Thu, 24 Apr 2014 23:18:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When pastors experience ‘moral failure’ Thu, 24 Apr 2014 11:00:21 +0000 Another day, another public admission of “moral failure.”

Sadly, it’s so typical it’s almost cliché. Most recently, we’ve seen the fall of Florida mega church pastor Bob Coy. And while the general public hasn’t gotten all of the details, we’ve heard enough to know the story well.

He isn’t the first individual to fall from grace, and he certainly won’t be the last. However, as we read the various articles related to Coy’s case, I can’t help but be reminded of the following ways that we can process and respond to this information in a Christ honouring way.

Grief rather than public stoning

My heart grieves for those who are connected with Coy, and for Coy himself. When Christian men and women fail, it sours the taste of faith for many. When this dubious distinction is connected to a public figure such as Coy — a book-writing, marriage-counselling, mega church-leading “man of God” — the adverse effects have the potential to become all the more damaging.

The easy way out is to cast judgement: to figuratively stone him until there’s nothing left. Can and should we keep individuals such as this accountable? Scripturally, there’s no doubt. We must. Paul spoke often of correction and discipline throughout his letters. He didn’t ignore sin, nor did he condone sweeping wrong actions under the rug. Instead, he outlines the reality of sin as well as the proper steps in bringing a brother or sister back to Christ.

However, we must differentiate between accountability and that of the judges’ bench. One is for the purpose of correction and (hopefully) restoration, while the other, in every sense, is final. As such, it can only be administered by the one true Judge, the Creator of all things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes that we relate to each other only through Christ. If this is the case, and I believe that it is, then we must respond in a manner fitting those who follow Christ: focusing on forgiveness, soul repair, and a love that has the ability to overwhelm past (and future) sins. This response is neither weak nor watered down; rather it requires real strength.

Why do I forgive? I forgive because Bob Coy could be me. He could be you; he could be anyone who turns their gaze away from Christ for even one moment.

Proper discernment over pressure to act

Coy’s church gave a statement suggesting that Coy’s publications would be removed from all public postings. Some have seen this as a knee-jerk reaction, a quick move to stem the bleeding and distance themselves from the controversy. But quite frankly, all I sense is a group of people, though they’re shell shocked by the situation, who are unwilling to feed their former pastor to the lions. The discernment needed for a situation of this magnitude is immense; their need for Jesus to be the centre, bigger still. From my perspective, the church’s position served these truths well.

The reality of The Fall

All of this highlights a need for Coy to take a big step back (which he has). Those entrusted with speaking into the lives of others must be beyond reproach. Books, messages, podcasts, even if they’re written or recorded, are a form of teaching. If the individual’s life is in a place where he or she has been disqualified from serving in public ministry, then those teachings need to be handled with care until healing has restored the soul.

Could Coy lose his marriage? Yes. Does that make his words about marriage any less true? No. But his unfaithfulness has unfortunately added seeds of doubt; seeds which could grow into the loss of the ability for him to convey the truth effectively. The wounds are too fresh. But as time moves on, and as the desire to come to Jesus grows, this too may pass.

This situation is complex. But at its very core, it reveals the truth that all of us need healing of some kind. Therefore, as we process these sad events, let’s do so with the proper perspective: grieving, allowing time and space for discernment, and recognizing the importance of healing through the work of Christ.

Photo courtesy of Liberty University (CC). 

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month: survivors, not victims Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:00:29 +0000 Alex* was just like any college girl in her early 20s: bright, beautiful, and energetic. She valued her family, her friends, and her faith.

Then one night everything changed.

Her friend was hosting a graduation party, so Alex, along with a few classmates, decided to go and have a fun evening out. Alex remained sober throughout the party, as she had admirably high standards. She was dressed comfortably in jeans and a t-shirt.

It wasn’t long before one of the guys at the party noticed her. They spent most of the evening talking and enjoying one another’s company, harmlessly and innocently. He seemed like a nice guy, giving her enough of a reason to stay past the time she had to leave.

Once Alex had realized it was well into the wee hours of the night, she started gathering her things, preparing to leave. But the guy became persistent that she stayed. After several declines to his offer, he became more and more aggressive.

Alex was a strong, athletic girl, but she was no match for the strength of a well-built, six-foot male. After refusing his advances multiple times, it was clear he was not going to take no for an answer.

Alex was taken into a room and raped.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Each year during the month of April, various organizations plan events and activities to highlight sexual violence as a public health, human rights, and social justice issue. These events also seek to reinforce the need for prevention efforts.

Every 17 minutes a woman is assaulted by forced sexual intercourse in Canada. Young women aged 15-24 are the most likely victims. And in the United States, one in every five women is sexually assaulted at some point in her life.

For years, Alex has carried her secret like a dark, heavy veil of ignominy. For years, she has felt violated and defiled.

How could have this happened?

What could I have done differently? 

How did I possibly let him think I wanted that? 

How could anyone want me now?

Alone in this world of trauma, Alex is victimized by not only the assault, but by the stigma of what it means to be a woman who has been raped.

Because women who have been sexually assaulted are often blamed for the atrocities committed against them.

Well, why was she at that party anyway?

Was she wearing revealing clothing?

She should know better. She knows men can’t control their desires. Especially if they have been drinking.

I always knew she was promiscuous. She brought this on herself.

No matter who you are, what you are wearing, how much you have or have not been consuming, hear this: rape is never OK.

It has now been several years since every woman’s nightmare became Alex’s reality. She explains that the assault is something she can never fully erase, but with time, God has helped her find freedom from the pain that has oppressed her for so long.

Countless, innocent women are raped and abused every few seconds — a large majority of them keeping the nightmare a secret for fear of further humiliation, shame, and even protection for their lives.

Is the Evangelical church itself part of the problem? How has it supported and counselled victims of sexual assault?

In an article published by the Huffington Post, Boz Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and Liberty University law professor who investigates abuse, discusses how he examines the abuse cases surrounded evangelical institutions.

“Abusers discourage whistle-blowing by condemning gossip to try to keep people from reporting abuse,” he says. Victims are also told to protect the reputation of Jesus. Too many Protestant institutions have sacrificed souls in order to protect their institutions, he says. “We’ve got the Gospels backwards.”

In the very building where individuals should find a refuge, many only see a place of judgment. A place of rejection. A place where they will only find further shame.

This type of oppression has the ability to lead to countless physical and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, eating disorders, suicidal tendencies, and susceptibility to substance abuse.

Women (and men) who have walked this dark and heartbreaking road need to know their worth and value is not measured by a disgusting, unfair act that was done to them. It does not define them. And most of all — it was not their fault.

Actress Gabrielle Union recently discussed how she had been raped at gunpoint at the age of 19 during an interview on the ABC daytime talk show, The View.

When asked how she found the courage to overcome the trauma, she says:

“I hated the cloak of victimhood and I realized that people were going to allow me to be a victim and not empower me to succeed. Not encourage me to achieve my dreams and goals or step outside of the box. I wanted that cloak of victimhood off and I wanted to embrace being a survivor.”

Classifying someone who has experienced abuse as nothing but a “victim” — and leaving her in that place of victimhood — is hammering the final nail into her coffin.

Those of us who proclaim to follow Christ need to be at the forefront of the fight against sexual assault. We need to be equipped to provide proper counselling and aid to those who have experienced to sexual violence.

The silence must be broken. The voices of those afflicted must be heard. And they must be celebrated as survivors who have overcome.

If you would like further information on support and aid for victims of sexual assault, please visit or .

*Names have been changed for the privacy and protection of individuals involved.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Katie Tegtmeyer.


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It’s a post-graduation identity crisis Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:00:41 +0000 “We loved your work last summer, and we could deal with an extra hand for the next couple of months. Would you be able to join our team of reporters in Brussels?”

This was the phone call of my dreams. My carefully thought-through reaction was a squeaky, “Yesyesyes, when can I start?” as I scribbled the cancellation for my room’s contract in London on paper.

But then there was a second call seven days later, a voicemail message full of bad news and so sorrys.

Picture me, two months before my graduation ceremony, with three suitcases filled with a few clothes and a few more kilos of self-doubt. Two other rejection letters had surfaced in my inbox days earlier.

For a while after that voicemail, everyone I talked with probably came away feeling deeply disturbed by the sheer gravity of my first world problems. But in all seriousness, I felt humiliated in a way that I had never experienced before.

What even happened?

Something didn’t work out which forced me to slightly adjust my future plans. That’s what a sensible person would think, anyway. But I saw this rejection as a personal insult on my identity, as something that disqualified me as a successful human being.

Maybe it’s because I’m in that season of life where the world is your oyster and nothing can hold you back because you’re in charge of your own destiny, and whoop, the best is yet to come. But then you wake up feeling a bit hungover from life because all of that just isn’t happening. The bills are piling up and the city that you used to love more than anything is turning into a labyrinth of exclusively successful suit-wearing monsters who just don’t care. And it’s all happening in slow motion, in front of your eyes.

In a culture of tireless CV optimization and 24/7 social media races for affirmation, nobody wants to fail. Nobody wants to admit that life is not a world of sugar canes, an eternal stroll through a rose garden in spring. Or a beautifully coherent story that sounds as if Nicholas Sparks had drafted it.

Even if our lives consisted of success instead of failure, or of failure that eventually leads to success (because we are awesome and didn’t let the bad guys get us down), I’m worried that God gets left out completely.

I bet He doesn’t look at us when we can’t find sleep at 2 a.m., thinking, “Man up, you whiny Generation Y kid!” He didn’t write, “Try again, fail better, bro!” into the book of Psalms. Instead, He encourages us to find our identity and confidence in Him alone, day in, day out.

I want an exciting roller-coaster life that differs from the ordinary and convenient. But “exciting” will inevitably hurt, and I want to be OK with that.

God has given me — a frustratingly ambitious and incredibly impatient mess of a girl — this life. So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Maybe it’s time to kick out my suitcases of self-doubt. And maybe it’s time to stop searching for my identity in job descriptions and a dazzling network, and find it in the One who has chosen and loved me from the very beginning.

Photo (Flickr CC) by cote.

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Is atheism a new ethnicity? Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:00:36 +0000 Atheists are a hard group to pin down.

They are defined not by what they believe, but by what they don’t believe — namely, God. Because of this, atheism is by definition a negative belief, not a positive one.

Holding a negative belief can at times be problematic. It would be like if somebody asked you where you lived and you listed all the places where you don’t live. It’s not wrong, but it’s not very constructive either.

Even Sam Harris, a renowned atheist, captures some of the contradictions inherent in the word “atheism.” In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, he says,

“In fact, ‘atheism’ is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.’ We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

This is why many atheists prefer to identify themselves in more positive terms like materialist, naturalist, rationalist, freethinker, humanist, or secularist rather than negative terms like atheist or agnostic that are unavoidably linked to religion.

A 2012 Pew Forum study used the term “nones” to identify individuals who did not express any religious affiliation. Interestingly though, despite what “nones” seems to imply, it does not actually preclude a belief in God: “Most of the ‘nones’ [polled in the study] say they believe in God, and most describe themselves as religious, spiritual or both.”

This goes to show that no one is actually a “nones” in every day life. Everyone holds positive beliefs, values, and practices that govern their choices on a daily basis.

Even atheists.

For this reason, some people argue that atheism should be considered an ethnicity.

In the National Post, Jackson Doughart recently argued that a person raised in a secular household would assuredly absorb many of the beliefs, values, and practices of their atheist parents. According to Doughart, ethnicity depends primarily on the group into which an individual is born. And as it appears in Canada, atheism is increasingly becoming a cultural “group.”

It might seem odd to consider atheism an ethnicity, but when you look at the definition of ethnicity it’s not completely illogical. Ethnicity, at its core, is a set of values and practices passed down from generation to generation.

Ethnicity is not unlike culture, which is also concerned with values and practices, but it is also not the same as culture. Where ethnicity is backward looking and concerned with tradition, culture is forward looking and concerned with future.

In other words, ethnicity is culture’s tradition.

So, if we accept that atheists or secularists or humanists are a group who hold positive beliefs that are part of a cultural tradition, then it isn’t a stretch to think of atheism as an ethnicity.

We also tend to define ethnicity along racial lines, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

Consider Judaism, whose “ethnicity” now contains numerous different races, or the Balkan states of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia who are racially similar but ethnically diverse because of their religious traditions.

Or think of Canada. Canada consists of an eclectic mix of races and cultures that make it very difficult to point at someone or some community and say, “You are Canadian!” (Not that Canadians would point — that would be rude.)

But just because it’s difficult to articulate what it means to be Canadian doesn’t mean there is nothing that is distinctly Canadian. Canada has a cultural tradition and that tradition could — and perhaps should — be thought of in ethnic terms.

The same is true for atheism. Just because it is difficult to articulate what an atheist believes, doesn’t mean they don’t believe anything.

We all, whether we like it or not, inherit beliefs from those who came before us.

It’s likely that atheists will surely scoff at any attempt to categorize their community based on inheritance. Atheism does, after all, come from a pedigree that attacks any inherited belief or tradition. No belief or tradition, religious or otherwise, is safe from the probes and scalpels of the iconoclastic atheist who believes that the laboratory is the only place to discover truth.

But herein lies one of the major problems with atheism: it assumes beliefs should not involve any dimension of uncertainty. Which is unlike religious belief, that faith is built on trust, not proof.

Most of our inherited beliefs, values, and practices cannot be proven as fact. No matter how hard the atheist or secularist or humanist may try, they will not be able to reject everything that can’t be measured or constructed with the scientific method. Some things, like ethnicity and cultural traditions, are beyond the reach of science. And ironically, this means that atheism is also beyond the reach of science, because many — I dare say most — of its inherited beliefs, values, and practices cannot be proven as fact.

It’s like being Canadian, really. “Canadianness” may be difficult to identify, measure, and articulate. But we know it exists. Somewhere. Even if we can’t prove it.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2014 issue of Converge Magazine.

Flickr photo (cc) by Tom Westbrook

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Is there more to Easter? Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:00:58 +0000 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:


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.


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.


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 status Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:00:48 +0000 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 mundane Wed, 16 Apr 2014 20:55:41 +0000 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? Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:00:48 +0000 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? Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:11:56 +0000

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 Internet Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:00:15 +0000 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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