09 May 2012

what you see is not always what you get

i think magic is pretty cool.

of all the magicians who are in the public eye these days, i really dig david blaine. maybe because he seems so ... unremarkable. what you see is what you get. my life is an open book.
and there, in the middle of the street or the restaurant or your front porch, he'll pull off the amazing.

he wrote a book once called Mysterious Stranger: A Book of Magic. besides being autobiographical and a backstage pass to some great performances in the magic industry, it happened to be something else too.
a cryptic treasure hunt.

i wonder if sometimes our lives aren't like that too. now some of us are naturally shy, private, introverted (yours truly, for example). we are tough to get to know - at least thoroughly speaking. so it would make sense that we don't disclose our darkest secrets, our sins, our fears and failures and latent hopes and dreams indiscriminantly.
but some of us are wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve kind of people. i'll tell you as much about myself as you can handle. the open book.
still, there are secrets.

you're a human being, and you're complex. you'll manage your image so that it appears to different people the way that best serves your purposes or the needs of the context. and those needs might include self-preservation, affection, attention, domination, distance, congeniality.
but at the core of the human condition there is a need to be understood, appreciated, loved, accepted - even forgiven. God has designed us that way, and almost all of us can recognize that as natural. in fact, when someone demonstrates no need for or an aversion to being understood, appreciated, loved, accepted and forgiven, we usually consider that person a sociopath ... or worse, a psychopath.
so who are you letting into your life? who are you giving a fair shot at deciphering the code of your life? who are you actually doing the deciphering for? to have at least one person with whom you can be relationally naked with helps you anchor yourself in the universe. i think that one of the key searches in our lifetimes is to find - or maybe better put, develop - that relationship that allows you to be unabashedly real.

when you can connect with that person, now that's magic.

26 April 2012

Jesus came back ... and so did i

on easter sunday we celebrated the resurrection event. the fulfillment of prophecies, promises, hopes and impossible wishes ... jesus demonstrating once and for all that death by no means has the final word. God does. and He keeps coming back to us, time and again. 

for which i'm immensely grateful. 

 many of you will know that my observance of the lenten season this year included giving up something. not coffee (would have been no sacrifice at all), not chocolate (moderate sacrifice), not facebook (humungous sacrifice). 

instead i decided to part ways with God for a time. 

this turned out to be a confusing, amusing, distressing, and intriguing decision - at least to many of you. so i thought that i would take a few sentences to unpack some of my post-lenten reflections here. 

to learn or not to learn ... 

1. you can't just trade in your paradigms for twenty cents 
it was harder than i thought to 'give up God'. after centering my life on Jesus for the last 23 years, even choosing to stop praying and shelving the bible didn't constitute a complete walkaway. fundamentally i still believed, and my ethics, habits, and relationships still evidenced the cumulative effects of faith. if it's that hard to try to engage the world of the atheist, imagine how difficult it must be to authentically appreciate the world from a 
point of view. 

2. don't make me go all R.E.M. on you 
i had to expect that this would be an edgy experiment, for me and for others. at the same time i'd hoped that through conversation and a declaration of intentions that those who were curious about this project would appreciate it. 

in fact few took it seriously. i think that i became a bit of a sideshow to many people. 

a disappointment, yes. maybe mostly because i'd hoped that others might consider engaging atheism for lent with me the next time that i do it, and that a group experience of it might prove even richer. 

3. old dog, old tricks 
the third commandment out of the famous ten says 'you shall not take the Lord's name in vain'. 

in vain. that means in an empty, meaningless way, right? 

because God's name is His identity, His power

i realized after a few days of fasting from God that i was taking His name in vain all over the place. not because i was swearing, but because i was so in the automatic habit of saying grace, of reading the bible with my raisin bran in the morning, of turning on christian music in the car. 

it was rote, routine, mindless, empty. in vain. 

i thought that i was being disciplined, training myself in the good ways of christian spirituality.

after 30 some odd days of avoiding the empty rituals, now i want to do these things again. really want to. 

4. comfortably numb 
if there's any advantage to be spoken of when becoming a functional atheist, it's the absence of psychological distress. 

when you hold yourself to a higher (external) standard, you know what happens? you often fail. and when you condemn or indict yourself for those errors you fall under the microscope of hypocrisy. 

not fun. 

but hey, if there's no God in your life, you're not worried about this stuff! second looks at short skirts, venomous words let loose, unnecessary and indulgent trips to the chocolate cupboard - all stress free. funny how you can sail through life when you don't believe that you need to know any better. 

5. you don't deserve nuthin' (or "a double negative for all the right reasons") 

the scary part about taking a sabbath away from God is wondering whether or not He'll hold that against you. but at least i have this going for me: finishing this lenten experiment, i come to God with no expectation of being re-embraced to the fold. no sense of entitlement. 

but it was there before. 

theological student. pastor. church planter. husband of but one wife. daily reader of the scriptures. counted on as a reliable counselor. 

an impressive resume for acceptance. at least to me. now its


at least now i'm being honest with myself - and before God.

6. running on empty 
as someone who goes out running on the roads in and around barrie, i do not run with any kind of music/mp3 device. some of my training runs eclipse three hours in duration ... a long time to just be humming "down by the bay". 

i've often elected to use that time to commune with my body, with nature and with God. an interesting thing happened during lent - the runs became very lonely. almost eerily so. not because i stopped hearing God's voice - but because i was keenly aware of the sheer silence in my spirit. 

i'm hoping to get my running buddy back soon.

04 April 2012

do, or not do ... there is no 'try'

if you're at all like me, you love stories of people who don't understand - or maybe better put, aren't restricted by - the meaning of the word "can't".

so many of us mourn the fact that throughout our lives we're told what we can't do - often because of our context, maybe our age, gender, race, social class, IQ, physical specifications (sidebar:  in the working world, we call this discrimination).  there are no shortage of voices which (intentionally or unintentionally) diminish our capacity to reach amazing milestones in our lives.  and when we choose to listen to them and believe them, we rewrite the scripts of our days and make them lesser stories.

and in part this is what makes following Jesus so refreshing and enriching - He not only believes that we could be achieving the impossible in our lifetimes, He challenges us to do it. 

whoa nelly.  the impossible? 

well come on now.  if Jesus only challenged you to reduce your dietary sodium intake by 15%, you wouldn't be at all persuaded that He was God now, would you?

Jesus often said things that not only pushed His disciples outside of their comfort zones, but that would actually call them to revolutionize the very paradigm of theworld on to which they held so tight.  He would go so far as to say that those who chose to follow Him would accomplish even more mind-blowing things than He did.  now i don't suppose that He meant that we'd be able to be faster than a locomotive and leap tall buildings in a single bound.  or maybe He did.  but ultimately His message was that those who would follow after Him - become His disciples - would take seriously their connection to the God of the impossible.  with that as our starting point, we could attempt to live the kind of difference-making, world-impacting, legacy-leaving lives that would otherwise be foolishness and utter nonsense.

so I ask you:

what is your impossible?

what do you have it your heart to pursue that seems so out of range, so beyond your capacity, but so woven into your DNA that it won't let you go?

why don't you have any faith to go after it?   

addendum:  you may not get there.  not everybody in the bible did.  but who they became along the way, walking in step with the God of the impossible - well, that just wouldn't have happened otherwise. 


08 March 2012

austin 3:16

this week's confession: i have been a longtime fan of professional wrestling.

i remember watching "maple leaf wrestling" with my dad while growing up. bruno sammartino, tiger ali singh, abdullah the butcher ... and then came the WWF. hulk hogan, tito santana, sgt. slaughter. kids adored having heroes, and pro wrestling delivered some memorable ones. today the faces have changed, but the game remains the same. now there's the undertaker, samoa joe, john cena ... oh and don't forget all of the ladies too. it's a fantastic world of make believe, good vs. evil, mixed with a healthy dose of sexploitation.

one of the icons in recent sports entertainment history is "stone cold" steve austin. a rebel without a cause, he was a genius at self-marketing and ran up a slew of pithy mantras, the best known of which may have been "because stone cold says so". and because stone cold said so, millions of people bought into his hype.

it's funny when we see it in the world of tv fantasy and mass merchandising. not so funny when it comes to spiritual exploration and growth. and yet sometimes that's what happens. people all over will choose to listen without critiquing, follow without questioning, believe without discussing - all because somebody 'said so'. it can be as a result of authoritarian leadership, or failure to exercise the effort to scrutinize. sometimes it's also couched in the language of "blind faith" ... but in then end it is what somebody termed a religion of rumour. and we become susceptible to living by

static logic

those who followed after God in the scriptures lived the tribal way. their world was an interconnected and interdependent one - and they didn't mourn that fact, they embraced it. how they lived out their faith was very much a part of that tribal mentality. an existential wrestling match involving

dynamic discourse
the pursuit of the truth
as it can be best understood in any particular moment/context.

it may be my own personal history - coming to faith in Jesus Christ while in my second year of a philosophy degree at university - but i think that an unexamined and unchallenged faith is both weak and dangerous. when you are able to ask questions in community like "what did Jesus really mean when he said ...?" and wrestle through "how can you consistently hold both of these Biblical teachings together?", then you are honestly engaging the discipleship process.

at least how it was back in the day.


29 February 2012

the eye of the beholder

this past sunday we spent a good bit of time discussing photographs with our guest interviewee, scott hurst. from his life-enriching trip to moscow as a performer in 2002, to his photojounalling of the moments that he believes captures more than just an image, we began to see the world through his lens.

there's something about scott's vision which is captivating, especially the future of barrie which involves a closed-off walking market at the five points area, replete with art galleries, boutique shopping, theatres and restaurants - accessible to and designed for everyone.

not just the haves or the initiated - everyone.

because everyone should have access to that which is good, noble and beautiful.

i think that the Scriptures tell us that somewhere too.

and then (thanks to my prodding) scott began to explain something of his ontological perspective, or his view of how the world is. partly buddhist and greatly informed by his engagement with reiki, scott spoke about universal energies and mantras for life. i wonder how many of us were tempted to tune out at that point, because it was unabashedly 'not christian'.

does the fact that someone holds to a different worldview invalidate their take on what is good, noble and beautiful? if someone thinks that there is no God, or is unaware of how to access Him, does that mean that somehow their entire perception of reality is wrong?

i've long been a believer that all truth is God's truth. and that means that all sorts of people with all sorts of practices, lifestyles and beliefs can wind up grasping exactly what God intended us to grasp.

that's been a big part of this Word On The Street series - entering into serious dialogue with people who are shaping the future of our community, even if they don't conform to our expectations of whom we think God would choose to use to bring about that future. and maybe He does that because those of us who profess to follow Jesus have abdicated our privilege and responsibility to be kingdom bringers.

i hope that at least some of you will join me in celebrating and learning from those who are being diligent in the pursuit of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.


and now for something completely different ...

a few of you have asked me [ patrick ] in particular about my choice to 'give up God for lent'. i guess that it would be less noteworthy if i had decided to give up chocolate chip cookies or my running routine. but i expected that some of you might wonder.

the idea came from the thinker/lecturer/writer peter rollins, who introduced something into his own faith community called "atheism for lent". as an experiment, it was designed so that people would take the 40 days of lent and explore life from the perspective of atheist philosophers, and discuss the implications with one another.

why, you ask?

consider that the penultimate experience of the Easter weekend is Jesus crying out in anguish over the absence of God. for HIm, in that moment, there was no God.

many christians plough through good friday into easter sunday like a stampede of starving patrons at an all-you-can eat steakhouse. we don't want to linger at the pain of the cross. we think nothing of the abandonment of Christ. we just want to sing our victory songs because who wants to walk away depressed from church?

i choose to follow Jesus.

and maybe that means coming to place where God is nowhere to be found. for someone who's tried to daily spend time in and with God for the last 23 years, that's challenging. and so to follow Jesus to that place is going to take work. maybe 40 days of work.

i confess that i've already dropped the ball at various points this lenten season - i pray by mistake, wind up reading the bible because i have to prepare for a message. i just hope that it doesn't set me back too much.

some of you will wonder how a person choosing to embrace atheism can help navigate a missional community of faith like M. and then maybe others of you will think that perhaps only someone who is willing to go to those places with Jesus is in any position to lead a missional community of faith like M.

for me, the jury's still out. let me tell you what i find out when i finally get to resurrection sunday.


22 February 2012

from M's weekly newsletter, "The Conversationalist"

i've decided that i'm going to post the weekly blasts that we put out for our M community so that i have some semblance of a regular blog. enjoy!


living a life that demands an explanation

last night i had the incredible privilege of meeting with the five other trailblazers that form the M core team. we gathered amidst the clamour of a downtown barrie cafe on a weeknight, and planned, purposed, questioned, reflected and recommitted. it was truly inspiring.

one of the questions that arose at the table is 'what are we about, anyway?'

[ this has now become a staple of all M leadership discussions ]

the reality is that we [ M ] are continuously trying to discover and define our reason for being. we've spent time discussing our five M core values, we're considering what place a mission statement might have and what it could look like - all the while wondering if there's some concise form into which we can distill our perceived mandate.

and that brings me around to our conversation this past sunday with shane dennis.

shane's life seems to mirror his music. rapidly paced, eclectic, rhythmic, profound and engaging. from being an environmental activist, to a hip-hop performer who is concerned about communicating positive values through his art form, to branding an ethically-made clothing line and facilitating locally-grown produce, shane seems to exempify a life that is extended in all directions.

my wife and i wondered aloud the next day, "what's the thread that holds all of these things together for him?"

in other words, what is he about anyway? what's his mission statement?

shane spoke about being a humanitarian, and numbering gandhi and martin luther king jr. among his heroes. but we wanted to probe for more - what ultimately drives him to live this kind of life?

i wonder if the reason that i look for an answer to that question is because i want to be able to bottle him up, slap a label on him and process him tidily as a ___________ type of person. however, shane has basically said, "here i am world - check in with me or don't". and ultimately i feel a sense of shame for trying to reduce him down to a category.

i've long said that those of us who choose to submit to and follow Jesus ought to strive to live a life that demands an explanation. somehow the evidence and footprint of our lives should prompt those around us to ask that question of 'why'? what are you about, anyway? and then we can engage them in conversation, just as shane was gracious enough to do with us.

alright, switch back to the M leadership conversation last night.

is our energy going to be consumed with trying to settle on a logically tight and easily memorizable definition of why we exist? don't get me wrong, i'm all for mission statements and clarity ... or at least, i'm all for the process of theological and existential wrestling that winds up producing those pithy paragraphs. sometimes after all of that hard work they end up being printed on very pretty paper, framed, hung on the wall and promptly forgotten. that last part i'm totally against.

an alternative is to continue to funnel our energies toward being a community that exists and operates in such a way that continues to provoke the question, what are you about anyway? why would you do these things? as i contemplate this, i think of the time that the disciples of john the baptist came to Jesus demanding that he define himself. and in a very 'i yam what i yam' kind of way, Jesus responded by redirecting their attention to the evidence of his passion.

may you - may we - be living the kind of lives that attract others into conversation with us, that inevitably demand an explanation, and that unmistakeably bear out Jesus' passion to redeem the world.


16 February 2012

my annual check-up

hey there ... yep, i figured that it's been almost a year, so i'd better post something.

tell you what - here's a quick rundown on what's been happening in my life:

  1. vertigo - two week-long bouts with it. not fun, and as of yet undiagnosed.
  2. born yesterday - this is the latest community theatre production that has taken me on and given me another chance to play make-believe. come check us out at the orillia opera house april 12-22, 2012!
  3. M - the new faith community which i've had the privilege of helping to start. now this has been an amazing journey to share with so many others.
  4. the mississauga marathon - training now for my next race.
what's been up with you?