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.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Another Video? Yes, but this is something different...

Hey everyone,

When I first decided to leave everything in pursuit of my dreams six months ago, I was scared. How would I handle all this change? I was thirty five years old. What would I do after school? Was it worth it to give up my secure life in a city I had grown to love and adopt as my own?

Before I figured out what city I'd be living in, I made another decision. I wanted to live in community. I was tired of living alone. I'd long since been convinced that living alone was outside of God's best for me. Frankly, it was unhealthy. And I was tired of coming home to an empty apartment.

Still, I had my doubts. Living in community sounded nice, it sounded right, but I didn't know anyone in Toronto. And what if I didn't get along with my room mates. I'd heard the horror stories.

What an amazing month this has been.

Those concerns have all been answered, and I've been blessed with great housemates and a new set of friends. What's remarkable about my new 'family' is that they have all travelled much farther than me. Nine people. Six countries. It seems I'm not the only one living out life in pursuit of their dream.

I see what we share at the house as something special. This video is just the first of my ongoing documentary about following your heart to pursue your dreams, about how we need to be active in our own life. Along the way, we'll address other issues such as race, cultural barriers, unity, and faith. But for now, I'd just like to introduce you to some of the gang.



Friday, September 14, 2007

What if God Doesn't Exist?

"I'm studying theology."

“Really? But what if God doesn’t exist? What if you’re wrong? I don’t mean to be offensive or anything, but won’t your life be wasted?”

I blinked at the barista. Huh? I sipped my coffee and tried to gather my thoughts. Meeting people was always fun, but who expected a comment like that within the first two minutes. Your life will be wasted? Who said that?

“Well, I think that the pursuit of-“

“Andrea! We need you, girl!”

A fresh round of orders echoed through the café. The barista smiled at me.

“I have to go. I’m sure we’ll talk later.”

I nodded and wandered over to my seat. I should have expected it, but I couldn’t restrain the deep sigh as I gazed out the window. What if she was right? What if God didn’t exist? What if I was going back to school, basing my entire life, on something that was little more than a very good myth?

I knew how many Christians would view that type of question. Nonsense, they’d say. She’s an unbeliever. I also knew that for theologians the question held more weight. When you studied the history of Christianity, when you put yourself on the intellectual front lines, it was far more difficult to brush aside any question. If only because of all the “stuff” (to use a polite term) woven into the history of the church through two millennium. In other words, peeking behind the curtain revealed quite a bit. It was like watching a butcher make sausage. No matter how tasty they were when you bought one on the street, you never really forgot your initial disgust at parts of the process.

Yes, her question was worth answering. If only for all the garbage I’d seen (from myself, too) over the past fifteen years. I remembered an evangelist telling us when I was in Bible College that there were plenty of nasty Christians. These days, I’m not so sure I agree with that. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to be ‘nasty’ and actually follow Jesus. Or is it?

My head spun with a sudden deluge of thoughts and doubts and worries, dancing and swaying to a rapid percussion that threatened to overwhelm me. I stood, almost drunkenly, and forced myself outside. Maybe I just needed some air. And later perhaps, a good night’s sleep. The week’s events rolled through my mind. There was no doubt about it. I should have seen this coming from my first day in Toronto.


“Is that it?”

“That’s it, man. We’re done.” Mark said.

I bent over at the waist, breathing heavily. We’d left Ottawa at eight that morning, and after a long six hour drive, we’d spent the last four hours unpacking the truck. We were both whipped, and any excitement over the new move was muted by fatigue from the days of packing.

I said my good byes to Mark and Naomi and headed back to my new home. I was no longer living alone, but sharing a house with eight others. Despite the positive first impressions, the thought of sharing my living space only added to my fatigue. Through it all was the unsurety of what I was doing. Was I doing the right thing? What was I going to do in the future?
When I finally went to bed, I tossed and turned and thought about all the changes in this new life.

I slept little.


The traffic slowed to a crawl and I let out a deep sigh as I finally turned into the parking lot. It felt like weeks since I’d left my car. I was drained, physically and emotionally. Going back to school had sounded like a great adventure, but now that I’d finally pulled up my roots in Ottawa and moved to a strange city, the adventure had turned into reality. For the past week, my reality had been lifting and driving and packing and driving and sorting and driving. Slow traffic. Traffic jams. Lanes of traffic. If God was handing out brownie points for time spent in a vehicle, I figured I was on my way to a mansion, well, somewhere.

I sighed again as I grabbed my laptop and headed towards the welcoming Starbucks sigil. School started this week, but I had one last important task in front of me. I needed to find a new café to ply the quill. This particular Starbucks was the closest to the school, but that didn’t necessarily make it ideal. Staff considerations, busy-ness, and table availability were all high on the list. As I ordered my coffee I couldn’t help but think of my Starbucks back in Ottawa. I’d spent five years there, become friends with the staff and many of the clientele. I missed it already.

I smiled at the barista, and mentioned that I was looking for a new Starbucks home.

“I’m Steve, by the way.”

“I’m Andrea. Nice to meet you.”

Ten minutes later I was reeling from her question about the existence of God and a wasted life and drunkenly stumbling towards the exit. Perhaps the reason it hit me so hard was the line of doubt that kept echoing in my mind about changing my entire life to follow my dreams. What if God didn’t even exist?

I leaned against the building before finally collapsing onto the curb and cradling my head in my hands. The sun beat across my neck. Voices echoed in the distance, the cement rumbling with the vibrations of the cars as they slipped in and out of the busy lot. Existentialism was popular these days, especially among college and university students. I had friends who felt the same way about God and some days I didn’t know what to say to them. I wasn’t happy with the typical Christian expression:

“I know God exists because I know.”

It seemed condescending to me. Also, it was highly abused. How many suicide bombers felt the same way? How many fundamentalists used “I know because I know” as a reason to stop wrestling with their faith and foist ridiculous rules among their congregations? Or how many Christians said “I know because I know” in a manner (by their life) that spoke volumes about what they really believed now that they were "safe in the lifeboat.” It was a statement that lacked both reason and humility and fostered abuse.

I refused to use it.

But that didn’t make God anything less than supernatural or our faith any less un-rational. I sat on the curb and watched the traffic go by, watched people as they walked and hustled to their next destination. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. After a while, I came to two conclusions.

The first was that my pursuit of Jesus, my hunger to act like Jesus, would inevitably leave a mark in my life.(if I was serious about it) If God didn’t exist, then the pursuit of the sacred would help me manage my tendency towards hedonism and pleasure seeking and ego-centrism. It would still be a good thing. In trying to enact the kingdom now, I would be making a difference in people’s lives. Of course, if my faith was only about heaven and escapism and rewards, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference. The Bible taught that without God, we were all inevitably selfish, but trying to help others, trying to be thoughtful and kind actually mattered. I'd often felt that wasn't taught enough in the church. Jesus didn't instantly make you a better person. You still had to work at it.

My second thought was that Jesus was a historical figure. You can dispute his claim to be the Son of God, but you can’t dispute who he was and whether he existed. Therefore, my faith wasn't responsible for conjuring someone not of history, but of deciding just who this man was. Somehow, that changed the question.

People who never question their faith scare me a little, because I wonder how you can have a relationship with God with perfect security. Doubt must be present for faith to exist. And if we're so sure about what we believe, how can we be anything less than condescending towards those who believe differently. The apostle Paul says something interesting in one of his letters about this. He says that even if people HATE your doctrine, let them see the good works in your life so they have no reason to challenge you. (This is interesting, since for a good portion of the first three centuries of the church, most Romans were convinced that Christians hated outsiders.)

I took a deep breath and headed back inside. I didn’t have all the answers, I never would, but so long as I continued to allow myself (and my faith) to be challenged, at least I’d have less to fear about becoming stale.

My prayer this week is that God would help us to realize just how much we need to challenge our faith to make it real. That our hearts would understand the kingdom is for us to DO now, in the world of needs and hurts around us. And that despite some preachers assertions about perfect security, faith always blooms the brightest in the fields of doubt.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The First LKV Commercial is Ready!

Well, it's finally done!

After weeks of editing (and packing and moving and changing our lives), Mark and I have finally finished editing our first commercial. It will be posted on Youtube within the next 24 hours. We'd welcome any and all comments, even if you don't like it!! I will also be posting it on this site as well. Hope it makes you smile.

Here it is!


Friday, September 07, 2007


The café is cold. Despite the rapidly cooling weather these past two weeks, Starbucks is still in summer mode. I ignore the icy air from the vents and take a quick look around. Another man sits across from me, and behind me I can hear the rapid conversing of two women. Otherwise, the place is empty. The familiar Starbucks sigil is not as comforting tonight. I don’t know the people working, and I don’t recognize any of the customers either. This isn’t ‘my’ Starbucks, but the difference is still jarring. I’ve been writing at a particular café for five years, but as of yesterday I’m officially without a residence, and for the next few days at least, I’m a vagabond.

When I first started writing, I longed for the ultimate writer’s life, a life of travelling and speaking and wandering across the wide swath of humanity. People have always intrigued me, and I was certain that the only way one could truly learn about people was to meet as many as possible. That would mean moving. Not just travelling, but experiencing different lives. Roots, or connection to any sort of geography, were not as important.

These days, I’m not so sure about that.

I was lucky to grow up in the same house in the same town for the first twenty-five years of my life. I didn’t realize it then, but my parents were giving me a tremendous gift. These days, whenever I visit I can go to my old room and remember what high school was like, or walk down the creaky stairs and remember my dad and I playing hockey.


I never thought much about this in my twenties, but these days I am learning just how many lifetimes we have, and how difficult it becomes to sometimes to connect the dots. In many ways, it feels like I’m losing parts of my life. (If you can’t remember doing something or experiencing something, who’s to say it even happened?)

The café has filled up, and conversation rings loudly through the room. Even better, the extra bodies have warmed up the place. This Starbucks is located downtown, a few blocks from my friend’s place – her couch is my bed for the next two nights – and its interesting to watch the difference in clientele from my regular suburban location. Downtown seems to be home for younger couples and transient types. Most of the connections to this area are not about geography. On my way over to the cafe, I walked past a young couple playing with their child on the front lawn. The yard space was about three meters across, but it reminded me of home.

My roots.

We are loathe to connect geography with spirituality or faith, but as our world consistently shrinks, as technology continues to drive the wedge of individualism, and as we’re continually prodded to ‘find ourselves’, this detachment from geography and faith is unsurprising. As I sit in this café however, filled with people and the accompanying anonymity, I am reminded that geography matters. That continuity matters. That for all those who envy the freedom of my ‘writer’s life’, I find myself longing for a place to call home. Not a room. Not an apartment. But a home.

I sigh and leave my laptop open as I head to the entrance. It's time to get some air. I head outside with my coffee, watching the people. Two women wearing tight jeans and high heels saunter past me. Behind them, a middle aged man stumbles back and forth across the sidewalk. A number of couples slowly pass by. I drift around the corner where an old man in rags is shuffling through the garbage for empty milk cartons. He finds about six, each of which he promptly tilts to his lips. I duck my head and move back to the front entrance.

When was it that we started believing that the journey of life was best lived as a journey? I understand that some people prefer living downtown, that they prefer the excitement and anonymity of large crowds. And I know that many of us do not choose where we live, that it is often through circumstance we end up in a certain location.

But maybe its time we stop holding up this mythology that to find what we’re searching for we must change our geography. People are as likely to live shallow lives because they have no roots, as much as they will live shallow lives because they never experience something bigger than their own hometown. Shallowness originates from the heart of someone who is only interested in their own life. Too often we hold up urbanites and travelers who believe they are better suited to facing the world because they've 'been places'. They thumb their noses at the 'poor small town folk' who have never been to Europe. Unfortunately, they really have no idea what they're missing. Life passes quickly, and our lifetimes flow like the rapid streams of a winding river. How good it is then, to have a place, a physical piece of land, to call home.

On the next block, I can see a couple of homeless people sitting on the church stoop.

Within this river of humanity and time, perhaps the most disheartening thing is to watch those who truly have no home, no ties to the earth. It seems inevitable that life will sweep them quickly into oblivion.
Unless we do something about it first.
Home is not just an idea. It is a place. Changing location, especially when we transition into adulthood, is usually a good thing. It gives us a new perspective. Too often however, it is held up as the ideal lifestyle for ‘real’ truth seekers.
I head back inside, and my skin goosebumps immediately from the blast of cold air. I am thinking about the two homeless people and the man at the garbage bins. I rub my arms to warm them, my mind drifting to what they will do when the brutal Ottawa winter comes two months from now.
Our fractured society is already the loneliest in the world, and it continues to crack as we wash away the old ideals of a home and family in the face of generational elitism left over from the sixties. I am convinced however, that the world is a better place when we’re physically connected to a certain location, because people are better when they are connected to other people in the same location.

My prayer this week is that you’ll remember there is no perfect place, but any location can be home. There is no perfect adventure, but every one who seeks the truth will have all the adventure they can handle. And while the roots may never go as deep as your parents’ home or your grandfather’s farm, we can still connect ourselves to the places we live by connecting with the people around us. Especially those who have no home. Because as important as location can be, it’s the people around you who matter the most, and it's they who will enrich the fabric of your life, no matter how cold it gets.