Converge Thu, 16 Apr 2015 07:56:23 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 Life as a filmmaker Thu, 16 Apr 2015 06:58:33 +0000 Life as a filmmaker by Sam McLoughlin

“Hang out here a minute, they’ve asked me to come inside,” he said. My Australian guide opened the truck door...

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Life as a filmmaker by Sam McLoughlin

“Hang out here a minute, they’ve asked me to come inside,” he said. My Australian guide opened the truck door slowly. “Um, are you sure it’s safe here? Why do they want to talk to you? Is it because of the camera?” Heart pounding, I couldn’t hold back my barrage of questions.

The guide paused for a moment, then replied, “All I know is, when the Russian mafia wants to talk to you, you’d better not keep driving.” He got out and started walking across the dim parking lot. “You’ll be fine, I’ll only be 10 or 15 minutes.”

The moments that followed provided time for some deeply conscious personal reflection. Why was I sitting alone in a dark, empty parking lot in the sex-trafficking capitol of the world? What had brought me here? What in the world I was thinking saying yes to going on a tour of, perhaps… no, definitely…. the sleaziest part of the world?

Why had I chosen to become a filmmaker ?

In the last year or so, I’ve travelled to Liberia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar. I’ve hid my camera on the roof during a police raid, fled a country without telling anyone I was leaving, and clung to the back of speeding motorbikes and tippy canoes with thousands of dollars of gear in my backpack.

I’ve trudged through swampy and ice cold waters to get the perfect angle for my shot, talked my way out of an espionage charge, almost killed a villager with my drone quad copter, and taken at least 50 flights. Though this sounds a bit braggy, the truth is I love travelling the world. And I love what I do.

But this isn’t the job I had always dreamed of. That’s because about five years ago, my job didn’t really exist.

In 2009 I was in my second year of grad school at Regent College in Vancouver. I wanted to be a writer. I had recently finished a philosophy BA, and took the natural path of most liberal arts majors: more school. Aside from half a manuscript sitting on my hard drive, I had very few plans. A year later, fate struck. Like a door slamming right in the face.

I was finishing my first book, The Default Life (once reviewed in this very magazine), and happened to get a meeting with the president of a big-time publishing company. My moment had come: fame, glory, and a gushing foreword by Donald Miller awaited me. Or so I believed.

Instead, I was let in on a little secret: the Christian book industry was dying, the only people still buying books were housewives, and this company didn’t have any money to market books with ambiguous titles like mine. I should either find a way to sell my book online by “branding” myself and blogging like a maniac, or find something else to do. Three days later, the big-time publisher quit his job. After a year of earnestly plugging my book to my friends and family, I quit mine, too.

But this isn’t a story of quitting. It’s a story of timing. Around the same time I received a double thumbs-down, other things were happening. First, people started getting data plans on their phones. Internet speeds increased rapidly, and people started streaming video constantly at home and on their phones. Which was impossible before then because of all the buffering. (Remember buffering?)

Canon cameras then introduced the 5D Mark II DSLR, which made near-cinema quality video available to almost anyone.
All of a sudden, a job existed that hadn’t before: Internet filmmaker. You’re probably friends with one. Or five. Most of us didn’t go to film school. We learned by picking up a camera and shooting, watching countless tutorials, spending hours on Internet discussion boards, and learning from peers on

Armed with new technologies that made “cinematic” video easier to achieve than ever, we started springing up everywhere, convincing you that you just could not get married without a “cinematic” wedding video, or could not start a business without a “cinematic” branding video. Even though we don’t really have a clue what “cinematic” really means, and it’s impossible to be truly “cinematic” when people just watch your videos on their laptops.

I recently showed a short film called Anomaly to some friends and family. It was a Kickstarter project by some of the best up and coming filmmakers. I thought it was amazing, and tres cinematic. But most of my family gave it a big meh.

“It looked cool, but I didn’t really understand what was going on.”
“The characters were dressed nice, but they weren’t very relatable.”
“They didn’t seem to accomplish much.”

I felt frustrated. This was a film that, stylistically at least, is light years ahead of me. But it failed to strike a chord with many of the non-filmmakers around me. It confirmed a lesson I had been told a million times, but maybe hadn’t quite sunk in yet. If you ain’t got a story, you ain’t got nothin’.

So how do you tell a good story?

This requires a step outside the comfort zone for most filmmakers. We must talk to people — real, actual people — and listen to them. We must poke and prod them to open their hearts. We must read books: long, detailed ones. We must be willing to get immersed in the action. We must start living a better story. And, I suppose, we must become writers.

It takes courage to pursue a creative endeavor like filmmaking, one that doesn’t have a guaranteed paycheque or dental benefits. And it takes more courage to believe in yourself enough to create art and put it out there for people to judge. But what takes the most courage? To try to communicate a message through your art, especially a message like the Gospel. This is the precipice on which I currently sit. And I’m not sure I’m ready to jump.

I am learning that my education and my time spent jaunting around the world of filmmaking have prepared me technically and intellectually for the challenges and choices I am now faced with: the decision on where to go next.

But there is one skill I feel woefully unprepared in, the skill of empathy. Yet it’s a skill that is perhaps most central to both communicating the Gospel and good cinematic filmmaking: to look inside someone else’s life, feel her pain, and then encourage her through story.

It’s ironic that for an endeavor that is so attached to the ego like filmmaking is, we actually work best when we try to serve others by telling their stories.

“So what did they want from you?” I asked as the Australian guide appeared 15 minutes later, just like he said he would. “They wanted to see if I would purchase five girls from them. Come, I’ll take you home now.”

As we made our way back, my driver made a few calls to see if he could rescue these girls in perhaps the least dramatic way possible: by simply buying them. I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more to help them, that I didn’t live here and spend my days trying to rescue women and children caught in the sex trade.

But maybe that’s not my destiny. Maybe it’s to encourage, to build up, and to make known the people who do have that purpose. Or to capture the stories of those who spend their lives serving Jesus in seemingly menial, unsexy ways.

I suppose Jesus didn’t spend all his time trying to build the kingdom. He told stories, too. That might be a good example to follow.

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The Porn-Addicted church Wed, 15 Apr 2015 07:11:09 +0000 The Porn-Addicted church by Donna Chapman Jones

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.” —Ephesians...

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The Porn-Addicted church by Donna Chapman Jones

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.”

—Ephesians 5:3


The tragic truth is that pornography is a big problem in most churches today. 51 per cent of pastors say Internet pornography is a temptation, and 64 per cent of Christian men and 15 per cent of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month.

When I first heard these statistics, I felt let down by my church community. I was angry that I had been kept in the dark. I wasn’t ready to deal with the reality that so many of my male Christian friends were keeping this secret. And when I heard firsthand from women who felt forced to hide their own similar struggles with porn and lust, I knew that there was something deeply wrong with how many churches were dealing with sexual sin. And I don’t think I’m alone.

I was exposed to the reality of pornography before I became a Christian. In my experience, I knew that pornography was something guys looked at. It may seem naïve, but I didn’t think Christian men would be watching it. Once I learned more about this issue, I was confronted with the fact that the church, the place I thought of as a refuge, turned out not to be so safe for me. And I know many other women who have this same experience; they’ve lived in the dark about the ubiquitousness of pornography within their church, only to end up painfully confronting it later within a relationship.

How did we, as individuals, and our collective body, the church, get to this fractured place? It starts with leadership. Some pastors are reluctant to address these issues because they are afraid of uncovering their own addiction to porn. Others feel unequipped and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of sexual sin in our culture and the lives of people; they resign themselves to the fact that this is just how things are.

From my experience, when addressing pornography and lust, most often pastors will quote the Bible to explain what girls and women need to do to keep boys and men from “stumbling” (which by the way has become my least favourite word). Modesty teachings are prioritized and men’s wandering eyes are written off as part of their nature. This is a single-sided approach to dealing with sexual sin in our church, one that shames and blames women for what men are thinking. Although it may not be intentional, this type of teaching makes women feel like something is inherently wrong with their bodies.

Instead of teaching girls, women, boys, and men to respect and honour the female body, it has been turned into a taboo. Whether it’s pop culture or church culture, women are told how they should (and should not) dress in order to get men to look (or not to look). To be honest, it’s a very confusing time to be a Christian woman.

Rather than focusing blame on women and what they wear, the church needs to shift responsibility and address the sexualized images and ideals that both men and women consume. Women are not inherently enticing prey, and men are not uncontrollable predators. Instead of reinforcing sexual stereotypes, Christians need to start dismantling them.

Often, if a church is taking steps to talk to men about their struggles with pornography and lust, it is often done in secret. Although confidentiality is extremely important, some secrecies can reinforce shame and intensify the paradigm of tempted man versus temptress woman.

Secrecy can also obscure the fact that women are also dealing with issues of pornography and lust. Women are marginalized most—because at least the “boys will be boys” attitude acknowledges men’s struggles, making it doubly shameful when a woman is dealing with pornography. A common narrative is that women are asexual compared to men; women who do have sex drives are the exception. Women are supposed to be the temptress, never the tempted. But sexual sin is not reserved for one sex. The church needs to help women in this area, too.

We need to move forward as a community to tackle these issues. In one way or another, pornography and hyper-sexualization are problems for all of us, and we need to address and fight them openly and in unity. By this, I don’t mean we need to share all the dirty details of our battles with sexual sin in front of the entire church. But I am saying that it is important to name it. To say the words, “I struggle with this.” Simply stating the problem, bringing it out into the light, breaks the power of it. It’s time to uncover the lies, let the light shine in, and begin to heal.

Let’s openly challenge the lie that Christians aren’t really struggling with porn and that women aren’t implicated in this. Let’s confront the lie that boys will be boys.

The Church and its leaders have the responsibility to reframe the discussion, and to create dialogue among both genders, across all ages, without discrimination. If we are committed to living differently than our culture tells us to, we need to teach each other how. This dialogue includes radical accountability and honest community through which we can better understand each other as men and women, all children of God.

There are numerous para-church organizations to help educate, support, and start this move toward healing within the church. Let’s fight this together, diving into the messiness and facing it head on. Pornography is not too big to conquer.


This is the forth in a five-part series on pornography.

Part One : The History of Porn

Part Two: This is Your Brain on Porn

Part Three: Pornified Relationships


Photo by (flickr CC): Alison Killilea 


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Life is ___ with Judah Smith Tue, 14 Apr 2015 08:02:02 +0000 Life is ___ with Judah Smith by Michael Morelli

Judah Smith speaks with a slight drawl and a charismatic rhythm that draws listeners in. The first thing he tells...

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Life is ___ with Judah Smith by Michael Morelli

Judah Smith speaks with a slight drawl and a charismatic rhythm that draws listeners in. The first thing he tells me, as he sits down for our interview, is that he’s addicted to hand sanitizer. He produces a bottle of Purell from his vest pock and squeezes a generous amount into his hands. I ask the obvious follow-up: “Are you a bit of a germaphobe, Judah?” To which he responds, “Germ conscious, Michael. Germ conscious.” That’s how our interview starts, and the path of our conversation remains fairly tangential from beginning to end—we talk about art, our favourite standup comedians, the church he pastors, his passion for sports, and his most recently published book, Life is ______ .


Where did the fill-in-the-blank idea for your books come from? 

It started with the first project Jesus is ______ . I had this idea that I shared with our creative team at City Church. I said, “We should do a citywide campaign just to let the city know that Jesus loves them.” And they were like, “okay cool.” So then I said, “What if we made it Jesus loves Seattle, and did like billboards and bumper stickers? Not with our church name or anything, but just the phrase.” And then they were like, “Uhhh… that’s kind of cheesy.” But then one of our creative guys, Sean Spurte said, “What if we left it blank and let people fill it in however they want?” So it’s gone from there and has created this awesome dialogue. It’s really engaged people in a pretty important conversation about God and Jesus, and now, a conversation about life.


So it flowed out of the ministry you’re doing as a pastor at City Church?

Yeah. We committed in this journey that any resource we put out would come out of the life of our community and what we’re doing. I believe in co-op, and I believe that that’s the way Jesus designed us. So these books really reflect a journey that our communities are on in Seattle, and LA, and Guadalajara. I think the pages probably mean the most to our community because the stuff that I’m trying to articulate speaks to what we’re journeying
through as a community. It comes across as genuine—at least I hope it does.


It seems like you’re trying to create a conversation with these books as compared to just telling people who Jesus is or what the meaning of life is. Is that the case?

I think we all agree that people of faith are more known for their monologues and not so much for their dialogues. And we kind of realized that from the inception. Our desire is to say that meeting Jesus starts with thinking about him, and that something as small and simple as conversation is where the journey begins. We never want to undermine or overlook that, I guess.


Love seems to be a big theme in your speaking and writing. Is that a conscious decision? Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 2.02.27 AM

Yeah, it is. I think love, particularly agape love, is a love that originates in God, and it’s a love with no conditions, no prerequisites. It is completely illogical and completely outside the realm of cause and effect. You can’t cause it. It’s just there and effective. And so I think the only thing that sets us apart as Jesus worshippers and Jesus followers is actually not our dress, our doctrine, our dogma, our delivery, or any of those things. It’s this agape love; the fact that we claim to be recipients of a love with no conditions and no prerequisites, and now, we are commissioned by this same God that so freely gives this love with no conditions to be dispensers of this love. To be storytellers. To be those that tell this story about how this creator God has always and always will love us. If you take love out of the Biblical narrative it absolutely falls flat. The story completely falls apart. So it’s imperative that we tell the story of the scripture; of God’s love from the beginning of time to today.


You mentioned “story.” Would you consider yourself a storyteller?

I like stories. My brain thinks in colours, stories, and shapes. So yeah, stories engage me. And I think they engage most people. For me, the Bible is a multi-layered love story that we have to let be what, in fact, it is: the story of this perfect, glorious, loving God, who works with damaged goods and broken people, but does these extraordinary supernatural things that he’s still doing today. This is what resonates with me. I think God’s a storyteller and that he has a sense of humour. I really do. And I think he’s the greatest artist of all time. So if that makes me a storyteller, so be it. Guilty as charged.


Your creative output is significant both as a speaker and a writer. Plus, you’re the lead pastor of a large church. Where does all the creative inspiration and the energy come from?

A lot of it comes from my family. That’s probably the number one story I tell. Something that happened with the kids or my wife. It varies, though. I love art. I love painting. I love entertainment like good movies and TV shows. But I really enjoy comedy. I personally think the greatest communicators on the planet are standup comedians. I just think how they communicate, their rhythm, their cadence, their verbiage, their punchlines, all that to me is so fascinating. It’s tough sometimes to find—how should I say—edifying comedy these days, but I’ll go see guys like Jim Gaffigan live. And you’ll see that come out in my preaching. And then of course great preachers are a big influence as well.


You’ve made some significant connections and have experienced what a lot of people in both Christian and non-Christian circles would call “success.” How do you navigate that? 

I’d say that nobody ever told me success—however we define that—oftentimes feels like fear. What I mean by that is all of a sudden people say you’re successful, so you have to continue to be successful. Whatever that means. And it’s amazing how much expectation you feel and start putting on yourself. And if you’re not careful and deliberate and surrounding yourself with great people, it can change you as a person. It can change your values, your perspectives, how you are as a friend, and a dad, and a husband. I don’t want to go there. I think part of the fear that I feel sometimes are the expectations. The demands. The requests. The living up to peoples’ perceptions, which can get you anxious and can ruin you. So, I just say I never want to get to where I want to be, but not be the person I wanted to be. Like, what does it matter if you arrive in the place you wanted but aren’t the person you want to be? So I think success is ridiculously overrated, and success to me, is being faithful.


Where did the idea for Life is  _ form?

The idea was almost a prequel to Jesus is ______ . I think sometimes even the name “Jesus” and a book about Jesus is a little bit intimidating to people who maybe consider themselves not religious or not really into Christianity or any world religion. So giving that first book to a friend who’s not familiar with the Bible or Jesus might be a little bit like whoa, a whole book about Jesus? That’s probably not for me. So the idea was, well what if we had a book before that book that was a prequel to say, if Jesus is ______ is not up your alley, or a little overwhelming, or just disinteresting, let’s just talk about why you’re sucking oxygen on planet earth? Because we’re all together here right now in this moment, and I think it’s imperative that we all press pause on our fast paced high octane lives and ask the all important question: what am I doing here and what is the point of it all?


What’s your hope for this book?

It’s not dissimilar to the Jesus is _ approach. The point of this book is not that every single word must be read and studied. I think it’s more of a conversation piece. It exists to get people in a space where you’re around people you love and appreciate, and you start talking a little bit and asking questions like: what is life about? I hope this book works it’s way through all of the fluff, and all of the stuff that really is passing, and fickle, and meaningless, and gets you in this space in your mind and your heart, going: what is going to matter when all is said is done? Can we have peace? Is there a God and can we know him?


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When you feel like a victim of God Mon, 13 Apr 2015 04:50:30 +0000 When you feel like a victim of God by Gardner Dorton

I have a strong tendency to assume the role of a victim. It can be big or small. It can be as simple...

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When you feel like a victim of God by Gardner Dorton

I have a strong tendency to assume the role of a victim. It can be big or small. It can be as simple as having plans cancelled on me. It isn’t hard for me to blow things out of proportion. Recently I spoke to a group of high school kids I’ve become familiar with over the past two years, through working with YoungLife. It was while preparing to give this talk that I realized just how much I felt the victim of God.

This is the story I shared with these kids:

When I was sixteen years old I began to fall into depression. I was a generally happy, friendly junior in high school when one day it all began to unravel. I can remember the moment it happened fairly clearly; I was sitting in my English class and suddenly had the urge to jump off a building. It wasn’t out of adventure, like base-jumping—it was a moment of desperation as my world began to sink away from my feet. My family, which always seemed invincible to me, began to fall apart. My closest friends separated without a word of explanation. My counselor who I’d been going to for years suddenly had cancer. I had no one to turn to.

Suicidal thoughts began to pour into me like a waterfall. I couldn’t drive anywhere without fantasizing that I should drive off the road into a tree. I couldn’t look at a tall building without wondering how long it would take for me to hit the ground after I jumped. My life felt utterly helpless. What felt worse is that I knew Jesus. I felt like I loved Him. Where was he? I started to think he had abandoned me, that I was now forgotten in the same way I was by everyone else I loved at the time. I didn’t understand why He wouldn’t just make me better.

One day I decided that I was sick of feeling this way. It was a cold, January night my junior year. I was up late in my bedroom and my family was long asleep. I felt hopeless and I felt alone. I decided that I was going to jump from an interstate bridge not too far from my house. The winter caused the water to be lowered—I knew the impact would kill me. I can remember grabbing the keys to my truck and walking down the staircase, determined that I was going to die that night. I stopped half way down the staircase and asked God one last time, “do you care at all?” I stopped for a moment, waiting for Him to respond. I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t feel better but I did think. I thought about Jesus and all that I knew about him. I thought about Him calling Lazarus out of the tomb after being dead four days. I felt dead. I thought about how he came back soon after he raised Lazarus, to eat and be with him. I realized that God wasn’t going to send a pillar of fire to stop me before I got into my truck. He was simply calling me to walk to Him, like he called Lazarus to walk out of the tomb. It was simple, but it was enough. I thought about the way that Jesus had wept for Lazarus before he called him out. Maybe Jesus was weeping for me too. I turned and walked back up to my room that night. I wasn’t cured, but I was willing to walk a little further out of the tomb. I was willing to hope that maybe one day I could sit at the table with Jesus again, and see that He never abandoned me. It took another half of a year before the suicidal thoughts left. The small whisper of hope I had pulled me along.

As I was reliving all of this in preparation for my talk—I began to feel really bad for myself. I felt bad for that sixteen-year-old. All I could think was “wow, why did God have to put me through that? I was so young and fragile.” I felt bad because my story was so sad. But I realized the truth in that moment. It wasn’t just my story—it was my story and God’s story, together. It always was. I’ve come to believe that I never was, nor can be, God’s victim. He doesn’t leave me in pain for pain’s sake.  He allowed me to go through that ordeal for His glory. He saved me from death. In hindsight, I was never abandoned—He gave me just what I needed (and at just the right time) to combat my dark depression. He was weeping for me while I was weeping for myself. It was through the pain that I learned dependence on God. It was through pain that I grew closer to Him.

God is patient. He knows that I still get stuck playing the victim. But He is gracious. Down the road I know He will show me, again and again, that he didn’t victimize me. He will show me all the beautiful things he brought forth while I was doubting Him.


Photo by (flickr cc): Ricardo Williams


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Why you should believe in Miracles Thu, 09 Apr 2015 05:00:20 +0000 Why you should believe in Miracles by Helder Favarin

I was three years old when my first brother was born. A few days later we learned he had a...

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Why you should believe in Miracles by Helder Favarin

I was three years old when my first brother was born. A few days later we learned he had a serious malfunction in one of his organs that would soon take away his life. A life-threatening surgery was necessary for his survival. In the midst of this turmoil my parents asked some friends and relatives to come to our house so we could pray together. We prayed asking God to intervene. On that same night my brother was healed and the surgery was no longer necessary. My brother is now 27 and very healthy. A miracle took place.

The second episode happened last year. To our great joy, my wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child. However, five weeks into the pregnancy, Ana suddenly started suffering severe bleeding. We rushed to hospital and she was hospitalised immediately. Though the embryonic sac was still attached, her uterus was filled with blood and the doctors described the situation as a “natural abortion threat”. As the embryo was too young to have a heart beat, the only way to know if it was still alive was to make a two-day comparison of the amount of a specific hormone that grows exponentially during the beginning of any pregnancy. With many friends and family, we were praying for God to intervene.

The doctor then brought us the first results: the amount of hormones was equivalent to a two or  three day pregnancy. The conclusion was that the embryo was no longer alive and therefore curettage was necessary. By then the results of the second test didn’t matter, as the first hormone count was so low. The procedure was to take place on the following day and Ana signed its authorisation.

However, we were not prepared to hear what the doctor said the next day and a thousand words cannot express our reaction. Holding the second test’s results in his hands the doctor said: “It’s now rightly equivalent to five or six weeks of pregnancy. We won’t do curettage, as the embryo might still be alive. I’ll let you go home and we’ll wait and see what happens.” Our son, Matteo, is now 10 months old and very healthy. A miracle took place.

I think you’ll agree when I affirm that our human tendency is to look for natural explanations for these sorts of experiences. “Perhaps the medical diagnosis was incorrect” or “maybe the test results were wrong”, some of us might be thinking. Even if we don’t find scientific explanations, most of us will not even consider a divine cause behind the incident.

If the mind-set in the past was to attribute unknown explanations to divine activity, in today’s western world the mind-set is to never attribute divine activity to unknown explanations. For many people, it’s preferable to not give an explanation at all than consider the silly, naive and ridiculous possibility that God was actually involved.

I can only invite you to step back with me and ask why? Why have we become so committed to deny the existence of a God who intervenes in such mysterious ways? Why have we decided, for instance in media or education, to leave no room for serious consideration of God’s involvement in the world? Could it be that the root of our scepticism is actually our unconfessed rebellion? Could it be that it’s not that we do not believe, but we actually do not want to believe?

It’s interesting how we see the same thing in so many people’s opinion of Jesus himself. Besides his extraordinary teaching, Jesus’ biographical books in the Bible describe 37 of his miracles and make reference to many others that were not registered (see John 21:25). At the same time, most people in the western world today would recognize him as a great teacher, but they wouldn’t be willing to genuinely consider his miraculous life.

The Bible repeatedly demonstrates that divine supernatural activity is actually a natural phenomenon in the world (John 5:17). God is constantly active in his creation. As G.K. Chesterton, the renowned English writer, expressed: “The most wonderful thing about miracles is that they sometimes happen.” And also from the pages of the Bible emerge the awareness that God’s intervention is always motivated by love. In C.S. Lewis’ words: “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

It’s my opinion that embracing the reality of an originator behind the not so uncommon miracles infinitely adds to our existence. Why would we watch life in black and white and on mute when we could watch it full coloured with stereo sound? May I invite you to sincerely consider the reality of God’s intervention next time you read about, hear about or even experience a miracle yourself?


Flickr photo (cc) by  raneko


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Tattoos: To ink or not to ink Wed, 08 Apr 2015 05:22:05 +0000 Tattoos: To ink or not to ink by Nick Schuurman

I almost got a tattoo once. I was seventeen, full to the brim with angst, and dead set on what I...

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Tattoos: To ink or not to ink by Nick Schuurman

I almost got a tattoo once.

I was seventeen, full to the brim with angst, and dead set on what I wanted. I asked my parents, and while it seems completely strange when I think about it now, they hesitantly agreed. I was pretty sure you had to be 18 though,  so I got them to write a signed letter of permission, describing in detail the design I had in mind.

More than a third of all North American men and women between 18 and 28 have tattoos. Put into perspective, that means millennials are four times likelier to invest in ink than their gen-X forerunners. About half of this cohort has either gotten a tattoo, has had their  hair dyed an “untraditional” colour, or has been pierced in a place other than their ear lobe. These numbers, part of a larger, growing trend, are generally similar, if not the same both in the context of the church and outside of it. So basically you are just as likely to sit beside someone on Sunday morning who has a tattoo as you are sitting on a city bus.

In case you missed it, or weren’t alive to hear about it, people used to make a big deal about this sort of thing. A really big deal. Over the course of the past two decades, however, the evangelical church in North America has seen a major shift in how it views the issue. While many remain set in their opposition, and others are not so sure, a lot of people — if they aren’t already tattooed themselves — simply wouldn’t think twice if someone with marked-up arms stood up and started preaching.

So why such a sudden change in opinion? Much of the stigma surrounding tattoos for most of the 20th century was because they were typically associated with the likes of soldiers, sailors, and gang members. But that way of thinking has almost disappeared. What is more, tattoos  are now associated with celebrity and fashion cultures and countercultures, which has in turn added to their popularity and allure among young Christians. The classic Levitical text, often cited by concerned parents, has generally been dismissed in light of its historical setting (the verses prior prohibit eating steak cooked rare and trimming beards). And calls to focus on more urgent matters like evangelism and global justice have limited the extent of the debate.

In an increasingly individualistic context, in which the human body is often viewed as a canvas for creative self-expression, tattoos are seen as a means by which people are able to visually tell their story. We are creatures that make sense out of symbols, whether they take the form of an image of the cross on your back, a fish on your ankle, or your father’s name on your shoulder. “Like the pile of stones that Israel raised when entering the Promised Land to remember God’s faithfulness,” writes Matthew Anderson in his book Earthen Vessels, tattoos often function to “remind us of the events that have shaped us, giving a sense of a stable core.”

Still, many remain troubled. “Our bodies aren’t ours,” they respond. “They belong to God.” Christians frequently voice their concerns regarding misguided motives, mimicry of broader cultural trends, and the expense of it all … If nothing else, the issue falls into the Biblical category of “a matter of conscience,” in which case a number of guiding questions, rather than any sort of universal principle or spiritual law applies. Why is it that you want this so badly? Could having visible tattoos become a point of major division in your family or community, or limit your ability to work effectively in other contexts?

The letter my parents wrote never made it into anyone’s hands. I thought about it for a week, and anxious about the permanence of it, decided to bail on my friends who went ahead and got theirs done. There is no doubt in my mind I would have regretted the cliché, Latin script I had planned to be printed across my wrist. I hadn’t thought it through, and the decision was more than anything about fashion. I now have many of friends with meaningful and beautiful tattoos, but back then (and likely now still), it just wasn’t for me.


Flickr photo (cc) by catanachapodaca


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‘Flight Behavior': New York Times Bestseller by Barbara Kingsolver Tue, 07 Apr 2015 05:59:07 +0000 ‘Flight Behavior': New York Times Bestseller by Barbara Kingsolver by Joel Bentley

Up in the hills above Feathertown, Tennessee, Dellarobia Turnbow is about to turn her back on husband and kin. Then,...

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‘Flight Behavior': New York Times Bestseller by Barbara Kingsolver by Joel Bentley

Up in the hills above Feathertown, Tennessee, Dellarobia Turnbow is about to turn her back on husband and kin. Then, she witnesses an environmental phenomenon: an enormous population of monarch butterflies have settled into the hills above her small town to wait out the winter. No one understands quite why this is happening, but the butterflies act as a crucible for each character’s motives in Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.

flight-behaviorFor Dellarobia, the butterflies open a door to escape the rhythms of domesticity that have been wearing on her. Forced into a shotgun wedding after getting pregnant by her high-school boyfriend, Dellarobia has been consigned to taking care of her two young children for ten years. She’s something of a rebel in this small town, but an impotent one; Dellarobia is content to stir the conversational pot, but isn’t doing much to change her own weary situation. So when Dr. Ovid Byron arrives to study the strange arrival of the butterflies, she quickly becomes his assistant. Whether she does this out of a need for intellectual stimuli or whether she’s acting on a budding attraction she feels toward him, she’s not quite sure.

One of the great strengths of Flight Behavior is Kingsolver’s deep compassion toward her characters, many of whom are easy to cast casual judgment upon. There’s a passive husband reluctant to stand up against his parents’ wishes, a cold and strong-willed mother-in-law, and a charismatic pastor. These are characters we’ve all seen before, but rare is the novelist who understands the motives of each of them: what makes them weak, and why despite those weaknesses, they’re worth rooting for.

In the same vein, Kingsolver takes a hard look at the virtuous among us, casting unflattering light on the self-righteousness of environmental crusaders, while also using the novel as a warning bell about the urgency of climate change. It’s a paradox she pulls off beautifully. No one is spared in her indictments: from the media outlets who are more interested in domestic drama than a seemingly slow-moving global crisis, to the green-conscience urbanites too full of self-righteousness to see the big picture. Though she convicts, she is able to convict with compassion.

In an interview with Stephen L. Fisher published in the Iron Mountain Review, she says, “I’m a hopeful person, although not necessarily optimistic.” If real progress is going to be made in the debate around climate change, we need voices like Kingsolver’s to be honest and convicting.

At one point Dellarobia realizes, “There is no life raft; you’re just freaking swimming all the time.” Stark though it may be, this is a warning that every reader must take to heart in regards to global warming: from those of us who are tempted to brush off climate change as liberal propaganda, to those who feel recycling or buying “green” products is enough. “Our trust is in the Lord” is a noble approach until it becomes an excuse to turn a blind eye to the reality of the consequences our own actions create.

Originally published in Issue 21 of Converge Magazine.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Ben K Adams.

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Christian women in leadership: the stained glass ceiling Sat, 04 Apr 2015 03:22:08 +0000 Christian women in leadership: the stained glass ceiling by Paula Cornell

As much as I long to never again be asked to speak about being a woman in ministry, and as...

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Christian women in leadership: the stained glass ceiling by Paula Cornell

As much as I long to never again be asked to speak about being a woman in ministry, and as much as I want the day to come when the gender of clergy is not in any way interesting, we are not there yet.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber

I long for a time when gender inequality is no longer an issue within the Church. When leadership is granted to individuals who possess the ability to guide and mobilize people, rather than to those who possess a particular body part.

And maybe we are getting closer to this reality; maybe it’s closer than we think.

Shaila Visser, the National Director of Alpha Ministries Canada, is someone who embodies this new era of gender equality. In fact, she says her being a woman has been inconsequential in her vocational ministry.

Visser grew up in a small town in Ontario, and attended church faithfully with her family. It wasn’t until she went to university when she found herself letting go of her childhood faith. “University life was all about getting ahead and being successful,” says Visser. “I really thought Jesus was just for older people.” It wasn’t until her last year of university when she re-examined her life and what she really believed. Through this process, Christ transformed her and she decided to follow Him, and has been following Him ever since.

It was also during this year when she was elected to organize a week-long welcome event for over 5,000 students. Visser says after successfully leading a team and co-ordinating the massive, multifaceted event, she thought, “There’s got to be more than this.”

After she graduated, Visser moved to Toronto to pursue marketing. It was there she met and worked with a variety of experienced women in leadership. Many of these women were incredibly successful, talented leaders in the business community, she says. Yet, Visser recalls that there seemed to be something missing from their lives. A sense of meaning and purpose in their leadership appeared to be lacking. Over time, Visser says she began to recognize a call on her life to be a leader in ministry, and she came to the realization that the object of ministry work was not just the materially poor. “Maybe I’m called to reach people in the corporate ladder.”

Eventually, Visser began using Alpha as a tool for reaching business people in downtown Vancouver. “I believe God has a call on my life to help make Jesus known. My identity in Christ has given me the confidence to step into situations out of my comfort zone,” says Visser.

She has been National Director of Alpha Canada since 2010, a job she notes is much bigger than she is used to. But with a supportive board of directors and a team of people around her, she says she has found her way.

Visser credits God for her success as a leader, as she knows He has given her the ability to organize and motivate people, and to do it well. She says she was also exposed to some great leaders—both women and men—who recognized her raw talent, and invested in her leadership development from the start. By imitating Christ, these mentors empowered her to become the kind of leader who does the same.

Visser’s experience is an example of what God can do when His people are supported and encouraged to live into their gifts. But her story is far from the norm. We might be getting closer to this new reality of gender inequality, but the fact remains: we still haven’t arrived.

We might be getting closer to this new reality of gender inequality, but the fact remains: we still haven’t arrived.

In a recent study (actually, the first of its kind) conducted by Wheaton College sociologist Amy Reynolds and Gordon College provost Janel Currey, it was found that if you’re in a position of leadership at an American evangelical non-profit, you’re probably a man.

Reynolds and Currey examined over 1,400 evangelical organizations in the United States, and discovered that women held 21 per cent of board positions, 19 per cent of top-paid leadership roles, and 16 per cent of CEO posts in 2010. By comparison, 43 per cent of non-profit boards and 40 per cent of CEOs in the general marketplace are women.

Bev Carrick, the executive director of Christian aid organization CAUSE, has been in leadership for over 30 years. She’s lived in this Christian propensity for gender inequality—this “stained glass ceiling” phenomena in religious organizations that has kept women from leadership positions of authority in the church and ministry organizations.

She describes an experience in which she left her job as a director of a large clinic in Montreal to serve as a leader with her husband in a development organization overseas. Upon her arrival, she was told that she wouldn’t receive a salary unless her husband wanted to split his. If she wanted, the organization said, she could stuff envelopes with the other women, while her husband talked strategy with the senior director. Carrick’s husband championed her value as a leader and as a person, even insisting on stuffing envelopes with her. Carrick says he refused to meet with the senior leader until she was included as an equal.

“Women were given leadership in missions for years, but when they came home they could only speak about their projects,” she says. “Whereas overseas they were spearheading everything.”

It’s as if women are only good enough to serve in situations when men accompany them, or with people groups men would prefer to leave to someone else, Carrick adds.

Pastor Shawn Birss says this bias towards men, in his own experience, has been unintentional: “Women are equally qualified [for leadership positions], but as a male, I knew the men better in my church, so they came to mind first.”

It’s as if women are only good enough to serve in situations when men accompany them, or with people groups men would prefer to leave to someone else.

Additionally, Birss says there is a culture of “looking appropriate” in many churches and Christian workplaces. It is unacceptable for men and women to have healthy, non-sexual, collegial friendships and work relationships; having women as leaders then becomes a “threat” to the appearance of male integrity. Birss says there is a need for systemic change within the church around a narrow and damaging gender binary. We continue to tell the same limiting stories: men and women have different traits and gifts according to their sex (i.e. men are leaders and women are not).

But as theologian Jonathan Wilson says, the gifts of the spirit are not defined by sex or gender. “People often assume we have stepped aside from Scripture to allow women into leadership,” says Wilson. “But rather, we have done this on the basis of Scripture.” The Bible doesn’t have too much to say about leadership, he says. It speaks mainly of becoming wise (Proverbs 16:10-20, Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

And when we’re talking about equality in Scripture, we must mention Galatians 3:28, which happens to be one of Carrick’s favourite passages: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Not to mention the fact that Jesus often championed the cause of women, the oppressed, the poor, and the weak.

But somehow women have been left to champion their own cause. “I’ve so often seen women have to defend themselves,” says Birss. “I want to tell women, ‘You don’t have to defend who you are! Being a women is not something you should need to defend, you were created in the image of God, and that is enough.”

Eventually, something’s got to give. At some point, women will be tired of defending themselves and their God-given abilities. “Increasing pressure of women in the second tier [of leadership positions] will eventually create the upward pressure needed to crack the ceiling,” says Wilson. “And women will begin to break through.”

Indeed, women are already breaking through; leaders like Carrick and Visser are creating more opportunities for other women to break through too. Maybe the pendulum, which so often swings from one extreme to another, can find some blessed balance. Maybe we can come to this new reality—to an era where people, regardless of gender, can find their true identity in Christ and live into the gifts He has given them.

Maybe stories like Visser’s can replace the current paradigm.

“I’ve felt embraced, encouraged, and accepted,” says Visser. “I’m very grateful for the women who have gone before me. And at the end of the day, I’m all about making Jesus known.”

Take a good look up; you’ll see there’s a sliver of a crack in the stained glass ceiling.


Here’s some advice for leaders, regardless of your gender.

1. Utilize others.

Know who is good at what you want to be better at. Who has experiences you want to learn from?

2. Be Self-Motivated.

Take responsibility to develop your own leadership.

3. Have a realistic view of your skills, but don’t limit yourself.

You have to step outside your comfort zone to grow.

4. Develop a personal board of directors.

You won’t have all the answers, but do what you can do to find them out. Rally a team of people around you to help you grow. Mentorship is key. Find people who have skills and develop a relationship with them, so you can learn from them.

5. If you feel called to leadership, never give up.

There will always be obstacles. Don’t be easily discouraged, and humbly continue following your call.

6. Be respectful and patient with people regardless of gender.

Persevere in changing gender relations through dialogue. The more the better.

7. Women and men alike need to develop spiritual disciplines to sustain them.

These can be both interior and exterior, like praying, spiritual direction, running, or art.

8. Take your identity from Christ.

Not from your leadership position.

9. Cultivate supportive relationships.

Find people who will create energy for you, and listen to them. Don’t listen to those who rob you of your energy.

Originally published in Issue 21 of Converge Magazine.


Photo (Flickr CC) by Sam Javanrouh.


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It’s ok to fail at being Christian Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:54:57 +0000 It’s ok to fail at being Christian by Becky Hansmeier

“Are you a Christian?”, asked the woman as she scrubbed and trimmed and polished the impurities from my nails. Our conversation...

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It’s ok to fail at being Christian by Becky Hansmeier

“Are you a Christian?”, asked the woman as she scrubbed and trimmed and polished the impurities from my nails. Our conversation had suddenly shifted from friendly formalities, of where I lived and what I did, to something of deeper significance.

I immediately questioned just how deep I should let the conversation get (granted it was still very much surface level). On the one hand, the woman’s genuine interest intrigued me, and I myself was curious to learn more about her religion. After all, questions and conversation create understanding and mutual respect.

As an introvert, having meaningful, deep conversations one-on-one with individuals is my forte. At nail salons, with virtual strangers, not so much. But I decided to let me guard down, just to see where the conversation might lead. She wanted to know what branch of Christianity I was involved with, and she gave me insight into her own religion—a form of Buddhism. We talked about cultural and religious holidays, such as how her family was celebrating Chinese New Year. And she wanted to know about Lent.

More specifically, she wanted to know what I had given up for Lent. When I told her I hadn’t given up anything, there was no look of shock or horror. However, her continued questions told me she was very curious—curious as to why I had not given anything up. Her Christian friends had told her this is what Lent was about—why hadn’t I? Well… because I had been there and done that.

Yes I could have told her about my 9th grade year in high school when I gave up eating sweets for Lent.—the same season in which my grandfather passed away. Their home was filled with temptation as neighbors brought endless trays and of desserts, goodies and sweets. I could have proudly told her that I never touched one.

I could have also shared about my junior year in college when I gave up Facebook. 40 plus days without a single daily update about my friend’s social lives and relationship statuses. Been there and done it.

I could have told her all about my Lenten triumphs—these seasons of excelling at being the “good” Christian (or the better Christian). But had I decided to tell this lady all about my successful Lent seasons, I likely would have omitted the fact that during each of those periods I never once felt closer to God! I had thought I was growing closer to God through the self-inflicted fasting and repenting. But instead I remember drawing on my own strength during these times—exerting my sheer will power to make it the 40 days without cheating. I was living out of my self-centeredness—my egocentric mind had me thinking I could do things without really drawing strength from God. I had completely missed the point. I had failed even thought it looked like a success from the outside.

To top it off, I think I failed at my conversation in the nail salon. I failed to articulate why, as a Christian, I purposefully chose not to give anything up for Lent. I failed to reveal that I am still fully engaged in the season of Lent—by trying to be more intentional in my relationship with God. Praying. Reading devotionals. Drawing on God for strength instead of myself.

But I didn’t say any of these things. I failed. I was more worried about my nail polish drying without any smudges, than really delving into the conversation.

But strangely, I am okay with failing.

I am sinner, after all.

I was born to sin.

And my failing is the exact reason I need Lent. The reason we all need Lent.

It means that Easter is coming.

It means that Christ died on the cross to save me and you and the world from our sins. To save a world full of failures just like me.


Photo by (Flickr CC): Drew Herron


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Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day Wed, 01 Apr 2015 04:48:58 +0000 Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day by Emily A. Dause

If you came to this article thinking you would read a scandalous confession about my virginity (or lack thereof), you...

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Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day by Emily A. Dause

If you came to this article thinking you would read a scandalous confession about my virginity (or lack thereof), you will be disappointed. However, I hope you will stick around. The fact that the title enticed you is exactly what I want to talk about.

In much of the Christian world (and outside of it), wearing the color white on one’s wedding day is taken to be a symbol of purity, meaning the bride has not engaged in sexual intercourse before her wedding night. (We have no such symbols for the groom, but that is another issue for another time). For example, the title of Dannah Gresh’s popular book, And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity, is based around the idea that a white dress indicates the bride’s sexual purity. Growing up, I remember hearing stories about Christian brides who chose not to wear white—or whose mothers forbade them from wearing white—because they had lost their virginity before their wedding day. When one of the notoriously conservative Duggar daughters (of 19 Kids and Counting reality TV fame) chose to wed in a pink dress, one media commentator wondered if the Duggar parents did not allow their daughter to wear white because of premarital sexual behavior. Regardless of the truth of that situation, the fact is, when a bride does not wear white (especially a Christian bride), we start wondering about the status of her virginity.

However, did you know that less than 200 years ago, most brides in the western world did not wear white? They wore a color that made practical sense or that they simply liked. Some wealthy brides chose to wear white to show off (white was a luxury; it is difficult to clean, after all). However, wearing white became a trend because Queen Victoria chose to wear white when she married Prince Albert in 1840. We must really love and respect Queen Victoria, patterning ourselves after her. I am sure the billion dollar wedding industry appreciates her, too.

At some point after white became a popular wedding dress color, someone decided that the white wedding dress stood as a symbol of the bride’s purity. It is uncertain how this came about; some believe an influential social magazine pronounced Queen Victoria’s white the color of innocence for brides, while others see a religious connection to white robes of clergy and white christening gowns. However the link was born, the veil (originally a superstitious method of warding off evil spirits) was pushed into this purity box, too, and together they create excessive visual emphasis on the bride’s virginity. Altogether, the purity culture implies “that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity [can] be measured by whether or not a man has touched her” (Elizabeth Esther). As blogger Samantha Field points out in this video, in ancient times of arranged marriages, a woman’s virginity was completely tied to her economic worth as a bride. As far as we have come, and as removed from these traditions’ origins as we may be, we are still attached to these remnants of a woman’s worth and identity being grounded in her sexual activity, importantly solely for the purposes of her pleasing a man.

I do not want to be part of any so-called tradition that has been morphed into yet another representation of a woman being given to a man. I do not want to be walked down the aisle to be “given away” as if I were a piece of property. Similarly, I do not want to be presented in a white dress as though I am an object prepared for sale. If I marry, the wedding will be an act that shows our mutual commitment to and acceptance of one another, sexual history and all. You see, regardless of virginity, we all have a sexual history. As blogger Emily Maynard has so aptly stated, “Whether or not you’re a virgin at your wedding, you will still have unique sexual baggage to navigate, because you are a sexual being and you exist before marriage.” God created us all as sexual beings, and it is not a switch that turns on and off. Whatever choice we make about our sexual behavior before marriage—even if that choice is to completely repress our sexuality—we are making a choice about something that is part of us. The white wedding dress contributes to the mentality that one’s sexuality somehow lies dormant until marriage, and it takes away from the full story of who we are as human beings.

Furthermore, wearing a white wedding dress is seen to set a bride apart as a moral success or a moral superior. It communicates that some personal choices are better than others, that some sins are worse than others. Elizabeth Esther   that because she was a virgin at her wedding, she “felt superior to ‘damaged’ women. The purity culture showed no compassion for me so I had no compassion for myself or women who had ‘chosen’ to ‘give away’ their virtue.” That is not a message I want to risk communicating to female friends who attend my wedding, regardless of their personal decisions. I would rather my choice of dress be a statement about the grace and freedom Christ extends to us, no matter our situation. You may wonder if anyone would still really be thinking about what a white dress symbolizes. However, even secular Dr. Oz’s website found it necessary to address the “scandal” of non-virgin Kim Kardashian choosing to wear white at her wedding. How much more, then, would Christians, most of whom still adhere to virginity before marriage, associate a bride’s white dress with her virginity?

Honestly, even aside from all these reasons, if I marry, I am not going to wear white because I simply do not want to. God created all kinds of colors, and I think he would enjoy me choosing whatever color I like. If you want to wear white, go for it. But wear it because you want to, not because someone says you have to or because you want it to represent something it simply cannot. I, however, will not be wearing white. I am fair-skinned enough as it is. I think Queen Victoria will be able to handle her disappointment.


Photo by (Flickr CC): Qsimple


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