Archive for July, 2012

Bullied by “pretty”

I read this punch-in-the-gut story in today’s Globe and Mail of a young girl terribly bullied and driven to plastic surgery that made me want to scream!

I’m not blaming the girl.  She’s beaten down by a society sick with perfection.  I’m furious with this circus of painted-faces and altered bodies, ill with this illusion of what’s beautiful.

It all made me think of a great slam poetry piece (see below for video) from a post I wrote a while ago that seems appropriate again.  So here it is one more time, the blog post and Katie Makkai’s slam poetry wonder.

The mall is not my friend as a dad to two children, not hospitable to raising healthy human beings.  Sure, it provides clean and supervised play areas as well as interesting food courts with carousels but the rest of the place is a damn hazard.  And not because it is the temple of all things consumer – in fact, you don’t have to buy a thing there to pick up something far worse.  A simple stroll through the mall sends enough devastating messages to distort our character and wreck our moral imagination.  I can sift, sort and discern my way through this as an adult, but my kids simply absorb it all.

Maybe I’ve been been able to filter this out before, could be I’m becoming an old fart, or likely it’s because I’m dad to a daughter, but a recent walk through a local mall left me unsettled by the siren images in so many of the store-fronts.  Call me a prudish, Victorian, censorious, stuffy prig but I was shocked by the brazen sexuality on display in that mall (and I feel like I’m not easily shocked).  So many of the female models wear little clothing and the most prominent thing they do sport is a receptive open mouth, a come-hither gaze, or a coquettish pose.  If there is a male-female couple in the image, the female is usually draped over the male, pretzeled into a seductive embrace.  And this is not only the strategy of secretive Victoria but includes shoe vendors – even a children’s clothing store wickedly (I use that word with precision) hawks their goods with images of kids vogueing with faux seductive looks and poses.

I’m a fool to take my kids to the mall for an afternoon.  Strolling through this marketing gauntlet, my daughter is trained in what it means to be a woman in our culture: “Let your appearance be flawless; live up to an impossible standard of physical beauty; don’t bother with your character, intellect, or heart – your greatest asset is your body and it is a sexual tool – flaunt it.  Discretion limits you – the way to find worth is through a flaunting seduction.  Buy that perfect blouse, the right dress and you will be acceptable.”  And my son, already able to pick up most every nuance of any message, is discipled into what our society considers manhood by these images alone: “Women are for your pleasure – viewing pleasure, sexual pleasure.  Don’t engage them as real persons; they are beautiful bodies.  Keep them abstracted in your imagination as creatures of desire.  Dominate them, wear them like clothes that can be discarded when they are tired or out of style.”

Don’t misunderstand my ranting.  The human body is a glorious thing of beauty; sex is a spectacularly great gift of God; we are sexual beings.  But the whole of human is so much more!

I track this out ten years from now: what do I tell my daughter after all these messages have sunk deep into her anxiety-riddled psyche and she tells me how much she hates how she looks?  How do I help my son, bombarded with titillation and innuendo, to see women as far more than “how hot she is”?

Maybe you think it’s just me, a guy struggling with his own repressed sexuality, importing all my “stuff” into innocuous images in a store window; if so, give Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia a read.  Or check out this brilliant, moving video of slam poet Katie Makkai called “Pretty” (and if you find the f-bomb offensive, this video has one use of it – just so you know).


An icon for my existence

This image of my mother and me has become an icon of sorts for the divine love, a lens through which I can better understand something of God.

I’m aware that God has revealed himself most clearly through the image of a father in the pages of scripture (although God does employ some maternal images).  But I’m able to savour a glimpse of God’s heart through the lens of this image of my several month old self, held, nuzzled and loved by my mother.  I’m able to see the steady gaze of the Lord’s grace through it.

On birthdays (and it was mine today) we remember the when of a life; but far better to know the why of your life.

Why me?

Well, look at the picture – I am the beloved.


Friday photos

Roaming down the beach at a leisurely pace is our after-dinner ritual during holidays at the cottage, romping, splashing, staring and strolling until the sun sets on the day. The clouds have been particularly amazing to me this year.

These cirrocumulus clouds were like a cotton-patch in the sky.  Or a come-to-life French Impressionist painting.

But while beautiful, they brought no rain.  These empty clouds remind me of drought-parched lands, dying crops and desperate farmers across North America, but especially in the U.S.

Pray for beautiful clouds heavy with rain.


Saying our prayers – on TV

I was recently invited by Mel and Susan Finlay to do two interviews on the Christian TV program 100 Huntley St.  Mel and Susan are really fine people and lead in a superb ministry of prayer for Canadian leaders – you can read more about it here.  Instead of heckling or whining about our leaders, they want to simply follow the biblical injunction to pray for those in authority over us and are calling followers of Jesus to do that in non-partisan ways.  No fussing about specific issues or wrangling over party lines, just loving our leaders because that’s the Jesus way.  I love their conciliatory spirit and approach.

They’ve also taken a shine to my book Seeking God’s Face and recently interviewed me alongside an assortment of other Canadian leaders (I feel really humbled to be in that sort of company).  Below are two links to the interviews I did with them, if you want to check them out.

They were fun interviews to do – very grateful for the opportunity and the new friendship with them.


On Folk Festivals

I love folk music; ergo I love folk music festivals.  Nothing sings summer like lounging on a lawn and taking in fabulous music.  For years, the Calgary Folk Music Festival was my late July summer staple.  It’s a unique musical event that wonderfully stretches the term “folk” (where do you get to hear Yiddish hip-hop, Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans, Michael Franti, The Avett Brothers, Bruce Cockburn and the Decemberists together).  Four days and nights of great music, people watching, and just plain fun – which is why I’m going to miss it so much.

But here’s my great consolation – I’m part of a church that puts on a Folk Festival!  How fabulous is that?  As part of the Harbord Street Festival in Toronto, Knox Presbyterian hosts the Fast Folk Festival (fast, as in, brief, of short duration, or “wow, that went by way too fast”).  And I can’t wait to get my inner folkie on and hang out for the afternoon.

If you’re in Toronto, it’s happening next Saturday, July 21, starting at 4:00 p.m.  I caught an early preview of one of the bands headlining our Fast Folk Festival, The Most Loyals (check out their website and some photos).  Loved their music and so glad Sarah and Andrew are part of the Knox community.

And for everyone in Calgary, keep an eye out for The Most Loyals because you’ll be enjoying this group on stage at the Calgary Folk Festival one day real soon.

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Friday photos

Lilias Trotter writes a beautiful line about the dandelion gone to seed.  That fragile, little geodesic-like dome of seeds is a lovely image of the life we’re called to live, to give away for the sake of others.

She writes:

the dandelion globe … is marked by detachment.  There is no sense of wrenching; it stands ready, holding up its little life, not knowing when or where or how the wind that bloweth where it listeth may carry it away.  It holds itself no longer for its own keeping, only as something to be given; a breath does the rest, turning the “readiness to will” into the “performance” (2 Cor. 8:11).


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Summer soundtrack

It’s smokin’ hot out there.  Summertime and I am loving it.  Time to lose the shoes, roll down the windows, feel the wind in your face (or through your hair if you’ve got it), and cue the summer tunes.

Trouble is, I’m stuck inside writing a paper to wrap up a doctoral course.  (Yes, I’m dodging the deadline in front of me right now – apologies to Dr. Jimmy Dunn but the paper will come in on time).  I needed a little musical reminder of summer while I’m cloistered away in libraries and studies during my spare summer moments.  So here are a few of the songs that will populate some of my summer playlist.

Why these?  Summer music shouldn’t be complicated or overly intense; just simple and with a lilt of joy.  For me, there’s a bunch of different criterion for good summer soundtrack music.  Does it get me moving or swaying, tapping my feet or pumping my hands in the air?  Can I doze asleep to it on a lazy summer day or lounge with it on a hot summers night?  Does it sound fun?  How will it play with the windows down and roof open barrelling down the road?  How does it mix with the sound of waves or loons or a crackling fire in the background?  Does it make me smile?  If it can meet any one of those criterion, it’ll find its way on my playlist.

In no order, here’s a few of my favourites

  • King of the road – the Proclaimers (sung with a thick Scottish brogue, this is the perfect road tune.  Get your kilt on, open up the sunroof and enjoy the ride)
  • Sink or Swim – the Waifs (a little piece from this Aussie band has finger snapping and great harmonica. Besides, I’m thinking summer Folk Fest here.  No better summer memories than the many years of the Calgary Folk Music Festival on Prince’s Island Park.  Get the full four day pass and lounge on a blanket for fabulous days of music, sunshine and great people watching)
  • The heart of Saturday night – Shawn Colvin (Shawn Colvin singing Tom Waits – too good.  It’s a pitch-perfect evocation of summer evening cruising in the car, no matter where your main drag is)
  • Ants Marching – Dave Matthews (I love how this song gets my body moving – strong drums, great violin rhythms, soaring sax.  This song is what summer does – an invitation to stop the rushing around and break out of your routine)
  • Soak up the sun – Sheryl Crowe (to me, this beats The Beach Boys for a sense of California beach music)
  • Love Shack – The B-52’s (this was my daughter Lily’s immediate pick when I asked about songs for a summer soundtrack.  And don’t the B-52’s scream dance party?)
  • These are the days – 10,000 maniacs (because Natalie Merchant is magic and a good reminder to simply be present to all that is today)
  • Pump it up – Elvis Costello (this is musical Red Bull)
  • Say hey (I love you) – Michael Franti and Spearhead (Ok, go ahead and add Franti’s “Sound of Sunshine” but I think this is the better summer tune.  He had everyone up on our feet dancing the night away when we saw him a few years ago)
  • Ten Thousand Words – The Avett Brothers (play this on a warm night on the back deck or front porch, and you could almost imagine Seth and Scott with you, picking their guitars and you picking up the harmonies.  Cannot wait to see them later this September)
  • Mysterious Ways – U2 (a superb guitar hook, conga rhythms, this is U2 at its funkiest)
  • It’s the end of the world – Great Big Sea (these Newfies throw one big kitchen party wherever they go and just keeping up with this song is half the fun)
  • Have a little fun with me – Glen Phillips (captures the playful heart of summer.  Go ahead and grow a little younger this summer)
  • Dancing in the street – Martha Reeves (classic)
  • Boogie Shoes – KC and the Sunshine band (in our house, this song means instant “dance party.”  We put down whatever we’re doing and put on our boogie shoes)
  • The ghost of rockschool – Belle and Sebastian (love this song and this band.  That’s all)
  • Police on my back – The Clash (just a little reminder to keep it safe people)
  • Winter Song – The Head and the Heart (you know its coming, sooner or later, so stop complaining about the heat already!  And what’s not to love about The Head and the Heart)

So what’s on your summer playlist?