Archive for June, 2011

Take this soul and make it sing

I remember the first time I heard about a new Irish band. It was 1985, I was at college in the U.S. and my friend Ann told me I had to check out this band called U2 (previously known as Feedback and The Hype, they formally became U2 during a show in a Presbyterian Church near Dublin – not a bad reason to become Presbyterian!).  I only had to listen once to the album “War” and I was caught – Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day, Two Hearts Beat as One, and 40.  I loved the banging drums, the Edge’s guitar riffs, and the fabulous lyrics that sang truth poetically and beautifully, opening up a bigger world that included God.

I’ve been listening to and loving their music ever since, providing the soundtrack for my past few decades of living.  I’m drawn in by their lyrics so deeply immersed in biblical language, theme and allusion (I am so thankful they had a good pastor in their life who helped them through the spiritual struggle about how this calling might actually fit with their Christian faith), by the music that rouses me to anger, hope and joy, and then quiets me to repentance or prayer.  And I admire how they’ve gone beyond cliché celebrity concern, taking their big stage in life as a gift to be stewarded, sometimes controversially, for the good of others.

But to really experience U2 you have to see them live – as the band often says, “live is where we live.”  And tonight I get to join up with Paul Hewson, David Evans, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton again, now at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, MI.  I can’t wait to hear the first notes of “Where the streets have no name” or “Mysterious Ways” and get caught up in a moment of sweet transcendence that feels pretty close to heaven.

And for those not able to join the choir who will be belting out so many of their great anthems, check out the live performances of “Where the streets have no name” and then their very psalmic “40.”

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Friday photos

It’s camping season, time to stoke up the fire and stare silently into the flames.  A campfire is simply mesmerizing – constantly changing shapes, beautiful colours, that irrepressible pop and crackle, it’s warmth, utility, and dangerous beauty.

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29 ways to be what you are

Despite what you might think or have been told, creativity is the inheritance of all – even you.  It’s part of your constitution, made as you are in the likeness of God.  Fashioned to be like him, it is human nature to make things, and what we make need not be tagged as art to be startlingly creative.  I think of a parent whose lump of clay is their own flesh and blood, honouring the unique raw materials of human spirit and genetic disposition in their child to help sculpt a person of dignity.  Some till a garden bringing life out of desolate dirt; others are brilliantly creative with administration, calling order out of chaos; I know of a strategic thinker who can pluck your great idea from the clouds and help it come alive in real time with a clear and creative plan.

For anyone wanting to jack up your creative juices, here’s 29 ways (for me, the very ordinary # 14, 15, and 16 are pretty important; and, of course, # 8 is a given).

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The thread of civility, part 2

We’re all faced with defining moments, times when our responses to the circumstances of life prophetically outline the shape of who we are becoming.  This past week Vancouver had one of those defining moments – and I don’t mean the riots.  It was the day after the bedlam.

There was an immediate groundswell of disgust and embarrassment to the thuggery of the crowds on Wednesday night.   And then civility showed up in spades the next day as crowds of people, brooms in hand and goodwill in heart, came to clean up the riot aftermath, reclaiming order from chaos, asserting hope in the face of ugliness.

This is the ordinary stuff that makes for an extraordinary city, no matter what city you call home; this is the memory to be etched into people’s civic imagination.  As one of my friends in Vancouver said, “these ordinary citizens are demonstrating a counter cultural way of being a community that cares about each other and the place they call home. A tangible expression of light and grace pushing back the darkness.”

These acts of civil love, of seeking the common good, are so ordinary, happening unnoticed around us all the time with no one taking photos and posting them on Facebook.  Do a quick inventory of the countless acts of service going on in your community that make it a better place.  I think of the guys coaching my son’s soccer team, the community association board planning events to make my neighbourhood a better place, all the volunteers who combed the neighbourhood back alleys a few weeks back on the annual community clean-up, the people putting on the pancake breakfast, volunteers planning all year to put on the Justice Film Festival, people checking in on shut-in neighbours, a family hosting a block party, school volunteers, someone who helps a lost child – I’m just getting going and this is hardly scratching the surface.

This is the beautiful face of a common grace all around us everyday.

The fabric of a city or community gets tightly woven together into a beautiful tapestry through the quotidian and ordinary acts of seeking the shalom of others.  Proverbs 11:10 says “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.”  I hear Vancouver rejoicing today.

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Friday photos

On the way to meet up with a friend for lunch in Banff this past week, I took the long way, meandering through the foothills along the way and spending a little time with a few hay bales.  I love the lines in a hay bale – there’s a spiky flow to it.  I distorted the colour saturation in the first one to highlight the weave.

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The thread of civility

Who knew that a wallflower virtue like civility would be so vital to something like watching hockey? (I didn’t say playing hockey but watching it!)

It was not a huge surprise to me to see another Vancouver post-Stanley Cup riot this week.  I’m sure there are a whole slew of reasons for it but one to add to the list is the long loss of civility.  Richard Mouw, in his wise volume Uncommon Decency (please read this book, it’s that good and important), writes that civility is “public politeness.”  It seems like a fairly innocuous virtue but Vancouver was exhibit A for the need for a fresh schooling in basic civility.

And not simply as preventative medicine for public mayhem but as a means in becoming fully human.  The offence and embarrassment of the post-game events was its distinctly sub-human, animal quality.  It’s offended all the right sensibilities to see a living, breathing human being descend into a functional Philistine. Interesting how the word civility is connected to other words like city and civic.  Aristotle argued that we won’t become fully, truly human until we find the capacity to live as citizens of the city.  In a city, you learn how to live with people different than yourself, to treat people who are not kin as part of a larger human family worthy of your respect, courtesy and honour.

Without basic civility, things fall apart.  At first, it seems small and inconsequential, like neglecting to say thank you.  But that small oversight emerges from an unseen turn of the heart towards entitlement and breeds ingratitude.  It progresses from a common neglect of basic courtesies towards an active offence, say flipping the bird at a senior citizen for a thoughtless traffic mistake.  Little, everyday interactions of public life become repeated irritations and the fabric of healthy community quickly frays.  Incivility now seems the common way – we can’t have basic conversations about important matters (politics, faith, sex, etc.) without exaggeration, vitriol, cruel words, or inaccurately caricaturing views different from yours.  At core is the inability to see the other person as part of the human community and to see yourself as part of the company of broken sinners.

One chapter in Mouw’s Uncommon Decency is called “Is hell uncivil?”  He wonders whether the idea of hell is something that promotes incivility (can a gentle, civil person believe in hell?) but I think the question has another interesting angle – is the nature and reality of hell uncivil?  Wednesday’s West Coast events lead me to think that hell may be eerily reminiscent of the streets of Vancouver last night, teeming with every graceless incivility as the fabric of society unravels in frightening ways.

(you can see “The Thread of Civility, part 2” here)

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That’s Synod with a y

My faith tribe, the Christian Reformed Church, is holding its annual Synod (meaning “assembly” from the Greek word συνοδος) in Grand Rapids, MI as you read this (if you’re a keener, you can watch it here).  It’s mostly a big family meeting where we huddle up to listen, discuss and decide on weighty, and not-so-weighty, issues, get a 35,000 foot view of the church as well as get bogged down in church order process, eat lots of food, sit for too long, meet people from across the globe that speak with a Reformed theological accent, and hopefully come home with a renewed sense of purpose for the church today.  I’ve been three times – it’s often tedious, sometimes funny and mostly an important part of what it means to be a community of faith that spans two nations.

Check out the video below that a few twenty somethings from Austin, TX put together about Synod.

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