Archive for category Interesting stuff

The crime of living cautiously

Ours is an age of anxiety; we idolize security, seeking to live ruling out risk or failure.  Exhibit # 1,043: helicopter parents hovering protectively over their children’s bubble-wrapped lives.

Doesn’t that seem a bad way to live?  Jesus seemed to think so.  I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ parable of the talents, the master says to the cautious, one-talent servant “It’s a crime to live cautiously like that.”  In the end, the Master did away with this servant: “get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb.” 

Why?  Because risk seems to be an important part of God’s economy of love; because you can’t love without risking; because love is the power that cannot co-exist with anxious fear – it drives it out.  In God’s Kingdom, there’s a shocking freedom to risk because there’s nothing that can put you beyond the reach of God’s scandalously beautiful grace.  I’m so easily seduced into thinking this is a dangerous world.  There’s a weight of evidence that leads to question there is a good God at the helm.  But Jesus keeps telling me the Father is good and keeps calling me to follow, to risk, just like God.

Because God is love, God risks.  Didn’t God take an awful risk when he created us in the liberty of love, free to love and follow him or free to flip him off and reject him?  Crazy risk; crazy love; crazy, beautiful God.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asks a question I need to pose every day to myself: “If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?”

Think about that … and then watch the Flight of the Frenchies below.  You won’t catch me walking a slack-line over a mountain gorge but the Frenchies remind me of the freedom that comes from living with a powerful awareness that I am held in the hands of a very good God.

<p><a href=”″>I Believe I Can Fly (Flight of the Frenchies) – Trailer</a> from <a href=””>sebastien montaz-rosset</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Saints? for sure (part 2)

A few weeks ago Pope Frances canonized two pontifical predecessors, Paul XXIII and John-Paul II.  In my last post on Saints, I looked at the fairly chronic aversion to saints and yet explored the warm biblical use of the term and concept of saints.  Ok, so what now?  How then might saints function in the Christian life?  How can we recover the promise of saints without abusing or discarding them?3eb15771c96932ab491a1f54acb16b9c

The most basic response is to recognize who we are.  Here’s the truth: you and I, we are saints – St. Jeremy and St. Jane, St. Theresa and St. Todd.  More often than not, that’s hard to believe about the cranky senior, the mother who makes her children the target of her temperamental anger, the middle-aged man who creates discomfort among young women with his breast-high gaze or the sullen teenager.  Yet by naming you and me as saints, the Bible provides a lens through which we can being to see one another more clearly.  Recovering the status of saints trains us to see in others more of God than of the sin that smudges our lives and trips us up.

But what about the larger company of saints: all those Christians who have gone before?  Is there a place and a role for them in the Christian life?  Indeed, saints can function in a way that is analogous to good theology.  We value and appreciate the health demonstrated in clear, sharp thinking about God, which, in turn, helps us to respond in love to God.  Sharp theological understanding is vital to the life of faith.

77-3-1Equally indispensable are the courageous examples of gospel lives that the saints provide.  As one character notes in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, “What is Christ’s word without an example?”  North America has a cultural pantheon of celebrities and politicians who give polished performances in how to live badly (remember now, I live in the city of Toronto).  In this “bad as you want to be world” of Charlie Sheens and Rob Fords, we could use a few saints to show us how to be as holy, gracious, and human as Christ calls us to be.

Saints, then, are witnesses to the truth.  They call our attention to the gospel in the ordinary conditions of human living.  They are, as author Kathleen Norris notes, “Christian theology torn from the page and brought to life.” (The Cloister Walk).  They offer fresh demonstrations of the holiness and grace of God in the everyday moments of our lives.

Very often, however, the life of a saint is rather unsettling, which may explain some of our wariness about them.  Saints of the past have been misunderstood because, to be honest, they are a rather curious crowd (think, for example, of the pillar of peculiarity, Simeon of Stylites, who sat perched on a pole for 30-odd years).

Saints are very much like the characters in the stories of Flannery O’Connor, who suggested that for people to hear the truth, she had to create exaggerated characters.  Similarly, G.K. Chesterton once noted that “a Saint is one who exaggerates what the world neglects.”  Take Therese of Liseaux, for example.  In our success-oriented age of “bigger is better,” Therese’s obscure and apparently insignificant life teaches us of the beauty in simplicity and smallness.  Or what about Francis of Assisi, who demonstrates a life of abundance not in material wealth but in the sheer goodness and bounty of creation?  Saints from ages past provide a needed jolt to our culturally blunted awareness of holiness and grace.  They offer a sharp prick of Kingdom reality to our understanding of the gospel.

We need the saints.  They are gifts from God to the church, teaching us how a holy life works, showing us the exuberance of aSaint_Bridget gospel life.  The wonderful biblical truth is that God has placed us in a long and large historical community of believers, the “communion of the saints.”  It is a bloodline of sorts, a family tree filled with a fantastic collection of wild and wooly characters, all animated by grace.

So while the Roman Catholic Church officially declares of John and John Paul II to be what the gospel proclaimed they already were in this life – saints – why not locate a few saints whose lives freshly demonstrate the gospel in beautiful ways.  Take a moment to inventory some of those people whose lives are the gospel brought to life – who is on your list of saints?  Thank God for their lives and let them challenge you to more grace-filled living.

But better yet, go to your church, reminding yourself of what the gospel declares of these people and yourself, and enjoy the company of the saints right around you.

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My first (grade) gallery exhibition

Getting ready for our move to a much smaller home in Toronto, our family is purging a whole mess of excess baggage we’ve been carting around for too long.  Some of its easy to unload (really, did I need those forgettable grad caps and tassels?) but other treasures are hard to part with.  For instance, there’s been a stash of memorabilia my faithful mother had kept all these years and passed on to me – report cards, school projects and art work dating back all the way to kindergarten.

What to do with all this stuff so carefully kept for me?  We just don’t have the space for kindergarten archives (I’m becoming ruthlessly unsentimental about our stuff).  Well, thank you, digital camera and the idea of a mini-archive right here and now.

So graze your way through the hors d’oevres table, enjoy a glass of wine and welcome to the first exhibition of my early work.  It’s being described as “ironically playful, primitive yet with clean simplicity in composition, a fusion of impressionism ethos and cubist sensibilities, an exhibition that visually and conceptually engages the didactic discourse at the heart of play.”

Or maybe stash of stuff a thoughtful and proud mom keeps around for her kid to have a sense of himself.



The discipline of verse

After church on Sunday, I caught a bit of Michael Enright’s The Sunday Edition on CBC.  It was an encore presentation that included an extended piece on the resurgence of interest and acclaim in Emily Dickinson’s poetry (you can listen to it here).  Apparently, Emily Dickinson is having “a cultural moment.”  I listened with curiosity because earlier in the week I had picked up a volume of her poems we have at home and spent time with a few verses.  Apparently, I’m in touch with the zeitgeist of this cultural moment.

Poetry is one of those genres of literature I’m late in my love.  I pretty much had accepted the notion that poetry needed labourious analysis, was too highbrow or I just didn’t “get it.”  Yet I failed to realize how much poetry was already part of my life, in the daily reading of the Psalms and my love for music (essentially poetry set to music).  Now I’m finding regular reading of poetry keeps sharp an appropriate reverence for words and their power (watch a slam poet in action and you’ll feel the power of words).  In our world saturated with words that are spun or full of bluster, mangled and manipulated, savouring poetry is a healthy, not to mention enjoyable, discipline.

Eugene Peterson writes that “the first thing a poem does is to slow us down.  We cannot speed-read a poem.  A poem requires rereading.  Unlike prose, which fills the page with print, poems leave a lot of white space, which is to say that silence takes its place alongside sounds as significant, essential to the apprehension of these words.  We cannot be in a hurry reading a poem.  We notice connections, get a feel for rhythms, hear resonances.  All this takes time.  When we are reading prose we are often in control, but in a poem we feel like we are out of control.  Something is going on that we cannot pin down right away and so often we get impatient and go read Ann Landers instead … in poetry we take a different stance.  We are prepared to be puzzled, to go back, to wait, to ponder, to listen.  This attending, this waiting, this reverential posture, is at the core of the life of faith, the life of prayer, the life of worship, the life of witness.” (Take and Read, p. 55-56).

Back to Emily Dickinson, a prolific poet who had only four poems published during her life yet wrote 1,789.  Here’s a wise and lovely one I enjoyed last week.

Who has not found the heaven below

Will fail of it above.

God’s residence is next to mine,

His furniture is love.   (Life, XVII)

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On birthdays

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was born on this day.  OK, not so long ago and not so far away – Sunday July 21 at 8:15 am. at the Humber Memorial Hospital in Toronto.  A birth like most others, welcomed into this world with a frantic race through traffic to the hospital, a whole lot of blood flowing, more than a few screams, tears all around and some of them for joy.  Which sounds like what happens in much of life.

But why celebrate a birthday?  I think there’s many good reasons.  We’re space and time creatures and birthdays are milestones of the beginning of our story, markers along the journey that help us take stock of the story-arc of our lives, naming where we are and what we are becoming.  And they are healthy reminders that the story of our lives is brief; there is an ending to me and you.

I think birthdays are joy tutors.  I find most of us to be fairly joy-challenged people and a birthday teaches us the serious business of celebration.  I’m convinced you can’t get enough parties, cake, presents, candles, and singing in life.  If, as C.S. Lewis notes, “joy is the serious business of heaven,” then we better learn some of the rhythms of that way of being here and now.

And then they are ways of paying attention to the uniqueness of each life before us.  Each person you meet is nothing less than a one-of-a-kind handiwork of the Creator.  Think of the improbably unique wonder of each human life.  Imagine the millions of different genetic permutations and combinations you might have been, and yet it is you, me, who are here, the ones God elected to fashion into existence.  It seems obvious that such a unique creation is, at the very least, worth one day’s notice and attention.  Dare we believe that we are people worth a proper fête?

I like what Henri Nouwen has to say about birthdays: “Celebrating a birthday reminds us of the goodness of life, and in this spirit we really need to celebrate people’s birthdays every day, by showing gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and affection. These are ways of saying: ‘It’s good that you are alive; it’s good that you are walking with me on earth. Let’s be glad and rejoice. This is the day that God has made for us to be and to be together.’ “ (Here and Now: Living in the Spirit)

Mostly, birthdays are good reminders of the faithful love of God.  Their an annual card to me that I didn’t need to be, that this year was a gift, that I am here today by grace alone.


You should want to be a Canadian!

Happy Canada Day there eh!  A great day to celebrate a really good nation.  So fine a country is Canada that if you’re not a citizen of the Great White North or never lived here, you should want to be Canadian.  Let me give you just a few things to love about Canada:

  1. Maple syrup – seriously, where would your pancakes and waffles be without a good splash of Canadian maple syrup?
  2. Hockey – yes, Boston may now have the Cup but its Canada’s game (we do have the gold medal!)
  3. RCMP – come on, red serge screams Canada.
  4. Comedy – can you say Rick Mercer, Dan Ackroyd, John Candy, Second City, Jim Carrey, Loren Michaels, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Mary Walsh, Russell Peters.  Need I continue?  Canadians know how to not take themselves too seriously.
  5. Universal healthcare – yes, I’m waiting over seven months for an MRI on my knees but I love it that healthcare is accessible to all Canadians.  Thank you Tommy Douglas.
  6. Music – homegrown Canucks regularly produce stunningly fabulous music, much of it receiving little acclaim while some is properly celebrated.  The list is far too long but here’s a few – Ron Sexsmith, Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen, Glen Gould, Bruce Cockburn, The Weakerthans, Oscar Peterson, Natalie McMaster, Steve Bell, The Wailin’ Jennys, The New Pornographers, Great Lake Swimmers …
  7. Neil Young – a category on his own.
  8. The CBC – I know some like to loathe the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but here is a pioneer and leader in very fine public broadcasting.  Think of Mr. Dress-up, the Friendly Giant, Q, Hockey Night in Canada, The Vinyl Cafe, Ideas, Concerts on Demand (check out this one from Ron Sexsmith), Definitely not the Opera – where else do you get such incredible content?  And I can’t tell you how much my life is better because of the morning show with Bob Mackowycz and the drive home with Rich Terfry, such a brilliant change from the inane top 40 drivel on the rest of the radio.
  9. Poutine
  10. The Group of Seven
  11. Yousuf Karsh – perhaps the finest portrait photographer.
  12. The canoe – whether practicing your j-stroke or learning to simply not tip over, the canoe experience is an essential part of the Canadian experience.
  13. Geography – the sometimes harsh but beautiful Canadian landscape is woven into the fibre of the nation’s soul.
  14. Winter – what is Canada without a good winter to complain about – the weeks of minus forty, blizzards and ice storms, snow that stays too long, frost that comes to early, it all makes you hardy.  And nothing better than coming into a warm home from a frigid day of winter.
  15. A treasure of letters – Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Pierre Berton, Margaret Laurence, W.O. Mitchell, Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler, Michael Ondaatje …
  16. Diversity – the great Canadian experiment in multi-culturalism, awkward and uncomfortable as it might be at times, is a beautiful idea that holds great hope for a fractured world.

If you’re not Canadian, you should really want to be one.  And to hype you up and make you want to be Canadian even more, enjoy one of the great pieces of Canadian rhetoric from Joe Canadian and his “I am Canadian” rant.

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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).