Archive for November, 2012

I dare you to do something little

When many little people in many little places do many little things, then the whole world changes, but sometimes not fast enough for me.  Michael Franti

We can do small things with great love.  Mother Theresa

I have a gift for you, one I hope you’ll gratefully receive.  I want to give you a sleepless night or two. I’d also like to ruin your appetite and rattle your conscience.  But mostly I want to give you the gift of a broken heart for the plight of the AIDS pandemic.

It’s World AIDS Day this Saturday.  I’m glad for the day because AIDS has gone off the radar of concern for most people.  Truth is we should have these every week because, as U2’s Bono notes, the AIDS pandemic is “the moral issue of our times.”Know your HIV

The number of people living with and dying from HIV/AIDS is both staggering and scandalous:

  • At the end of 2010, 34 million people were living with HIV worldwide.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 68% of all people living with HIV – 22.9 million adults and children are living with HIV – but only 12% of the global population.
  • There were 1.8 million AIDS-related deaths worldwide in 2010, 1.2 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • For every person starting antiretroviral treatment in 2010, there were two new HIV infections.
  • Of the 2.7 million new HIV infections worldwide in 2010, 70% of them (1.9 million) were in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In the last 30 years, more than 30 million people have died of AIDS.

You likely skimmed past those statistics too quickly.  They’re almost too big to comprehend but read them again slowly and let their reality wreck your heart for a moment.

This merciless disease causes most of its cruel suffering among the poor and vulnerable, those without access to the needed resources, support, and treatment. AIDS not only snuffs out human life but, as former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell notes, it “tears the fabric of societies and undermines governments. AIDS can destroy countries and destabilize entire regions.” This is not political hyperbole but the mean reality facing an entire continent.

Yet perhaps the most troubling aspect about the AIDS pandemic is how far off our radar it is in North America. It’s an ocean away on a continent few of us understand. U2 frontman Bono predicts: “This generation will be remembered for three things: the Internet, the war on terror, and how we let an entire continent go up in flames while we stood around with watering cans. Or not.”

Or not! Those two words of defiant hope fly in the face of the hopelessness that the AIDS crisis generates. Conquering the disease looks so impossibly daunting. But followers of Christ are part of a conspiracy of hope, called to “proclaim the Lord’s favor,” knowing that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Christ (Matt. 25:40).

MozambiqueCan we get this back on our agenda of concern and back in our hearts?  Can all of us little people start doing little things with great love?  Start by making a little more room in your your heart for the issue, by getting a little more informed, by praying a little prayer a little more often, by realizing and honouring the courageous efforts so many across Africa are doing already to rise up to the challenges of AIDS.

And how about a little partnering and acting in solidarity with those suffering from AIDS?  Across sub-Saharan Africa, communities are rising up with extraordinary acts of courage, ingenuity, determination and strength to meet the challenges of the AIDS pandemic. How about you and I match that courage and ingenuity by inviting our communities (your circle of friends, your church, your school) to a little dare.

I love this idea of the Dare Campaign (check out the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Dare Campaign here).  It’s the challenge to get AIDS back on the agenda, to spark a renewed concern by taking on a dare to raise funds for organizations working hard to turn the tide against AIDS. What sort of courageous, ingenious, determined dares can we dream and do as a little act of solidarity with the many who face the challenge of their lives?  (need some inspiration, check out these 50 ideas).

Many little dares by many little people in many little communities, all with great love – imagine what might happen.

And here’s the brilliant Eva Cassidy to help you get on board.


Keep going

It’s Monday, a devil day for pastors.  After a busy Sunday of putting yourself out there, discouragement can settle in and grumbling growls in your soul.  I call them “Maple Mondays” because they can be moments I rue the day I didn’t follow my dad and brothers into the family company (it’s called Maple-Reinders). If you’re not a pastor, Monday is a good day to pray for yours if you have one.

And just to be clear, today is not one of them for me – I’m ok.  In fact, although weary from a really long day yesterday where I hardly saw my family, today I’m energized to press deeper into the call of pastoring and leading my church.

Yet whenever I limp towards a spirit of resignation or am lured by a heart-curdling bitterness, I’m braced by the words of Dr. William Lane:

Let the excellence of your work be your protest.  Take the energy you’re wasting with complaining and bitterness, and focus it on your craft. If you’re going to protest the state of [things], do so by making your work the best it can be.

And then there’s this encouraging video (below) from Ira Glass, good words directed at storytellers but applicable for anyone pursuing a vision, a hope, a dream – whether you’re a scientist, artist, teacher, actor, entrepreneur, student or pastor.

Perhaps the most vital cultural contribution you can make today is to tell your designer/artist/researcher/carpenter/developer/entrepreneur/pastor friend: “You are not crazy for what you are doing.  Your artistic taste, your vision, your creative sense is killer.  Keep going.”  A simple word of encouragement today could be the necessary catalyst for some of the richest cultural offerings of the future.

<p><a href=”″>Ira Glass on Storytelling</a> from <a href=””>David Shiyang Liu</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Friday photos

I walked home the other night, in the daylight-savings-time early evening darkness, with sidewalks still strewn with leaves.  I felt like a little kid swishing through boot-deep mounds, the lovely sound of all that thrashing and rustling, the lingering pleasure of a lasting autumn.

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My musical memento mori

Eugene Peterson tells of a time he was staying at a monastery and being shown around the grounds when he noticed an open grave.  He asked his host if one of the brothers died recently.  The monk giving him the tour casually responded: “No.  That’s for the next one of us.”  The open grave served as a reminder of their own mortality, a memento mori.

Think that’s macabre?  That’s most of us these days.  We live in the most death denying culture in history (for the implications of this see Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death).  We talk all around the edges of death in hushed, taboo tones, like Voldemort’s name in Harry Potter, “the one who shall not be named.”

Although it seems so contrarian, in truth we live best when we have a clear sense of our own demise – it teaches you to “live the life you’re given.”  Biblically speaking, it’s probably the healthiest thing for someone to linger for a while on your mortality; it scrubs away any frothy spirituality, pointing you to the real life held in our daily living.  So in the face of a culture largely dodging it (but trust me: I’ve done the research on this one and the statistics show a consistent 100% mortality rate), we need helpful friends who can help us live with the reality of our dying.

Poets and artists are good starts, and books like Ecclesiastes are even better.  In the past few years, I’ve found Ecclesiastes-like friends in the music of the Avett Brothers.  I was introduced to their music a few years ago and was hooked immediately (when the first lyrics I heard were “shame, boatloads of shame, day after day, more of the same” and I knew I’d like these guys).  Fabulous live performers who bring it; raw energy; amazing banjo picking; Joe Kwon’s cello regularly thrashing into the mix; music that switches gears in a heartbeat from a soft melody to a frenetic, rave-like romp; a fusion of sadness and soul and joy; and the heft of their lyrics.

But with the release of their latest album, The Carpenter, I figured out something more – these guys are my musical memento mori.  There is an unflinching focus on death that surfaces throughout their music (Die, die, die, Murder in the City … even the cover art for I and Love and You hints at the traditional memento mori image).  And this latest album of theirs has the reality of our statistically-secured mortality layered throughout (Once and Future Carpenter, Live and Die, Through my prayers – this last one so emotionally packed with that yearning to communicate just once more with a lost loved one – “My dream of all dreams and my hope of all hopes, is only to tell you and make sure you know, how much I love you and how much I always did,”), yet woven into tracks so richly beautiful and lovely and infectious you’ll want to smile and dance and cry all the while.  A lot of the tenderness with which they handle it emerges from the real life experience of bassist Bob Crawford whose two year old daughter had brain cancer.  The end result is that their music is like a walk through a cemetery on a gorgeous spring day with a blue-bird sky and dewy green grass, birds singing and flowers blooming – the beauty of all that life helps and heals.

That’s the strange and lovely paradox, the blessed affliction of facing your mortality – it brings a heightened appreciation for life it brings, a clarified vision for embracing life.  That is why the ancient wisdom was to remember your death, why Benedictines will dig a grave for the next one – to live and die well.  Or as the Avett’s sing it: “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”

Here’s a cut from their recent album …

… and one from a recent Jimmy Kimmel show, where they played with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.