Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I haven't thought about the city of Hamilton, Ontario much recently. True, it was the site of Wendy's and my first apartment as newlyweds, and the place where we welcomed our first child into our lives. But it's been so many years since we moved West that my only thought of Hamilton is when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat the Tiger-Cats (yet again). (not that I'm gloating, Mom, honest...)

But Hamilton has been very much on my mind in recent days.

I was recently given my grandfather's typewritten notes on his family tree, as well as his autobiography. His children had been badgering him for some time to write out his life story, and finally, in his early 70's, he acquiesced and began to type it all out.

His early and unexpected passing was evident on the last page, which was not only incomplete, but actually stopped in mid-sentence. It was probably discovered still in his typewriter, awaiting his return.

The city of Hamilton figures prominently in my family's Canadian history, following emigration from Scotland. My grandfather's simple, meat-and-potatoes style of writing recounts his story in short, fact-based snippets, although his dry sense of humour finds its way into his writing as well. His great respect and admiration for the pastor of the Caroline Street Mission is also unmistakable.

And the Caroline Street Mission marks a turning point not only for my grandfather, but for the following generations after him. It was here, as a teenager from a dysfunctional home, desperately trying to find his way during the Great Depression, that my grandfather first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and became a Christian. That simple decision, so many years ago, continues to have a ripple effect over several generations of his descendants.

Hamilton is a long way from here, geographically, and living there is several decades in the past for Wendy and I. And yet, as I read my grandfather's story, Hamilton Ontario -- and the Caroline Street Mission -- represent an important part of my roots that I am both mindful of, and grateful for.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Note to Pastors

The wording varies but a little, depending on the pastor and the setting.

"Great to see you! Let's have coffee soon."

I haven't kept track in a ledger somewhere, so I don't have an actual count. Nevertheless, I've heard this phrase more than a few times from pastors that I've known over the years.

I used to look forward to the possibility, thinking that perhaps the pastor who uttered these words would actually follow through. A few of those times, I really had something on my mind that I wanted pastoral insight and wisdom into.

And then -- nothing.

Radio silence. The same sound you get when you hold an empty seashell to your ear (and no, that's not the sound of the ocean you're hearing).

Eventually, I learned to counter the phrase by responding, "I'd love to. What day works best for you?" And then watch them stumble all over themselves to avoid being trapped into actually setting a time and place. "Send me an email" was the usual delaying tactic.

Just to do my fair share, I would send an email, although my expectations gradually became lower.

Of course, not all pastors are like that. I've enjoyed some great times over coffee with pastors. You have demonstrated genuine 'pastoral care' and personal interest. If only you represented "normal".

Perhaps it's because of these positive pastoral coffee experiences that I feel strongly enough to make the following suggestion:
If you say "let's do coffee soon", MEAN IT.
Or don't say it.
Either option is acceptable. (And to those pastors who say it, mean it, and do it, thank you. It means more than you may realize.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Segue & Salvation

(another Renaissance post)
"Can you believe this wind?" gasped the Younger, averting his face from the worst of the grit blowing into his eyes.

The Elder hesitated briefly, recalling his many years of seeing the seasons change. "No, actually," he finally admitted, keeping one hand firmly on his head to prevent his cap from joining the leaves swirling about them, "although it's possible I'm just weakening with age, and the wind feels more fierce than I remember."

"But if memory serves," he added a moment later, as his gaze fastened on their destination -- still several blocks ahead of them, "a good stiff breeze has always been a sign that summer is ending, and fall is just around the corner."

The Younger groaned. "And the first snow won't be long after that. I guess I'd better keep my eyes open for a new snow shovel." Squinting into the wind, his voice softened as a new thought came to him. "How do you suppose he's going to segue back into writing?"

The Elder guessed immediately what his young friend was referring to. "You mean, after announcing the release of a book project like Detoxing from Church? How does one jump back into the regular rhythm of writing for a blog?"

"Yeah, that's what I'm wondering," agreed the Younger, as the two quickened their steps as the welcome sight of the door to The Genesis Cafe drew closer. "What is it -- business as usual? Just jump back in?"

"I wouldn't worry, if I were you," smiled the Elder as he reached for the door with one hand, while keeping a firm grip on his cap with the other. "I predict he'll be inside, at his usual spot, writing as always."

And with that, the two friends slipped into the welcome stillness inside the café, returning the friendly wave of the Barista, as their eyes scanned the tables near the back. Glimpsing the figure seated alone near the rear exit, completely absorbed by the laptop before him, the Elder nudged the Younger and pointed.

"All is well," he chuckled, and they turned their full attention to the chalkboard list of drinks behind the Barista.

Often maligned by negative associations like "Brother, are you SAVED?", this is nonetheless the single most common word throughout the Bible to describe the active work of Jesus Christ.

The two most common Greek words in the New Testament that are translated as salvation or save(es)(ed) are:
  1. Soteria: "deliverance, preservation, safety, salvation"

  2. Sozo: "to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction"
Indeed, try to talk about Jesus, His death & resurrection, and coming to faith in Him without using the word "saved", or "salvation"... All the possible synonyms eventually lead back to the idea of being saved from something, and saved to something else.

There has been an incredible amount of discussion and debate about how salvation actually works (some of it helpful, other times not so much). And a single blog post could never do it justice.

But first things first: Jesus saves is a solid, concise statement regarding a very rich tapestry of Jesus' mission and work.

Yet to many people, this same phrase is deemed worthy of derision and bad puns.

To redeem this phrase from triteness and/or cynical stereotypes will take some work. That work will likely start with us, as we shake off an embarrassed fear of being lumped-in with zealots.

source: Wikipedia

Salvation is an important word. Too important to leave languishing on dusty theological shelves. If you'll pardon the theological pun, perhaps salvation needs redemption.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Release: Detoxing from Church

Folding his hands and gazing more intently at his friend, the Elder carefully continued, “What if what your friends are feeling could be described -- not as malcontent, or rebellion -- but holy dis-satisfaction? The same kind of holy dissatisfaction that some of the great Reformers of yesteryear also felt as they observed similar dynamics in the church of their day?”

The Younger finished the contents of his bowl, and turned his attention to the fresh-baked roll on the side. “It sounds like you’re suggesting that questioning the status quo of church is a good thing. Can I quote you on that?” (from the opening chapter)

Getting the System out of our system.

It's easier said than done. And the journey has pitfalls and traps that, if we're not careful, can result in us resembling dysfunctional hamsters, spinning endlessly on a wheel of bitterness and regret.

Detoxing from Church can also be an exciting opportunity for spiritual growth, if we recognize the opportunity before us. Simply 'quitting church' will result in little lasting change. The inner journey of detoxing from depending on, and finding our identity in, church culture is more challenging, but worth every step of the way.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

¡Nos vemos pronto!

We'll see you soon! (en español)

Goodbye's are always bittersweet. On the one hand, you are genuinely happy for friends embarking on new adventures. Yet at the same time, there is also an unmistakable twinge as you realize you won't be seeing them for a long time, as they head off. To Germany, in this case.

Norm Strauss has been a constant source of encouragement, friendship, and musical camaraderie in the 20 years that I've known him. Norm is one of the few people I know who is truly a worship pastor. And it's been an honour (and a great deal of fun) to be part of "The Fab Four" at the Kelowna Vineyard.
Likewise, Norm's wife Loralee has also been a great resource as I've begun my new season as an "indie writer". Her input, advice, and genuine enthusiasm for my writing has been absolutely invaluable as I've begun this journey.

Of course, I'm excited for them as they begin this new season in Germany. It will, without a doubt, be a time of new adventures, new friends and opportunities, and faith-stretching challenges. And we know that they'll be visiting Canada again next summer.

So, it's not "fare-well"; more like "see you later".

Or, as we'd say in Tijuana, "Nos vemos pronto." And I would add, "Muchas gracias a los dos. Voy a tu extrañar." (Thank you both. I'm going to miss you.)