Friday, December 28, 2007

The Unanswered Smile

"Are you all right, Steve?"

The orders buzzed in the air as I tried to repeat them. I felt like I was speaking Greek. I ripped through another set of cups, marking and scrabbling and trying not to look at the line that extended all the way to the entrance.

"How are you, Steve?" My co-worker asked again. "Do you got it?"


The noise seemed to buzz in my ears. Laughter. Talking. A continual funnel of activity that accelerated until it no longer made sense. I was trying to remember everything I'd learned. Impossible.

"Let's switch."

Touloue came over and gently pushed me towards the register. I nodded without complaint. Sweat gleamed from my head. I smiled at the customer in front of me and took her order. She didn't smile back, apparently upset over the slowness of the whole process. I apologized, and when I called out the next order, the next customer didn't smile either. I repeated the humbling process of apologizing and smiling and doing my best to serve them. Five customers passed through, and still no smile. I looked up and the line was gone. I sighed and finally relaxed.

I'd started at Starbucks a few weeks before, and I was learning in the fire, as the saying went. I wished that I could respond faster to my customers, but there was so much to learn. Even for a grad student it was overwhelming. All I could think about however, were the downcast eyes and frowns on the faces of our clientele. A part of me wanted to yell, another part wanted to apologize. I understood their response. They'd come for their drink, and they paid good money for it. An interruption was intolerable at a place like Starbucks. That's why they paid five dollars for a latte. Still, it seemed... inhuman to me. I was clearly doing all that I could. Did they simply not see that? Or did they not see me? Mostly, I couldn't help but wonder about even smiling at people if they weren't going to respond. Why bother if they weren't going to look at me?

Any one who has ever worked retail can tell horror stories about mean clientele. As a rule, the clientele at Starbucks were terrific. Most of our clients were good-natured, and a simple apology was more than enough. That wasn't true of our society however. I'd worked enough jobs to know just how inhumane people could be. And if you tried to be nice, if you tried to be kind... they could drag you through a pain that often led to indifference. A pain, a rejection that questioned this whole idea of seeing the good in others.

I thought about that as I filled up the refrigerator with more milk, just another simple job that helped the cafe function smoothly. For whatever reason, I couldn't get those frowns out of my head. A part of me wanted to see those customers again and tell them what I really thought: "Hey, did you know I was a grad student. I'm smarter than you, did you know that?" And than go on in graphic detail about how I was better and more deserving of life's goodness than they were. More than that, I thought about how often people had stopped smiling at one another... simply because no one bothered to return it.

A genuine smile is a wonderful thing; it communicates so much with so little effort. It is an extension of our soul, an extension of our hope and dreams and camaraderie, an olive branch to a stranger. Even absent language, it is a uniting and intimate thread that is able to connect any human on the planet. There are few things as powerful as a smile. But when it is rejected...
The customers remained sporadic for the rest of the evening. I smiled and greeted them, and for the next two hours, I felt a welling sense of purpose as they smiled back and exchanged tidbits of our lives. (Small talk is only small when people remove themselves from the conversation. There's nothing small when the offering is genuine.) By the time the evening was finished, I felt strangely refreshed. Despite everything, my low wages, the fact that my bosses and supervisors were ten to fifteen years younger, and that no one would ever regard my job as significant, I was content. I was learning more than I'd expected about people, and about myself.

Most of us give little or no thought to our daily visits to the coffee shop or the convenience store or the gas station. We think of them as side trips in our life. The more I see, the more I realize that they are not side trips to life, but life itself. Our lives are reflected most keenly not in the number on our paycheck or the size and quantity of our possessions, but in our interaction with other humans. Especially in dealing with people who cannot help us with our success.
But have we missed it? Have we set our lives, and our life goals, to be so impersonal as to forget the one calling to which God places above all others? Have we forgotten our neighbour? Not our friends or colleagues, but the strangers on the way to work, the woman working at the supermarket, the one who we believe sits below us.

Who we are is most clearly revealed in our interactions with people we are most likely to disregard.
Why not then, offer them the simplest of gifts? Step back and think about what is important. To do so is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who considered all people -- from high to low -- as worthy of His attention.

My prayer this week is that no matter how many smiles go unanswered, that we will continue to believe in those around us, that we will continue to hold out for the best of God in everyone, and that those smiles will be reflected in our own life.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chasing After the Wind

"Let me see what she wrote."

The Kid nudged me to the side so she could see the screen. I moved over, somewhat reluctant to believe that the 'girl' I'd been chatting with for the past few days was not a Christian woman at all. The Kid shook her head as she scrolled down our conversation on MSN.

"Oh, Steve. C'mon! It's so obvious."

The woman onscreen was asking me to receive two boxes of money and than send her some. It sounded fishy, but I was still struggling to wrap my mind around the idea that I'd spent at least two nights chatting with some Chinese man trying to swindle me. The Kid knew better. She told me what to write, and within two minutes, the chat was over, and "Sarah" was gone.

I thanked Keti, my twenty-year-old roommate (a.k.a. The Kid), and went outside for some air. It didn't bother me that it took a twenty year old to help me figure out something I should've figured out myself. We all had blind spots, especially during the holiday season. And I wanted to believe the best of people. Despite a bad experience, I wasn't about to give that up. That wasn't the reason I needed some air.

Water dripped from the eaves as I stepped onto the porch. After one of the fiercest snowstorms in the city's history, we'd been hit by a mild spell, and the piles of melting snow dripped and dissolved into puddles at the end of the driveway. The snowman we'd built was smeared with dirt and threatened to topple over. I gazed at the clouded sky and than turned to the two families laughing in the street next door. The holiday season was in full swing.


Christmas is a great time for family and friends and couples. It is also the most difficult for many others, especially those who are single or alone. For the past two weeks, I'd been somewhat addicted to these dating sites. Oh, I'm not sure that I actually expected to meet someone, but after spending yet another night watching friends and strangers hug and celebrate the season, it was difficult to slide into my bed in my little room without wondering what it'd be like to be with someone. To have someone next to me. It seemed like it'd been a long time since that had been a reality in my life. This last fiasco had only proved the obvious. Despite my friends, despite my family, I was looking for something more.

I leaned against the cold brick and looked into the clouded night, trying hard not to sigh. Would it always be this way, Lord? I stood there for a long time, listening to the drip of water, the receding laughter of the families next door, and thinking about yet another holiday season alone. For obvious reasons, I knew that I'd made a mistake this past month. It was a subtle thing, but it was something inevitable to all of us. I'd fallen into the "if only" trap. I'd started looking at the people around me, and thinking, "if only."

If only I had a wife, I'd be happy. If only I had a family, I'd be happy.

And while those things were something I desired deeply, I knew that the 'if only' trap was a black hole for real happiness. We poured the contents of our life into it in the hopes of something greater, without realizing the things we'd been given. Three days before Christmas, I'd allowed myself to be led down a road that only led to more pain.

I strolled to the end of the driveway. The family next door called out a greeting and I waved back. Christmas was supposed to be a time to be thankful for what God had given us. It was hard though, not to think about our dreams. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became.

"It's not fair, God. Why am I alone?"

Images danced around in my imagination, and slowly faces began to appear before me. My family. My friends. My housemates. And while I longed for a wife, I'd spent many bitter holidays locked into a relationship that had been so unhappy as to make my current situation pale by comparison. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that while I would always hope for that special someone, I'd been blessed with a life that was really quite wonderful.

Perfect, no. But then, life wasn't supposed to be perfect. Rather, it was a journey, a long journey. Better to keep the perspective of a long life, than to heed to the impatient voice of a world that told us we just needed one more thing to be happy.
For so long I'd been raised in a culture that rarely distinguished between want and need. It did, in fact, do whatever it could to blur the lines between the two. But as I began to thank God for all that He'd given me, I realized that I had everything I needed... and so much more. And whether it was spending too much time on dating sites or panging for that new car, there was too much about life that was good to spend time chasing after the wind.

This Christmas, remember that while there will be always be things we desire, the real joy is found in appreciating all that we have. We may not all have a spouse or the perfect spouse, we may not have the family we wanted or a family at all, and our friends may not seem to be the friends we'd always hoped for. But Christmas is a time for second chances; it is a time when we remember that God gave us a second chance. When He showed us just how much He loved us.
My prayer is that this season we will remember not what we've lost, but we've gained. That we'll remember the 'if only' trap is just that, a trap. And that while we've been blessed in so many ways, Christmas is the time when we remember the locus is not on what we've received, but what we give.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


P.S. Special love to my housemates and friends this Christmas. Love you all. :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Five Year End Observations PT I: Includes the Feminized Church, Dating, the Status of Women, and the power of "How are You?"

I apologize for not updating as often I'd like the past two weeks, but I ran into the buzz saw of exams and assignments and a new job, which left little time for some of my other passions. :) I'll be updating three times a week again from here on out.

Year End Observations Part I:

i. I've noticed that I get more emails now than comments. It isn't good or bad, and I love responding to you all, but don't be afraid to drop a comment either. When you notice the comment section is empty, it doesn't mean the section is empty, if you get my drift. The reason I sometimes advocate comments is because I want to encourage you all to be as transparent as possible. Posting allows others to see what you feel, what you're going through, and encourages them to do the same. This is the type of community we all should be striving towards. We all struggle, we all hurt, and when we share our pains and joys with one another, we exist in the manner God intended for us, I think.

ii. I generally have more women readers than men. I've added things to appeal to more guys, but this idea of women being more religious oriented than men has existed for a very long time. As far back as the time of Abraham and the Torah. In the OT, it becomes pretty clear with any careful reading that women tend to be more 'religious-minded' than the men. Early this year I wrote quite extensively about the need for church to gear itself towards men. I still believe that, even more strongly than I did.

iii. There is a strong interest in the evangelical community about the status of women, and the role of women. Some traditionalists (Complimentarians)believe that the role of women is clear and limited. Biblically, they're wrong, and yet they continue to receive strong support, espcially from other women. I heard one woman say on a radio show (Focus on the Family) that her role was "ducking" so that the Holy Spirit could speak to her husband. They ran marriage seminars. I can't think of anything more disturbing than that. Ducking? This woman felt her place was not to talk to her husband when she had problems, but merely to pray. My face just about fell off when I heard that, and so when I mention the status of women as being important, this is why. (For some of you more liberated folks)

The other problem is that too many churches are using the Old Testament to back up their ideas about women. What they don't know is that in the torah, women had more rights than they actually had in Jesus' time. When I say Jesus was a feminist, I'm not being funny. He was. We must interpret Paul through Jesus, and understand that the things Jesus did were completely outrageous. (Receiving support from women for his ministry, talking to the woman at the well, healing the women who touched him) Completely! The OT is continually misrepresented by self-serving men and women who are afraid to take control of their own lives. Forgive me if that sounds harsh, but the Bible isn't always easy. (For those who would like more of a breakdown, send me enough comments/emails and I will write about it)

iv. The dating world is ridiculous. My gender is disgusting and rude, and too many women are going after jerks, thereby rewarding these jerks for their behaviour. There have been moments these past six months where I've sorely wished that I had the gift of singleness, that I didn't want a family, but I do, and so I have become witness to an unbelievable amount of ego and vulnerability and stupidity and meanness. The absurdity of humanity is manifested in the dating world, let me tell you. For those of you who have someone or who are married, STAY THE COURSE! Believe me, you do not want to go back there...

v. The power of "how are you?". Having moved away this past September, I have been both saddened and encouraged by the people who have stayed in touch and those who haven't. They say that all it takes is a move to reveal who your real friends are. And that's true. A number of people never bothered to drop me even a quick email, to see how I was doing, and I can't say it doesn't hurt. It does. But I've been guilty of that in the past as well. I know I've done it. People have moved into new lives and I didn't even think about it. It is amazing, especially when you're in a new environment, what a simple "how are you?" can mean. Our lives are disjointed enough, aren't they? Everywhere we go we see people texting or talking on the phone with one another, and yet the gap of loneliness remains huge. This Christmas, I encourage you to send out five cards or emails to people you haven't talked to in a while, and simply ask how they're doing. I think you'll be surprised how much it means.



Friday, December 14, 2007


She wraps her fingers around the mug. Enjoys the way the warmth spreads through her arms. She hasn't slept a lot lately, not with her exams and outings and the things that come with college life. But this is her last year, so the parties have slowed down. She hasn't thought about much because you don't think it about it much when you're in university.
University is about doing. And agreeing.
She hadn't always thought that way. Not her first year, when the boys and the freedom led her to believe all things were possible. Not in her second year when she worked as a residence counselor, when her experience and quick wit made her the envy of most of the young freshmen. And not even last year, when her profs began to make a little more sense, when she realized just how bright and intelligent they were, and actually started listening.

This year has been different.

He slides into the chair in front of her, and doesn't notice that she's been thinking about serious ideas, or that she's been thinking at all. She watches as he flicks his cell phone open and makes a call. He still hasn't said hello. At the table next to her is a couple of other women slightly older than her. Both of them are on the phone. Music plays in the background. It's jazz, but she doesn't know that. Nor does she know the hundreds of hours of research that have gone into selecting the perfect music to create the perfect ambience for the cafe. She doesn't notice the exact spacing between the tables that allow it to feel like home or that the standard greeting by the people working there has been taught during a rigorous training program.

She's waiting for him to get off the phone.

He's good looking, with his floppy blond hair and chiseled cheeks. Malevolence plays around the corner of his lips. It's not an act but she pretends that it is and calls it cute. He treats her poorly, but occasionally smiles. She calls that "cute", too. In fact, she calls nearly everything she wants "cute".

Nobody listens anyway.

He's off the phone now, and he slides his hand up the inside of her arm. He doesn't say anything, and she doesn't pull away. She likes it. Expects it. She smiles at him, and she gives her sex away when she does, letting him know that he's chosen wisely. He smirks, nods, and than pulls his arm away. He's on the phone again.

They talk for two hours about nothing. He's in politics. When they're done agreeing that they're right, about everything, he slides his hand up her arm and this time sticks his tongue in her mouth. She expects this too, and responds. He leaves, but she'll call him later. And she will.

They met two nights ago.

Her coffee is cold now, and she brings the cup back to the counter. She can't remember drinking it. It doesn't matter. She has beer in the fridge. And vodka. The night will pass.
The air is cold, but she doesn't mind. It's good to walk. The stars are covered tonight, in part at least, by a gray mist. She wishes she could see them. Sometimes she thinks about God. She wonders about the possibility, but has never really explored the idea. Her parents don't go to church. Her mom believes in something. But she doesn't see the point. Why? And why God?
There is a layer of snow on the sidewalk, and it puffs away from her leather boots with every stride. Tomorrow is not really tomorrow. It is simply another today. And it will be filled with the same distractions, the same calls, the same sex (even when it's another boy), the same arguments, the same happiness. She thinks that there is an insanity to life, and than tries to stop thinking about it. Doesn't that make her insane?

The evergreens on the corner of her street are heavy with snow, and she reaches out and knocks the snow off, thrilled when the branch swings upward as if free. She spends the next thirty minutes freeing the branches she can reach. The snow flops into her hair and face and neck and she squeals in delight as the cold and ice trickle down her neck. She examines the tree branches. They have two long slick needles on the end of each bud, and in the darkness, they look like long fingernails. Once, when she was young, she thought about helping animals. Now, she worries about her paycheck on Fridays. Not as a student. But in the future. The number of zeroes will indicate her success or failure in life.

A cat squirts out from under a parked car as she walks past her neighbour's house. Instead of running away however, it stops and looks at her. She bends down, and it slowly approaches her. She holds out her finger. The cat looks at her with its unblinking eyes, and than licks her finger.

She starts to cry.

When did life become so meaningless? Is life only one distraction after another. Her professors, these wise and learned men and women, have told her to live for today. But tomorrow is today and today is absurd. Why do anything? She wished she knew more about God, but she doesn't. She wished that she didn't need boys to like her, but she does. She's not afraid to tell the truth about herself, but she's not sure which truth to tell, because it all seems true.

She pets the cat for a while, enjoys the warmth of the fur beneath her fingers. She looks up at the sky, where the mist has cleared. The stars sparkle like diamonds against the black. They are too far to touch, to smell, to hear, and yet, they are strangely comforting.

She has met so many smart people in her life, but no one has ever really explained the stars. Not really. She's standing outside her house. She can hear the music from inside, her housemates are having a party. She doesn't want to go in. She doesn't want to have the same conversation she just had.

Isn't there more?

She's been told all the reasons why not to believe in God. In truth, she's met some pretty stupid and mean Christians. But still, it isn't the silliness of people she's thinking about. She's thinking about the possibility. About the probability. There are so many distractions in life. We don't call them that, but she knows it to be true. Most of her life is built on distraction -- on TV, on sex, on drama, on school, on work, on money, on clothes, on stuff, on feeling good -- and she's suddenly tired of it all.

"Hey, you coming inside?"

Her friend is calling her.


"You okay."


The door closes as she sits in the snow bank. They think she's drunk. Maybe she is. She's decided to wait, and see if she can find God. If she can find hope. because if she can't, well, what's the point?

Tomorrow is today.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Lament (It's Okay to be Sad)

I slipped and nearly lost my balance as I struggled up the hill. The rain pelted down and slapped across my face, melting the snow until the street and sidewalk filled like tiny riverbeds, the ice glistening beneath it. Each step seemed smaller than the last, my feet squishing into puddles, the wind blowing and pushing against me. I shouldn't have come out, but a late walk usually helped when I couldn't sleep. A time to pray and reflect on the day and on life. Tonight however, my thoughts slipped and skidded into a seemingly unavoidable sadness. What worried me was that I'd been sad quite a bit this past month. I'd begun to worry about my faith. What did it say about me that the days were longer than I was used to, that even as I learned and grew, the days had not grown shorter? If anything, the more I prayed and thought about this crazy world, about life, the times of sadness had increased.

When I'd first become a Christian, and than rededicated my life to God so many years ago, no one had warned me about this. In fact, I'd been taught just the opposite. I'd been taught that God would help me, that my life would straighten out, that Jesus would fix things. The essence of my testimony was the simple efficacy of my own life. In other words, the better things were for me, the better God looked. I'd learned the hard way however, that while too many Christians clung to this unbiblical idea, I'd found many like myself, lonely sojourners who believed in God, who clung to His goodness, and yet witnessed the depth of despair not only in their own life, but the lives around them. And tonight, I worried again. How far had I drifted that such sadness had become a larger part of me?

I looked up at the heavens, but the sky was little more than a grey mist, the empty street shimmering under the dim lights, the quiet unbroken but for the sound of the rain. I'd walked full circle around the block, and now I slid and staggered down the hill. A bus chugged and than hissed to a stop beside me. I hadn't realized I was near a bus stop. I looked, but it was empty, and I backed away from the curb and waved to the driver. I saw her smile under the faint glow of green lights from inside the bus as she waved back and pulled away. I watched until it had disappeared down the street, and made my way across the deserted road. The brief human contact made me smile and than sigh. I was tired. To say that the last month had been difficult for me would not be doing it justice. I'd been shattered and broken a thousand times, or so it seemed.

"I don't get it, Lord. I don't get it." I said, muttering as the rain began to fall harder. "I love you, but I can't say I understand. Why is this so hard? Aren't things supposed to get easier?"

There was no response but the wind and rain and crisp wet smell of grass and cement. I'd received so many emails the past few months from people experiencing the same kind of lament, exasperated by their struggle and uneven faith and times of sadness. Many of them had been taught as I had, that we served God because He made our lives better.
I would never teach that again, I thought as I turned on to my street. As much as I loved God, I would never recommend His pursuit if you were looking for a better life or a quick fix.
"Prepare for sorrow." I said to myself as I unlocked the door to my house and stepped inside. Yes. That would be my motto. Prepare for sorrow.

There is a sense, certainly within evangelical circles, of this idea that God makes things better. That the good Christian is a happy Christian. The subtle infection of a marketing culture is at work here. (It looks better for the church to expand if we all look like we're happy.) And the logic, at first blush, seems un-impugnable. Why would anyone go to our church if people were sad? People are already sad. They need something to make them feel happy, don't they?

Yes. That's why we have Oprah. And Dr. Phil. Unlike our self-help gurus, God's role in Creation is not to make us 'happy'. But the role of truth, of God's Ultimate Truth, is to make us see. To see the world for how it really is, to see what really matters, to see Creation in all of its fullness and darkness. That is the purpose of our faith. What makes this so important is that people stay away from God because we are too busy trying to give the world a fresh gloss of paint, to hand people "rose-colored" glasses as it were, so when they walk into a church so they no longer see the filth and dirt and tragedy all around them. The role of faith is exactly the opposite. God wants us to see it, to face it head on, to wrestle with it.

If we cannot see the tragedy of life, we cannot see God.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites had special prayers of lament that were part of their worship. Psalms 3, 5, 6, 7, 13, 17, 22, 25-28, 38-40, 42-43, 51, 54-57, 59, 61, 64, 69-71, 86, 88, 102, 108, 109, 120, 130, 139-143 are considered tepilla, Psalms of Individual Lament. I list them here only to reveal that this idea of sadness in the life of faith is not normal, but necessary. Maybe this is partly why so many Christians struggle today. They have forgotten the importance of sorrow; they believe that somehow their sadness is a reflection on their own sin, their own lack of faith, on their own inability to be a better person, to do a better job exemplifying God in their life.

That is a great lie, and the implications are staggering.

Walter Brueggerman (an Old Testament scholar) suggests that the loss of lament within the church has been extremely costly. He suggests that our relationship with God loses reality when we lose the ability to lament, to be sad, to ask questions, to cry out, to struggle. I agree.

It is our sadness that testifies to the reality of our relationship with God, not our happiness.
It means we have brought our real selves before God, that we have looked upon the tragedies and heartache of the world and our life and have wrestled with them, that we have truly entered into a relationship with Him. And somehow, the ability to lament, to cry out... makes our lives real. And gives God a chance to move. When we see the world for how it really is, sadness is inevitable, but in our lament, somehow, sin some way, God gives us joy. (Psalm 73) And to explain it, is well, it cannot be explained. But to exclude sadness from the core of our faith is to misunderstand what faith is, and where God meets us.

It's cold out tonight. An icy wind rips across the front steps and I tuck my hands deep into my pockets. The clear night sky seems fresh, and the stars seem to shine as I turn my face to the heavens. For the past two hours, I have been unable to stop thinking about the importance of lament, of sadness. I have been unable to stop thinking about so many who have written me this past year about the struggle of life, and the guilt they have felt with acknowledging their struggle. The idea of "perpetual happiness" creates torment in our lives, and it undercuts the very nature of a real relationship with God. It is not only okay to be sad, but it is the very fabric of our humanity upon which God reveals His great love for us.

God wants us to lament, and my prayer for you is that you will no longer hide. That you will no longer hide your worries and anger and sadness. That you will no longer be afraid to present yourself as who you are to the One who made you. Life is hard, and there will be days when we wonder if God even cares. But the only way we will ever truly see Him is if we present Him with not only our joy and thanksgiving, but our lament as well.

"O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes."

-Psalm 6:1-7


Sunday, December 02, 2007


The snow falls lightly out of the darkness, a few flakes at a time, as if unsure where it should land. It floats in front of the streetlights and then disappears somewhere onto the quiet street. I sip my coffee, thankful that the icy wind that has ripped through the city the past few days has disappeared. I am puzzled by the strange sense of contentment that lifts and sighs through my emotions, but I don't question it. For once, I am able to be thankful without analysis, which is as much a gift as any other. A car heads slowly towards the house, and I wait until it passes before turning my face upward to watch the snow dance in the pale light.

It's almost midnight, and even as I sip my coffee my mind thinks back to another time, a time long ago, when another race of people waited on heaven's precipitation. Only it wasn't snow they were waiting for, and it wasn't for the scenery or sense of peace that their eyes would turn anxiously to the heavens each night. Their story has been told many times, the story of the Israelites and their journey out of Egypt, but we have been hard on them, especially here in North America. In particular, we have mocked their 'lack of faith' at God's provision.

I remember the first time I heard the story of manna, and my disdain for the Israelites. How could they not trust God? Hadn't He just proven Himself (by ten plagues) that He was real? Hadn't He led them out of Egypt? Even now, I can't help but shake my head at my arrogance. If that had been me, what would I have done? Would I have been as faithful?

The snow has begun to fall harder, and it gathers on my coat and hat with a quiet rustle even as I'm drawn back, to a time when snow wasn't snow, a time when it meant so much more.

The Israelites had just left Egypt, a struggling new nation that had grown from its roots as a nomadic tribe into burgeoning peoplehood nearly three million strong. They'd watched in both awe and disbelief as first clouds and fire had hidden them from the Egyptian warriors, and then later as the wind and rains had swept away the Egyptian army upon crossing the Red Sea. God was clearly on their side, or so it seemed.

The days were long however, and while free from their chains, the concept of freedom was nearly as difficult to grasp as freedom itself. The nights were cold, and the days were hot as they marched onward, endlessly, trudging to nowhere. Food was scarce, too. The desert was arid, and there little in the way of farming or game. Finally, Moses took their cries to Yahweh, and Yahweh answered.

Every morning the ground was covered in white flakes, thin wafers that tasted like honey. The people were given a warning however, not to collect more than a day's worth of food. Some of them tried, and it rotted and produced maggots. Instead, they were forced to wait on God, wait for the Almighty to deliver this strange bread. Every morning. One day at a time.

I can only imagine what it must have been like, to wait every night for this miracle, to wait until the morning dew had passed to prepare their breakfast. I have heard some thundering sermons about the Israelites in this story, about their lack of faith, about their inability to grasp just how much God had done for them. But I can't imagine being in their shoes. We do everything we can here in North America to not trust God. We put our faith in RRSP's, retirement plans, bonds, stocks, bank accounts, psychiatrists, medecines, self help books, Jesus prayers, formula worship, worship CD's, everything we can think of to avoid trusting in Yahweh Himself. Those things aren't necessarily bad, and sometimes God uses them to help meet our needs, but the call to a dependent, daily relationship echoes through the story of Exodus to today. It echoes through to me.

The snow is thick now, and it blows across my face like a white sheet. The street glows bright under the streetlamps and for a minute I hear the strains of Christmas carols from a house across the street before it is quiet once again. Just the feel of the snow on my face and the heavy crunch beneath my boots.

I am learning to depend on God more than ever these days, learning that there is something inherently biblical about leaning on Him for my day to day needs. There are days when, like the Israelites and the rest of humanity, I want to stock up my bank account and squirrel away my future so that no one else can have it. But there's a tie, I think, between the amount we trust God and the clinging, grasping hold on our possessions. The more we cling, the more we provide our own security, the less our need to rely on God. Maybe that's why it is so difficult for us to relate to those who don't have, why we still cling to this idea that people just need to work harder if they want security.

I'm not advocating bad stewardship, but I wonder we spent our money a little more unwisely so that from time to time at least we would have to go to God for help, (and not just for our financial needs -- but for everything) that would be okay with Him. Better that than the presumption that we can look after ourselves or that we deserve it because we're disciplined and poor people are not or that the only lives that matter are our own.

I head back up the driveway. Some of the snow finds its way onto my neck, as I adjust my hood. I stop at the stoop and hunch forward, watching as the snow swirl across the lights. The more I read the Bible, the more I am impressed that these were people like us. Like me. I take heart in their weaknesses because they are my weaknesses too. Mostly however, I draw confidence in the One who showed that He would always be there, so long as we are willing to call upon His name.

May God remind us this week that God longs to give us our daily bread, that He longs for our company and time, and that no matter where we are, we have only to ask to find His provision.


Friday, November 23, 2007


The snow crunched softly under my feet as I moved down the driveway. I tightened the scarf around my neck. The air was cold, but there was no wind. The lights reflected over the snow, and the whitened street seemed almost to glow, as if the winter had brought with her a different kingdom, a place of dreams and possibility. Up ahead, smoke curled lazily from one of the houses into the night and a sense of peace flooded over me as I jammed my hands into my parka. I breathed deep the crisp air and whispered a prayer of thanks into the quiet, not wanting to break the stillness of the moment or the deep sense of being that sifted through my emotions. Small tears began to form in my eyes, unexpected and unexplained, but instead of wiping them away I let gather and slide down my cheek, the cold marking their trail across my skin like a gentle caress.

In a few minutes I would go inside and attempt to write my story, I would break down the small but seemingly momentous happenings inside me this past week. I would try to explain what I felt and what God had done, not because my story was different or special, but because it was the same story that others had experienced. That others needed to experience. The kind of story that, when you looked back on it, was an event that ultimately shifted the direction of your life. For now however, I just wanted to enjoy the quietness of the moment. To breathe deep the night air and thank God for doing something I hadn't expected. Of course, I should have known that He'd be there...

...the house was quiet. My housemates were all gone, at school or at work. I could hear the rain patter against the glass of my window, and gray light filtered into my room. I lay beneath my covers, my mind racing, my body almost sore with the effort of moving into another position. It was all so ridiculous, I thought, that I was still lying here. I had so many things going for me, all I had to do was get up and head to school. The thought, however lucid, drifted away from me and disappeared into the four blank walls that hedged me in as I shifted deeper under the covers.
"Maybe tomorrow." I murmured to myself, over and over, like a soft mantra. "Maybe tomorrow." I looked at the window, at the tiny rivulets of rain trickling down the glass like tears. I tried to squeeze into a more positive frame of mind, but somehow I couldn't think of anything, and I could feel myself shut down as my eyes closed and I drifted back to sleep.

When I'd first left Ottawa three months ago, I'd come to Toronto with the hopes and excitement of someone in pursuit of their dreams. I'd do my Masters, focus on my writing, and hopefully accomplish the things I'd always believed I was capable of doing. Now, only three months later, I lay beneath my covers on a rainy afternoon, broke, behind in my school, and wondering just where things had gone wrong. I knew that God loved me, but it felt like I'd lost Him somewhere. Or that He'd lost me, as if I'd been dropped off at the corner somewhere along the way. I hadn't slept much lately, and the nights were filled with worries and tightened fists.

Was this it? Was this the end of my pursuit of something greater?
I'd taken a year's leave, but the thought of going back to my life in Ottawa filled me with an unexplainable sadness. I wasn't sure anyone would understand why I was sad or struggling, in as much as I was in a new city and should just wait, things would get better, wouldn't they? Yes, yes, the pursuit of dreams was a good thing, and the advanced degree was practical, especially if you wanted to teach. Why was I getting so uptight? Relax, it'll get better. And if you lose a course, so what?

What most people didn't understand, was that while I told people I'd come to Toronto to pursue my dreams, it wasn't the whole truth. For two years on my balcony in Ottawa, during my quiet times, there was a Scripture that had arrested me so completely that I hadn't been able to shake it. "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matt 10:39) Somehow, in some way, if there was one thing I was sure of during my quiet times on the balcony, it was the understanding that to lose my life, I needed to move. And so while my dreams forged an inspiration for me to pack up and leave, it wasn't simply for them that I'd left. No, I'd left in pursuit of something else.

I'd left my life in pursuit of the God I loved, the God I longed to serve with every fiber of my being. And now, He'd disappeared...

The clock flashed the red numbers in the darkness. 11:06pm. I was immobile on my bed. It'd been hours since I moved, but it felt like days. I could feel myself breaking inside, and I swallowed hard. People would never understand this if I told them or tried to explain it, and suddenly I didn't care. I didn't care if people thought I was crazy or dramatic. I didn't care if I couldn't rationalize what I was doing or how I felt when it came to my faith. I was tired of supporting thought structures that purported to the idea of Christianity but left out the reality of a supernatural God. I was tired of having to explain in a reasonable way this idea of Jesus, this idea that God 'made sense.' Mostly though, I was just tired of bouncing between the "rational Steve" and the "God-seeking Steve". I could no longer buy into modernity's idea that we could organize God into a part of our life.
Either He was real, or he wasn't. Either He was life, or He wasn't.

The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. So where was He? Why had He left me here in this position... like this! I slipped over on to my knees, and I poured out my anger and frustration, that somehow began to mix with sobs and tears of frustration.

"Either you do something tomorrow, or I will never trust you again!" I said finally. I meant it. I was done. I sprawled onto my face and lay prone in prayer for another thirty minutes. It wasn't as if my struggles were simply emotional, they were finite as well. School. Finances. Job.
Somewhere along the way, I passed out. When I opened my eyes again, it was 2am. I was wide awake. I didn't feel any different, but I showered and dressed and started working on my papers. My emotions were spent. The hours passed, and I thought about the previous night, but only in passing. I stayed up the rest of the day and went to bed early. For the past week I'd been unable to sleep before 5am, so this was a pleasant surprise, but not a big deal.

I began to hope that things had turned around, that God had answered my prayer, but things started getting worse. The news from school wasn't good, and the check I'd been expecting for the past two weeks would be a month late. I hadn't heard back from any of the jobs I'd applied for, and while each day I was up early now, hopeful that something good would happen, each day I was dealt at least one body blow that would suck the wind out of me.

The night before I'd gone to sleep with my face still wet with tears. I hadn't been broken just once, but shattered into a thousand pieces. And yet, the more I felt myself breaking, the more I opened myself up to my friends about the tearing inside my heart, the more I sensed something else squeezed into the newly formed cracks. Love. Hope.

Everyone likes to be the strong one. The wise one. But I could no longer do that, no longer pretend that I was strong or wise. My friends rallied around me, and I felt an emasculated fool. Somewhere along the way, however, even that began to drift. I didn't care any more. When I went out, I began to see things. I noticed the old lady on the street, struggling against the cold wind. I noticed the woman with red eyes in the checkout line. I noticed the man with dingy pants and dirty hair standing outside the mall.

It wasn't that I was blind to these things before, or maybe I was, but it was hitting me in a new way. I thought about all my pretensions and ideals, my smugness and arrogance about 'certain' people, and I could feel my heart break a little bit more. And like a laser, God cut through my selfishness and showed me what I'd neglected to see. And I cried and whispered into the cold night air when I realized why God had 'left me.'

"God, forgive me. Your world is dying, and I am more worried about MY pedigree, about MY dreams, than I am about serving you."

He hadn't left me at all. It'd been me all along. I was the one who had left.

The sun is bright this morning, but the air is icy and cold. I can't help but think about this past week, and about God's faithfulness. Even now, my eyes fill with tears as I dwell on what I've learned.

I spent many years going to churches that promised the world, that if people just came forward, God would change their life. I grew bitter over time because those changes never happened, that God never made my life 'great' the way I'd been promised, so I'm hesitant to even write my story. I am convinced that God works slowly in us, because it is what we can handle, what can be permanent. But I do still believe there are moments when God asks us to respond, when he moves in a way that can change us forever. If we let Him.

No, even now I knew this was different, because it was less about me, and more about Him. I'd learned something about myself, and something about God. As long as my dreams merely included Him, there would always be something missing in my life. But if my dreams were ABOUT Him, then I would never have to worry.

God wants to move in our daily lives. He wants us to depend on Him. He wants us to grab the 'horns of the altar' and not let go. He wants to give us joy. For many of us, however, we must first be broken.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

A New Diet (trying to get control)

When I was 23, I weighed 192lbs, with a BMI of %10.5. I was in the best shape of my life. For the last ten years however, I've hovered between 204 and 220lbs. These past few weeks I've grown tired of carrying the extra weight around and I've longed to get rid of it, but I've developed some bad habits through the years. My biggest difficulty is portion control. I still tend to put heaping mounds of food on my plate. Now, with a sister who is a personal trainer, and having trained some others myself, I am completely aware of the fact that smaller portions and more meals means a higher metabolic rate. Our body burns it quicker. Most of the time however, it doesn't matter for me. Too often however, I still stuff my face with great quantities of food, wasting all the good effort I put in at the gym.

So I've decided to try a new diet, well, not a diet so much as a portion control plan. I call it the Bowl Diet. Whatever i can put into a regular bowl, I can eat. And that's it for at least two and a half hours. I know it doesn't sound like much (if you're eating a heavy beef-slop you can fit a lot into a single bowl) but for me it will be a marked improvement.
The issue for me, as much as I'd like to lose weight, is about both control and temperance. In our society, we tend not to think of food or managing our diet as being spiritual, but it is. Not in the sense where women try to look like the stick, air brushed pictures on the cover of magazines (gross, unreal, and dangerous) but in the sense of being under control. I can feel it when I'm at the table or out for dinner, and I want more even though I'm not hungry. Sometimes you just want to spoil yourself. But too often, for me at least, I CAN'T stop myself. That implies something else entirely.

I have great encouragement around me to give this a try. Two of my housemates, Keti and Syzmon, 20 and 26 years old respectively, have started running and getting in shape these past two months. Keti, who, it should be known, looked great before, has dropped to 50 Kilograms (from 56) by running and working out and not eating late. Szymon started running, and now runs 5-6 times a week, has controlled his portions, and doesn't eat before bed. He's dropped ten pounds in six weeks.

Granted, my friends are younger. (When I was twenty I could eat styrofoam and it didn't matter) But after three days, I can tell you I feel the difference. I don't feel so heavy. Even more, I feel like I'm in control. I'll be posting a column on the side of my blog with my weight, which currently stands at 210lbs, and updating it weekly. My goal is 199lbs. (I haven't been there in ten years) I'm doing this as a public check on myself, and hopefully for some encouragement along the way. If anyone would like to join me, I'd be happy to add your name to the roll so we can do it together.

IMPORTANT: Our society places far too much emphasis on how we look. I am not only aware of that, but frankly, it disgusts me. This diet is about control and feel and health. If we set our diet goals to be ONLY about a measurable number (such as our weight or BMI) we're missing the point, and it can affect our spirituality in a negative way (all about me). But if we're looking to get healthy and take control of what we put in our mouths, I believe this can be a good thing. If you think I'm wrong, feel free to comment, I'd love to hear from you. Especially the women, the ones in our society who have to face this super ridiculous ideal of how they're "supposed" to look every day.


P.S. This isn't a particularly deep post, I know. On Thursday this past week the stress reached an all-time high for me. I stayed in bed the entire day. At night, I ended up flat on my face before God. I was done. And then, something happened...

I will be writing about this when I have more time to process it later in the week.

All Right, Guys, you asked for more Sports...

When I started this blog, I promised the occasional trip through the world of sports. (I even included it in the headline) And I was also told that if I wanted to appeal to more men, I needed to more "men's" blogs about things like sports. This falls under that category, except that I won't be posting those articles here.

I've accepted the position of head basketball writer for a new sports website called Downtown Sports. I'll also be writing articles about other things in the sports world, with an alternate focus on baseball, the two sports I feel most qualified to write about. The position is unpaid to start, but after so many years of coaching and playing, I thought it was time to start writing about one of my other passions. My first article will be posted on Monday (about the Raptors).

I'll put a link on the side here for those who are interested. I'd also love to hear your thoughts about it, guys. Give me your opinions. Is there something in the basketball world you want me to talk about? Amateur. Pro. College ball. Here's a chance to push your own ideas and issues in the world of sports, so don't be shy.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dark Side of Happyland

(No Country For Old Men... or young men either. What we think is a game, as it is on the website, is really indicative of a truth that we're missing) --->

My room was getting smaller. I'd been sitting on my chair with my feet propped up for the past five hours, taking a much needed break to watch some Sunday football, and I found myself fidgeting in my chair. The room hadn't changed, or had it. I looked over at my corner desk and the stacked pile of boxes outside the closet door. My room was about ten feet by ten feet, most of it taken up by my desk. There was no room to walk, and room for only a single chair.

I turned back to the game. What was I thinking? Had I left it all back in Ottawa for this? A commercial came on, I didn't see what it was advertising, but a young family was playing in the front yard, the dad smiling confidently as he leaned on a silver Mercedes. I abruptly clicked off the TV. I hadn't watched much television since I'd moved to Toronto, I didn't have time. I'd grown used to going days without seeing any commercials, and after basking in them for the past five hours, I could feel the change. It wasn't as if the commercials were negative. It was exactly the opposite. Everyone was so happy in them, and the guys seemed to have the perfect life. Wife. Kids. Dog. House. Car. Clothes. I looked at my tiny closet, which was jammed open because of the lack of space. Three dress shirts. One pair of casual shoes. Five pairs of pants. And this tiny room.

I flipped on my jacket and decided to go for a walk. Watching five hours of Happyland commercials had produced nothing but sadness and a strange sense of emasculation, especially as a single guy who DID like and hope for a family one day. "Yeah, I know I only have a room, but I'm a really good guy!" Whatever women tell you, including Christian women, stability is important. And it should be. For me, however, it was another sour reminder of what I'd left behind.

The problem with commercialism is that it is so infectious we don't even see it. Studies reveal that once people reach $10,000 GDP (when we're basically able to feed ourselves without too much difficulty) our level of happiness is directly correlated to the people around us. In other words, if we don't look at what other people got, we're much happier. In our world however, we're forced to look at what other people have when we expose ourselves to too much media. And even the best of people don't realize how much they're being influenced.

For example, in the Coen brothers new movie, No Country for Old Men (based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy), they tell the tale of a cowboy, a good man, who comes across the scene of a massacre. A suitcase of two million sits with a dying man who's asking for water. What do we do? What would we do? Take the money and give the dying man some water, right? Isn't that the North American way? (We can have our cake, and have it served in a marble dish.)

Well, he does just that, and than all hell breaks loose as an assassin comes looking for him. Now McCarthy is a uniquely American writer, and he layers his simple tales with moral complexities. Well, for him at least, taking the money IS a complexity. For some of us, and I include myself, there are days when I'm not sure it would be all that complex. Maybe God wants us to have the money. Maybe we tithed and this is our reward.

I stroll down the sidewalk. The air is warmer than I expected. The sun is fading, and I breathe deep the quiet stillness of the street. The whole experience has reminded me of a story I heard two weeks ago at a seminar on The Emergent Church.

The presenter told us about a church plant in Michigan that had sprung to life in a downtown bar. The bar owner thought it was a cool idea, and every Sunday night he closed the bar and let the people in the neighbourhood have 'church.' A big denomination saw the growing young church, and offered three hundred thousand (yes, thousand!) to the young church. There was one condition. They were uncomfortable with the idea of church in a bar. So, in order for the church plant to get the money (and the young church had just $37 in their account at the time) they would have to move to the suburbs.

Despite the temptation, the church refused the money.

There is a very dark side to Happyland. Sometimes, great filmmakers and writers need to show just how vividly dark it can be. Sometimes we get lost in the commercials and it helps us feel good about the extra purchase we just made, the new car or the new sound system or the new clothes. But maybe all this purchasing isn't such a good thing. It isn't to say that we can't treat ourselves, or that we can't celebrate hard work, but it does mean that we should think twice about the idea that money is an automatic sign of God's blessing.

An assassin probably won't rip apart my life, but when the years are passed, when I've worked so hard on the things that don't last, when I've spent all of my energy working overtime and storing up treasures in my downtown bank, will all my time spent building my own Happyland be worth it? Will I be able say thank you for more than just a bigger room.

May God remind us this week that the world we see on 2D is not the real world, that the good life is made up of the friends and family around us, and that while Happyland may be a nice place to visit, you don't want to live there.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

RAOK: Church leaders, here's a GREAT idea

Most of the time I am offended by the North American idea of mission and outreach. Too often it seems that we're more interested in selling Jesus than being Jesus. With that in mind, I stumbled across this ministry idea, and I think it reflects the beauty of what it means to be a missional church. If you're a pastor or church leader or just want to get involved in something other than the tired blitz of propaganda we hand out sometimes, here's a chance to do something different. Awesome.

RAOK: Random Acts of Kindness

An article about this ministry can be found on the Christianity Today website.


Slow Death: How Dreams can Kill You

It's cold out tonight. Thankfully, there's no wind. The stars hang against the clear backdrop of velvet. Frost covers the ground and the crisp air speaks of a new season.

Winter is here again.

I should be in bed, but I cannot sleep. I'm thinking about all the things I would like to accomplish, all the things I planned to do when I moved here just two short months ago in pursuit of my dream, and the little I've accomplished in that time. Oh, I've heard my friends advice to be patient, to not expect so much so quickly, to hang in there, to keep believing and that it eventually it will happen. However, I am struck with the inevitable truth that every dreamer must face, not once or twice, but the one we face every day when we put our entire lives behind the vision of our life's ultimate desire.

What if it doesn't happen?

What if I'm wrong and I'm not good enough to make it as a writer? What if I can't focus enough to finish Grad school or become as skilled as I need to be in the film industry? What if I never get a chance to work as an actor? What if my pursuit of these dreams costs me the chance at a family? (What woman wants to be with a poor writer/scholar/student?) Most importantly, what if I'm wrong about making a difference for God, that this is where I'm supposed to be?

Moreover, every day I do not move closer to these goals or see anything happening I can hear the clock ticking. I hear the countdown. Soon the seconds turn into hours, the hours turn into months, and the months turn into years. I can feel time bursting the seams of my life, waiting to leap forward with only the miserable groans of a broken heart to guide its path.

And some nights, like tonight, it pulls me from my bed, an aching zombie filled with dread and uttering my own mantra of perseverance and positivism. For now, I can neither write nor sleep, I can only stand and look at the stars and the quiet street and feel the crisp winter air whispering about the upcoming Christmas season, a season I'd rather not spend alone again.

Many books have been sold on the pursuit of our passions, and many speakers have spent their entire careers selling the same product. It sounds sooooo good, doesn't it? In their fancy suits and million dollar smiles, they tap into the sacred part of us that longs to be special. We buy the books, listen to the lectures, read their materials, and yet, most of us leave our dreams aside for the 'normal life' after a short time, although we still listen to their words, as if somehow their words alone can remind us what it was like when we used to dream.

Pastors and preachers do this as well, only they use phrases like 'God has made you special' or 'finding your gift'. What amazes me is not that people leave their ideas and dreams behind so often, but that we still love to hear someone talk about it. This never made sense to me. How could we sit there in the pew or in the seminar and listen to this stuff and not do anything? How could so many people prefer the misery of routine and sameness to the excitement of a spontaneous and passionate life?

Having left everything, having put aside one life for another, I think I know the answer.

The truth is that the pursuit of dreams kills us, and it does so slowly.

Humans can live in the most abject misery, can adapt to the most difficult environments, and can face whatever comes, so long as the seeds of hope remain. So long as the seeds of mystery and future and potential remain alive, even if it's an imagined future, we find ways to cope. However, once we remove that ideal, once we take away that dream, life suddenly becomes a vast, barren wasteland. An endless trek upon the burning sands of time. Unless we find new joy in the mystery and hand of God, unless we realize that the journey has made us stronger, our lives are effectively over.

Because there's no getting around this one simple fact, the one thing they always leave out of most inspirational stories. And that fact is this: if you pursue your dreams, eventually you are going to have to face the truth. About yourself. About the world. And about where you fit on this planet.

You can no longer fool yourself about what you could've been or should've been. Somewhere along the way, the life and hope and endless possibilities you dreamed about will reveal themselves to be nothing more than a bunch of glossy cardboard cutouts.

Perhaps we don't pursue our dreams because, in some manner, we all realize this. That even if we win, there's a good chance we'll lose. Maybe we get the dream, but it turns out the dream isn't as we imagined, that being a writer isn't that great after all. There's actually a lot of work involved, and the publishers keep rejecting our stuff. We have so many deadlines, and all the critics do is criticize. Or even worse, we pursue our dreams and never get there. We get rejection slip after rejection slip, and one day come to the realization that our writing will never be good enough. The days and years pass, and we become bitter and cynical.

Self-awareness isn't easy, and it isn't pretty, but as far as I know, it's the truest path to God. Which is what makes all the propaganda of positive thinking and 'victory' marches we get from the Christian bookstore so frustrating. Too many churches are more interested in selling seats via the 'Catch Your Dream tonight' seminar than telling it like it is. How about this for a billboard?

The Truth about Dreams

Your dream is going to cost you. You can't have it all. The world isn't God's fantasy playground, and at some point, you're going to have to face the truth of who you are and why you're here. People will disappoint you. The world will let you down. Nothing will happen the way you imagined. God will disappear in key moments. You will feel alone more times than you will remember. For every step forward, you will be knocked down. Loving people means they will use you. The world will shrink even as gets bigger. At times, you will feel insignificant. (Don't worry, that's supposed to happen. God is almost ready to use you.) Just remember, there is no ultimate life, there is only life. Expect to be bloodied.

Wednesdays, 7pm, in the Fellowship Hall. Refreshments at 6:45.

I am back on the front stoop. It's still dark, but the sun will be up soon. I haven't seen my raccoon friends lately, and I wonder if they're okay. It hasn't been easy these past two weeks, but the thought of giving up is not an option. To do anything less than that which I feel called to do, to do anything less than pursue my passions, is not to live. Of course, there are days when I wrestle with the truth, with self-awareness, when I'd like to go back to a time not too long ago when being a writer held some sort of mystic quality to it. When I held up in esteem this idea of a writer's life. What I have learned however, that while the pursuit of dreams brings a certain type of death, the lack of their pursuit brings something much worse.

Cowardice seems a strong word, but it is the right one when we talk about our culture's biggest character flaw. Men talk down to women. Women are not honest with men. Families avoid confrontation. Most of us refuse to look in the mirror, to admit our mistakes. We scuttle and scrabble through our life trying not to be stepped on, and fear permeates our entire being. The same fear that keeps us from pursuing our dreams is the one that corrupts our daily lives. If we're not willing to face the truth, if we're not willing to step out and take a chance that we will not succeed as we hoped, that the journey will kill us, that our lives may end up poorly, if we're not willing to take the risk of living, than why should we expect life?

The pursuit of dreams may bring with it death, but only in our dying can we come to understand what it means to truly live.

May God give us the courage this week to face ourselves, to look again at the dreams we had as a kid and reach once more for the passionate life, and to remember that the struggles along a winding and difficult path are better than the empty barrenness of a desert road.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Hero Indeed

I have written often about the need for heroes, about the need for our culture to redefine success and what it means, and about the importance of setting our values on the things that really matter. This video is a reminder of that even today, if we're willing to look, we can still find heroes...

(YouTube Writeup)

Randy Pausch set the tone early on yesterday at his farewell lecture at Carnegie Mellon University.

"If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you," said Dr. Pausch.

It is probably the last public speech Dr. Pausch will give anywhere. The 46-year-old computer science professor and father of three preschoolers has incurable pancreatic cancer. Doctors have given him months to live.

Yet, standing at the podium in McConomy Auditorium on the campus yesterday, Randy Pausch did not focus on impending death. Instead, he celebrated the chance he had been given to live the life he always had dreamed of.

Note: You can find all ten videos on my video channel:

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Close to Home

It's human nature to take things for granted. So when something happens somewhere else in the world, its easy to blow it off or ignore it. I moved here a few months ago, and I've become close with my housemates. One of them is from Georgia, a small country south of Russia. Today she received disturbing news. The capital city is under Marshall Law. Soldiers patrol the street. There is a 7pm curfew. No one can go outside.

It is the nightmare we see in movies, except this time its real. Take a look at the video and see for yourself.

Please pray for my friend and her family and friends back home...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Rich? I'm Completely Broke?!

They say everything is a matter of perspective, which may be true, unless you don't like your perspective. This is especially true when it comes to money. Even more so when you've vacated a secure life in pursuit of your dreams of making it as a writer/scholar/minister.
Yes. Especially then.

I was thinking about that yesterday while I sent off yet another article from my tiny room here in Toronto. School work needed to get done, but the bank balance had dipped below $30.00, so it was now or never.
If I didn't publish something in the next six days it'd be back to the daily grind of a part-time job at Starbucks or wherever to help make ends meet while my writing aspirations floundered and dried up after only two months in the big city. What time would be left with school and work to write? Graduate school, for those who have never been, is really a case of professors foistering as much reading as possible on you as they can. )Think English lit. on steroids) And while I love Theology, I eagerly await each week's issue of Entertainment Weekly, where for two hours I can bury my head in pop culture.

Now, however, my circumstances have changed. School is second to, uh, money. Which means I have five days left to sell another article. Which means another week (or at least until the cheque from my last article comes) of not spending any money or even thinking about how broke I am. The truth is that I'm not a big fan of people who say they want to pursue their dreams but do nothing but talk about it. Of course, I probably don't like them so much because for the last number of years, that was me. Oh, I wrote, nothing would ever stop me from writing, but it was nothing like this. No, back then I could put days into a thoughtful blog, and wait to hear from my friends and readers, take my time answering emails and criticisms.

Not any more.

Now I must push and push the publishing industry, scour the websites for the latest news to write about, push and promote my new company (, continue to develop film editing skills by learning professional programs which will someday be helpful, and find time to read scours of books like The Contours of Old Testament Theology along with scrabbling along in beginning Greek. "What case is this verb? What's a case?" All of this work, and less than $30 in the bank account, with only the vaguest of hopes that I will see anything any time soon that isn't the inside of a coffee cup.

In light of all this, I managed to wake up early this morning and bring my clothes down to the washing machine to do my laundry. My housemate, newly immigrated from Poland, looked at my overflowing basket.

"Wow. That's a lot of laundry."

"Yeah, I haven't done it in a couple of weeks." I said. "I have too many clothes."

He laughed.

"I can put all of my possessions in two suitcases. I wish I had your problem."


Despite my low funds, despite the work and busy-ness, despite my occasional longing for the "TV life"(wife, kids, front yard, barbecue, income) I've never been this happy. I've never been so present in my own life. Following your dreams is worth it, even if your account balance disagrees. And sometimes God uses someone else to point out just how rich us broke people are in this country.

Maybe its time to take another look at the two accounts, the one with the numbers on it, and the ones where we've engraved our passions, and reconsider which one is more important.


Friday, October 26, 2007


“He’s an idiot. Just like Nelson. Did you see the chick he brought to the party? I wouldn’t be caught dead with her.”

I glanced over at the table next to me where the man’s nasally voice carried over the music playing in the background. He looked to be in his late twenties, and he was slouched in his chair, his jeans baggy and low on his waist. His hair was long and floppy, and he shook his head periodically to move it off his forehead. The corner of his lips were flipped into a smirk.

“Did you get the work from Jans?”

I didn’t want to listen in to the conversation, but they both had the types of voices that carried easily over the other conversations around the cafe. I fumbled in my briefcase for a pair of headphones.

“Jans is ridiculous. Sometimes he’s okay, but this idea of his is just stupid.” He snorted. “How about that service on Sunday? What the heck was that about? New ministry. Whatever.”

I’d finally put my headphones on, but I left the music off. I couldn’t help but stare at the two guys, especially Mr. Negative. He remained in his slouch, and every person that stood or strolled past got a once over, his lips still curled into that impenetrable smirk.

“Hey,man. Check out the old guy-“

I frowned and turned on the music to drown out his voice, but it was hard to concentrate. I clenched my teeth and forced myself to breath slowly. What a jerk. And church? He went to church? Wow. Way to communicate the good news, I thought. My body had gone rigid. Some things bothered me more than others, but I was completely offended by the boor sitting beside me.
I bent back to my textbook and let the music take me back to my schoolwork. When I finally looked up an hour had passed and the guys beside me were gone. The residue from the negativity however, clung to me like a bad odour. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why I’d become so offended. It wasn’t like he was talking to me, or about me, and even if he was, I didn’t care. So why had I found him so offensive?

I picked up my coffee and decided to take a stroll to think about it. I slipped between the tables and headed towards the bookshelves. This particular Starbucks was attached to a huge Chapters bookstore, but the tables were nearly always occupied, and so I limited my time here to once or twice a week. A far cry different from my old Starbucks back in Ottawa where I’d often joked with staff about getting me a cot. I wandered down the aisles, curious as to why my reaction to the guy beside me had been so visceral. It only took me a few minutes to understand my response.

As far back as I can remember, I have loved all things inspirational. Stories, movies, books, people. It seemed to me at a young age that too many people had given up on life, on pursuing their dreams, and they’d done so early. How many times had I heard someone say “I’m just trying to make it through the day,” or “Same old, same old,” or “fifteen years to retirement.” Slumped shoulders, sad eyes, and hard fought smiles. I’d seen it so often. And not just in others, either. I’d seen it in the mirror, too.

Life wasn’t easy, even on the richest continent on the planet, because life was inherently tragic. But even during the darkest times in my life I'd clung to the belief that joy was possible, especially when we could encourage one another, when people made an effort to celebrate their humanity with one another. The antithesis of that, however, were the Dream Killers, the people who buried their own hurts and pain beneath their cynicism and preening arrogance. Quick to cast doubt and shadow on anything positive or hopeful, they sucked the life out of everything and everyone around them. I not only resented their behaviour, I resented the people who exhibited it and took their attitude as a great personal offense.

I sipped my coffee and headed down the escalator for a breath of fresh air. Just thinking about the Dream Killer beside me made my stomach churn. I started thinking about Jesus, and wondering if he was ever truly offended by certain behaviours. It was tempting to think that the behavior I resented was the behavior he resented too. Easy to think of the Pharisees, and how much they must have offended Jesus. Easier still to call the people who offended me Pharisees.
Unfortunately, it was an oversimplification and certainly egocentric. We all think we have it right -- about the way we’re supposed to act and supposed to think. We all like to think that the things that offend us would have offended Jesus. It’s a ridiculous notion though, because while I love God with every fiber of my being, I know people who are offended by my ideas about faith. (Christian satire, for example) Conversely, I’m offended by some of their ideas about faith, especially when it comes to prosperity and healing and pietism.

The cold air hit me like a slap as I walked through the doors. Fall had come, and winter seemed around the corner. The clouds boiled gray and menacing and the hint of rain, like a fine, icy mist, permeated the air. I’d just finished my midterms, and I felt both tired and exhilarated all at once. Except for the nugget of discomfort still lingering from the Dream Killer.

So what were we to do with this idea of being offended. It happened often enough, perhaps too often. Taking offense to something or someone created a barrier, a barrier that was all but impossible to break through. In other words, it separated people. The problem, as far as I could tell, was that Jesus had called us to love our enemies. So how could I love my enemies if I was busy getting offended, revealing my disdain and displeasure for certain actions or certain persons.

I walked along the sidewalk past some of the other stores. I stopped outside a flower shop, and stared at some of the bouquets through the glass. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that when I was offended, it wasn't about the person or the behaviour.

It was about me.

My reaction revealed something important about myself. The more I thought about, the more I realized that while it was okay to not like certain behaviours, it wasn’t okay to be offended. It was, in fact, unacceptable.

Who was I to take personal offense? Did I not offend people every day? Did I not offend God by my tendency towards selfishness and self-promotion? The thing about being offended was that it was generally in response to an inflated sense of pride and indignation or a previous hurt that we'd yet to deal with. It also excused us from doing the hard thing, the thing that Jesus asked us to do. To love people that were difficult to love.

I flicked my gaze from the flowers to my reflection in the glass. I would never understand people who put others down. I would never understand why people seemingly went out of their way to discourage those around them. I would never understand the way people could take the Bible and use it as a club on people. From now on however, I would do my best not to be offended.

The truth is, we all do things we regret, and we all have blind spots. Many times I’ve had to apologize for my actions. I’ve said something offensive or I’ve criticized something or someone without thinking. And yet, God not only tolerates me, but he actually understands and still likes me! And if that’s the case, how can I possibly act like I’m so much better than the people around me?

I smiled at my reflection and headed back towards Chapters. I’d never like the Dream Killer, but from now on I would work less on being indignant, and work harder at loving them.

My prayer this week is that God would reveal to us – not only the things that offend us, but why they affect us the way they do. May he help us to understand that the first step towards tearing down barriers is to recognize ourselves in the people around us. And may he give us the patience to see beyond the surface, and the strength to love that which we don’t understand.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lost in Time

The street was quiet, the gray skies muted overhead. I'd read the email three times, and I sat on the cold concrete steps outside my house with my head in my hands, my emotions rippling just beneath the surface. The noise level in my life had risen so much the past month that it was difficult to sort out exactly what had happened and how much my life had changed. It was all kind of hazy, as if I'd suddenly leapt inside one of my dreams and not woken up. On so many levels this was a good thing, but reading my latest email had sent me plummeting from my dream into my old life.

There was little wind and no movement as I looked out across my new neighbourhood. What was I doing here? A student? At thirty-five? Perhaps it was because I'd always worked with young people, but I'd never really 'felt' my age. And since I'd never had kids, I didn't feel any different now than I had when I was twenty-five. Time, however, is inevitable, and it passes along with the seasons no matter how we feel. Donald Miller asks the question in one of his books if time passes through us, or if we pass through time. I'd never been able to decide. Until now.

I stood and moved to the edge of the driveway, my thoughts a tangled blur of lives and life, of the past and present, and of what had been and what never might be. I sipped my coffee and stared down the quiet street. A squirrel scooted from a tree across the street, and I watched him run and disappear into another tree until the road was still again.

When I was twelve, I scratched my name and address into the wood panel of one of the lamps in our living room. A month later I wrote my name in wet cement at the apartments where I delivered newspapers. Needless to say, neither my parents nor the owners were happy with either decision, and weren't shy about letting me know their 'disappointment'. I didn't blame them, but I couldn't explain my actions either. Not really. At twelve, I was beginning to develop my sense of self. It was also the first time I truly wondered about being forgotten. How a twelve year old is supposed to explain this to his parents, I'll never know, but I still remember being gripped by a great fear that I would pass away from this world as if I'd never been here.

For some reason that summer, I was possessed by that one thought. Who would know that I ever existed? By marking the lamp and the concrete, I was hoping to leave something behind, leave a reminder that I'd lived in this place. In this house. On this street. At this time.

Well, the lamp was sanded and redone, and the concrete replaced a few years ago. Yet the same questions still emerge in my life as an adult, and coincidentally, the same fears. My latest email had reminded me just how precious, and fragile, my illusions about my fears and struggles could be.

I headed back to the stoop, and leaned against the brick. I'd sent a birthday email to my newly remarried (four months) ex-wife the day before, and today she'd replied. Happy, she said. Honeymoon in the romantic capitals of Europe. A great wedding. Doing wonderfully. Starting a family soon. Please don't write again. For the best.

She was right of course, on so many levels. She was starting over, and it'd been years since we were married. And she was happy, happier than I'd ever seen her in all the years I'd known her. And while I was comforted and gladdened by her contentment, I could not help but wonder about what had been, and what never would be.

When you're young, at least until you're thirty, it's easy to believe that life will work out the way you want, that you can be anything and do everything, that you will pass through time when and how you choose. At thirty-five, your perspective changes. I hoped to marry one day and start a family, to leave behind a legacy, some sort of evidence that I'd been here, that I'd made a difference, but for now I felt like a lost stranger along an empty highway.

A divorce does a lot things to mess with your psyche. In my case, the evangelical counseling that landed the failures of the marriage completely on my shoulders (the man is the head of the household. It failed because you failed.), along with my ex's newfound happiness, weighed heavy. Maybe I wasn't compatible or suited for marriage. Maybe all those things she'd said to me so many years ago were true.

"Hello. Hellooo."

I jumped at the greeting as my youngest housemate strolled up the driveway. I forced a smile onto my face.


She looked at me, about to walk by.

"Are you okay? What's wrong?"

I felt my eyes mist and I tried to grab hold of my leaking emotions.

"No, I'm good, just got this email today..."

I couldn't hold back my emotions and quietly told her what I was feeling even as my emotions spilled into my eyes.

She sat on the stoop behind me and put her arm around my shoulder, listening, until I stopped talking. For a while, we just sat there, and I leaned my head against her knee.

I looked up at the gray skies. The things I'd expected from life as a kid had not yet happened. I wasn't sure they would. In so many ways, I didn't recognize either the path I was on or the trail I'd walked to get here. Maybe that's why I was back at Seminary, I thought, because even through the years I doubted and walked away from church, it never left that the question of our life and time was too easily pushed aside for the current cultural distractions. I suspected it had always been that way. Just as I suspected that it saddened God how easily we let other things keep us from him.

My housemate sat with me for a while longer until I thanked her and headed inside. For all that I love my life, for all that I am grateful for being able to pursue my dreams, there lives the realization that time is moving. That I am moving. And that one day it will all simply stop. On that day, I'm sure that I'll look back on my life and wonder how I got there. I'll wonder what happened to the days and years that slipped through me, and how it all went so fast.

It is the most wonderful quality of time that while it whisks through us at an incredible rate, we pass through it slowly, able to savor every moment, every second, every opportunity. And these days, I longed for someone to share my time with, to bring some kids into this great, crazy world of ours, and laugh along the discoveries of life with them. Until then, however, I needed to let it go, as hard as it was, and try to look ahead.

"Hey, are we going to the bank?"

My house mate yelled up the stairwell, and I paused in the kitchen. I'd forgotten we were going to do some errands together.

"Yeah." I said. "I'm coming."

We all have moments of reflection, and those moments can be healthy. But my prayer this week is that we would hear the eternal heartbeat of the One who made us, that we would remember the good things that has done in our life, and above all, that we would not allow the scars of the past to rob us of the future God has planned for us.

"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."

-Psalm 77:11-19


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In Search of a Balcony

The night air was cold. I shifted on the front steps outside my house, but the concrete remained hard and uncomfortable. Stars blinked across the clear night and I pushed myself to my feet. It’d been a fast three weeks since my move to a new city. Despite the upheaval, I found myself adjusting to my new life more easily than I ever imagined. Still, some areas seemed incomplete. Aside from my friends and students, the one thing I missed was my old balcony, the old wooden structure where I’d inevitably find myself whenever I needed time to think or pray. Something about the trees outside the window, or the cross gleaming in the distance, or the simple height that lifted me above the ground and allowed my imagination to wander. In my mind, the balcony was like the tree fort I’d made as a kid, the one I’d run to after a long day at school or a tough day at home.

The trees rustled behind me. I flinched, my eyes widening in surprise at the furry shapes ten feet from where I was sitting. An entire family of raccoons was picking up the loose apples from the tree in my neighbour’s yard. The biggest one noticed me sitting on the porch, and his green eyes glimmered like a cat’s as he regarded me, an apple in his paws. We looked at each other for about ten seconds and then he made some sort of a squeak and the family followed him as they waddled out of the yard.

I smiled, listening to the crickets and the tree frogs, a veritable chorus of night dwellers as I strolled down the street. In the hushed stillness of the night, my thoughts slowly began to clear.

I was tired. I loved my new housemates, but I simply wasn’t used to being with people all the time. I’d been jammed (and welcomed) into a busy, friendly family. It was exactly what I’d hoped for, but it didn’t make the experience any less exhausting.

It was strange, because my new experience was so reminiscent of my experience growing up, of living in a busy household. I hadn't known that lifestyle in many years. I'd adopted the 'stoop', the front steps as my new balcony, but still, it wasn't the same. It tended to be a busy place, a gathering place for the house. Except for times like now, when the city was quiet, when the radios and cars and noise paused for a few hours, when the world went to sleep.

My experience using the balcony was different these past four years. Being alone was not an issue, loneliness was. And now, although I still wrestled with loneliness at times, when couples seem to materialize all around me, I had to make an effort to be alone and listen in the silence.

I headed back towards my house. A street light flickered as the wind rustled the trees, the leaves luminescent in the dim light. The road was quiet. I thought about the hectic pace of my culture, about the rate at which my life had accelerated these past three weeks. More important than ever, I thought, that I remember to spend time on my new balcony. Many people got lost in the crazy pace of life; families, jobs, friends, it was hard to be still. Hard to find time to slow things down and reflect on our lives, on where we were going, on what God wanted for us.

In my new life, I could see how easily that happened. It only reinforced my belief that we needed to find time to do this increasingly hard thing. The Bible records that Jesus often went to places of solitude to pray. I can only imagine how important that time was for him, and how important it is for us.

I stopped at the end of my driveway and looked at my new home. Perhaps the strangest thing was that it didn't feel strange at all living here. I glanced over towards my neighbour's stoop. The family of raccoons was slowing making their way down the steps with a fresh bunch of fallen apples. The biggest one looked at me, and in a goofy moment that reflected too many hours watching Disney movies as a kid, I waved. He ignored me and waddled out of sight again with his family.

I was glad to be part of this new house, and glad that my new balcony was usually busy. I'd learned much in my three short weeks here, not the least of which was the importance of community. I also knew it was important that I never forget what I'd learned in my old place in Ottawa. On my old balcony. That slowing down was important. That prayer and silence were good for the soul. And that without time with God, we ran the risk of getting lost in the hectic cycle of life without ever truly appreciating all we'd been given.

May God help us this week to find time to slow down and consider our lives, consider just how much God loves us and how we can better serve Him, and remember that although our lives have been given for us to share, we all still need time on our balcony.