It likely had some self-pity in it. I’m good at that (He said with insecurity-covering-ego-pride, another thing he’s good at).
Well, I need to tell you that it wasn’t until this morning, the day of writing this, Sunday, when I picked something up from where I had set it down yesterday that I realized very unusual, non-coincidental, sign-like things had happened, and I missed them completely, even though I was part of it. I made no connection in the moment.
Saturday a lady came to the camp to do some cleaning as a volunteer. As I went over to check if there was anything she needed and to describe what I’d done to prepare for her arrival, she opened her trunk and said “could you use a cordless drill? And I have a cordless screwdriver here too. Here, take them. I don’t have a use for them.” And so I picked them up, duly thanked her dully and started walking toward the camp workshop to put them away. She said: “No no no, keep them in your house, use them for yourself” and so, my steps a little lighter with a load that was now mine, I dropped them off in my back room and went back out into the dull weather to do some things.
Later, the two guys from the camp board who do the property work came. They said “We’re here to see if we can speed up your computer with new memory chips and a cleanup, and Pete, we brought you a cordless drill” to which I replied “I already got one” and I fetched it and enjoyed seeing their tool envy. I can’t remember ever having others envy tools I had. But still, I was nonchalant in the bigger picture sense of things. No lights were going on for me.
Nothing registered until Sunday, when I pulled the cordless drill out of it’s neatly compartmentalized box with bits and attachments each with their own cubby, and I realized it had two batteries with the charger, it was a 14.4 volt Mastercraft (newer units, I knew, had voltages in the teens, older ones were below 10), a nice darker blue colour that I like with bright yellow buttons, it had an adjustable clutch for if you were either drilling or driving screws, it was not only reversible but had two speeds and, most significant, it looked like it had probably been used once on a Sunday afternoon it was so clean and unscathed. And I held it in my hand, and felt the heft and balance of it and imagined the torque and whine of it, and the ability to reverse and to adjust the clutch… and I realized something unique had indeed happened the day before.
For this lady to show up with a drill, particularly not knowing anything of my whine in my report, and then for those guys to arrive ready to address my concerns when I didn’t expect it, well I had to admit it was notable or remarkable at the very least, and worth a silent restrained-Reformed “thank you Lord” (Hallelujahs are too charismatic in such situations, as is Holy Celebration Dance). And for it all to happen that same day, within hours of my lament! Quite something. I’m not sure how to interpret the sign though. I’m reluctant to give it too much meaning. I’m watching my email still, and waiting for the bank to call…
Somewhere in me I know my problem is that I’m missing the billboard message. I’m missing it because I’m not liking it. It doesn’t fit my plan, my agenda, my hopes and aspirations. God seems, at least at the time of writing, to be reinforcing me where I am with hope signals on request. My problem is my agenda is not the same as Gods.
Who’s going to change agenda’s first?
Stay tuned. The batteries are charging. Will a green light go on for Pete, or will it stay red?
So today, in an internet discussion group, the above mentioned subject came up. And the discussion prompted a memory for me, and since I’m in the mood to explore my writing, I wrote up a memory I have about an event that happened in church when I was a child, an event which was part of what shaped my views of what should happen in church.
It’s called “Getting wound up about superficial symbolism” If you’d like to read it you can click on the title, or cut and paste the link below into your browser, or find it in the list of pages to the right.
I was involved with a discussion about what sin is. Someone spoke of a “list” form of identifying sin and a “relational” understanding. This was my input into the dialogue:
I want to know the list of things that are sin, for my own sake and for the sake of helping others keep out of it. I want to know actions to avoid. It comes naturally for me. Because of that, I’m drawn to people who can definitively give me the list, saying God helped them figure it out.
I want to know the list of good things to do as well.
That’s why my heart beats faster and my mind pays attention when someone asks: “What do I have to do to obtain eternal life?” When I hear that, I expect to be able to add to my do and don’t lists.
But the way my Saviour handled this very question is giving me reason to re-evaluate the approach that comes naturally. When Jesus was asked the question, he painted a word picture in response in which the list-oriented people used the rule book to avoid showing compassion, and the list-less person ended up being the good example. Hmmmm. What might he be showing me, a list-wanting person?
I’m still working it out.
But the more I struggle and reflect, the more a relational approach to sin makes sense. It humbles me in its grace and it’s simplicity. Something in me wants it to be harder than it appears.
It looks more and more like evandadam* broke relationship by trying to be equal to God, then hiding.
I can relate. I want to be God in my life and in the lives of others. I don’t want to submit or take responsibility for what I have done that broke relationship.
Sin is now less about violating a list item and more about internal attitude for me.
So, profoundly, the message God left is more a message of how hard God has worked to relate to me and to others and the price God has paid to make relationship possible again. God has made a way for list item violations that I do so readily to be dismissed, to no longer be a barrier between God and me, if I just accept that God loves me that much, stop being God myself, and admit them. I come out of hiding, accept God’s outstretched mighty hand, and walk the Way.
A story I’ve been told from my toddlerhood came back to me recently. I came in from playing outside, and my mother figured it was time to try teach me to wash my own face. So she held me up in front of the bathroom mirror and pointed out the boy in the mirror, and after some coaching got me to see that he had dirt on his face. She asked me what we could do to fix it, handing me a warm wet “Doekie” while she asked.
What did I do?
I started washing the face of the boy in the mirror of course!
The story is such a wonderful illustration of what I still tend to do naturally. I try to clean the logs out of other people’s eyes and am in danger of obsessing about them and their logs and dirt, all the while avoiding cleaning my own eyes and heart, or having them cleaned. People are drawn to me as a good leader and teacher and one who “tells it like it is” if I do that, but meanwhile crud builds in me. It’s frightening.
Pete, searching out the godly way.
* just a creative way of saying Eve and Adam, partly because it can be turned into E. Vandadam which sounds like a Dutch origin name
In getting ‘legal’ for my work in Washington state, I and some people from the church did a lot of research about what category of work permit I would need.
For instance, after several phone calls to 1-900 government numbers (which took some ‘splainin’ when I phoned a deacon to ask why the church phone would not work for those numbers, which produced some learnin’ for me when the person carefully asked “Um, Pete, why are you trying to call 1-900 numbers?” leading to me finding out they are usually sex lines. OK, that explains it!). When we thought we had it figured out, we filled in and sent in an 18 page form as an application, and it turned out to be wrong and was sent back to us.
Eventually we learned that I needed a letter from the church describing the work I would be doing, and a letter from Classis saying I was qualified.
While this was going on I became pretty good at being honest but vague at the border booths.
Where are you going?
What are you going to do there?
Visit some people.
What kind of people?
It’s a church group. … … …
And it would go from there, but sometimes that would be enough. I got more bold and direct when I had my letters in hand. I would hand the letters over with my passport and immediately say “I’m going to Quincy to work in a church.” The first time it worked like a charm. The person perused the letters a moment and sent me on my way. The second time, the same thing happened, but a bit more. He asked “What does this church group call themselves? I replied “Quincy Christian Reformed Church.” His face changed visibly when I said that, with a kind of tilting the head and squinching the eyes and pausing in an exaggeratedly puzzled fashion. I started freezing up in my gut. Then a twinkle came to his eyes as he pondered out loud while handing me my papers “You mean you are Christian Reformed and you are NOT heading for Lynden?!!!” He sent me on my way with both of us laughing. (My apologies to anyone reading this that is not a CRC insider, just smile and read on for the next story)
The third time I crossed with the letters the person at the booth said I should go inside and have the correctness of this all verified. So I did. I got in line in an intimidating huge space, with mainly burly men in uniform walking around–you know, the kind of guys whose arms are so muscular they would have trouble pressing their palms firmly to their sides if they wanted to and besides, their guns are in the way. Us lineup people were waiting, uncertain of our destiny and if we would be permitted to go on to our destinations or detained as detrimental. I was standing there, waiting my turn, rehearsing all the steps I had taken to try to be legal, so that I could give an understandable history of how hard I had tried to do it right.
Finally I was beckoned to the next open wicket. I walked past an Arabic looking person who was on my side of the wall, explaining his situation to an African American border guard who had a deep friendly voice but an intimidating physique, reminding me of the giant guy from Green Mile or Bubba from Forrest Gump (same actor I think). Perched on his head was a black toque. I came face to face with an older white guy, whose hair may have been red at one point, but the whiting of age had given it a chiffonish hue. He fussed for a few minutes finding a mobile chair that suited him. When he settled, I said “Hello,” and handed him my passport and the letters, aiming for answering questions once he had seen them, rather than my natural tendency to want to gush my story to him right off the bat. I waited. No more than five seconds had elapsed when he looked up from the documents and began to ask me a question. I was ready. I thought. He said, with a kind of expectant look on his face “Do you love a man that follows the Buddha?”
I was taken completely aback–for a second or two. I scanned his face for what was showing there. What could he mean by such a question? Was such a question appropriate? What wrath would come on him if he was asking the Arabic guy beside me that question? His face looked like he was expecting condemnation from me. Suddenly I realized that he was expecting a Christian Pastor to tell him he was going to hell if he followed the Buddha. “Absolutely I love a man who follows the Buddha!” I responded, with an inner haste of mental gears grinding from one mode to another but keeping a mental foot near the clutch so I could easily switch back to legalities if needed.
His next statement was “Would you agree with me that if everyone followed Abraham and Jesus my job would not be necessary?”
How do you respond to that? I did not want to be telling a border guard his job was not necessary, for fear of riling him somehow. But after a moment I cautiously played along and stumblingly said something like, “Yes, if everyone followed Jesus there would be a less need for law enforcement and borders.” He was looking things up on his computer as the bizarre conversation continued, so it was not always easy to ‘read’ his face. I felt I was being ‘toyed’ with one moment, and then convinced he was serious the next.
Suddenly he stood up and reached across the front of me and next to me to touch and warmly greet the young woman who had come to the wicket next to me after the Arabic guy left. She was not necessarily meeting his warmth, in my opinion. So I began a whole other range of thought. Was the man about to ‘go postal’ in a ‘border’ way? Had he lost his mind and/or social graces from having dealt with too many evasive potential terrorists or smugglers?
He settled back onto his chair, only to get up again to go looking for a copy of the rulebook. During this search he told me he was just weeks from retirement and had lost his book and they had to pay for them now, whereas when he started at this job they were free, but he did not feel like buying a new one for just a few weeks of use.
When he got it and came back to work at the computer, he asked me “Would Jesus need a passport?” I didn’t know what to say, and told him so. I told him I found it interesting to get a theological exam to cross the border when I was prepared for more a more legal conversation.
Then he quickly stood up and in a gesture that first looked like clutching the chest with an imminent heart attack but which turned out to be reaching inside his shirts for something, he pulled out an ornament at the end of his gold necklace and held it a few inches from my nose, saying “What do you suppose this says?” It was a three quarter inch circle, the outside of which was made to look like rope and inside the circle there was some kind of Chinese looking letter. I said “I don’t know.” He said “It’s the most important word in any language” and so I immediately said “Love” which earned me a high five across the counter. Which was kinda fun, but then the big black guy said “You’re really weirding me out here” which made me a bit cautious again but reassured me that was I was experiencing was not normal procedure.
Well, after finishing his research, the man stapled a card in my Passport that validated my legally working status, even as the theological banter continued. I played along as best I could, holding hope this was some kind of a Grace sharing opportunity, yet also wondering if the man was merely funnin’ with me to make his day interesting, or if he belonged in a room bordered by padding and securely guarded.
When he was finished, the possibly most ironic moment of the most unusual crossing-the-border conversation happened. He said “There’s just one more thing” – I held my breath – “that’ll be a $6 fee for processing.” Relieved that was all – on several levels – I dug out my wallet and started pulling out some money upon which my new Buddhist friend jumped back from the counter, sending his mobile chair skittering (no wonder he has to go find it again with each new person) and, while pointing at the video cameras which had been unobtrusively and soundlessly documenting our entire exchange, said “Whoa! If those see me take money from you they’re gonna think it’s a bribe and I will lose my pension!” Suddenly he was all about the rules again.
I went to the indicated teller’s wicket, and an extremely bored and boring person took my money and receipted me. On the way out I wished my buddy a happy retirement.
From that day on, crossing the border has held no anxiety for me, and getting through with his little card in my passport has been a breeze. Each time I tell the story, I pray for him–the Borderman next to Bubba who follows the Buddha.