I Can Change…Maybe Not

I have totally lost count of the number of times I figured that I need to make a change in my life, you know, fix a bad habit or give some sin the boot. I have also lost count of the number of times I have failed. So my friends, I am done trying. I am me. I am a screwed up mess. I’m okay with that.

Do understand that I am not done desiring to change, nor am I no longer willing to change. Far from it. I really do hope that by this time next millennium that I have made some progress. For that matter, it would be cool if I made some progress by this time next year.

Regrettably, I said that wrong. It’s not about me having made some progress, it’s about me having progressed. The first one is like me building a house, pounding in nails and re-cutting the studs I measured wrong twice. Sorry folks, but contrary to the plethora of self help gurus, we are not the carpenter – we are the house. We are the ones who need to progress.

Fortunately, there is a carpenter. Okay, that was just a temporary job for Jesus. It was He who started the work in us by the life changing work of the Holy Spirit. We need to let Him complete it. Put down the self help “I can fix myself with a dull saw and kinked tape measure,” and let the master builder change you. Let Him do it in His time. Hear His voice, that nudging of the Spirit. Listen. Let it wash over and through you.

To switch metaphors, let Jesus change you like the wind in the sails of sailing boat. Quit standing on the deck huffing and puffing. All you need to do is to set the sails to catch the wind and let the wind do the work.


“ And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

A Prolonged Absence Explained

Yes it has been awhile since I posted anything here. Events transpired that left me in the curious position of having lots to say and the wisdom to keep quiet until I the rawness of emotion gave way to careful meaningful consideration. What happened you ask? The short story is that the church I was pastoring closed its doors.

Helping the people I cared for and lead for nearly seven years to grieve the loss of their community and move on to new ones took a deep emotional toll on me, far deeper than I imagined at the outset. Along with my wife, we have been grieving. Today I can say that time of throbbing grief is over, though the scars remain, barely covering half healed wounds. I suspect many who were part of that wonderful community are still feeling the throbbing ache more acutely than I, each in their own way. The loss of community hurts. Finding a new one isn’t easy.

To be sure, I have no intention of using this blog to assign blame or malign the faithful. Not at all. If nothing else, I share in the blame. We were all in it together. We tried. We worked hard. It wasn’t to be. That’s that. Would have, could have, should haves are cruel task masters. Are there lessons to be learned? Of course. Those are worth talking about when the time is right in thoughtful love.

On April 19th, 2015, we celebrated the years we had together, the rich fellowship and meaningful ministry. Ending with a celebration was the right thing to do. It was a time of tears and smiles, that’s how it is with grief. There is that part of me that wishes we could have found a way to carry on serving one another and the community around us. There is  another part of me that is excited about the future, not only for myself, but for each one who was part of the church. New beginnings are rarely easy. A seed must fall to the ground for a new plant to grow. The seed has fallen.

Saint Patrick’s Day

Good old Saint Patrick’s day. Ah, the irony of shamrocks to the copious consumption of pints of brew. Not that the irony is in those things, rather that I suspect that most people who celebrate with liberal libations are probably unaware or at least unconcerned about the reason for the feast.

The short story is that it is the celebration of a life. The man we know as Saint Patrick lived from 385 to 461. He became a devote Christian priest who gave his life to convert Irish pagans into Christians. Legend has it that he used the green three leaf shamrock as a picture of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (although as all analogies if fall short). 

Saint Patrick’s Day is nothing less than the celebration of a successful and effectual Christian missionary. The chief symbol of the day, an icon of sorts of the Holy Trinity – God as Christians know Him.

The feasting and drinking so often associated with Saint Patrick’s day is a day off from lent to celebrate one of God’s servants. Call it a mulligan in the season of sacrificial devotion. 

So if you choose to lift a glass to Saint Patrick, remember the man you are drinking to and have a look at yourself in the mirror. Are you really celebrating Saint Patrick? Maybe you should.

Kilbennan St. Benin's Church Window St. Patrick Detail 2010 09 16.jpg

It’s All In Your Head! No kidding, it’s mental health

“It’s all in your head,” has to be one of the silliest things you can say to someone suffering from anxiety or depression. Of course it is. It isn’t a stubbed toe we are talking about. According to the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), 20% of Canadians will experience mental health issues in their lifetime, 8% will suffer from major depression. The CMHA reports that only about half those affected talk to their doctors about it. In other words, the real statistics could easily be significantly higher. Of these, a remarkable number are youths, of who (according to the CMHA) only 1 in 5 receive the help they need. The malady is real, and yes, it is in our heads.

Recently I was invited to participate in a mental health support / advisory group in our community sponsored by the local public schools called Stronger Together. No doubt, while it is a school focused initiative, the whole community benefits. It has been encouraging to sit around tables at meetings with a diverse group of people to talk about the issues and what each partner can bring to the table to help support children and families who are struggling for any number of reasons. The partners include school administration, students, health professionals, social services, police, non-profit societies, advocates and the people like myself. Perhaps what is most encouraging is working with people who on other issues we might find less common ground, but here the focus is on helping others, particularly youth.

That brings me to an important point. Maybe, just maybe, our differences would divide us less if we focused on well being of others more. Is not the second greatest commandment to love our neighbour as our self? The practical reality is that when we focus on loving and caring for others, the things that divide us become meaningful discussion points rather than walls. It isn’t about ignoring differences, rather about seeing beyond them to what we can accomplish together precisely because of the diversity. Maybe that is the greatest lesson in all of this.

What if our youth saw the unity and mutual caring, dare I say the emerging love among diverse people? What if they saw that we can work together as fellow humans toward a mutual positive goal?  What if our youth saw that people from diverse walks of life cared deeply enough about them to work together as a team for their benefit? Maybe then, merely by working together, some of their anxieties and depressive thoughts would abate, leaving them stronger and more hopeful for tomorrow. We are stronger together.

I don’t pretend for a moment that merely the meetings of diverse people and skills are the solution to all anxiety or depression among youth, but knowing that the village has your back in the time of need is powerful medicine. That goes for adults too. We need to know that others have our backs too.

The flip side is that if youth think that few people care, if anyone at all, it only serves to deepen the dark foreboding in the soul that crushes and devours hopes and dreams. When we fail to visibly care, we are part of the problem. Indifference is a crushing poison.

By the way, if you are wondering how this fits in with my ministry as a pastor, the answer is simple. Jesus went out of His way to heal the sick and set people free from demons. Many of those same people had been ignored by the religious elite, the Pharisees. Shunned would not be too strong of a word – nor would oppressed. Indifference destroys lives as efficiently as hatred. On the other hand, love, mercy and grace bring hope and a future. Setting aside the “religious” to bring mercy and hope to the struggling, the oppressed, the outcast and the sick, is not an option, it is the call of Jesus on our lives.

Fifty Shades of Ethics

My facebook and google+ accounts have been flooded with Fifty Shades of Grey posts. Most of them have expressed less than muted shades of dismay at the movie. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be some tunnel vision ethics in the mix.

Let me be clear. I am not promoting, condoning or otherwise supporting the values, ethics or premise the story is founded on.  I don’t plan to go see the movie nor have I or do I plan to read the books (much to the relief of my pastoral colleagues and church I am sure). That said, there are many “good” movies people suggest I go see that I pass on, not to mention many “good” books.

I’ll get to the point of this article. I take issue with the rash of bash and slash posts littering the Christian blogosphere that take a narrow aim at Fifty Shades of Grey. In particular, I question the narrow ethical focus that has put one poorly written book (or so I’ve heard for literary reviews), and it’s ensuing cinematic offering, in the cross hairs of a verbal sniper scope. To be sure, many legitimate concerns have been raised, from abuse of women to the cheapening of sex, however I can assure you that this particular book and movie are far from alone in this particular warped genre.

Let’s be clear, Fifty Shades of Grey is a fictional story. However warped you may think the story is, it is just one instance of tens of thousands (if not millions) of works of fiction that delve into the dark side of humanity. It is certainly not the first one to exploit submissive or abusive relationships, let alone sexual power games (to be euphemistic). Yes, this particular work of fiction has put a spot light on the genre, but let’s not pretend that it is something new.

Truth be told, apart from fiction that delves into the dark side of humanity, the literary world and movie makers would have little to publish other than a handful of lackluster offerings. The basic building blocks of plot are conflict and complication. In most cases, that means stealing, murder, hate, forbidden love, forsaken love and so the list goes. Even the stories that pit a protagonist against the forces of nature almost always include inter character tension AKA conflict. Whether it is arguing with a volley ball called Wilson over the need for more rope to build a raft in the movie Castaway, or the heart wrenching scene when Chuck Noland is finally rescued only to find his beloved is now married to his dentist, conflict is at the heart of our stories.

There are of course numerous fictional stories that intentionally speak to the dark side of humanity, exposing them to the light of day. I recently read the Ojibway author, Richard Wagamese’s excellent book, “Medicine Walk.” It is a profound walk through the darkness of soul (I think that is an appropriate term), exposing the agony and suffering of the oppressed so that healing might begin. There are of course many many books and some movies that do this exceptionally well, some subtly, some overtly. Through their imaginative tales we come to understand our own stories in ways that sneak around our defenses and stir our hearts. The power of story should not be underestimated, but what it reveals in us is often more interesting – and sometimes dark – than the story it self.

By the way, did you notice how for a moment I took the focus off of the abusive sexual power play of Fifty Shades? I did so in part to make the point that not every book or movie that delves into the dark side of humanity is to be easily discarded. Sometimes we need issues brought to light through fictional stories. Art in all of it’s forms can do that, though doing it well is not half as easy as it seems. I do believe, however, that there is a difference between exposing and exploiting the dark side of humanity, though it is not always clear cut.

There are those literary works that tell the story of the darkness of humanity and darkness of the soul, exposing it to the light in the hopes of bringing understanding, healing, even redemption. Then there are those works that blatantly exploit the darkness of the soul for titillation and profit (I suspect Fifty fits in here). No doubt the line is fuzzier than I hope – certainly there is both the writer and reader, their own stories mingle with the fictional world, to evoke responses that defy categorization. It is more of a gradient of ethical greys. What to one person is mere escapism can be traumatic to the next when it intersects with their own stories. What is exposing to one may seem exploitive to another and the flip is also true.

So what’s my beef with the roast and toast blog posts? A lack of consistency, or perhaps selective vision. Fifty is hardly the first Hollywood or Indie film to exploit the notion of forbidden sex to turn a quick buck by titillating its audience, nor is it the first one to wrap sex and abusive behaviours together for that same purpose. May be it is the first one some bloggers have heard of, but a little (very little) research reveals that it is nothing new. If you are going to flame the movie (and book), then address the gratuitous exploitation of sex and exploitive power in all movies, not just this one.

For that matter, what about movies that exploit murder, stealing, adultery, coveting, lying, cheating…you know, the stuff that makes up most fiction literature and cinema (I’m not touching “reality” TV here, but I could). Since when has stealing made people heroes? Since when has creating mass carnage in a city, gratuitously depicting the destruction of innocent lives in a movie car chase, been any better than whatever all happens in Fifty? Are we also speaking up against the old western movies that portrayed North American natives as disposable savages, back when killing a white man would get you hung, but kill a native and – one less Indian to worry about? Now that was shameful. What about movies of blood sucking vampires? From a point of social ethics, what does it say about us when we flame one dark genre but ignore others?

We have a generation where a large percentage of kids have blasted or shot innumerable people in the virtual world of gaming. Oh but that’s just a game. Those old movies? They were just unenlightened writers. Oh those vampire movies, it’s just fantasy, no harm. Isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey just a book and a movie based on a warped fantasy? Where is our ethical consistency?

If you are compelled to speak out against the movie, let me offer a few well meaning suggestions. Speak out against the abuse of women in all of it’s forms and in all of it exploitive portrayals. Speak out against people – male and female – who abuse their positions to control and enslave people, including corporate executives who treat people as a disposable resource. Speak out against those who treat sex as a commodity to be traded for. Please don’t stop there. Speak out against those who exploit stealing, hate, assault, murder for entertainment profits. Speak out against those who exploit the darkness of the soul for profit.

At least that’s how I see it in the warped mirror.