Mirror Mirror

A few years ago, I remember my Dad and I were out for lunch and I was venting frustrations to him about the challenges of being a high school Religious Education teacher.

I was sharing with him the difficulty of promoting God’s greatness to adolescents who, for various reasons, might see God as uncool, uninteresting and unrelated to society.

I revealed how it can occasionally be mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing to stand in front of a group of indifferent or apathetic teenagers each day and talk about how wonderful the Lord is, how He loves them so much and how our world needs Him more than ever.

I told my Dad how deflating it can feel when I see their looks of disinterest and how my passionate personality and enthusiastic teaching style can sometimes yield fruitless results during class activities and discussions, no matter how inspiring my anecdotes or creative my lesson plans might be.

It was after waiting patiently during my rant that my Dad simply took a sip from his soda, paused and then told me I was like John the Baptist.

What? Come again? Have you even been listening to me these last few minutes?

John the Baptist? Uh, no, I don’t stand in a river wearing clothing made of camel’s hair, nor do I eat locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

But once my Dad explained his remark, I understood and agreed with his point.

John the Baptist 3John the Baptist’s voice was one crying out in the wilderness, urging people to repent and prepare for the Messiah. (Mark 1:3-4)

Teachers like me, we strive to encourage our students – churched or unchurched, believers or non-believers – to open themselves to God and His daily presence, accepting His love and celebrating His wonder in all they do.

However, this is not a task given just to high school Religion instructors.

In a society that so often tunes out God rather than inviting Him in, we are all called upon to be modern-day prophets in the wilderness, living counter-culturally to proclaim God’s Gospel message.

On my classroom wall, I have a poster of a fish swimming in the opposite direction of the rest of the school.

I reference it often with my students, stressing the message that is included over the picture:

What is right isn’t always what is popular. What is popular isn’t always what is right.

In an age where messages of violence, drugs and alcohol, sexuality, selfishness and egotism are so often celebrated in media and popular culture, it can sometimes feel impossible trying to promote values of respect and peace, chastity, altruism, humility and concern for the long-term common good.

And yet, that is precisely what we are here on earth to do.

Much like the apostles following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, we are all sent to be the Good News of Christ. (Luke 4:18-19)

Canadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast (Ottawa, Ont.) wrote in a church publication a few years ago that humanity had a vocation to holiness. He called on Christians to go out into their communities and, led by the Holy Spirit, share with others the experience of Christ’s salvation.

Alarm ClockSt. Pope John Paul II put it even more directly when he once stated bluntly we must wake up the world.

So how do we do this, exactly? It’s not as if we’re going to just walk up to people and sound a ringing alarm clock in their ear.

Strange as it might sound, we can awaken the world by living like mirrors.

You see, we can reveal to others our true self-identity.

Mirror of God 1If we are, indeed, God’s children created in His perfect image, we must live as mirrors of God, reflecting Him to the world through our thoughts, words and actions.

This is not at all easy, and often requires plenty of patience and dedication – as evidenced in a high school Religion class.

But by our humble and persistent example, we can encourage others to ultimately turn away from sin and return to a path leading to Jesus’ eternal light.

Locusts & HoneyNow then, I’m sure I can say more, but I suppose I should head out to the local farmer’s market and see if I can pick up some locusts and wild honey.

Good ol’ Dad

On weekends sometimes, I’ll have an impromptu dance party with our sons in our basement.

We’ll turn on the radio or one of my classic CDs and start jamming to the beat. We’ll do some random exercises, bend our knees, balance on one leg and jump high off the ground.

We’ll even dance in a circle holding hands and then I’ll pick them up and swing them around.

It’s all fun enough on its own, but what makes it even better is when the right music plays.

And what is that, you may ask?

One word: ABBA.

ABBA Mamma MiaYep, I listen to ABBA. I love ABBA.

In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit I was one of the many in audience who got up and danced in the aisles when I saw the musical Mamma Mia! years ago.

With songs like Dancing Queen and Super Trouper to grab attention, you’d be hard pressed to find a more electrified theatre atmosphere.

The Swedish pop group’s greatest hits album Gold always excites me and takes me back to an ABBA cover band concert held on campus during my frosh week, one of my favorite university memories.

But while the group’s name derives from the first letter of each member’s first name, one could wonder what the true meaning of Abba really is.

Well, the word Abba comes from the Aramaic language and translates to mean “father.” More specifically, though, it is used to denote warm affection and refer to God in a relation of personal closeness.

We cover the term in some of my Religious Education classes, studying the intimate relationship Jesus invites us into when He teaches His apostles how to pray. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Jesus uses the term Himself in Scripture, calling for strength when praying in the garden of Gethsemane prior to being betrayed by Judas. (Mark 14:36)

St. Paul also addresses our Father in Heaven as Abba and calls us as Christians to embrace this connection with God by feeling His Holy Spirit within us. (Romans 8:15 & Galatians 4:6)

But even in a less Biblical or scholarly context, one can just imagine the impact of father and compare it to a term more comfortable and intimate, like dad.

While being addressed as “Father” by one’s children can carry a cold, distant or authoritative feeling, having them call you “Dad” (or “Daddy,” as young kids like ours tend to use) can suggest a close, loving and tender connection.

Many of us might even use names of endearment for our fathers, calling them anything from Pops to Big Guy, or referring to them with others as “my old man.”

And just as these names suggest a strong bond, God wishes to have such closeness with us.

After all, as a song by Catholic composer Carey Landry suggests, Abba is the potter and we are His clay, the work of His hands.

Abba PotterAs evidenced by His becoming human in the form of Jesus and His constant Holy Spirit with and around us, God seeks to know us personally.

He longs to be with us entirely, sharing in our hopes and dreams, our fears and worries.

He wishes to be a part of our sports team practices and school performances, our family meals and activities, our jobs and our hanging out with our friends.

The question, then, is do we allow God into our lives and include Him in such a real and complete manner?

Believe it or not, in attempting to grow more intimately with God, we can even lean on the music of ABBA to help.

As the group sings a song titled S.O.S., we can look to Jesus as our rescuer in times of distress, encouraged by the meaning of His name as “God saves.”

Reminded of God’s desire to have relationship with us and for His children to be one with Him, we can apply this sentiment to ABBA’s Knowing Me, Knowing You.

Looking at Lay All Your Love on Me, we can consider how Jesus laid His life down for us and continues to show His love for us through our daily blessings. We can recognize our responsibility to give God our love and to blanket the world with His love.

Lastly, let us never forget how, in the beginning, God saw endless potential in each of us and created us perfect in His image.

Take a ChanceGod continues to help us realize our life possibilities each day and promises that if we devote our lives to Him, we will one day be with Him in Paradise. (Luke 23:43)

Taking this to heart, don’t we owe it to ourselves to Take a Chance on our Abba?