Monday, August 31, 2009


It's been opined more than once that faith in Jesus is a crutch, something for the weak of spirit who can't deal with the pressures of life. True believers, it's said, just need something to look forward to when they die because they are so unfulfilled with their current lives. There may be some truth in that, yet when I look around at the cultural icons whose faces show up on t-shirts and posters, so many of them took their own lives (directly or indirectly) that it becomes obvious they could have used some crutches of their own. Just consider this short list:

Marilyn Monroe
Kurt Cobain
Jimi Hendrix
Elvis Presley
Jim Morrison

These are just the iconic ones; the ones most revered by our culture. There are literally hundreds of other celebrities who committed suicide because they couldn't deal with life. And of course, there are thousands of 'regular' people who try to kill themselves every year and millions more who are addicted to something that helps them get through the day - drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping.

So for anyone who says religion is for those who need a crutch my only answer is yes, you are probably right. But I'll take my Jesus as a crutch any day over a crutch that leaves me with a bullet in my head or a stomach full of sleeping pills.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mall Thoughts

Spending hours on end working a sponsorship booth in a shopping mall gives you lots of time to observe and think. Here are a few of the thoughts I've thunk in the last two days...

Funny t-shirts are rarely funny.
People will do anything to avoid eye contact.
Europeans, even the young ones, will always greet each other with a handshake.
For all of the fashionable stores around, most people dress pretty much the same.
There are a lot of mentally unstable/socially awkward people in the world.
There is no designer clothing as beautiful as a traditional African dress.
Only 1 in every 100 people can really get away with skinny jeans.
Beauty has absolutely nothing to do with the clothes you wear.
Tattoo removal will be a booming business in about twenty years.
Teenage girls are still goofy. Teenage boys are still self-conscious.
Consumerism does not make people happy.
The razor thin beard from the sideburns under the chin looks like a hair net.
VBC (visible bum crack)...never a good idea.
Some people really want to encourage you (thanks Kevin!)
Trend watch - Girls: Flowers in the hair. Checkered shirts.
Trend watch - Guys: Same as usual...t-shirts and jeans.
The mall plays the same sequence of songs every day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Too Much Is Never Enough

Watching people at the market today I was struck by how many look sad, angry, anxious...joyless. All this sadness in the midst of such abundance. When will we learn that stuff - food, possessions, money, etc. - will not bring happiness? It's by giving ourselves away that we discover our joy.

A couple walked past my table today looking absolutely miserable. As they passed, I heard the lady say, "There's nothing that we've denied ourselves. Nothing." I believe they were speaking in reference to having seen all there is to see at the market, and yet, having "done it all" they still appeared to be so unhappy. Perhaps the one thing that they had denied themselves was the chance to give something away. To do something for the good of someone else.

There is such profound truth in Jesus' words, "If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you'll lose it, but if you let that life go, you'll get life on God's terms." (Luke 17:33 MSG) Pursuing all that life has to offer when it is only for our own sakes is pointless. Our appetite for more is endless. If I can quote U2 here, "too much is never enough." It's true. Those who spend their time and resources acquiring things for their own pleasure are, generally speaking, very unhappy at the core of their being. I know this is true because I've done it myself. There have been seasons in my life when I've thought, if I could just get a new camera, or a new iPod, or if I could just eat at that new restaurant, then I'll be satisfied. But the pursuit of ones own happiness can be just as addictive and unfulfilling as heroin. The hit feels good when you first make a purchase, but the satisfaction only lasts for a while before you need another hit to maintain your high.

I need to constantly remind myself of this truth: consumerism ultimately will not bring me joy. It's only in giving my life away for the sake of others that true joy and happiness is achieved. I can think of no greater thing than to spend my life in the pursuit of serving others, particularly the "least of these" that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25:31-46. That is where we find life in all it's fulness - in serving others, in giving ourselves away. When God decides my time here is done, I hope to leave with an empty house and an overflowing heart.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


People watching is one of my favorite pastimes when I am out and about. There's never any shortage of interesting or unique people out there. Standing at a display table in a mall or at the St. Jacobs Farmers Market as I have been this week provides plenty of opportunity to watch people as they come and go on the way to do their shopping.

Watching shoppers go by, I'm always amazed by the number of people who wear brand labels on their clothing. It's a continuous stream of Nike, Tommy, Holister, Old Navy, Nautica, etc. For some, this is an unavoidable fact of life in our marketing-saturated society. Personally, I try to avoid being a walking billboard as much as possible. For others however, these labels are an identifier, a way to tell people what "tribe" they belong to or what lifestyle they aspire to. After all, it's hard not to walk into a Nike store and suddenly feel like you can swing a club like Tiger Woods or shoot a layup like Kobe Bryant. And let's face it, who wouldn't want to be toned, tanned, and sexy like a Calvin Klein model?

But what if our labels...that which we aspire to...were character traits rather than designer brands? Is it possible we could replace Adidas, Roots, and Aeropostale with things like Kind, Generous, and Merciful? Just imagine if these labels became more important to us than those of our favorite clothing designers. If we see someone wearing a brand-name sweater we automatically pass a judgement on that person, be it positive or negative, depending on any number of personal factors. But if I saw someone walking down the street with Patient plastered across his chest, I'd be intrigued and would want to know more about how he got that label and where I could get it as well.

Next time I pull on a t-shirt, I'm going to think about what label I'm wearing.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Times They Are A-Changin'

The phrase "may you live in interesting times" is considered by many to be the English translation of an ancient Chinese curse. There is no doubt that we do live in interesting times and that the not too distance future holds many changes for most of us. Changes which, in large part, will be driven by China and its ever-expanding economic influence.

I've been considering lately just what kinds of changes we can expect in the next 10-20 years as we see our world adapt to shifting power structures and new realities that will impact us all. So with a great debt to many authors, journalists, and my own late-night ponderings, I present my "amateur futurist" predictions of how our world will change over the next two decades.

1) Unemployment will soar as North American manufacturing moves offshore, leaving uneducated workers in the lurch. This is no great prediction as this is already happening on a daily basis. But to all of those poorly educated men and women on the picket lines demanding higher wages for low skill jobs, I would suggest you start finding another line of work...quickly. Those jobs are not coming back, no matter how much pressure the unions exert. We can't compete anymore so let's just get over it and let the retraining begin.

2) Most of us will be driving Chinese or Indian made vehicles with the Japanese and Koreans continuing to hang in there. The North American automobile will be a luxury item for those who can afford them, much like the Mercedes and Jaguar are today.

3) Oil companies will lose their positions of power as more and more of us switch to electric and hybrid vehicles. As a result of this switch, electricity companies will replace "big oil" as the new power brokers. My advice? Invest in your local power generation corporation now.

4) Newspapers and magazines will cease to exist in print form as they head online with an as-yet-to-be-figured-out pricing structure.

5) Evangelicalism will no longer be the primary religious preference of Christians in North America as young believers align themselves with a more inclusive brand of "Jesus follower" without denominational boundaries.

6) As China rises to world economic dominance, our interpretation and application of democracy will change dramatically as will our understanding of free market capitalism. I don't expect any sort of socialist republic being birthed in North America, but those with whom we trade will not necessarily agree that Adam Smith was the father of all economic wisdom.

7) Watch for new economies to arise as developing nations embrace and appropriate China's economic vision for themselves. If (and only if) Africans will demand transparency from their scourge of corrupt leaders, we will see a new dawn for the millions living in extreme poverty in sub-saharan Africa.

8) The concept of personal privacy will become a thing of the past. And we'll give it away willingly! Think about all of those Gen-Y folks driving you nuts in the mall as they text and talk incessantly on their cell phones. Do you think they're going to have any issues with giving up their privacy? Heck, they'd gladly give it up now if it meant more cool ways to connect with their friends.

This list is by no means complete or conclusive, and Nostradamus I'm not. These are just a few areas of observation but there are so many more...How will retail adapt to advancing technologies? What effect will climate change have? How will media conversion influence our day-to-day understanding of the world around us? To what extent will religious extremism continue to inflame violence locally and globally? Will the middle class cease to exist? With fewer farmers and less arable land, how will we feed a growing urban population?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but one thing I am sure of - we are in a time of rapid upheaval the likes of which we haven't seen since the Industrial Revolution three hundred years ago. While there will inevitably be some folks walking around with sandwich boards proclaiming the end is near, I'm not convinced that is in fact the case. God is still at work calling the church to embrace our role as emissaries of His radical life-changing Kingdom built on grace, peace, and love. May we continue to stick to our mission and stand firm while the whirlwind blows around us.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Missional Defined

“The missional church vision is not a programmatic response to the crisis of relevance, purpose and identity that the church in the Western World is facing, but a recapturing of biblical views of the Church all too frequently abandoned, ignored, or obscured through long periods of church history. It is a renewed theological vision of the church in mission, which redefines the nature, the mission and the organization of the local church around Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom. Missional Churches seek to respond to God’s invitation to join Him in His mission in and for the world, as a sign, a servant and a foretaste of this Kingdom.”

As published by Forge Canada