Monday, April 29, 2013


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My partner and I were doing the juvenile detention social worker equivalent of good cop, bad cop, in the "O.P." (out of program) room. Our companion in the room was an intensely agitated and violent teenager. Designed as a "cooling off" space, the O.P. room had no furnishings with the exception of a single mattress on the floor. It was stark and utilitarian, but a necessary room at times.

This time around, however, Sheila wanted to be the 'bad cop', which left me in the role of the opposite.

Hoping to appear as non-threatening as possible, I had seated myself on the floor, opposite the 17-year-old who was pacing back and forth like a predatory lion. To my immediate right, a splash of bright red blood was smeared across the only door to the room, a result of the teenager pounding his fists repeatedly on the metal door.

Sheila hovered just next to the bloodied door, following my lead but ready to intervene at a moment's notice. Physical restraints, including the use of handcuffs in some instances, was an unpleasant but at times unavoidable part of doing our jobs.

My verbal attempts at de-escalation weren't having the effect I had hoped for; our main goal was that the teenager stop the self-inflicted violence, and ultimately, that he calm down enough to actually discuss what the issues were.

Still seething as he contined to pace quickly back and forth, the teenager abruptly changed direction and lunged towards me. The folly of my seated-on-the-floor approach was instantly apparent, but the sudden actions of the teenager gave no time for me to adjust.

Leaning forward, fists clenched and with a wild expression of rage and implied violence, he shouted in my face, "I hate all of you! I could kill you! Don't you get it? I could kill you right now."

Without thinking about what I should say, I heard myself replying to him, "Maybe. And maybe not. If God has decided that it's my time to go, then I can't really stop you. But if it's not, then there's no way you could kill me. But that decision isn't up to you. It's up to God."

Sheila had swiftly moved just behind the teenager, poised and ready, although for some inexplicable reason (as she would later tell me), she held back against all of her training and instincts to tackle him before the situation escalated any further.

The teenager just stared at me for a several very long moments, breathing heavily, every muscle tense. His face reddened even further as he screamed at me, inches from my face: "I don't care! Do you hear me? I don't care what any of you say! I don't care if you hate my guts."

"I don't care if your eff-ing God hates me!"

Again, the words came without thought, as I looked into his blood-shot eyes, mere inches from my own, and I heard my voice saying: "One thing you can be absolutely sure of, is that God will never hate you. Nothing you have done, or will ever do, will stop God from loving you."

For what seemed an eternity, he stared silently, chest heaving.

It was in his eyes that I saw the change begin. His breathing slowed, and his taut body language relaxed. Slowly, without breaking eye contact with me, he began to back away. Coming up against the far wall, he slid down to the floor, his position oddly mirroring my own.

Lowering his gaze to the worn carpet, he exhaled deeply and simply said, "You guys don't have to stay. I'm good. I'm okay."

Thursday, April 25, 2013


So, I've been thinking of getting a Doctoral Degree. Actually, it's been on my radar for the better part of a decade now. Specifically, I was thinking of the Doctor of Ministry degree, or the "D.Min" as it's called in the common tongue.

One attractive aspect of this degree is that it is only available to those who are in full-time ministry work of some kind. It's not a degree for theoreticians, but for practitioners. As someone who has consistently resisted the "ivory tower", that appealed to me.
(An Aside: Doing an image search for "d.min" yields some fascinating results.)

Recently, I have had a few people -- "out of the blue", as it were -- suggest that, as a writer, it would be beneficial for me to do a doctoral degree. The rationale from each of them was that a doctoral degree would lend added "legitimacy" to my written work. They are probably correct.

(Did I mention that googling "d.min" offers some interesting and unexpected findings?)

But then there's the 'real life' aspect: in order to supplement our income as missionaries, I've had to take a job at a local grocery store. (Ironic aside: before I felt called to Bible college, I was an assistant manager in a small grocery store.) It's full-time: 40 hours per week. Everything else -- family, friends, church, writing, music, serving the poor in some capacity -- has to fit around the demands of my work schedule.

That's normal for most people. Welcome to life in Canada. But it also effectively prevents me from pursuing a doctorate.

Legal Disclaimer:
NOT my actual place of employment
And when I have my head in the bottom of a dairy cooler, scraping out the congealed milk that has leaked out of less-than-perfect containers, two thoughts regularly occur to me:
  1. While not as disgusting as 45 pounds of maggots, this qualifies, in my mind, as learning how to practice the presence of God in an unglamorous, non-ministry setting
  2. Does a job like this actually give me more "street cred" as an author, rather than becoming "Dr. Robby"?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Torch the 8-Track

Full disclosure: I do not now, nor have I ever, owned an 8-Track.

I was a totally hip dude with a cassette player in my car (the wave of the future). 8-Tracks were for relics who drove a Pacer or perhaps a Pinto.

In continuing with the previous post's musings on nostalgia, I realized the other day that I have a completely bipolar love/hate relationship with classic rock. Classic rock from the radio, of course, but even the "classic" era of Christian music (think: Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green).

It's fun to be reminded of earlier years. It can be challenging/invigorating to revisit early Christian albums (particularly Keith Green's) and recall the vibrancy of new-found faith. And because all songs are typically associated with memories of life, there is a fond nostalgia associated with hearing these songs again. (Except the Bay City Rollers singing "Saturday Night". Couldn't stand that one even when it was current.)

At the same time, "only the dead live in the past..."

I love this quote from John Fischer's classic True Believers Don't Ask Why":

"Faith is not a memory; it is a present-tense engagement with reality. Faith is unpleasant because it always asks you to do something you've never done before -- if not, it is not faith. Faith can only live when I've been stretched into a realm where I must act on what I believe without seeing it.

"It takes no faith to dream about the past; that kind of dreaming slows down faith."

I think this may be the key for discerning the difference between forgetting the past, and getting back on track by revisiting our roots:
  • Dreaming about the past is a dead-end.
  • Remembering our roots to invigorate ourselves for whatever "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7) step may be next is the way forward.
I will now go about my day, looking forward to whatever faith-dependent steps are before me. And crank up some Doobie Brothers as I go.