Thursday, 6 March 2014

My water bill made my day—why Stouffville is a great place to live


I never imagined that opening a bill and reading the enclosed details of my Stouffville water bill would ever make my day. Well it did. In the bottom section of my bill, right after it provides the details of the new water and sewer rates, there was a heading that said,

WHAT IS A CHARACTER COMMUNITY?

Then it goes on to tell you what it is.

A Character Community is one in which elected officials, community leaders in the education, business, and faith communities, law enforcement and media sectors, and citizens-at-large recognize and promote the importance of good character.

So I wondered, what do they consider good character? Then there it was:

Respect—Responsibility—Honesty—Intergrity—Compassion—Courage—Inclusiveness—Fairness—Optimism—Perseverance—Initiative

Wow!

That is so cool! I’m so proud to say that I live in Stouffville—A Character Community.

Most of us like the communities we live in, and we hope that some of the things we value in life will be reflected in how our community lives and the values it holds up. Being a community with character, and being willing to put things in place to make it so, speaks volumes of the community I live in.

I’m thrilled to live in this region.
You can learn more about A Character Community at charactercommunity.com

Monday, 3 March 2014

Are you looking for simple answers about God? Read "God Enters Stage Left"

Humans have been writing for thousands of years, during this time a common theme is the quest to understand God, to figure out who he is and how he fits into our story. Whether it is the works of Plato or Augustine, or the more recent works of C.S. Lewis or N.T. Wright, we are drawn to writers who might just provide us with answers to our questions. Some of the books written about God have been amazing, and they provide great insight. I have read many of them, and they have helped shape my understanding of God. But sometimes they can seem overly theological and complex when all we are really looking for is a simple answer.
When it comes to knowing about God, we want it simple.
Tim Day’s book God enters stage left makes it as simple as it gets.
The book was released in December 2013 and it took me almost three months to get around to reading it. I did not get to it right away because I thought I knew what it was about. I did not think I would be surprised by its content. It is the grand story of the Bible, of God, and I was pretty sure I knew the story.
Even as I read the first few dozen pages, of a relatively short book of 139 pages, it seemed to be pretty well what I expected. I kept reading and soon became quite moved by the brilliance of what Tim Day was up to. He had created a compelling telling of the Bible narrative. I was afraid that such a book might get bogged down in too many details. Day manages to cut to the chase, to tell us what we need to hear to know the real story behind this huge Bible story.
There is no description I can write that will do the book justice. The book simply needs to be read. It is definitely worth your time. Especially if you have an interest in understanding the Bible’s overarching story or if the person known as Jesus intrigues you.
This line from the book might say it best:
“Once we humble ourselves and realize that we are not the stars of our own story, but rather look to find a supporting role within God's story, everything changes.”
The reality is that everything should change. After all, if we buy into the grand story, it is about God entering into our story to show us how we can play a role in his redemptive story. If God is going to go through the trouble of entering the world, as we know it, we might want to pay attention, if we do,
everything changes.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of how to reconcile religion and the ugly side of Christianity with Jesus’ message of peace, love, and grace.
There are plenty of books out there that help us gain an understanding of who God is, but if you are looking for one that gives you the big picture and helps you understand the whole Jesus thing, this is the one.
Whether you are a long-time Christian, maybe especially if you are a long-time Christian, or if you are new in your search to learn more about God and Jesus, this book will help you make sense of what much too often seems unnecessarily complex or unappealing to bother with.

Monday, 17 February 2014

A moving story that will teach you about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.


My recommendation of - My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

I have so many mixed feelings about Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.
I love the Jewish people. I love Palestinians. I love all people. However, the Jewish people hold a special place in my heart. They are after all, God’s chosen people. There are so many things to admire about them. Shavit does a great job at highlighting their determination to survive. Their story is one without equal. The Holocaust is without doubt one of the worst tragedies of human history, and many would argue that it is indeed the worst.

If you want to learn about what is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is the book for you.
Shavit is not simply a world-renowned Israeli journalist—this man can really write. His use of the written word to tell the story of modern Israel leaves you in awe. It is like being in the middle of an epic poem that brings you to the core of a story.

Here’s an example of his creative use of language as he describes how the Jews of Europe sensed Europe’s rejection leading up to WWII:
 
Europe is like a surrogate mother. They look up to her, they worship her, they give her all they have. Then, suddenly, these devoted sons of Europe notice that Europe won’t have them. Europe thinks they smell. Overnight there is a new, strange look in Mother Europe’s eyes. She is about to go insane. They see the insanity dancing in her eyes, and they understand that they must run for their lives.”

What I admire the most about the story Shavit tells of his homeland is his brutal honesty, such as when he writes,
“There was no equality for the Palestinian minority and no compassion for the Palestinian refugees.”

There is no doubt that he fully supports the Jewish people being in Israel, and though I may not necessarily agree with that, at least he looks at the current occupation by Israel of Palestinian land as a tragic error. He acknowledges that it must end. That it is wrong. That as a nation, Israel must make things right.
He is also brutally honest about the fact that the settlements in occupied territories should end and should never have happened.

Shavit says that Israel lacks the strong leadership and fortitude to bring an end to these illegal settlements and the occupation. He acknowledges that the majority of the Jews in Israel know that the settlements are immoral and that occupation of Palestinian land should end. The tragedy is that he also knows it will not happen any time soon.
Now getting back to my mixed feelings.

Though I appreciate the story he shares about his love for Israel and how the Jewish people should be in their promised land, I cannot detach myself from the calamity of the Palestinian occupation. It is such a tragedy to have the legacy of the people of the Holocaust be the occupation and inhumane treatment of the Palestinians, people who also have a legitimate claim to be in the land.
As I mentioned above, this is a great book if you want to learn about what’s behind the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. At a minimum, you will get some great insight into this issue that you typically do not find in history books or commentaries about the conflict. Plus, Shavit is a superior writer whose use of language inspires.

Read this book, and you will be moved.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

"How cool is that!" - My two days with Rob Bell


In 1980, when I was twenty-one years old, I had the privilege of spending time at a spiritual retreat with a Catholic priest named Christian Beaulieu. I had never met anyone like him before. This man had a deep, genuine experience of Jesus that made us sense Jesus was present with us. It still stands as the spiritual experience of my life.

Now, thirty-four years later I found myself in a similar situation. I just spent two days with Rob Bell in an intimate life changing experience in which he found fresh ways of helping us commune with Jesus.
 
Some may criticize parts of Bell's theology, but they can never convince me that Rob Bell has not tapped into the essence of Jesus in ways most of us Christians seem to only dream of.
 
He poured his heart and soul into these two days and completely surrendered all he had so that we might find ways of being more aware of our daily experiences with the divine.
 
This was not about us. This was about something bigger.
 
Way bigger!
 
Too much happened in these two days for me to be able to highlight, in any significant detail, all we experienced.
 
In short, after an amazing introductory morning where he reminded us that the centre of authentic spirituality is that God is already with us, he walked us through a history and understanding of human consciousness and the implications of this reality, especially in light of helping others discover Jesus. He also shared some insights in dealing with criticism.
 
If anyone knows about criticism, it’s Rob Bell.
 
Even the most fervent Rob Bell critic will admit that Bell is a master communicator. Very few people can do what he does. So, it was worth the trip to California just to be able to have him share a little bit about his mastery of the art of dynamic and persuasive storytelling, also known as communication— it’s all about the stories.
 
He also helped us explore the soaking up of life by taking us surfing. During a break, we surfed the bodacious waves of the Pacific Ocean.
 
As Rob Bell would say, "How cool is that!"
 
The objective of this post is to get you to read Rob Bell's books and to pay attention to what he has to say about Jesus.

I am convinced that Rob Bell will do things in the near and distant future that will help millions more discover the real Jesus.
 
Not the distorted Jesus that is so prevalent in our culture.
 
We closed the two days with communion, or Eucharist as many call it. Rob served us bread and wine representing the body and blood of Jesus. He helped us see how this almost two thousand year old tradition reminds us that we, like Jesus, are to break ourselves and pour ourselves out in the service and love of others.
 
I invite you to find ways to discover the real Jesus who is waiting for you to notice that he is always with you, that he is on your side. When you do so, you will experience the divine.
 
I happen to think Rob Bell can help us all do that.

Click here to watch a 30 second clip I shot of Rob Bell at the event

Click here to read my recommendation of Rob Bell's book
                  What we talk about when we talk about God

Monday, 30 December 2013

Give Peace a Chance – A $100 Challenge for Natalie Frisk’s PeacebyPiece $30K by 30


John Lennon might have said it best when he sang the words, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
We live in a world where very few leaders or countries seem to want to give peace a chance. The amount of money that is spent on war and the military is an unfortunate manifestation of that reality. It is so easy to sit back and think we cannot make a difference as a group of individuals. It sometimes seems too overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are people who will not let themselves be overwhelmed—they know that a difference can be made. They want to give peace a chance.
Natalie Frisk is one of those people. I was deeply moved by her desire to raise $30,000 by her 30th birthday on June 3, 2014. You can read her blog Peace by Piece to get her take on what she is doing.
She is not willing to just sit back. She believes in the power of individual contributions towards peace. I applaud her desire to do this. Actually, I want to do more than simply admire what she is doing. I want to be part it, and I want you to be part of it.

I am challenging all those who want to give peace a chance. I want to challenge Natalie’s friends, family, fellow Meeting House staff and family, BIC Church family, and all those who want to help make a difference.
I challenge you to donate $100 to this cause or to gather others to help you donate $100.

Go to this special MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) PeacebyPiece website and donate.
MCC does amazing work to help promote and build peace around the world. I am thrilled that Natalie has partnered with them for this.

I encourage you to become an active partner in this campaign. Spread the world. Share her posts about this, share this post, share.
Let’s give peace a chance.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

I loved this book so much I’m going to California to hang out with the author - A recommendation of Rob Bell's "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"


I have to be completely honest. I am not going to California to hang out with Rob Bell for two days just because of this book. Though I highly recommend this book, it is more because of his body of work.

I love his creativity and his approach to helping others learn about the real Jesus and God. I was exposed to Rob Bell’s creativity for the first time in his Nooma videos. You can learn more about those by going to nooma.com or YouTube. These original and creative videos led me to read his first book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith when it came out in 2005. I have been interested in his work ever since.

I could not possibly write a recommendation for any Rob Bell book without mentioning his 2011 international bestseller, controversial, critically acclaimed, and most reviewed Christian book of the past decade: Love Wins:  A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. This book has stirred more controversy among Christians than any other Christian book published this century because of his view that everyone will eventually get to go to heaven. I may not agree with his view of hell but I do love his approach to the subject of love, and more specifically his approach to how love wins. The whole hell thing is a red herring. The book has so much more to offer. The content of the book, among other things, led to Bell being named one of the most influential persons of 2011, not one of the most influential Christians, but persons. And this year, Oprah Winfrey did a special on Rob Bell and his latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

The reason I want to recommend What We Talk About When We Talk About God is that he brings forward a great story, in a fresh way, about how we can experience God, the god who is already here with us. He tackles misconceptions about God and invites us into different ways of seeing God.

I am recommending this book for those who struggle with the whole God thing, with Christianity.

In this book, Rob Bell does what he does best. He tells stories. He tells stories about what is at the root of our conversations about God. He does through stories what others attempt to do through theology and logic. Sure, he uses those too, but it is the way he weaves in story after story that makes his argument so compelling.

For example, when he is trying to help us understand the concept of loving someone more than we previously imagined, he tells the story of an accident his wife was involved in as a young woman before she met Rob. She was in a car that was hit by a drunk driver who crossed over the centre-line. As her father is driving to the hospital after being called by first responders, he must drive by a smashed relic of the car his daughter was in. At that moment, her father cries. Her mother said that it was the first time she had ever seen her husband cry.

Bell writes that if you asked his wife’s father prior to that moment if he loved his daughter he would have said, “Yes.” If you asked him if he could imagine loving his daughter more he would have said, “No, I can’t imagine how.” Then Bell writes, “And yet we can safely assume that in that moment, as he drove by the wreckage of that car with a tear in his eye, his daughter somehow mattered more to him than before.”

If you are interested in learning how God can matter more to you than he does now, especially if he may not matter to you much, or at all, I encourage you to read this book.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

My first book recommendation—this Gregory Boyd book is that good. Don’t doubt it.


In spite of the fact that I have read hundreds of books about Christianity, I have yet to feel compelled to write a book recommendation. This is my first.

It is not that I have not read any good books. I have read many excellent books that have been a great help on my journey, and would likely be of value to others. I have read at least one book by just about every major Christian writer out there, and in many cases, I have read every book written by a given author; N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard to name just two. On occasion, as I did last week after reading Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, I might tweet about a book and recommend it in a tweet, or I might tweet various insights as I read a book. However, I have actually never written a recommendation for one in a blog or anywhere else for that matter.

So why this one? Why this book by Gregory Boyd? Why Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty? I have read just about every one of his other books, and enjoyed them. I absolutely loved his Letters from a Skeptic, but I did not write a review or recommendation—though I did tweet about it a lot.

It is because I consider it to be one of the most important books about knowing Jesus that has ever been written. It is an absolute masterpiece. He gets the job done. Boyd’s approach to the subject of doubt is typical of his approach to all subjects he writes about—he is thorough. When he investigates a subject, he is not afraid to look at it from every angle. He is his own and best critic in so many ways.

We live in a world where so many people, not just millennials, are turning away from Christianity because it seems to be an affront to their intellect, or even more so, those outside of Christianity find nothing appealing about what they view as a narrow-minded group. The approach that too many Christians take in sharing the so-called good news of Jesus makes it look like anything but good news. The certainty by which they put forward their faith seems to leave no room for doubt, and that just will not cut it in this postmodern post Christendom world we now live in.

Too many of us Christians live in this world of false certainty. We tend to be so black and white about too many things that in reality just cannot be known with the type of certainty we claim to have. Boyd addresses this certainty as an idol that needs to be broken. He is very deliberate in laying out his plan in his introduction, and then he goes ahead and delivers on it.

His argument is sound, extremely sound. There are times, not often, but a few times, when he might drill down just a little too far on a given matter. I will chalk it up to his incredible intellect and attention to detail.

He writes in his conclusion, “Doubt isn’t a problem that needs to be overcome; it’s an invitation that needs to be explored. It’s not an enemy of faith, but a friend.”

I do not want to go into details about the contents of this book, because there just isn’t any room in this short blog to do it justice. I simply want to give it the highest recommendation possible and encourage you to read it, especially if you want to gain a better understanding of who God is, and how Jesus is the ultimate reflection of God, especially if you want to better understand the positive role doubt can have in your spiritual journey.

We are in great need of a book like this to release us from the bondage of certainty, and to help us see the real image of Jesus as portrayed on the cross and through the resurrection.

Monday, 16 December 2013

It's time to end fighting in the NHL


I grew up loving hockey. My father did not play hockey. I discovered it for myself on the back yard rinks and ponds of the northeast end of Hamilton when I was about eight years old. I just could not get enough hockey. I would stay out all day playing hockey until it was time to come in for the evening. Once I started playing organized hockey my passion for the game grew with each game I played. During my teens, I played on two or three teams per year just so that I could play more hockey. By the time I was thirteen, I managed to make the top-level local rep team, not so much because of my skill, but rather because of my passion and aggressive physical play.

I understand the physical aspect of hockey. I love the rough play and solid clean hitting. When my teenage son played competitive hockey I enjoyed watching him make a solid open ice hit as much as I enjoyed watching him score on an end-to-end rush. The physical aspect of the game makes my adrenaline rush—there’s no denying it.

It was not until I was twenty years old and playing in a competitive hockey game that I gained my first real insight into the destructive nature of fighting in hockey. To make a long story short I was the tough guy on the team and got into a fight, but for some reason something clicked that made me go nuts. I pummelled my opponent. I threw four or five hard punches directly to his face even after I had clearly won the fight. I knocked him out. I simply lost control. I deservingly was kicked out of the game, and later served a five-game suspension. While I sat in the dressing room on my own, I was stunned at my behaviour. I could not believe what I had just done. I had been in many fights, but never one like that one.

I continued to play hockey after that fight, but I never fought again. I played hard and tough, but never dropped my gloves again, though there were many times where I was tempted.

I mention all of this above simply to provide some background that helped shape my view of fighting in hockey.

It was a recent fight by George Parros of my beloved Montreal Canadiens that triggered this post.

Parros was involved in a staged fight earlier in the season where he fell to the ice and received a concussion because of it. In this recent fight, he got his share of blows in but then took a hook to the head that knocked him to his knees. This led to a concussion diagnosis that put him on the injured list. This fight was also staged. I felt so sorry for Parros. He is a nice guy, but his hockey skills are limited, without his fighting ability he would not be playing in the NHL. It just seemed like such a case of exploitation.

Sure, he is making lots of money for what he does, but really, the NHL should have more concern about the safety of its players and not allow fighting.

NHL hockey is the only professional team sport that allows fighting. The old argument that hockey is a violent game and fighting is just part of the game and is needed as a relief and control mechanism is not a sound argument. NFL football is just as violent, if not more so, and it does not allow fighting.

The recent $765 million lawsuit and settlement by former NFL players for concussions received due to head hits is a good example of the liability involved for professional sports teams, not to mention the recent lawsuit by over 200 former NHL players related to concussions.

It is time that the NHL comes to terms with the long-term impact fighting has on players, not to mention the negative impact it has with the broader marketing of the game. Sure, there is a hardcore group of people, led by the Don Cherry’s of the world, who think fighting should be part of the game, and that it is in fact a deterrent for more inappropriate violence.

However, it is time for the NHL to stand up and lead hockey into a new era, an era where individuals and teams are held accountable for fighting and inappropriate violence—and not accountability through more fighting. If a player and team face financial penalties as well personnel shortage penalties inappropriate violence could be deterred much more efficiently than by having goons slug it out.

Hockey is a fabulous game. It does not need fighting to make it so.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

To Remember is to Work for Peace



This time of the year can be quite challenging for a person who believes in the pursuit of peace through nonviolence. The Lest We Forget and red poppies are everywhere. How does a person who holds a pacifist position hold true to their beliefs while not disrespecting the beliefs of others, and especially not disrespecting the memory of those who gave their lives in war?

Because I hold to a position of nonviolence in conflict resolution does not mean I should not be sensitive to those who do not hold that position. The remembrance of those who died while serving their country in war is an extremely sensitive issue. Many in our society would be highly critical of a person who might not be want to wear a poppy at this time of the year. It is often viewed as disrespectful and ungrateful towards those who died in service to their country.

If we are going to express a countercultural worldview regarding war, it is extremely important to do it in a manner that reflects why we hold that view. I happen to hold the nonviolent approach to peace because of the teachings of Jesus, especially the one where he tells us to love our enemies. I am not saying those who hold a worldview that supports the use of violence are all my enemies. However, I do want to say that the principle behind loving our enemies should encourage us to love all who might think differently than us, to love those whose principles might go against our own—and loving someone includes being sensitive to issues like this.

I can respect the choices soldiers made to go off to war to defend a principle they believed in enough to die for; however, I can do so without believing it is the choice Christians are called to make.

Choosing to wear a button that says To Remember is to Work for Peace is not disrespectful of other people’s beliefs. In fact, the tagline itself suggests that the intentions are indeed to respect the commitments of those who died in war. Sure, if we wear the button because we are looking to get into disrespectful and heated arguments at the wrong time and the wrong place than we are not really living out the principles we claim to hold dear.

However, if we wear the button because we firmly believe what it says and if we are willing to ensure that our conversations about a nonviolent approach to peace are respectful and sensitive then I encourage everyone to wear their buttons. We should not be dissuaded from our desire to be peace witnesses. A culture’s worldview cannot be changed if there are not witnesses to a counterculture within it.
The nonviolent peace position is a minority worldview that is not understood by many. Let us be willing to be peace witnesses in peaceful ways.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Why God transcends Christianity to deliver peace message



During the four days from September 19th to 22nd, a unique experience took place in my home community of Stouffville. The inaugural Stouffville Peace Festival descended among a community whose history rises from the legacy of peace inspiring people.

Internationally renowned genocide expert, Gerry Caplan, expressed it well in his introductory address at the festival’s peace panel when he said,

“The idea of a peace festival is so novel and unusual that you have to shake your head and say, I don’t remember when the last one was. A peace festival is quite something.”  View a great 6 minute video excerpt of The Peace Panel.

It is quite something because it is unique for a community to gather for even such a universally held value like peace. Who does not want peace? Yet, we do not find peace festivals popping up in communities around the world. Here’s hoping that this is the start of a universal trend.

When the festival’s steering committee met to imagine what might be accomplished we were quite clear that we were dreaming big, that we were dreaming much bigger than simply a group of historic peace churches getting together to promote peace among its closed church community.

You cannot put a dent in the violence of the world by thinking small. You have to think big. If you want to imagine peace, you have to think big—God big!
The outcome of our inaugural festival surpassed our expectations. The peace theme resonated well with the Stouffville community. The buzz at the play Commemorate!; the diverse spiritual experience of the labyrinth walk; being part of the Weekend of Music and Peace; the crowd and excitement at the peace plaque unveiling ceremony, highlighted by the release of peace doves; and then finally the wisdom and peace insights brought forward at The Peace Panel by panelists Gerry Caplan and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Izzeldin Abuelaish, as well as the superb panel moderator Dr. Jane Philpott, all played integral parts in establishing the festival as a genuine opportunity to unite in imagining peace.

During the course of the festival on several occasions non-church people commented about how great it was to see how we, as a Christian group, had made this event so open to a diversity of approaches to imagining peace. This of course was highlighted in our peace panel by the fact that one panelist was a Palestinian Muslim, the other a Canadian Jew, and complimented with a Christian moderator. In all cases, those making the comments were surprised. Much too often faith groups think that God only works through their faith group.

The challenge to peace in our world is much too important to God to simply rely on the limitations found within any one faith group. The limitation is not God’s; it is the individual faith groups’ limitations. Yes, God could attain world peace exclusively through Christians, but since we are not passionately responding to what he calls us to through the nonviolent peace teachings of Jesus, he is going to transcend the self-imposed limitations of one faith group. Otherwise, we would surely destroy each other.

Peace