http://convergemagazine.com Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:51:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Is there more to Easter?http://convergemagazine.com/more-easter-12656/ http://convergemagazine.com/more-easter-12656/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:00:58 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12656 Easter is upon us, and I’m excited.

Like many church kids my experience with this time of year has been a mixed bag of sacred and secular; chocolate and the Easter bunny accompanied by the three day trek from the depths of despair at the Cross to the heights of the resurrection triumph.  As a kid, I preferred the chocolate, but as I’ve grown, I’ve come to crave that time of year when the Church community reflects upon those tense moments at the Last Supper, the arrest in the garden, and the mock trial, dripping with appeasement and the symbolic washing of hands.  I weep when I read of the torture experienced, the suffering endured and those moments of agony; a loud cry of “It is finished!” rattles around my head as I take a moment to realize just what the Son subjected Himself to, and for whom.

And finally, my heart is filled with hope when the tomb is discovered to be empty; undeniable proof that Jesus was (and remains) who He claimed to be.

This is the good news.

But there is another beautiful layer to this story.  This most holy of weekends shows us that our lives — the ups, the downs, and the confusing middles — are not meant to be exercises in segregation which we must bear on our own.

Rather, the days that comprise the heart of the Easter story reveal to us that God is in solidarity with us, saying, “I’ve experienced what you’re experiencing; I’ve walked where you’ve walked; I’ve been where you’ve been.  I’ve suffered and died for you, so that in the midst of your earthly journey, wherever you might find yourself, you have access to real peace through knowing the confident hope in victory over death.”

The peaks and valleys of our lives may play out a little bit like this:

Friday

We’re faced with moments of tragedy; the point at which light seems to retreat and we’re left crying out in shocked sadness.  Some of us have experienced this pain more deeply than others, but within the run of a lifetime, we can all expect to be stung by the pain of Friday’s darkness.

Saturday

Tragedy is followed, most usually, by a period of confusion and second-guessing.  I’m sure that, following the public execution of their Rabbi, the disciples were convinced that they had chosen the wrong path.

These oft-forgotten moments between Friday and Sunday can be dangerous. It’s here that we risk drifting away from the warm embrace of the Father, happy instead to remain mired in sadness, or even worse, apathy.  The crack and smoke of gunfire, the loss of a child, and the days following a very public memorial service leaves one mother saying, simply, “I feel nothing.”  And while it’s here that we must choose to believe that God is still good, that He is still in control, and that Sunday is indeed coming, it’s also here that these words sound perhaps the most trite and meaningless.

Sunday

It’s at this point that the light breaks through the darkness and we’re ushered into the confident hope of Christ, knowing that he has won the victory. That all of the dark forces of this world couldn’t hold Him down.  These moments provide true rest and refreshment, as we move forward into the reality that He has risen, indeed!

Life is anything but static.  Just as the Easter story moves from tragedy to sadness to hope, so our lives can take on any number of emotional twists and turns.  Just as the words of the Gospel writers focus on the endless love of the Shepherd for his sheep, so the Scriptures also point us to the powerful gift of empathy; that the Creator of the world knows our pain, joy, sadness, anger, happiness, depression, and everything in between.

Whatever we have endured, Jesus has also endured, with deeper intensity and depth.  In the tragedy, He comforts us, in the confusion, He leads us by the hand, and in the hope of the morning sun, He gives us rest and refreshment.

Easter is upon us, and I’m excited.

Photo (Flickr, CC) by Zyllan Fotografía.

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Happiness is not your relationship statushttp://convergemagazine.com/whats-key-contentment-12830/ http://convergemagazine.com/whats-key-contentment-12830/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:00:48 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12830 Spring is in the air. And we all know what that means.

Sunshine and rainbows.

Did you think I was going to say love and marriage?

(Wait, actually, those are contenders).

But back to what I was saying.

The coming of spring has given me pause to reflect on the year. And it has been a great one. I look back on what God has done in my life, and I can’t help but drop my jaw. “That was great! Wonderful, really God. You are the best. Aaaaand I’m exhausted. Can I have a vacation now? Thanks!”

Because if I’m honest, if this year was full of wonder, I haven’t always been. I have spent a lot of time being focused on the wrong things, wasting energy attempting to live in the future. I learned more about myself, and I stopped living my life like I was waiting for something, or someone.

And while I know that my headspace has had a major spring-cleaning since this time last year, the desire for a relationship has applied to be a permanent resident. And I’ve been afraid of giving it a room to rent.

Because I’m the single girl who owns it. It’s what I’m known for. I feel as if I have “Single and Happy!” written on my forehead in permanent ink. And while it’s totally accurate that I am content and fully enjoying my life, there is a fear within me that if I even begin looking, if love doesn’t hit me over the head like a flash mob pillow fight, I’m a copout. That I’m somehow betraying my own words.

While this could very likely be my anxiety disorder talking (tendency for extremes is common practice), I wonder if this unhealthy view of relationships is far more widespread than my basement suite. We certainly talk about it enough.

Because you’re either dating and desperate, or strong and independent.

Does this opinion come in medium?

A middle ground approach that acknowledges the desire for a relationship, and isn’t afraid to pursue one? One that doesn’t let that desire become a tyrant? That isn’t afraid of relationship, hiding in singleness or vice versa?

When I say contentment doesn’t depend on a man, that means dating someone shouldn’t alter it either. Since “Single and Not Waiting” I’ve dated and I’ve been single again. And my contentment hasn’t hinged on whether a guy has been in my life or not.

It has hinged on whether God is in my life or not.

That has been the key to contentment, not my relationship status.

I do have the desire to meet someone. And I think it’s OK to recognize that while desiring God and desiring a romantic relationship are certainly connected, they can be interdependent things. Love for one doesn’t — shouldn’t — have to forfeit the other. There’s a balance to this madness.

Sure, I’m not in a rush. My nursing friends tell me my eggs will start to expire soon, but I’m not really concerned. I know I have time. I’m still in my early 20s. And I’m not looking to just date anyone. But I’m not convinced that living my life with a super-woman-don’t-touch-me-mentality is very helpful either.

So I’m trying something new. I’m trying this happy medium on for size. And like most things, it’s a balancing act. But I like the way it fits.

Flickr photo (cc) by Caro

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Wednesday Playlist: Cure for the mundanehttp://convergemagazine.com/playlist-12860/ http://convergemagazine.com/playlist-12860/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:55:41 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12860 Although the newness of spring is still in the air and the flowers are only beginning to bud, we’re already getting antsy for summer. Academic terms are wrapping up, and whether you’re in school or not, the excited youngins in the street have you wanting to see the world or, better yet, just find a beach to lay on and relax. It’s this time of year that the mundane gets to us, and a quick and easy cure? New tunes. Here’s a little playlist of my favourite songs of the week!

Foals: “My Number”

British indie darlings, Foals has managed to create a really peppy tune about…not really caring about anything. The subject matter is a little depressing but with a catchy hook and some perfectly placed “oohs” I promise this song will have you dancing at your cubicle.

 

Bleachers: “I Wanna Get Better”

“I didn’t know I was broken ’til I wanted to change”

This is my favourite line of “I Wanna Gent Better” by Bleachers. Fronted by fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff, this song paints a story we can all relate to: wanting something different. Whether it’s a new job, a change of pace, or maybe a new adventure, sometimes the mundane nature of the everyday can get to us. So what can we do in the meantime? My trick is to play this song LOUD while planning my summer time road trip.

 

k. s. Rhodes: “Orphaned”

This song is anthemic. I play this and I feel like I can do ANYTHING (and this is without listening to the lyrics). Like a surfer in the middle of catching the perfect wave, the chorus swells and Rhodes asks the question: “Are we orphaned?” This tune is an example of less is more: checking in at under 3 minutes, this short but sweet song packs a power punch that will have you pressing repeat again and again.

Flickr photo 9cc) by Spry

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Is it time to break up with a friend?http://convergemagazine.com/break-up-friendship-12816/ http://convergemagazine.com/break-up-friendship-12816/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:00:48 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12816 Sometimes I wish BuzzFeed quizzes told me more than what font I am (Futura) or how many Justin Biebers I could take in a fight (14).

While taking on 14 teen pop sensations in skinny jeans during a fight seems overly ambitious (I would probably be more comfortable with 12), sometimes I wish making relevant-to-life decisions was as simple as answering a few questions online in a few clicks. Especially when it comes to ending relationships.

And I’m not just talking about roses are red, violets are blue kind of relationships. I’m talking about the platonic kind: friendships.

Before you do another Facebook purge or delete another contact in your smart phone, take this quiz:

When is it time to break up with a friend?

1. If you were to describe the perfect friend, who would it be?

A. Barney Stinson — our friendship is legen — wait for it — (enough said).

B. Childhood bestie — OMG, BFF, LOL, XOXO, ABCDEFG, !!! (enough said).

C. Jesus Christ — perfect (enough said).

2. When it comes to making big decisions you:

A. Procrastinate and take advantage of your $7.99/month Netflix subscription instead.

B. Worry and eat a lot of chocolate.

C. Pray for guidance.

3. If your current friendship could be summed up as a line graph it would be:

A. Going down, baby, down — if your friend told you to jump off a bridge, you would!

B. Code blue — (silence).

C. Up and to the right — you’d think we’d both be working at a metal factory the way iron is sharpening iron over here!

4. If you realize your friendship has gone below the X-axis you:

A. Say you’re moving across the country and will no longer have Internet or phone connection and have lost all penmanship skills (thank you, technology) necessary to communicate via written snail mail.

B. Worry and eat a lot of chocolate.

C. Confront your friend one-on-one, and discuss your concerns in truth and love.

If you answered ‘A’ or ‘B’ to any of the above, maybe it’s time to reconsider what the friendship actually means.

While the Bible doesn’t come with a cheesy “when to break up with a friend” quiz section next to the concordance, its wisdom-filled pages give us a friendship evaluation process to follow:

1. Examine the “Perfect Friend Model”

Before we think about the process of ending a friendship, we have to first think about what a true friend looks like: Jesus Christ. A humble servant who washed the feet of his disciples and loved so unconditionally that He gave his life for all who might believe in Him. Surely, “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

2. Pray

God doesn’t call us to worry, especially when it comes to making important relational decisions. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

3. Determine the direction of your friendship

What happens when our friendship line graphs are going down, baby, down? What happens when our friendships don’t seem to be reflecting what Jesus would do? What if iron isn’t sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17)? What if we aren’t spurring one another towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)?

The Proverbs warn us that gossip, anger, and repeated offences separate friends. Or even worse, corrupt our own behaviour (Proverbs 22: 24-25). As Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”

4. Speak the truth in love

Now it’s confrontation time [cue dramatic music]. Following the process in Matthew 18:15-17, we need to voice our concerns to our friend in person (if possible). If it is well received, friendship salvaged. If our friend graph continues to go down, especially if it’s down the axis of unrepentant sin, the friendship might need to end.

As we attempt to navigate relationships biblically, let us always remember that we all fall short of the glory of God. No friend is perfect. Especially not you. And especially not me.

We just need someone who’s willing to come alongside for the bumpy ride that leads up and to the right.

Flickr photo (cc) by Spry

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‘Heaven is For Real:’ a new kind of Christian film?http://convergemagazine.com/heaven-is-for-real-film-12836/ http://convergemagazine.com/heaven-is-for-real-film-12836/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:11:56 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12836

Most Christian movies are mocked for eschewing artistic quality in favour of a certain brand of evangelical faith and propriety. While that may be an unfair blanket assumption, more often than not it’s accurate.

There have been great Christian filmmakers, such as Tarkovsky, Bresson, and Rohmer, but their films aren’t associated with the genre of Christian movies. The Christian film genre is typically made up of flawed, but commendable movies from Sherwood Pictures like Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous.

These are movies produced by Christians, for Christians. And they’re not without value: all are family -friendly, well -intentioned, and each subsequent film shows improvement. But they breed an insular sub- culture where we are encouraged to go see whatever “Christian” or “wholesome” movie is playing, just so we can send a message to “Hollywood” about what kinds of movies we want them to produce.

The attitude assumes that a “Christian” movie is a good movie, and that “Hollywood” is a monolithic entity. Do we really need movies that preach to the choir? The result is subpar movies and subpar preaching.

The issue with “Christian” movies like this is that they run the risk of being intellectually dishonest. I’d rather see more movies like This is Martin Bonner, one of the best portrayals of Christians on screen: devoid of preaching, made by an atheist on a shoestring budget. And though Noah has certainly had its share of controversy in the last few months, it’s one of the better made biblical movies in recent memory. I wish that more Christian films would follow in Noahs footsteps and be willing to take imaginative risks, pushing creative boundaries.

So where does Heaven is for Real fit within the Christian genre? It’s not made by an independent, Christian studio; it’s produced by Sony, having a bigger budget and featuring bigger names than most “Christian” films. But it’s still a movie about Christians, focusing on heaven, even though it’s trying to be more accessible to a general audience.

Unfortunately, Heaven is for Real tries to please everyone. In doing so, it ends up feeling like three different movies. One is a family drama about a man trying to care for his family in the midst of debt and doubt; one is a film that questions the verifiability of a miraculous and individual experience, trying to anticipate and answer skeptics; and one is a film that aims to inspire and reaffirm people’s faith in God while preaching a message of love.

On the whole, the film is well made, and it’s certainly an improvement upon other recent films like Son of God or Gods Not Dead. The acting is fairly good, especially from the leads. Greg Kinnear does an admirable turn as Todd Burpo, a pastor trying to provide for his family while questioning whether his son, Colton, really has experienced heaven. Kinnear carries the movie on his shoulders and elevates the performances of those around him.

The script is at its best focused on family dynamics, but it’s even better at levity. One scene in particular had the audience laughing: the family is singing “This Little Light of Mine” in the car, when Colton asks if they can sing “We Will Rock You” instead. There’s an awkward silence for a few seconds before the whole car erupts into the Queen hit song at the top of their lungs. It’s a joy to watch. But it unfortunately only lasts 30 seconds.

The directing is poor, which is surprising since Randall Wallace has proven himself perfectly capable with The Man In The Iron Mask, We Were Soldiers, and Secretariat. The shot composition is often awkward. Near the beginning of the film, a scene with Todd driving his truck through Nebraskan farmland, is covered by three different shots. The composition barely changes; it neither helps the narrative, nor says anything substantial about the character or setting.

Even worse is when Colton is being wheeled away to surgery in the hospital, and the camera focuses on his hand slowly losing grip on his favourite toy. He invariably drops it, which is captured it in a slow motion close up. Out of sync with the visual style, it’s one of the most-jarring visual decisions in the film.

The movie could have recovered from these missteps. It admirably struggles with doubts, and brings up multiple objections to the veracity of Colton’s experience. Todd sees a secular psychiatrist, who raises all sorts of doubts that any skeptic would raise. Though the film never addresses these questions properly, Heaven is For Real allows for skepticism; even if its answers aren’t satisfactory, at least the film has the gumption to make room for it.

Philosophically and theologically, I don’t agree with Christians seeking empirical proof of life after death, especially when it’s packaged and sold to people. These stories are used to comfort those fearing death, or to console individuals about lost loved ones. It’s understandable, but I don’t think latching on to other people’s personal experiences, like this one, should be shared as the answer to our doubts.

Thomas Merton has an interesting take on the subject: “The Christian is not concerned really with a life divided between this world and the next. He is concerned with one life, the new life of man (Adam – all men) in Christ and in the Spirit, both now and after death.”

Though I don’t fit into the ideal demographic this movie is marketed to, I wanted it to win me over. I was interested in seeing how heaven was envisioned, and how that one experience changes the family forever. Since the story claims foundations on real events, heaven should have been glorious and dazzling. Instead, the film spends less than 10 minutes showing us heaven, and when it does, it’s incredibly uninspired. It’s the type of heaven portrayed on greeting cards, and it brings down the movie. The angels’ voices are meant to be beautiful, but end up being oddly creepy; their laughter is unsettling rather than joyful.

Heaven is for Real had an opportunity to be an innovative step forward for Christian films, to shed the skin of its insular predecessors, presenting a new kind of Christian film that isn’t confined to the conventions of its genre and the expectations of its audience. While it is a step up, it’s still plagued by the same limitations as other faith-based films.

Instead of allowing faith and art to intersect as they do in life, Heaven is for Real prescribes Christianity rather than describing it. Jacques Maritain had it right when he wrote: “If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to ‘make Christian.’”

Heaven is for Real is in theatres April 16.

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How to spot satire on the Internethttp://convergemagazine.com/satire-12813/ http://convergemagazine.com/satire-12813/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:00:15 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12813 Becoming a master satirist is like becoming a master criminal. And most everything I learned about crime, I learned from Hunter S. Thompson:

When you bring an act into this town, you want to bring it in heavy. Don’t waste any time with cheap shucks and misdemeanours. Go straight for the jugular.

If you’re going to commit crimes and get away with them like Thompson does in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, make each one so audacious that people are too flabbergasted to spot you sneaking away.

That’s why a real satirist is like Thompson’s archetypal criminal. They commit such bold literary assassinations and robberies that people are knocked flat before they see their assailant.

The first time I encountered real satire, it was Jonathan Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal. That piece made me feel sick when I read it. I felt like I was going to pass out. I almost did. It’s such a scathing, flummoxing, satirical commentary on the state of Ireland when Swift wrote it.

But what does satire look and sound like in our day? One might cite websites like The Onion to answer the question. Others might reference lesser-known online satirists causing confusion and misinforming on the Internet and social media.

One of the most entertaining examples I’ve encountered lately was a satirical piece written about the fake murder of the operator who botched the Olympic Ring mechanics during the opening ceremonies at Sochi. Many readers interpreted the article as real news when first released, and consequently, real news sites had to mop up the viral satirical mess.

What an example like this teaches is that many people are still learning how to spot satire on the Internet. In the process, there are moments when satire hits, and moments when it misses. At others, it’s a mixture of both (when people have to designate in their status post that this article is funny, and it’s fake).

So if you’re writing satire and sharing it with people in our time, you need to go for the jugular and keep a straight face. Don’t cave, even when you’re dragged into the interrogation room and grilled. Because a good satirist always keeps a straight face.

And if you want to know how to spot a satirical piece when it’s committing a literary crime, do what a seasoned detective does when he’s on a crackerjack case. Approach everything you encounter with healthy curiosity and suspicion. Put your good eye to the magnifying glass and investigate every detail. Because the satirical devil is always in the details.

Flickr photo (cc) by maartmeester

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Following my dangerous dreamshttp://convergemagazine.com/dangerous-dreams-12790/ http://convergemagazine.com/dangerous-dreams-12790/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:00:27 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12790 “You can be anything you want to be.”

Or so we’ve been told. Countless times. The phrase now rings a familiar tune in my ears.

I’m still not sure how I feel about that statement. My response has consistently been, “Well, you really can’t quite be anything. That’s a bit of a stretch.”  But I hear the phrase less and less as I get older, as if I’m outgrowing my possibilities.

Or maybe I just stopped listening.

When I was a kid, I was a bold dreamer. I wanted to be a dancer and a veterinarian. I wanted to travel the world and design houses. Practicality didn’t matter then. I wasn’t afraid of the outcome. Impossibility never became an obstacle.

But as the years have passed, dreams and reality grew apart.

It wasn’t that I stopped having dreams. I just no longer saw them through the eyes of a child. I had to grow up and be practical. I met Reason, who became my faithful friend, always bringing me back to reality. Fear crept in, and “maybe one day” was inserted into my dream vocabulary.

Dreams were nice thoughts and Disney movies, fuzzy fairytales that lived in the corners of my mind. Fear had driven them there. I became afraid to really believe in my dreams, because I might be disappointed. So I traded them in for attainable goals.

While attainable goals are nice and cozy, I’m not satisfied with them anymore.

But I’m not sure I ever really was. I have always wanted more than the typical. The phrase, “There must be more to life than this” haunts me. I want more than the typical Christian girl story: graduate high school, go to university (or Bible Collage), get married, settle down and have 2.5 kids.

While I poke fun at the cliché, my intention is not to say that really is the story Christian women always live. Or discourage marriage and dreams of family life. I have said it before: though it has taken me time to admit it, I have the desire for those things too. My fear is, however, that it has become the single goal. (Pun intended.) And even more dangerously, the comfortable goal.

If we trade our dreams in for comfortable goals, we fall asleep, we go numb. And life passes us by. Or we miss the things that are right in front of us.

God seems to be gently coaxing me into dreaming the way I used to. Or perhaps more accurately, He has given me a new understanding about my life.

Whether it’s moving to California to get my master’s, or whether it’s being a catalyst for change in the world, my dreams have become bigger than myself. They have become more terrifying, and less like the life I thought I wanted.

And though fear is still a factor, the more I trust in God’s plan for this world, the more gumption my dreams have.

Flickr photo (cc) by Mengjie Jo

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Blessing the Children in Ethiopiahttp://convergemagazine.com/blessing-the-children-12799/ http://convergemagazine.com/blessing-the-children-12799/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:00:49 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12799 When you come from a place that’s all about connection — like having unlimited access to the Internet through the smartphone in your pocket — it is quite the shock to move to a place that is so decidedly remote. When we first arrived in Ethiopia, we felt alone and disconnected.

To be honest, the first couple of weeks were rough for our family as we tried to settle in and figure things out. We would take all the kids for a three-hour walk (round trip) to the Internet café, hoping there would be enough power to send a few quick messages home. We wouldn’t make the trek again for another three or four days.

Fortunately as we met with more people and asked more questions, we were able to find a way to get our iPhone unlocked, get a local phone, and get connected to the Internet.

Our family has been in Ethiopia for just over a month now. And although things do not always work, the biggest lesson we have been learning is to have patience.

The language barrier has also made us feel quite isolated; as we’re unable to speak with those around us, we’re often misunderstood during even the most basic of tasks, such as buying groceries.

During the past month, loneliness and homesickness have been major struggles for our family, as we’re used to being quite social and out and about most days. Here we are more confined to our house, and we don’t have many friends to invite over. But, like gaining technology connections, friendships are slowly forming. We knew this would be a challenge coming here, especially due to the fact that Blessing the Children does not have any other international families serving here.

But even in our moments of frustration we have had a great sense of God’s peace. We know this is where we are supposed to be. We miss people at home, but we haven’t missed much else. Our kids for the most part have adjusted well and are embracing the way of life here.

Blessing the Children is different than many organizations: on the field it is 100 per cent Ethiopian run. With that, things happen in an African way, taking more time in some areas. It’s maybe not as efficient in our North American minds, but they are working their hardest within the structure of this country and with the resources that they have.

On the ground where we are, Blessing the Children operates as two entities: one being the school, which is quite self- sufficient, and the other is the Blessing the Children Development Organization (BCDO), the non-profit that specifically works with the sponsorship families.

My husband Brad is spending much of his time working with BCDO, developing and implementing income generating projects for the families in the program. This program will give families different opportunities to start up their own businesses and gain skills to provide for themselves.

As we meet with different staff members and hear their stories, there is no doubt that God is at work. We feel blessed and excited to be a part of what God is doing here.

To find out more about Blessing the Children, visit their website.

SponsoredPost_btc

 

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‘This is Martin Bonner’ shows faith in its complexityhttp://convergemagazine.com/this-is-martin-bonner-review-12776/ http://convergemagazine.com/this-is-martin-bonner-review-12776/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:00:03 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12776 This is Martin Bonner is a film that has slipped between the cracks of the feel-good optimism of Christian dramas and the harsh severity of Hollywood crime dramas. Are these the only two options? Of course they’re not; but in a movie that follows the interaction between a man working for a Christian prison ministry and a released prisoner on parole, those two options are some of the more likely.

Written and directed by Chad Hartigan, a former missionary kid who rejects religion in his adult life, This is Martin Bonner (2013) grants remarkable insight into ordinary existence. A professor once told me that the art of writing should “reduce the complex into the simple.” But the beauty of this film is that it does the opposite: it amplifies the complexity of the simple life.

Martin Bonner (Paul Eenhorn) worked as a church business manager in Maryland before he was fired for divorcing his wife, and is just now starting a job with a prison ministry in Reno, Nevada. He has two grown children; he speaks to his daughter on the phone every week, but his son never answers his calls or returns the loving messages that Martin regularly leaves. He’s a man who has been through the hardships of life, who quit his last job because of his increasing doubts and questions about his faith. His current volunteer position with a nonprofit — managing prisoners’ transitions into outside life — is his first job in two years.

Travis Holloway (Richmond Arquette ) has just finished a 12 year sentence and is going through Martin’s program, but he can’t connect with his sponsor, Steve Helm (Robert Longstreet). Instead, Travis latches on to Martin; they’re both estranged fathers, both struggling to come to terms with their new lives.

Martin recently went through a crisis of faith; though he holds on to his faith, he is unsure and wrestling with doubt. This draws Travis in to real discussions about God and belief because he feels at ease with Martin, whereas Steve and his wife Angela (Jan Haley) talk about visions from God and an unwavering steadfast faith. They’re the quintessential Ned Flanders type of Christian – sure of their belief, acting with love towards their neighbours, and aren’t even self righteous about it.

But that type of Christian can often make others, especially those interested in Christianity, feel inadequate. Travis can’t open up to Steve and Angela. He was cowed by the fervour of their certainty, but is drawn in to Martin’s quiet, doubt-riddled confidence in how he lives his life. He discloses to Martin over coffee, speaking about his faith in God: “I feel like it should mean everything or nothing.” But he can’t make up his mind.

The cinematography of the film is as nuanced and restrained as the characters are, giving just enough of the Reno desert landscape and decaying urban landscape (no flashing lights or Casinos here) to complement the characters. There isn’t much action, nor is this a glacially paced cerebral art house film. It is a character drama that takes time to invest in creating characters who act and speak like real people, and allows the audience a glimpse into their lives, a glimpse I’m forever thankful for.

Steeped in hope and kindness, This is Martin Bonner is a testament to, in Martin Bonner’s words, “making the Invisible Kingdom visible.” But it never alienates its audience or speaks down to them. Neither triumphant or defeatist, it simply unravels a path through a labyrinth of human emotions and life choices.

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10 things I wish I knew before travelling abroadhttp://convergemagazine.com/10-things-wish-knew-travelling-abroad-12791/ http://convergemagazine.com/10-things-wish-knew-travelling-abroad-12791/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 18:02:37 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=12791 My husband and I had been married just a short time before buying a plane ticket to Europe. Here are some things I wish we would have known before getting on the airplane.

1. Pack less than you think you need

My husband Jacob and I spent weeks agonizing over what to pack for a six-month trip that would take us through the heart of a European winter. How do you fit six months of supplies into two suitcases and two backpacks? We tried to pack light, but regardless of our good intentions, extra things kept slipping in. I imagined myself gleefully running forest trails in Sweden, so my running shoes were packed. Never mind that I despise running. In Sweden, I would become a runner.

In our first four months of travel we left a breadcrumb trail of discarded items behind us. My running shoes were donated to Bosnian berry-pickers in Sweden. My Italian leather boots (sob) were given to a Czech Art student we stayed with in Prague. And the list goes on.

Obviously there are exceptions contingent on where you are travelling, but in Europe at the least, the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” can lead to carrying around a lot of dead weight.

2. Expect to overpay for your first meal in a new country

Travel days are hard. Even if your flight/train/boat ride is short, you will still spend your entire day queuing, being herded like cows, deciphering maps, and being disoriented in general. This, in our experience, typically left us tired, cranky, and utterly starving. We pushed on, intent on reaching our destination, until I became what Jacob describes as “hangry” (hungry + angry), and we are forced to stop and eat before I start gnawing on my suitcase.

Even if we miraculously avoid our “travel day cycle” as described above, we have always overpaid for our first meal in a new country. Upon arriving in Turkey we stopped at a restaurant for kebabs, only to discover that had we walked another 200 yards, we would have found a row of kebab stands all at half the price.

Chalk it up to experience and learning a new place. It doesn’t hurt so much if you are expecting to overpay for a sandwich.

3. Don’t be stingy (but figure out what you want to spend your money on)

The knee jerk reaction when you are travelling on a budget is to be miserly about everything. Walk everywhere. Only do the free activities. Eat only the cheapest foods. These strategies can be valuable in turns, but a sure-fire way to ruin your travel experience is to spend your entire time worrying about money. This was a difficult lesson for me. Travelling for six months without any income meant we were slowly watching our bank account dwindle. Our solution was to figure out what was important to us, and then consciously invest in that. For some, “what’s important” may be collecting souvenirs in every country. For others it may be splurging on an amazing meal. For us, it was experiences. Entrance into ancient Ephesus in Turkey may have cost $30 each, but it was worth every cheap meal we ate.

4. Break out of your comfort zone

My favourite comfort zone is the one where I’m in control. I get to decide where I go, what I eat, who I speak to. Me-land. It’s also really boring.

Without fail our favourite travel experiences were direct results of abdicating our little control-freak thrones and letting someone else take charge. Going on a “Beaver Safari” in Sweden. Visiting an amusement park located in an ancient underground salt mine in Romania. Watching dog-sled races across a frozen lake in Switzerland. Amazing things can happen when you proactively ditch your comfort zone and open yourself up to new experiences and people.

5. Plan on getting lost

Jacob is a meticulous planner. Before arriving in a new destination he would research our transportation options, write down directions in a notebook, then walk the route on Google Earth.  We would still get lost every time.

The truth is that no amount of planning will guarantee everything goes perfectly. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. (Though admittedly, getting lost is a lot more pleasant when you are not dragging your life in two suitcases behind you.) Getting lost helps to lead you off the well-beaten path of tourism, and shows you a side of a place that many travellers never see. Sometimes that is when the best discoveries are made. Other times, it just makes for a great story.

6. Jet lagged first impressions are rarely good

Jet lag does more than make you tired; it messes with your body and mind.  Your energy levels will be sapped. You’ll have trouble sleeping, be hungry at all the wrong times, and be unable to adjust to significant temperature changes. This is hardly the time to be forming favourable first impressions of your destination.

My first night in Sweden I cried myself to sleep, overwhelmed at the thought of spending a month in a beautiful house in the countryside. How will I survive?! Obviously my judgment was clouded, something I realized the next morning after a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee.

I’ve found that most destinations look unattractive to travel-bleary eyes. Go easy on yourself and remember that your first impression of a new place is most likely wrong.

7. Don’t underestimate the value of good luggage

Luggage prices range from moderate to appalling. I never understood why suitcases sold for hundreds of dollars until using one every day for six months. Three months in, our I-can’t-believe-they-fell-for-it wedding gift of a suitcase was holding up like a champ, while our moderately expensive knock-off suitcase was being held together with duct tape.

Enough said.

8. Nine out of 10 times your budget carrier flights will be late

We have never been on a budget flight that showed up on time. Flying from Prague to Paris, the entire Easy Jet passenger manifest waited in front of a blinking GATE PENDING sign for two hours. An hour after our plane was scheduled to depart, a scratchy voice came over the intercom, announcing that our plane was delayed. No kidding.

Even if your plane does arrive on time, other things you consider a given may be deemed as “amenities” on that flight. Ryan Air famously once tried selling “standing room only” tickets on their planes.

Give yourself ample time to catch transfers or connections, and know that getting there may be more of an adventure than the destination itself.

9. Force yourself to live in the moment

When travelling for an extended period of time, traveller’s fatigue will start to set in. All the cities will look the same; every ancient ruin will be yet another pile of old rocks. It’s impossible to be a tourist 100 per cent of the time, and there is nothing wrong with spending a day napping and eating even if you are in the south of France (guilty).

At some point however, you may need to force yourself to live in the moment and appreciate your surroundings. It doesn’t matter that this is your umpteenth gothic cathedral; you will kick yourself if you waste your time being cranky. Every time my eyes would start to glaze over I would remind myself that one day I would be back home, fondly remembering this moment as the one of the “good old days.”

10.  Expect God to do amazing things

Our six months of travel were marked with a theme of unexpected blessing. Time after time we were surprised by how God worked and orchestrated details in a manner that was better than we could have planned or imagined. Expect God to do amazing things, and look for glimpses of Him in everything. You will be astounded at how He shows up  and blows you away with His love.

Flickr photo (cc) by srv007

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