Monday, April 30, 2007

Losing my Life... To Follow my Dreams

Joining the Great Adventure

I remember it well. My Grade Three teacher, Mrs. Eged-Hollo (Hollow Egg, as we called her, to peals of laughter, although we all thought she was very nice) was assigning parts for the Mass. Our Grade Three class was going to perform it in the library. Holy Name was a smallish Catholic elementary school, with about 400 students, and at eight years old I'd already started to earn a reputation as a bit of a card. I liked performing for people, making people laugh. I liked spiritual things too. The whole idea of God fascinated me. I immediately put up my hand.

"Mrs. Eged-Hollo, can I do the sermon?"

She smiled and nodded.

"Certainly, Stevie."

My dad helped me prepare was I was going to say, and the next week I delivered my first sermon. I don't remember what it was about; I only remember that it felt right. As the years passed, I looked at going into priesthood, even visited a place in New York when I was 16. When I was 19, I switched denominations and started a pursuit for the ministry, which included a stint as a youth pastor and a four year degree in theology.

When I look over my life, I see a lot of positives, moments I would never trade. There have been some discouragements as well, some painful and scarring. But through all that time, the calling towards a spiritual life has never left. The idea that something bigger was out there, that God had a hand in my life, has been there since I was a kid.

This past Sunday, Pastor Jason challenged the congregation to take the Next Step, whatever that is for us, in our walk with God. And I think it's time for me to do that.

I write regularly about the pursuit of dreams because I believe it is a fundamental ingredient to a healthy spiritual life, and yet so many people find themselves outside their dreams. They've given up. They get lost in the daily routine of life. And I wonder, is this what it means to follow Jesus? Is this what it means to be a Christian? How can God give us a life so... boring?!

And if the Christian life is nothing more than Sunday church, small group Bible study, raising a family, and being nice to people... I'm not sure it's for me. Wouldn't the God of the universe want us to live a dynamic, spiritual life, filled with daily wonder and growth and adventure?

For the past two years, I've been stuck on a particular verse in Scripture. "For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:35) And every time I read it I ask God to help me lose my life. And yet, nothing has changed, and though I love the students I work with, I have noticed a growing restlessness that I am somehow missing something.

But maybe I'm the one that has to lose my life. I applied for an internship this year, which I didn't get, but in doing so took a leave of absence for next year. I can rescind the leave, but I know that in some way I'm not supposed to do that. That I'll be taking the "safe route" if I do, and that years later I'll lokk back and say "what if?"
I do not have a job lined up. I do not know how I will pay the bills. I do not know where God wants me. And I'm excited.

When I looked around my apartment tonight I realized that my life, my routines, my expectations, my relational desires, my wants... well, it's time to lose them. I wouldn't consider myself a materialist, but it's time to let go of what I do expect in those areas.

Time to lose my life.

Time to let go.

We surround ourselves with comfort and distraction, it's a human condition. But I don't want to be distracted anymore. Without a bigger picture, we get upset over small things, over human things that shouldn't pull us into the gutter (if you read my Sunday broadside last week, you know what I'm talking about). For the past few weeks I've been praying for a bigger picture, and so now it's time for me to take a chance and join the great adventure.
My dream is to write and speak, and perhaps work with youth in some capacity. What are your dreams? Do you remember?

My invitation is for you to walk with me. We can still live the adventure as a mother of three or a husband or a grandfather. It's the excitement of not knowing what God will bring your way tomorrow.

I admit it. It's a scary feeling. It's been a long time since I've stepped to the edge, but I think I'm ready for it, and anyone who wants to join me is welcome.

Up for a ride into the great unknown?


Sunday Broadside (apology)

My sincerest apologies, but I've been swamped by work this week working on a video presentation for my grad course, along with two other articles (not for this blog) Broadside will return next week...


Sunday, April 29, 2007

American Idol, Dreams, and Perfection

Shamed and Self-Righteous… The Search for Perfection

I looked at the clock above the television. 9:25pm. I was watching American Idol’s Fund Raising special, and decided I needed to get some air. When I’d heard about what North America’s most popular show had planned for this week, I was excited. But the irony of the show didn’t escape me, either. Still, it was a great idea. Some people would complain about the commercialization of the whole thing or say that celebrities were just trying to get some free publicity from the show and were insincere and that American Idol was merely capping more sponsors or whatever. But I wasn’t sure the kid in Africa who couldn’t get a cup of water or medication for his malaria cared too much about that. Besides, there would always be people who knocked down good ideas. You know, the ones who protested things just to protest things. For them, ‘principle’ was always more important than actually helping people. I figured enough people watching the show would have the common sense to see the positives of the whole thing.

It was a cool night, and I listened to the birds chirping in the bush a few feet from my balcony, surprised at the emotion bubbling to the surface. The images of the poor, or of those who’d lost their homes in Katrina, these things were never easy to watch, if only because they seemed so far from my own realm of existence. As a kid, my family wasn't rich, not by North American standards, but I never worried about what I would eat or where I would sleep or what I would do if I got sick. I never lacked for anything. Most of us of in North America are like that. And even if we’re poor by North American standards, if you look at the rest of the world, we’re still rich.

The irony of watching this American Idol was that in so many ways it was a microcosm of our society, and the church. I went back inside and watched the end of the show, silently applauding it when it finished.

American Idol spreads the notion that success is largely an individual matter, and the gold at the end of the rainbow is fame and fortune. In the quest for finding the perfect ‘talent’ -- which includes, singing, looks, personality, charisma, but not character -- people are judged every week, not only by the 'Big Three', but by thirty million Americans eager to give their opinion. The show may be popular, I’m just not sure it’s healthy…

Sometimes, I think that the church is like a weekly American Idol contest. We look for perfection, too. And we’re quick to judge it. We even use Scripture to back us up. (Jesus said ‘be perfect, even as my heavenly Father is perfect’… Apparently, Jesus always spoke in declarative sentences, even though that command is impossible.) And this quest for perfection, for righteousness and purity and holiness often leaves a person feeling two things. Shame, when you realize that you can never be perfect. Or self-righteous, when you believe that you're as close to perfect as you can be. (like the Pharisees, whom Jesus hated, you have perfected certain surficial behavioral codes). Neither is healthy.

I remember when I first became a Christian, how zealous I was to ‘get it right.’ But after a while, I learned that I couldn’t get it right all the time, no matter how much I tried to discipline myself. I wavered from self-righteousness to shame and back to self-righteousness. Mostly I felt unworthy of God’s love. All these other Christians seemed to be able to ‘handle things’ so much better than I did. I was trying to be perfect. And when I failed, I didn’t just fail, I left the church. If I hadn’t been moved by a few people who pushed me towards grace based teaching, I may never have returned.

Grace based teaching does not emphasize this quest for perfection. It emphasizes servanthood based on love. It reminds us that our best is enough. That working ‘real hard’ will not change how much God loves you. It allows you to grow and fail and try and work and dare and dream and risk and wander… it is the gentle breeze on a hot summer day, the one that blows and cools you enough to help you continue on.

Jesus once said that the world would know us by our love. But when you ask people outside the church, you rarely hear that sentiment. They know us for our judgment and for our hypocrisy. Hypocrisy because we keep telling people we’re supposed to be perfect. But the funny thing about hypocrisy is that can only occur when we lie about who we are and where we struggle. If we’re a bunch of flawed sinners, trying to do the best we can to love God and love each other, well, makes it tough for someone to call you a hypocrite, doesn't it?

The sad thing is that outside a grace based theology of who God is, we stop moving towards our dreams. We stop taking risks. We let fear come in because we're so afraid of making a mistake. Eventually we become more comfortable sitting on our couch or sitting in our pew and criticizing others who are at least trying to make their dreams happen. People who are trying to pursue what God has put on their heart. I sense so much fear in the church today, and I wonder if maybe we're too busy worrying about trying to be perfect. So worried, in fact, that we don't want to follow our dreams, we don't want to take risks. Maybe that's why we become so critical of each other.

In that sense, the contestants on American Idol deserve credit for trying to make their dreams happen. I believe success is about community, and that fame and fortune are empty rewards, but at least they're trying. Exposing themselves to the judgment and criticism of so many. If life is like American Idol, maybe we need to look at whether we want to be a contestant, or a judge.

May God grant you the passion and heart to take risks and pursue your dreams, to know that participation, not perfection, is what God is really after.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday Broadside

A Weekly look at the top (and bottom) five in the world of culture, politics, and sports


1. American Idol fans finally voted Sanjaya off the show. I know that there were a bunch of young teenagers who probably voted for him because he was cute, but to be the center of web sites like or the subject of Howard Stern’s push to make Idol a “mockery” at seventeen years old is unhealthy. What a terrible thing to watch this kid ‘blossom’ from a shy, humble kid into something else entirely. I feel sorry for him, and I hope that no permanent damage has been done. At least the Idol fans got it right this week… For the record, I'd pay to see Melinda do a concert right now, but the real win was seeing Martina McBride. Is she single? Man, what a lady...

2. The Ottawa Senators polished off the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games, and dominated all but two or three periods the entire series. I honestly don’t recognize this team. As much as it pains me to say it, I’m sticking with my earlier predictions. Senators will make their first Cup appearance (since their re-entry into the NHL) and will lose in the Cup finals in six games.

3. The Toronto Raptors made their first appearance in the post-season in five years. And the last five years they have been truly brutal at times, the laughingstock of the league. Although they lost the opener to New Jersey, they deserve full credit for bringing excitement back to Toronto basketball fans. I've truly enjoyed watching them this year. Great job, guys! (They won't win the series though. Nets in five.)

4. Better do this now before the Raptors are out of the playoffs. A special mention to the coach, Jack Armstrong, the long time Raptor colour analyst who provides wonderful commentary for Raptor games and terrific insight on the Raptors network. Armstrong, who coached at Niagara University, also travels and gives talks to minor basketball organizations. He was a guest speaker for Welland Minor Basketball’s yearly awards banquet. My dad has been part of Welland Minor Basketball for over twenty five years, and he raved about 'The Coach'. Welland is a small town in Southern Ontario, and Armstrong provided the same warmth, humour and charm for them as he does for his work on the Raptors. Always great to find someone you admire on TV is actually consistent in real life. Thanks, Coach.

5. The world of politics, which actually felt quiet this week. (It wasn’t of course) That’s always a bonus, and it makes me think they’re actually working. Of course, it could be that I just tuned out. I did read that Harper’s government is doing good work on the Vancouver ports, injecting another 50 – 100 million dollars into upgrades. Martin did a good job on this file, and Harper is expanding it. If we want to compete internationally, this has to get done (especially in trade with China). What I like most about that is simply hearing that the government is working. Most of the time we don't give politicians credit for trying (and you will read some blasts in this column), but many of them are working hard. And so when we hear good things, we need to praise them. So for every one in gocvernment who is trying to make a difference, thank you. Your hard work is appreciated.


1. The Ottawa media, specifically the Ottawa Citizen, for posting that ridiculous picture of dejected Penguin players and looking for a caption. At some point, Ottawa fans and media need to show some class. Ottawa fans should be writing in and telling the Citizen to pull something like that. (Note: It was a die hard Senators fan who pointed this out to me. So I’ll leave the blame on the media for now. But Ottawa fans shouldn’t accept this stuff. Take the high road Ottawa fans.)

2. Women. Okay, I was going to make this 'women who talk out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to relationships', but I’m not sure it’s that specific. Here it is: women should be going after the feminists. For all the good they’ve done, they’ve really screwed the rest of you ladies. (and us men) In our culture, a woman says that she wants a nice guy, a sensitive man, someone tender and loving, blah blah blah. Right, except that’s a load of crap. She will always check to make sure her friend’s boyfriend is ‘nice’, but THEY aren’t interested in nice guys. They blow off guys that are nice, look twice at the jerk, and then will tell you that they’re attracted to ‘confidence’. Huh… This deserves more than a paragraph in the Sunday Broadside, but I’ve seen about six examples of this type of double talk this week. So, when a woman now tells me what she’s looking for, I no longer believe her. Seriously, how can I? This week I’m going to work on being a better ‘jerk’. I’ll keep you updated on how it affects the dating life…

3. Men who send obscene messages. This is happening far too often. Believe me, you'd be shocked. Okay, I understand that being a man can be a little tough (see above) but sending obscene messages by text or MSN to a woman you just met is brutal. At what point in the morning do you wake up and think a woman will be interested if you tell her every sexual thought and activity you’ve had over the last thirty minutes. Being confused doesn’t mean you have to become a jerk. You’re a disgrace to men everywhere, so stop it. Being male doesn’t make you a man. (And women, by looking at the jerks, you’re encouraging this behaviour)

4. Passive aggressive people who are resistant to change. Okay, this one is particular to church sub-culture, but it happens in every organization. I witnessed a couple examples of that this week, both in the church and the school. At times, the fear in both institutions is so heavy I feel like every one’s been chomping on the weed. Wow. Listen, just because you’ve never done it that way before doesn’t make it ‘wrong’. It just makes it different. Especially in the church. Why in the world do we grasp so tightly to these cultural idiosyncrasies like somehow they’re part of our faith? And for those of you paying attention, here’s your question for the week: Did Jesus have a beard? (If you answer yes, and don’t understand why I’m asking whether or not the Son of God had a beard, let me encourage you to think about it. I’ll post the reason behind the question next week.)

5. The amount of noise pollution and society’s continual need for sound. Have you noticed how loud our society has become? I was sitting on my balcony yesterday morning, trying to read, and instead of enjoying the quiet sounds of a warm spring morning, I was blasted by Arabian dance music from the first floor and Usher from above me. The people seemed oblivious to the fact that the entire block had to listen to their noise. How can we expect to grow if we don’t have solitude, and how can we find solitude if every one is so egocentric they have become oblivious to the people around them. Frustrating. No wonder we have become such a shallow culture. Sigh. Lord, give me patience.

An unexamined life is a life not worth living, it's true, but try not to get buried this week, and find the good. God loves you, even if your neighbours occasionally forget you exist. Have a nice week everyone.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Encounter With God

I don’t like religious people. I might as well admit that right now. It sounds strange coming from a former minister, a seminary student, and someone who will tell you in his first meeting that his whole life revolves around God. But through the years I’ve seen too much. I’ve seen church people hide behind their religion instead of facing their fears, I’ve seen people use religion as a bludgeon to enforce their will upon someone else, and I’ve seen religion sold and politicized so much that you wonder where God fits into the equation. And when you see all this, you start to wonder if God is real. If you can believe. You begin to wonder why you would even bother to identify yourself with a faith, with a Man, and with a God that some people claim to follow but whose lives reflect the very opposite of your own beliefs.

I left the ministry many years ago, and for a while, I left the church. I didn’t like what I was seeing or what I’d seen, but I still believed in Jesus. Still believed He was the One. Strange, isn’t it? And so, I stepped back into the church. I was no longer in ministry, but I began to feel comfortable again in the church setting. I found like minded people who were concerned about the poor, concerned about social issues. I found other Christians who didn’t believe that gay marriage and abortion were the only social issues of concern. These people believed that God had called us to a deeper life, a committed life, a kingdom model of living willing to balance between sin and social concerns. But somewhere in my heart there remained a blockage, and while Sunday morning was a time for church, I closed a part of myself when I was there. I didn’t realize just how much of myself I’d closed until this past Sunday, but then, no one anticipates an encounter with God...

12 Years Ago...

“What about the music? We can’t have an altar call and expect people to come forward unless the transition after my sermon is smooth.”

The speaker was a large man, a traveling evangelist we’d brought in to speak at our Sunday morning and evening services. His hair was cut into a neat crew cut, and he wore a white suit jacket over a red shirt. The tie was yellow.

“I’ve been preaching for a long time, brother. Gotta get the simple things right if we want the people to respond.”

I looked over at my senior pastor, a former missionary who’d spent twenty five years in South America. Now, on the verge of retirement, he’d come back to help our struggling congregation find its way. He’d hired me little more than a year ago to work with the youth, and given the small size of our congregation, fill in the other places as well.

“Do know what I’m saying, brother? I’m not sure a piano and organ are going to cut it.”

The evangelist spoke with a slow drawl, and in my enthusiasm about having a famous preacher come to our little church, I missed the grimace on my senior pastor’s face.

“I can hook up a worship CD on our sound system." I said, eager to please this renowned preacher. "Maybe you can lead one song accapella and just give me a sign from the pulpit.”

The preacher scratched his chin.

“I figure that should work.” He smiled suddenly, showing two rows of brilliant white teeth. “All right, boys. What say we take this one for the Lord!”

My senior pastor just nodded and went along with it. I noticed how quiet he’d become, but I assumed it was because of his excitement for the weekend.

That weekend, with everything in order, we had a full house both morning and night, and it was thrilling for me to be involved with this great evangelist. This is what it looks like when people get a chance to meet God, I thought.

I was twenty two years old, and an exciting life in ministry lay ahead for me. I didn't see the land mines in the road until I'd run over them at full speed. Years later, when I'd left the church, it was those very same memories that helped keep me away.

Although we should always strive for excellence in our services, what I’ve seen over the years is an increasing dependence on production values. On manipulation. I’ve seen Jesus sold as a product, I’ve seen preachers use emotionalism… use music and lighting to create the necessary mood… and guilt people into responding. Because of that, I am uncomfortable with most altar calls these days. (For those of you who have never seen one, an altar call occurs at the end of a service. When a preacher finishes his sermon, he will ask people to come down to the front of the church after a sermon as a response to the message. The idea is that it is a chance for people to pray and respond to whatever God has laid on their hearts. But many preachers use the size of the response as a measure of their influence. This is especially true in Pentecostal circles.) In truth, I am always looking for authenticity from the preacher. And because I’ve been behind the curtain, I want to make sure that the Wizard isn’t just some old man with a megaphone. But if we believe God to be truly supernatural, that He really loves and cares for us, than its inevitable that even the most cautious of us will encounter Him, despite all the crap.

2007... The Encounter

I was late. It’d been a long week, and I’d slept in, but at least I’d be in time to hear the sermon. I greeted a few people at the front of the church and slipped into a seat near the front just as worship was ending. Pastor Jason was up front, and when I realized he was introducing the speaker and not speaking himself, I sighed to myself and leaned back in my seat. One of the reasons I loved coming to church was that no matter what Jay talked about, it was always authentic.

The speaker was a young woman from England, wearing jeans and high heels, and in her language and mannerisms, all European. But from the moment she opened her mouth I could sense her authenticity. She was not an intellectual, and her humour seemed as much accidental as it was genuine. About twenty minutes into her sermon, and what a simple sermon it was, I felt my eyes begin to water. I looked around and inconspicuously wiped them, but they kept leaking.

This will sound strange to some of you who’ve never been to church, but I could sense the presence of something bigger engulf the church in a way that somehow filled me up inside. As if, suddenly, I’d both become bigger… and smaller. By the time she finished I was a mess, and when Jason gave the (thankfully) rare opportunity to come to the altar and pray, I bolted out of my seat. Mostly, I just didn’t want to sit around others while my face was dripping.

As I stood there praying, I sensed myself being taken back through time. To the times in my life when I’d first become a Christian. To the disappointments and heartaches ever since. I cried for about forty minutes. At one point the music had stopped, and I could hear people chatting around me. The lights were on. No manipulation here, which only produced even more tears. I could sense the comfort of God in such a profound manner. For one who had earned his degree at a Pentecostal school, and yet who had seen so much crap when it came to commercializing ‘feelings’ that I’d closed the door on responding with any emotion, it was a startling experience.
Three days have passed, and I am still trying to get my head around what has happened. What I do know is that I feel, more than I have in a long time, a burning sense of God’s purpose and vision for my life.

I don’t think that this type of experience can be replicated every week or sold as an event. God is not a vending machine, and someday we in the church are going to have to give an account for all the times we sold ‘The Presence’ like it was a cheap trinket. Maybe we need to stop worrying so much about setting things up so God "can move," and set our hearts in the right place. If God is God, than He doesn't need you and I to orchestrate or manipulate anything.

And I'm learning too. I'm learning that while being cautious is a good thing, being emotionally open to the Almighty is just as important. Faith in Christ is a relationship, and like any relationship, it can not exist on document and text alone. We are part of a story, an ages old narrative about a God and His people. A living, dynamic relationship that is ever changing, and ever the same, even as we grow in our understanding of just how much God loves us. My prayer this week is that all of you will encounter God as I did, and will be given a new vision for the great things He has in store for your life.


The Men... Have Left the Building...

In case you thought I was the only one who has noticed a discrepancy in the church's tendency towards feminization, here's something for you. My dad sent me this article posted from the tiny Welland Tribune.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sunday Broadside

A weekly look at the top (and bottom) five in Culture, Politics and Sports


1. Nice work this week by Canada’s only NBA team (Winning five in a row). The Toronto Raptors are rapidly approaching securing home court in the first round of the playoffs. So many teams have the opportunity to control their own destiny, and blow it. (See Toronto Maple Leafs below)

2. The Ottawa Senators look to be rounding into form at the right time. This does not look at all like the team that lost four straight years to the Maple Leafs. Gritty, physical play with a lot of great work down low. Despite blowing a third period lead in Game Two to the Penguins, I still think this may be the year they get to the Finals. Unfortunately, I’ll have to listen to all the jabbering from their fans for the two months if they do. The Blue Jays have opened the season 6-3, but this team is still going nowhere. Same old story. Good bats, not enough pitching. But for now, nice start, guys.

3. Congratulations to Friday Night Lights for a great first season. (Wednesdays, 8pm, NBC) This show, about a high school football team and the small town it represents, is the best drama on television. And its best kept secret. Fortunately, it looks like NBC will renew it for next year despite the show's mediocre ratings. Drama is hard to do on television. That's why procedurals (Law & Order, Shark, CSI) and soaps (Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy) are so popular. It's hard to develop and maintain great storylines and authentic characters through the press of a tight schedule. Friday Night Lights did it every week. Early Emmy consideration should go to Connie Brisson and Kyle Chandler for their great work.

4. Facebook is the latest craze on the Internet, and while I was originally skeptical about it, I finally signed up this week. I now understand its popularity. It’s easier to navigate than MySpace, has greater controls for protecting yourself, and makes it easy to reconnect with old friends. In five days I’ve found a number of old buddies I went to school with back in the day. Somehow Facebook feels more like a community than MySpace… maybe it’s because we’re using our real names. At any rate, I’m loving it…

5. I finally finished The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate. This book is a wonderful achievement. Do you know who Henry Ward Beecher is? Neither did I. But in the 19th Century he was the first national, mega-church pastor who helped bring an end to slavery. He was a personal friend to Abraham Lincoln, as well as a litany of other famous figures (Mark Twain). In the end, he was brought down by his apparently numerous affairs. This book is a wonderful journey through a formative and tumultuous time. Politics. Sex. Religion. Slavery. Suffrage. We tend to think of the world in generational spurts. Applegate's book reminds us that human nature hasn't changed. On a personal level, I thoroughly enjoyed a look at the origins of the Evangelical Movement. This book is a must read for all aspiring pastors. It is a poignant reminder of what happens when our faith gets lost in commercialism and materialism.


1. The Toronto Maple Leafs missed the playoffs again, and have no one to blame but themselves. They had a lot of injuries this year, but I’m still not sure what Ferguson is doing. They don’t look close to being a contender. Year after year their fans support them, and it's obvious that ownership does not care. That's what happens when the Ontario Teacher's Pension Fund runs one of the truly historic institutions in Canadian history. Almost makes me long for the whacky antics of Harold Ballard...

2. What’s wrong with Major League Baseball? Barry Bonds is 18 home runs away from the career record, one of the most important records in baseball, and they are going to try downplay his record?! This is just such a bald display of hypocrisy. Baseball turned a blind eye to steroids for years (since the 1980’s) because they wanted the home runs, and now they’re “stuck?” No they’re not. Bonds never tested positive, no matter what other evidence they apparently have. (I read Book of Shadows, seems pretty clear that Bonds did take steroids) He has never tested positive or even been suspended. Therefore, baseball owes him the respect he’s earned for surpassing a great record. Now a lot of people don’t like Bonds, but you can’t create a problem, and than ignore one of your players just because he takes advantage of it. You can't ignore Bonds simply because it's a bad “PR situation and a lot of sports writers don’t like the guy”. I hate to bring race into it, but I wonder if this would be happening if Mark McGwire (who’s white) was 18 home runs from the record. Just wodnering…

3. I finally stuck with American Idol this year. I’ve always loved watching the early shows, with some genuine moments of “gosh, I made it”, along with all the loonies who come out in the first few rounds. You know who I’m talking about. The ones who either don’t have any honest family members or friends to help them see the truth when it comes to their talent, or are simply too stupid to realize they can’t sing. Listen, some pieces of self-awareness should be easier than others. (Like being able to recognize whether or not you can actually sing) I especially liked that one great contestant who tearfully tried to explain to the judges that she would be the first American Idol winner who couldn’t sing at all…How surprising then, with seven people left, one of those ridiculous early contestants is still around. And Sanjaya, who can’t sing or seem to perceive that he’s a national joke, seems to be getting dumber each week. I’d feel sorry for the kid, but any grasp of humility seems to vanished in a puff of national attention as he’s merged into a No Lights, Big City robotron with hair. People keep telling me he’s young, but I work with teenagers. Most of them would have him for lunch. Watching him “evolve” is an absolute case study for how our culture breeds idiots… Go Melinda…

4. Stephane Dion is not a national leader. Well, I suppose that’s not a hot news flash if you’ve been following the federal Liberals at all these days. But his latest “move” at the top of the Liberal food chain has got the bloggers yapping. Okay, so let me see if I got this right. The national party leader of the Liberals, Canada’s predominantly governing party over the past 100 years, will not run a candidate against Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green party, in the next federal election. The same Green Party that has never won a seat in the House of Commons. Ever. Stephane Dion is the Prime Minister in waiting? Even Scott “beer and popcorn” Reid looked a little mystified trying to defend Dion on Mike Duffy Live this week. Wow… Here’s to hoping that Dion remains waiting for a long time, or at least until the Liberals replace him with a real alternative… or at the very least, someone who speaks intelligible English…

5. “Ottawa Senator Fans, Please Show Some Class.” That was the headline for a recent Ottawa Citizen article about Senator fans who are booing Sidney Crosby, the world’s best young hockey player every time he touches the puck during their opening round series. Why are they booing him? Because he’s good. And somehow, that's supposed to make sense? I was having this discussion with a friend of mine two days before the article came out. It had little effect on the populace however, as the Sens fans booed Crosby even louder in Game Two. They were still booing him when he scored the game winner in the third period. So, Sens fans, here’s what you accomplished today. Two things. You showed no class, and you gave the kid some juice to perform. Maybe you want to save your energy for the all night talk show after you fall out of the playoffs. Sometimes you reap what you sow...

Have a nice Sunday everyone…

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Death of Manhood

Dear Steve,

Although I normally enjoy your writing, I can not say I agree with the last piece you wrote. You made it sound as though it was the woman’s fault and the church’s fault for the reason why ‘supposedly’ Christian men watch pornography. Doesn’t the responsibility fall on men themselves? I appreciated your self-deprecating honesty, but it seems unlike so much of your other work that advocates responsibility for one’s own life. Am I wrong? Or have you trained your attack on women to excuse your own struggles? I am sorry for sounding so harsh, but I just don’t understand where you’re coming from. Isn’t it time we call sin a sin?


I stared at the unblinking email on my screen and took another sip from my coffee. Unlike some comments, this one had been sent directly to my inbox. Two things I noticed and liked about the letter immediately. The first was the tone, neither condescending nor harsh as the woman thought, but thoughtful and carefully written. The other thing I liked was that she’d sent it directly to my inbox. Now I don’t care what anyone says about my work and I love it when people voice their opinion, because conversation is a good thing. But sometimes discretion can reveal the character of someone’s true intent faster than their words.

I had penned my first column with the idea of a second. Part one and part two. But it only seemed fitting to include, encapsulated by this letter, some of the criticisms of my earlier article.

Starbucks was quiet tonight. Midweek was always slow, and I watched some of the students working at their studies, and two young mothers wheeling their quiet charges around the magazine racks with only a passing glance. The intent of the first article was to provide context for the next one. The idea was to help people (especially women) understand just how slanted the church had become. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only women who took offense to my observation that the church brushed over the typically women’s struggles while excoriating the men.

Especially when it came to sex.

Sex sins are considered, by far, the most grievous and gruesome within the church. (Is there anything more sensational than a sex scandal) Unfortunately, the Bible does not give hierarchy to any sin. But the church does, and every man knows it. So while his wife can “be sensitive about the weight thing”, men must dance to the invisible fiddler if they struggle with pornography or some other carnal sin. That, dear friends, is ridiculous.

However, the real problem is not the ‘unbalance’ in the church, but the fact that it even matters. This is, ironically, the real problem. And that responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of men.

Whatever you say about the church, it is hard to escape the claim that too many of us evangelicals in North America are fat, over sexed, over consuming individualists who seem only interested in ourselves. The two biggest cultural sins of our time are individualism and consumerism… not pornography.

And yet, the core of the church’s struggles lie with something else, the foundation for so many of our cultural weaknesses. It lies with our failure to confront fear. The Bible says that the Spirit of God has not given us a spirit of fear, but for most men in North America, that simply isn’t true. The real struggle, the one that breeds so much of our weakness here in the West, is passiveness. And if it isn’t corrected, it will spell the end of manhood. In some ways, it has already happened.

I rubbed my forehead leaned back against my seat. At the table next to me, a young woman was trying to persuade her boyfriend about something. His noncommittal grunts only seemed to add fuel to the fire. I shook my head and turned back to the screen.

It was indicative of the age we lived in, as my astute female reader had pointed out, that my column had pointed to largely external factors in regards to the issue of pornography. Now context is important. It is. But no matter what argument you make, everything stops when you ask why men don’t simply act on their struggle. The first sympton of a man who refuses his manhood is one who is too afraid to be transparent.

A Letter to all men:

Do you feel trapped in your life? Do something about it. Are people at church are talking behind your back? So what. Do what you believe is right, but do something! Are you afraid what people will say if you’re honest about who you are, about your struggles? Get over it. A man who worries what others think is not acting like a man. Who cares if ‘the church’ thinks it's scandalous? The essence of manhood is one who is willing to face his fears, to face the storm, and do what is necessary to change. Don’t sit and whine about how the world has wronged you.

Women complain to me all the time that “real men” have vanished. They have. In their place we have inserted a slobbering mass of sycophantic infantiles who have decided that they either need to placate every person in their life or ignore them.

Men in our culture tend to be aggressive or passive aggressive. But what women are really searching for is assertiveness (As Paul Osbourne so elegantly makes the case for in his book). Jesus was assertive. Emotionally authentic, passionate, but never pandering. Men, if “the church” disagrees with you, so what. Stand up and say you think differently.

You are the church.

Pornography is a form of passive aggressive pandering. Nobody gets hurt (not true of course) and no effort required. All for one low price. How truly North American of us. Individualism and consumerism and reactive passivity in one product…

So long as men continue to blame their external circumstances for an internal problem, pornography will continue to flourish. (Fact: Christian conventions are well known throughout the pornography industry to be the most lucrative in the business) As well, the church will continue to lean towards women. An inevitable result of a sad but growing problem. If men are not willing to balance the ship, it will not be the fault of the opposite sex. And as long as men refuse to be men, refuse to stand up for what they believe, refuse to trust God to rule their life instead of their fears, than the problems of an emasculated culture will continue to grow.

And the death of manhood will be complete.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


His coat hadn’t changed since my last visit downtown, a threadbare navy parka that wouldn’t sell at a surplus store. The zipper was broken, and the ripped lining dragged along the ground as he shuffled his legs into a more comfortable position on the concrete. Being comfortable, of course, was relative. The cold wind lashed at my ears as I watched the man adjust his baseball hat lying next to him in a reverent manner, careful not to let the change inside it jiggle too loudly. He smiled at the people brushing past and over him, but I doubted that the people even saw him. Even the ones who dropped change in his hat barely glanced at the man before turning quickly back to their cell phones and conversations and important business.

The beggar smoothed over his thinning hair, his large, callused hands moving like cinder blocks over fragile blossoms. I could not discern how old he was, anywhere from forty to sixty, and every movement was slow and deliberate. The contrast between the men and women in suits and expensive dresses who strode past him and his own unkempt appearance and slow movements was startling. I watched for a while longer until I could no longer tolerate it. I’d suffered my own discouragement lately, but after watching the man beg, my own struggles seemed vain. I headed to the bus stop to wait for my ride home.

Most of us in the West trumpet the idea of universal nobility, that is, the nobility of all men and women, no matter who they are. No matter what we profess however, our lives often indicate that dignity is reserved for the select few. There is a deep prejudice within each of us, including me. I don’t say that lightly, because I would rather cover the black scar within my own heart. The same scar that asks the homeless to get a job before I look at him, the one that asks women to lose weight or look pretty before I see them. The one that asks men to be masculine before I’ll befriend them, the one that demands politeness and proper social skills before I’ll address them, the one that demands intelligence before I’ll engage them, and the one that demands faith before I’ll consider them as a brother or a sister. The truth is that I walk past the beggar every day.

And why, because he has the greatest disease of all… the disease of unlikeness.

On the bus ride home, I stared at the advertisements on the ceiling, careful not to look at anyone, especially the women, who might misconstrue my gaze as a sign of interest or something worse. I’m safe, I wanted to shout. Instead, I let my unfocused gaze dance around the ads and allow my mind to wander. How did someone end up on the street? Perhaps it wasn’t as difficult as I’d once imagined. Maybe they’d faced the discouragement of their lives so many times they’d lost sight of their nobility. They’d lost sight of who God had created them to be. Well… that was something I could relate to. The nobility of man carried the stain of sin, but it also carried the stamp of the Creator. But if that was the case, than why hadn’t I done anything to help the man on the street?

I can’t say that I am without prejudice, I can only tell you that I don’t like it. There is a book in the Bible where the apostle Paul tells us we should dwell on the good things, the noble, the pure, the lovely, and the admirable. Which sounds easy enough, so why then, do I so often find myself grousing about the way people treat others, about the way I treat others. There are many days I feel like a tear drop in an ocean of pain and sadness. What good does it do me to focus on the lovely? Didn't this ‘great apostle’ know that the world is inherently screwed up, broken, spiteful? (He obviously never worked in a public school) And didn’t he realize that most of us don't recognize nobility, the imprint of God’s hand upon creation, or that the human preference was homogeneity... those who look and act like us?

The bus stopped at the underground station near my apartment, and I followed the herd up to the surface. It’d be a cold walk home, but somehow the gray skies suited my mood. The episode downtown had saddened me. As much for the realization that for all my observation, I’d done nothing to help the beggar on the sidewalk.

I jammed my hands deep into my pockets as the wind lashed at me along the sidewalk. I’d be the first to admit that things were not going well for me right now, that my heart felt blacker than usual. Two months ago I’d put in a twenty-five page application to volunteer at an inner city ministry in Washington, D.C. Three days ago I received my rejection, a form letter with a signature. It was, without question, a bitter blow for a man desperately looking to make a difference in this ‘sea of pain and prejudice’. Not even good enough for a volunteer mission to help people, or so I phrased my lament recently to a seemingly absent God.

“How can you ask me to focus on the ‘noble’ things, when you won’t even let me help?”

It started to snow. The flakes were thick and heavy, an odd but not unusual weather pattern for Ottawa in April. I ducked my head against the wind and pushed forward. I’d be home, warm in my apartment, in a few minutes. As I thought about the beggar, I was reminded of a recent conversation with my buddy, Mark, this past week.

“I was talking to this street guy the other day-“

“How were you talking to a street guy?” I asked.

“Well, I saw this guy on the street and invited him to Tim Hortons for a meal, and-“

“Do you do that a lot?” I said.

I was surprised. He made it sound like it was no big deal.

“A matter of increments. First I gave them change. Then I sat with them and brought them food. Now I take them for a meal.”

I stared at my friend, still shocked. You don’t have to know Mark long to appreciate him. He drives a bike, and has an unshaven, amiable personality that never changes. The company is irrelevant. Intellectually curious and yet strikingly authentic, it wasn’t that I couldn’t picture what he was doing, it was the profound nature of his act that was so shocking.

I could see my apartment building through the snow, and I quickened my pace. With a shaved head and no toque, my ears burned in the icy wind. I thought about Mark and his approach, about the apostle Paul’s words to dwell on the good things, and about my own disappointments. It struck me that the broken nature of our world can be overwhelming. I figured a lot hadn’t changed since Paul’s day.

So what did he mean when he told us to focus on the noble things? Was he telling us to focus on the good things, because the bad things, the dark things, were self-evident? Or was he reminding us of the stamp of nobility within humanity so we could be noble ourselves? Maybe that was it. Like my buddy, Mark, who was quietly encouraging the ones around him without fanfare or adulation or compensation. Instead, he was echoing the life of a certain Carpenter so many years ago who chose to enrich, and bring life, to those who had experienced so much broken-ness and hate and despair. And Mark was doing it the way Jesus Himself had done it, one person – one prostitute, one drunkard, one tax collector, one beggar – at a time.

I stopped at the door of my building. Maybe I didn’t need a great program or special internship to follow what God had called me to do. Maybe there were other people I hadn’t seen, my neighbours and other people who crossed my path, who desperately needed some love, or a meal or a hug or some prayer. Maybe part of my discouragement was that I’d stopped looking for the noble things, for the good things, in the people who so desperately needed me to see them.

I glanced at my building and turned around, back into the wind. Things hadn’t turned out the way I’d hoped, and maybe I wouldn’t be able to work in Washington’s inner city, but there was someone in downtown Ottawa who needed a meal. And maybe, a little love.