Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Wee Post-Colonial Rant

School Begins (Photo source: Wikicommons)

One of the most popular 1970s sitcoms was CBSs All In The Family, featuring Archie Bunker, the show’s iconic/toxic lead character. He was easy to despise: a seething and loud-mouthed cauldron of misogynistic, bigoted, pro-Viet Nam, better-dead-than-red, America: love-it-or-leave-it buffoonery.

Archies character was deliberately offensive, shining a spotlight on the snarling malice of anyone sharing his toxic worldview. He was satirical with a capital “S.”

Satire has a long history as an effective tool in pointing out society’s blind spots, inconsistencies, and outright hypocrisies.

Take, for example, the 1899 satirical cartoon above, lambasting cultural colonialism. It’s offensive in so many ways, but that's the point. It’s satire, using (unsettling) humor for the purpose of devastating social commentary.

A portion of the blackboard text makes mention of the British Empire’s enforced “civilizing” of their colonies, and the United States’ moral obligation to provide the same involuntary, unsought education for (seated in the front row) Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines. It’s offensive and cringe-inducing, as it was meant to be. That’s how satire works.

Equally repulsive: Check out (a) the unhappy Black child washing the window, (b) the Native American student seated by the door, far removed from the rest of the class, reading his book upside down, and (c) the Asian child standing outside, lonely and neglected. The cartoon’s merciless satire is blatantly obvious, and most of us would agree: well-deserved.

So, whats the relevance for the 21st century? After all, we’re living in a “post-colonial” era, aren’t we?

Well … arent we?

I mean, c’mon, we’re long past the arrogant elitism that sought to “educate the savages,” right? We’ve learned from the mistakes of the past, and no longer import/force our culture and morals on other ethnicities or nations.

Unless, of course, We The West decide that some cultures are too backwards. Or barbaric." Or in some manner mired in traditional worldviews that We The West have declared out-dated and in need of eradication.

You hear it from news outlets and on social media: “It’s the 21st century, fer cryin out loud. They need to get with the times.” We label things “human rights issues” – and they may justifiably qualify as such. But the language we use reveals that We The West believe were more educated, enlightened, and humane. Therefore, we have a moral obligation to disciple the rest of the world to think and act like us.

Lets dare to ask the question again, but this time with our outside voices: Is it possible that We The West are still trying to civilize the savages?

A “post-colonial” era? I wish it were so, but I remained unconvinced. Rose-colored glasses or blinders – either analogy can apply.

We may need Archie Bunkers satirical character, now, more than ever.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dastardly Pastors

Y'all remember this archtypical villain from The Matrix, right? Agent Smith, accompanied by his surly entourage of clones, concocting all manner of devilish plots that would make even The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns faint due to their pure and unadulterated evil.

You may have noticed that it’s become popular these days to portray pastors and theologians as dastardly villains. The kind who take nefarious delight in wreaking havoc upon unsuspecting Jesus-followers.

A few years ago, a book I was reading (representative of many; revealing the title would only result in a rabbit trail) was determined to convince its readers that Old Testament Law was God’s blueprint for “discipling nations.” This mind-blowing truth had been kept hidden from the author for years because – you guessed it – pastors and theologians had deceived him into viewing the Old Testament through what he called “Jesus lenses.”

Can you believe it?!? The unmitigated gall of those sneaky, conniving, deceitful pastors and theologians! Where the Holy Hand Grenade do they get off, deceiving thousands upon thousands of unsuspecting Jesus-followers like that? Where on God's green earth did they ever come up with the lame-brained lie that the Old Testament points to Jesus?

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself (Luke 24:13-35).”

Face palm …

Oh yeah, thats right … they got the idea from Jesus.

Those dastardly pastors and theologians tried … you see, they were basically … um, agreeing with Jesus. When anyone in the Gospels refers to “the Scriptures,” they mean the Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written yet.

So when Jesus says things like, “These are the very Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life (John 5:39-40),” and “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me (John 5:46),” He was talking about the Old Testament. You know … the Scriptures that point to Jesus.


As it turns out, dastardly pastors and theologians may not be the real villains, after all.

Agent Theo-Smith can show up in many disguises, possibly even as one of the Good Guys in the White Hats. But if you pay close attention, you may detect a certain – oh, how shall I say it? – “barnyard aroma.”


Friday, March 30, 2012

The Power of Focus

Ever had one of those “Balaam’s Ass” moments? You know, where God speaks to you through an unlikely and unexpected source? 

I experienced one recently, shortly after I began reading The Power of Focus. The glistening irony? The book was a gift from the managers of a Real Estate Brokerage where Id been working but intended to quit. 

Yes, I said “Real Estate Brokerage.” By that, I mean ... I was a REALTOR®. Except I was about to quit. 

Perhaps I should start from the beginning. 

I enrolled in the Real Estate Licensing course through UBC, shortly after we moved back from Mexico last year. The idea was to start a new career which would put money in our bank account. A short-fall in our monthly missionary support was slowly but surely eroding our house equity. 

It was a risk, a gamble for our future, to re-invent myself as a REALTOR®. (It also required a new wardrobe.) We knew that, right from the beginning. And we were aware the current market conditions were – to quote WKRPs Les Nessman – “sucking canal water.” We knew I needed to be focused. 

And so, after nine years of blogging, I created an exit strategy and wrote two months’ worth of posts to bring to a satisfying conclusion. 

Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even blogging. 

Background readings and research for a book I wanted to write about the Kingdom of God (a sort of follow-up to Post-Charismatic) were consigned to several thick binders and shelved in a remote storage closet. 

Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even writing.

My guitars languished in their cases, lonely and abandoned, and the tubes in my amplifiers clouded over with the dust of neglect. 

Nothing would interfere with the demands of my new career.
Not even music.

I was focused, having ruthlessly eliminated my most likely distractions. Everyone “in the business” knew times were tough. Weekly sales meetings reinforced Canadas dire economic straits. That’s why our managers gave each of us, at the beginning of 2012, a copy of The Power of Focus. 

Ironically, the book proved to be my “Balaam’s Ass” encounter, directly leading to my decision to quit the brokerage.

To be sure, there were a few outside factors involved:

  1. My (glaring) lack of sales experience.
  2. Im virtually unknown in our town, which means no connections.
  3. The kicker: we ran out of money to invest in my being in the business, and therefore,
  4. Instead of reducing our debt, Id managed to dig the hole even deeper (oops).

 But as I read the first few chapters, I was challenged with the question, “What are you naturally brilliant at?” And by “brilliant,” they simply meant:

  1. What are you naturally good at, where even with just a minimum of effort, people take notice of your talents, and 
  2. If you invest additional effort to hone your natural abilities, you can easily become proficient—even professional—in those areas.

And, in language reminiscent of Strength Finders 2.0, the authors recommend that we focus on our natural abilities, versus the common strategy of working our patookus off, trying to improve our weak areas. (Result: you suck a little less, but your real strengths remain undeveloped.) 

Id just put away the things I was most passionate about and naturally gifted at. That’s perplexing and frustrating: So far, none of my naturally brilliant abilities have done much to get us out of debt, or at least make ends meet. It felt like Id been cursed with hobbies, not marketable skills.

Except ... my REALTOR® career was even more of a sucking financial vortex than my so-called hobbies. And lets not forget all those biscuits God seemed to be tossing my way. 

So, in what is either an act of faith in God’s provision and being true to myself, or my most reckless and ill-advised decision of all time ... I quit Real Estate. 

I am focused. On developing the gifts God gave me. On using my abilities for the Kingdom. On seeking to excel in areas where Im naturally brilliant.

Wendy says the real test will come when someone asks me what I do for a living, and I look them in the eye and say, in all seriousness and self-confidence:

Im a writer.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

God's Biscuits

One of the great things about having children is that they grow up. And suddenly, you’re sitting across a coffeeshop table from your eldest daughter, enjoying a deep conversation as adults. 

After telling Jordan the tale behind my decision to end my attempted REALTOR® career-shift, I made a joke about my “naturally brilliant” abilities qualifying me to be a starving artist. Jo spotted this fridge magnet a few days later, and just had to get it for me. It now occupies a place of honor on our refrigerator door.

(Our family has a certain fondness for tongue-in-cheek, slightly-dark humor.)

I also told her about the unexpected words of encouragement  I’d been receiving the past couple of weeks. As Wendy and I took note of these seemingly random tidbits of life-giving words, Wendy had commented, “It’s almost like Gods tossing you some biscuits.”

  • After playing bass at a church recently, a well-respected musician stood to make an announcement, prefacing it with praise for the band, pointing out my bass playing in particular.
  • A friend from a worship band Id led 15 years ago emailed me out of the blue to say, “I’m not one for ‘titles,’ but you were a real worship pastor. I just wanted to say thanks.”
  • A former youth group member found me on BookFace and sent a message thanking me for my time as their youth pastor.
  • Another former youth group member, from the George Mercado era back in the 1980s, emailed to say, God’s been putting you on my heart a lot recently – do you need prayer about anything?”
  • A local couple we’ve known since the mid-1990s, whod just finished reading Post-Charismatic, mentioned in passing at St. Arbucks, “You should be writing more. That’s your gift.”
“Hmm,” Jordan mused, giving me her widest and most innocent blue-eyed stare. “People whose lives youve made an impact on. Music. Writing. What do you think Gods trying to tell you, Dad?”

Gee, I dunno ... Maybe that having coffee with a wise young woman – clearly her mother’s daughter – might point out obvious things that her old man hadn’t dared consider?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Re: Destination

Traveling is a great way to expand your horizons, mentally and geographically. Exotic destinations, far removed from your usual routine, can provide exciting and provocative opportunities to see things from a different perspective. 

And yet, there’s something special about that moment when travelers return to their home turf, basking in the sights, sounds, smells, and bustle of familiarity.

You see the anticipation in the airport waiting area, as eyes search the incoming stream of humanity for familiar faces. A childs barely-contained celebration when they spot their grandparents walking down the ramp. 

The embraces, the cheerful welcomes, the meandering and talkative trek toward the baggage claim area. Not even the tedium of grudgingly slow carousels can dampen the happy reunions.

Unaccompanied travelers, clutching briefcases and laptops, likewise await the return of their checked overnight bags. Their studious expressions speak of a sense of purpose: Destination reached, they’re eager to dive into the purpose of their trip. 

In the midst of this sea of happy reunions, tearful farewells, arrivals, departures, baggage carousels, and connecting flights, sits the solitary figure of a writer. A cup of Tim Horton’s coffee cools on the table beside him as he tries to dream up the most creative way to announce his return to blogging.

But in the end, he decides a picture is still worth a thousand words.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

And that’s all I have to say about that ...

A hat-tip of gratitude to all who've visited my little corner of greater blogdom.
It’s been my privilege.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


We were the dreamers, the boys on the wild frontier, new believers with nothing in the world to fear.

We had discovered the treasure of the love and the grace of God, and it burned like fire in our hearts and we would ...

Throw back our heads and run with passion through the fields of forgiveness and grace.

We carried the eternal flame with an undying hope, and a blazing conviction of truth that would never fade.

We were glowing in the dark, children of the burning heart. 

~ Steven Curtis Chapman, Children of the Burning Heart

My best friend from high school, Patrick Thomas Prowse, recommended that I give this song a listen. He says it reminds him of us when we were teenagers.

Originally, we were three in number, a triumvirate of adrenaline and chaos. Chapmans lyric is an apt description of our “stumbling heaven-ward” zeal. We made a ton of mistakes, but we learned together – iron sharpening iron – and challenged, encouraged, and supported each other through thick and thin.

And, between the three of us, managed to keep at least one of our battered cars in marginal running condition – not necessarily the same car, week by week. We were also legendary for our love of (a) Resurrection Band and (b) deaf-defying stereo volume (especially windows-down on an open highway).

By naming Patrick, but not our third co-conspirator, you can probably guess where this is going. And you’d be correct: only two-thirds of our madcap troika self-identify as Jesus-followers today.

We’ve each experienced our fair share of butt-kicking, confidence-shaking, faith-rattling challenges. And really, who hasnt? Life in a fallen world can go sideways at times. And when it does, faith can become either a lifeline or a casualty.

In fact, if this was a poker game, and I a betting man, Id wager that everyone who’s read this far has felt a twinge of grief over a friend or loved one who’ve cashed in their Jesus chips … if thats not taking the poker metaphor too far.

I find the apostle Paul a great source of encouragement here. His ministry path vacillated between incredible highs and dismal lows. His “resumĂ© of pain” is, frankly, far worse than anything I’ve experienced: beaten, imprisoned, flogged multiple times, shipwrecked at least twice, hunted by wannabe assassins, and so on. The short version is found in 2 Corinthians 11:24–27. Reading it usually gives me perspective.

And yet near the end of his life, Paul sums up everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly – like this: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).”

He didnt bask in the glow of his many accomplishments as a missionary and church-planter (and writer of Scripture, although he probably didnt know it at the time). Nor did he bemoan his painful experiences (although he wrote candidly about them).

He fought.

He finished.

And he kept the faith.

In life’s faith marathon, my hope is to be able to say the same.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Few things reveal time’s impact more eloquently than the look of weathered wood. Weathering showcases the passage of years, of many seasons under the sun, in ways that mere words are incapable of capturing.

When the original letters on this sign were removed, the full extent of years of weathering was revealed for all to see. With little difficulty, you can still read (most of) what this sign originally said.

I remember when the sign was brand new (the letters were a rich red color). I was present at the sod-turning ceremony before construction even started. And at 16 years of age, I worked on the roof many weekends, driving in four-inch spikes with a sledgehammer. I was there when the original cornerstone from the old church downtown was split in two and re-installed at the new location, one half reading “1928” and the other “1978.”

Fast forward to 2012:

A church merger has resulted in the congregation relocating elsewhere in the city. The building at 2501 Eaglesfield Drive has been sold. In a short while, the name Brant Bible Church will be meaningful only to a certain generation.

When I look at these pictures of the church’s interior, Im astonished by the multitude of memories and emotions that come flooding back. It feels like it was just yesterday. It also feels like it was a million years ago.

I was baptized here when I was 17.

Five years later, this is where I met George Mercado; I later did my seminary internship under his leadership.

The carpet-on-concrete foyer would be the site of many life-changing encounters with God through the youth ministry.

When I was 27, Wendy and I stood together on the platform with our daughter Jordan in our arms, experiencing our very first child dedication as parents.

And no matter where we lived after that (Hamilton, Kitchener, Victoria, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Tijuana, and now Kelowna), whenever we returned to visit family, this was the church we’d attend together.

When all is said and done, of course, it’s just a building. Seriously. The Kingdom of God goes on quite well with or without it. But looking at these images as I write, Im amazed at the storehouse of memories they awake.

It’s the goodness of God and the memories of people that are the true treasure, but never underestimate the power of a weathered 34-year-old sign to remind you of it.