Converge Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:00:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ just another superhero cliché? Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:00:12 +0000 Is ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ just another superhero cliché? by Josh Hamm

When a theatre full of people doesn’t stop laughing for more than five minutes at a time, chances are the...

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Is ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ just another superhero cliché? by Josh Hamm

When a theatre full of people doesn’t stop laughing for more than five minutes at a time, chances are the movie is either very funny or incredibly stupid. Guardians of the Galaxy is the former. I loved this movie on first viewing, and as far as I can tell, everyone else I know does too. My Facebook news feed is inundated with exaggerated praise: “the one must see blockbuster of the summer;” “the movie we’ve been waiting for.” As someone who has a soft spot for hyperbole, I resonate with these sentiments, and if I’m being honest, my own Facebook status was similarly overstated. This is the best popcorn movie of the summer. 

But, wait a second. There have been other worthwhile movies. Edge of Tomorrow is surprisingly well conceived and executed; I’d even argue that from an editing and conceptual standpoint, it is more sophisticated than Guardians. X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the better comic book movies of recent years, featuring a star-studded cast, and has received acclaim across the board. 

So what makes Guardians different? For those of us tired of formulaic Marvel movies, why should we care about this superhero movie? What does it do that the others don’t?

On the one hand, a Marvel movie is an event. It’s something you see so you can keep up with the conversations and interests of everyone else who saw it for the same reason. It’s a “must see” because it has been declared as a “must see,” and it’s part of the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) phenomenon. But it’s the same with any movie with this amount of buzz and hoopla surrounding it. (Remember Avatar?) 

In my estimation, Guardians of the Galaxy is worth an overpriced movie ticket for more reasons than FOMO. For one thing, it’s not bogged down by the same self serious solemnity that plagued X-Men: Days of Future Past or parts of Edge of Tomorrow. Almost every action movie has its share of jokes and witticisms, but Guardians elevates its humour to the point where it is an integral part of the world and characters. It’s not just [insert joke] here and there; without the humour, the fun, the moments of beauty and whimsy, there would be no movie. 

Written and directed by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy is as close to a 1980s romp as we’re going to get these days. It’s not just that the soundtrack consists of ‘70s and ’80s pop songs, but it has a fun, adventurous spirit that owes more to the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark than previous Marvel movies. It even has a Firefly/Serenity vibe to it. While Guardians is still a bit too formulaic for its own good, its zany, devil-may-care attitude sets it apart from more traditional fare. 

Plot-wise, it doesn’t deviate too far from what we’ve come to expect from comic book movies. A bunch of supposedly ragtag misfits (who all happen to be super intelligent/strong/charming) come together to save the world (or, in this case, the galaxy). Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), is an outlaw who gets in over his head when he steals an unconscionably powerful artifact. A powerful warlord, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), is determined to recover it and use it to destroy worlds, starting with Nova, a peaceful, Earth-like planet his government has just signed a peace treaty with.

Before the big bad Ronan catches up with him, Star-Lord is arrested on Nova, along with Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She has been sent by Ronan to recover the artifact, but intends to double cross him. A pair of mercenaries, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a talking racoon, and Groot (Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree, are also arrested. The movie moves along at a brisk pace from here on out, introducing the last member of the team, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a man whose family was murdered by Ronan, and is driven by vengeance. Predictably, these self proclaimed “losers” (Star-Lord: “I mean people who lost stuff”) team up, first for selfish reasons, and then to save the galaxy from destruction. Which, if you think about it, is a bit of a selfish reason too.

Rocket: “Why would you want to save the galaxy?”
Star-Lord: “Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!”

There’s the requisite climax with countless lives at stake, the mass destruction of buildings and civilians. The difference from other superhero movies is that Guardians doesn’t use wanton destruction in the same way that Man of Steel does. Here, the heroes are striving to save the people, as opposed to causing more damage. It’s refreshing to see heroes saving civilians rather than just having an excuse to look cool while killing baddies. 

But beyond the jokes, there are very few scenes which elevated the movie above its subject matter, and they all come from Groot. Voiced by Vin Diesel, Groot stole almost every scene he was in. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s best movie Diesel has been in since The Iron Giant (1999).  He only speaks one line of dialogue, “I am Groot,” but his inflexion and timing let it become quite a versatile phrase. Guardians occasionally pauses the gags and mayhem for moments of beauty: when Groot grows a flower for a young girl on a mining colony, or lets loose hundreds of fireflies on a darkened ship. The camera lingers long enough on the stunning visual as the audience is treated to something beyond the requisite fisticuffs of superhero films. 

The movie gets by on its nostalgic charm. It nods to classic songs and movies, giving it automatic brownie points. However, this covers up a rather empty plot, awkward transitions, poorly fleshed out side characters, and another dull Marvel villain. 

On my first viewing, I loved Guardians. I loved its fun, fresh vibe and non-stop jokes (which I still love), and its daringness to be The Avengers’ weird cousin. But on my second viewing, I realized this movie may not be deserving of its heaping pile of hyperbolic praise. The film is still far too reliant on non sequitur character development, traditional Marvel plotting, and it moves too fast for its own good. 

While I’m less tired of the superhero genre than many other critics, the constant onslaught of banality wrapped up in action and humour is beginning to wear thin. I’m optimistic though; even with all its flaws, Guardians of the Galaxy does push back against the conventions of its genre. Upcoming Marvel films like Dr. Strange and Ant-Man may give the genre a much needed rejuvenation. 

Is Guardians the best popcorn blockbuster of the summer? Perhaps, but that isn’t saying much.

Photo courtesy of  Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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Show up and do something Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:00:13 +0000 Show up and do something by Michael Morelli

I used to want to be a zoologist. I would spend hours watching episodes of The Crocodile Hunter, dreaming about...

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Show up and do something by Michael Morelli

I used to want to be a zoologist. I would spend hours watching episodes of The Crocodile Hunter, dreaming about getting paid to hang out with cool animals all day. The one problem? I have no aptitude for biology. I just wanted someone to recognize my dream and hand me the job without having to work for it.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has fallen prey to the dreaming-not-doing trap. Many of us are subconsciously holding out for that perfect moment when everything we’ve dreamed about magically materializes in front of us. When that moment comes, we tell ourselves, we can start doing the things that matter. We preoccupy ourselves with the question, What am I really passionate about? When really, we should be asking, Where are the opportunities to make my life matter today?

I heard a variation of that second question in a presentation by Seth Godin around the time I turned 20, and it changed everything for me. It forced me to stop looking inward for answers about where I should be and what I should be doing. Instead, it urged my gaze outward, allowing me to see the world for what it truly is: not a place that owes me something I muse about, but a place filled with countless possibilities, waiting to be explored and discovered. All I need to do is have the grit and the focus and the joy to open that door, walk across that room, talk to that person, share that idea, deliver on the project, make that piece of art, or pay for that stranger’s coffee. And to wait and see what happens next.

I’ve heard it said that 70 per cent of success in life is showing up. I didn’t hear what the other 30 per cent is, but I like to think it has something to do with being open enough to stick around and get your hands dirty, instead of standing with your arms at your sides. 

Most of us have traded in this wisdom for the apathy-generating myth that everything we dream about in between lunch and second shift is owed to us. And that it’s OK if we remain complacent until our far-fetched dreams become a reality.

You might find your job boring. You might not even be able to land a job right now. You might be single. You might be married. You might be rich, you might poor, or you might be somewhere in between. Whatever your circumstances, don’t waste time dreaming about a day when your situation will make a 180 degree turn. 

Here’s a game changing idea: maybe what you dream about isn’t the best dream for you. 

Maybe it’s a distraction. Maybe it has made you stationary. Maybe there’s another dream out there, in the actual world, that you can discover and seize and grow, only by showing up and doing something.

Photo (Flickr CC) by jonathan lopez.

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Ask Amanda: help! I’m meeting his parents Tue, 26 Aug 2014 11:00:09 +0000 Ask Amanda: help! I’m meeting his parents by Amanda Bast

Dear Amanda, I am worried about meeting my boyfriend’s parents.  They do speak English, but it isn’t their first language....

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Ask Amanda: help! I’m meeting his parents by Amanda Bast


Dear Amanda,

I am worried about meeting my boyfriend’s parents. 

They do speak English, but it isn’t their first language. How do I deal with a language barrier? What do I do if they serve unusual food? What should I wear? Do I call them Mr. and Mrs.? What are safe topics to talk about? The weather, work, school, faith? What should I bring as a hostess gift? 

Any advice you could offer would be so helpful!

Heidi (23, Ontario)

Dear Heidi,

I feel your pain. I really do. Meeting your person’s people can be really intimidating. It’s one of the most intimidating things about a new relationship. So many things can go wrong! What if they don’t laugh at your jokes? What if you do something offensive? What if you don’t get along? What if you set the yard on fire? What if you give someone a black eye while you’re playing volleyball? WHAT IF YOU HAVE TO SHARE A BATHROOM WITH THE CAT?

First off: relax. If you keep worrying, you’ll make it worse. You can run through all of the worst-case scenarios in your head, but chances are, everything will be just fine.

Oh, and in this situation, you are the kettle and I am the pot. I’m preaching to myself, here. I’ve been there, done that, stressed and obsessed more than I’d like to admit. But guess what? I’m still alive. And I’ve met some really great parents (and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents).

Any time you enter into a family setting with a family that isn’t your own, it’s like entering into a new culture. You could grow up side-by-side your entire lives and still experience entirely different family cultures. Family dynamics are strange to outsiders. That’s how families work. The anxiety you feel about fitting in with his family is totally normal. The cross-cultural aspect just adds a layer of complications.

Run through some of these questions with your man ahead of time. Let him know that you’re apprehensive and a little nervous of the unknown. Ask him to tell you about his parents; any insight you can get beforehand is going to ease your anxiety. Brainstorm any potential huge social faux pas you need to avoid. (For example, are you allowed to look the cat in the eye?) He’s the expert when it comes to his own family. He can answer a lot of the cultural specifics that I can’t.

Now in terms of that language barrier — if they are able to do so, I hope they would speak in a language you can understand when you’re around. If there’s something said you don’t understand, it’s perfectly polite to ask your boyfriend to translate for you. If you really want to impress them, ask them how to say “thank you” and whip that out after you eat dinner.

My best advice when you meet new people is to keep them talking about themselves. When you are engaged and interested in someone, they are more likely to feel warm and pleasant thoughts towards you. Ask questions. Offer compliments. Smile. If all else fails, ask them what your boyfriend was like as a child. Every mother has a few good stories to share. 

Take a little something with you as a hostess gift that says something about your own family. A jar of Grandma’s homemade jam or your mom’s oatmeal cookies would do the trick. Meeting the parents isn’t a major holiday, though. Don’t spend your whole paycheque on a hostess gift. A little something is thoughtful, but anything more than that makes it look like you’re trying too hard.

Don’t worry, my friend! It’s only once that you have to meet his parents for the first time! Every time after that will get easier. The bottom line is this: if this guy is smitten with you, chances are the people who are smitten with him will also be smitten with you. Relax and try to have fun.

Male nurses, Grandma’s ashes, and potty-trained cats,


Here’s what you need to do to be a part of the fun:

If you have a question, leave a comment, send a tweet (@AmandaMBast) or an email ( Please include your first name (I won’t answer any questions sent in by bubbleguppy5000. Unless that’s your real name), age, and place of residence. I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Please note: Converge Magazine reserves the right to edit your questions for spelling, grammar, and brevity.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Raban Haaijk.

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The terror of total obligation Mon, 25 Aug 2014 11:00:53 +0000 The terror of total obligation by Kevin DeYoung

We hear sermons that convict us for not praying more. We read books that convince us to do more for...

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The terror of total obligation by Kevin DeYoung

We hear sermons that convict us for not praying more. We read books that convince us to do more for global hunger. We talk to friends who inspire us to give more and read more and witness more. The needs seem so urgent. The workers seem so few. If we don’t do something, who will? We want to be involved. We want to make a difference. We want to do what’s expected of us. But there just doesn’t seem to be the time.

Along with some of the advice I’ve gotten about pastoral ministry: make sure you do a few hours of counseling a week; make sure you are working to develop leaders every week; make sure you are doing one-on-one discipleship every week; make sure you do a few hours of evangelism every week; make sure you reserve half a day for reading every week; make sure you are spending time in Greek and Hebrew every week.

Who is sufficient for these things? And that’s to say nothing about humanitarian crises and community service. 

I know the Bible says a lot about “widows and orphans.” But what do I do? Where do I start? Where do I find the time? How can I possibly meet all these obligations? I have five children and a full-time job. I try to be generous with my money, try to share my faith once in awhile, try to do family devotions more often than not, try to take my wife out on a date every other week, try to respond to needs in my church, and try to pray for the poor and the lost. Is it possible that God is not asking me to do anything about sex trafficking right now?

Is it possible that God is not asking me to do anything about sex trafficking right now?

Before you think I’m a total nut-job and scream, “Physician, heal thyself!” let me hasten to add: I do understand the gospel. I know that all this talk of what I should be doing or could be doing is not healthy. I know that. And I’m really doing fine. I’m not on the verge of burnout or breakdown. I don’t feel pressure to keep the earth spinning on its axis. Most days I don’t feel guilty about all the stuff I’m not doing. But getting to the place where my conscience can rest has been a process. 

I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves.

That’s not how the apostle Paul lived (1 Cor. 4:4), and it’s not how God wants us to live, either (Rom. 12:1–2). Either we are guilty of sin — like greed, selfishness, idolatry — and we need to repent, be forgiven, and change. Or something else is going on. It’s taken me several years, a lot of reflection, and a bunch of unnecessary busyness to understand that when it comes to good causes and good deeds, “do more or disobey” is not the best thing we can say.

Here are some of thoughts that have helped me get out from under the terror of total obligation.

I am not the Christ. 

The senior sermon for my graduating class at seminary was given by Gordon Hugenberger of Park Street Church in Boston. The sermon was based on John the Baptist’s words, “I freely confess I am not the Christ.” Hugenberger’s point to a group of soon-to-be pastors was simple: “You may be part of the bridal party, but you are not the groom. You are not the Messiah, so don’t try to be. Along with the Apostles’ Creed and the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession, make sure you confess John the Baptist’s creed: I am not the Christ.” I still have a copy of the sermon and listen to it whenever I can find a tape deck. Our Messianic sense of obligation would be greatly relieved if we confessed more regularly what we are not.

There is good news. 

I was also helped with my busyness issues in seminary by reading a little book by Tim Dearborn called Beyond Duty: A Passion for Christ, a Heart for Mission. Dearborn, the director of faith and development for World Vision, argues that for too long the church has motivated people to mission by news of natural catastrophes, complex humanitarian disasters, unreached people groups, and oppressed and exploited minorities. We’ve been given statistics and stories about the all-too-sad conditions of the world. The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, Dearborn maintains, has been turned into bad news about all the problems in the world and how much more we have to do to make things right. The take-home then becomes: serve more, give more, care more, do more. Dearborn reminds us that the gospel is good news of great joy, and that God is the only hope for the world.

Care is not the same as do. 

At the Lausanne missions gathering in 2010, John Piper made the statement that “we should care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” He chose the word “care” quite carefully. He didn’t want to say we should do something about all suffering, because we can’t do something about everything. But we can care. This means when we hear about grinding poverty or legal abortion or biblical illiteracy, we are not indifferent. We think and feel that these things ought not to be so. We won’t all care about every issue in the same way, but there are some issues we should all care about, some issues that should at least prick our hearts and prompt us to pray. Not giving a rip about sex slaves is not an option for the Christian. Not doing something directly to combat this particular evil is an option.

We have different gifts and different callings. 

Every Christian must be prepared to give an answer for the reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15), but not everyone will do beach evangelism. Every Christian should be involved in the Great Commission, but not everyone will move overseas. Every Christian should oppose abortion, but not everyone will adopt or volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. We need Christians who spend their lives improving inner-city schools and Christians whose dream is to get great theological books translated into Polish. And we need Christians who don’t make others feel guilty (and don’t feel guilty themselves) when one of us follows a different passion than another. I read and write a lot. That’s what I do well. But that doesn’t mean anyone should feel guilty for not reading and writing as much as I do. You have your own gifts and calling. We have to be OK with other Christians doing certain good things better and more often than we do. 

Remember the church. 

The only work that absolutely must be done in the world is Christ’s work. And Christ’s work is accomplished through Christ’s body. The church — gathered in worship on Sunday and scattered through its members throughout the week — is able to do exponentially more than any of us alone. I can respond to Christ’s call in one or two ways, but I am a part of an organism and organization that can respond and serve in a million ways. 

I can always pray right now. 

Prayer can feel like the biggest burden of all. We can always pray more, and we can’t possibly pray for every need in the world. Even if we are extremely organized and disciplined, we won’t be able to consistently pray for more than a handful of people and problems. But that doesn’t mean our prayers are limited to the items we can write on a 3  x 5 card. If your aunt’s cousin has upcoming heart surgery, pray immediately after you hear about it. When a missionary shares her requests, pray right on the spot for them. Don’t let the moment pass you by. Pray a short prayer. Trust God for the results and, in many cases, move on. 

Jesus didn’t do it all. 

Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.

Content taken from Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung, ©2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187,

Photo (Flickr CC) by TheeErin.

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OM Ships International: bringing knowledge, help, and hope Thu, 21 Aug 2014 11:00:36 +0000 OM Ships International: bringing knowledge, help, and hope by Joel Kumar

Stephanie Desloges never imagined working as a graphic designer on a ship in the middle of the ocean. But about...

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OM Ships International: bringing knowledge, help, and hope by Joel Kumar

Stephanie Desloges never imagined working as a graphic designer on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

But about a year ago, she realized she needed to make a change in her life. “I wasn’t growing spiritually and I wasn’t doing anything to contribute to God’s kingdom,” says Stephanie.

So, she prayed that God would call her to bigger and better things.


Stephanie Desloges, 24, is originally from Sudbury, ON.

Shortly after that prayer, Stephanie heard about Operation Mobilization (OM) Ships International, an organization whose goal is to bring knowledge, help, and hope all over the world by supplying literature resources, encouraging cross-cultural understanding, providing relief, and sharing Christ’s message.

OM’s ships have visited over 450 different ports in more than 150 countries and territories and welcomed over 43 million visitors on board. The ship visits each port for several weeks each and open the gangways to hundreds and sometimes thousands of visitors each day. On average, over one million visitors have been welcomed on board every year.

“The more I heard about it,” says Stephanie, “the more I saw how perfectly it fit with the desires of my heart and the stage in life I was in.”

Having studied and worked in the field of graphic design for a few years, she says she was surprised to find out that the ship had a position available. “I never thought that I could use my gifts in missions.”

Though Stephanie primarily works in the office, she has been able to participate in OM Ships International’s programs. She says one of the most significant experiences was during a youth program in Hong Kong. Although the OM team did what they had set out to accomplish, they left feeling discouraged, and that the students’ lives weren’t affected in any way.

But after the program, they gave some students a tour of the ship, and Stephanie had the opportunity to share about the hope found in Christ. “To be honest, I always get nervous sharing, but this time was different,” she says. “As I shared I saw a big change in my audience. They became so captivated in what I was saying, their eyes fixed on me, and their heads nodding to the points I was making.”

After the tour, all but one of the students took a free Bible, and many of them immediately started flipping through, asking questions.

“We can plan and prepare as much as we want,” Stephanie says. “We did our program just like we were asked, but it wasn’t until after, on unscheduled time, that He moved and worked through us.”

“Ministry is a constant thing. It’s not just the one day we have scheduled a week,” Stephanie reflects. “God can use us at any time; we just need to be willing to be used.”

If you are interested in world missions, to see the world and share the word, OM Ships Logos Hope has a place for you. Or find out more about how you could get involved in a missions trip.  




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5 ways to get the most out of living with your parents Wed, 20 Aug 2014 11:00:32 +0000 5 ways to get the most out of living with your parents by Heather Leith

You probably swore it would never happen — you would always scrape up enough funds to continue living on your...

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5 ways to get the most out of living with your parents by Heather Leith

You probably swore it would never happen — you would always scrape up enough funds to continue living on your own after college. But here you are, watching a reality dance competition show with your mom on a Saturday night after a home-cooked meal, finishing off the bowl of ice cream your dad eagerly brought you. In other words, you finally caved and moved back in with your parents. You’re in good company — according to the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of all millennials live with their parents

Our generation’s common living situation can bring a host of unexpected joys. Although you were probably hesitant to move back home, you can’t deny the pleasures of having cable, full cupboards, and no monthly utilities fee. Living at home can be blissful compared to the stress of being on your own. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel like your independence is slowly slipping out of your hands — gone are the carefree days of staying out till 3 a.m. with no one asking where you are.

Living with your parents after spending years on your own feels profoundly different than it did back in high school. The relational distance brought on by your adulthood is hard to bridge, but it’s not impossible. Living with your mom and dad can teach you a lot if you put in the effort. 

Here are five ways to get the most of living with your parents:

1. Initiate conversation.

When my parents approach me asking what’s going on in my life and why I haven’t talked to them in awhile, I clam up. Even with their good intentions, I feel automatically on the defence to prove that I am doing OK. Instead of waiting on them, I’ve found that taking the initiative to update them on what’s going on in my life makes me feel more in control. I’m able to give them the gift of connection that they desire as parents, while maintaining my truest self.

2. Spend time with them.

It may sound elementary, but I’ve found it to be harder than it sounds. Life pre-move-in was all about hanging out with friends at the latest possible hour, sleeping in till noon, rushing off to that day’s activities, then starting the cycle over. My parents love when I take a night off from being with my friends and watch a movie with them, go get dinner, or heck, even wake up early and go out to breakfast. And by early, I mean 10 a.m. Baby steps.

3. Actually save money.

The temptation to spend the money sitting in your bank account can drain you of your dollars faster than you think. Just because you are free from a host of living expenses does not mean you should overcompensate by treating yourself to anything you want. My recently purchased overpriced pair of shoes that are staring at me from my closet can testify to that. You’re probably living at home to save money, so stay just as frugal as you were when you were shelling out monthly rent cheques and living off of boxed macaroni and cheese. This will ensure that you can start off on the right foot when you decide to move out. Your other option is to live with your parents forever. Your choice.

4. Invite them in.

Your parents are most likely your biggest supporters and the people that care the most about seeing you flourish in life. Don’t keep things surface-y in conversations. Struggling with a relationship? Feeling distant from God? Insecure about your direction in life? Go there with them. Full transparency may not be comfortable, but take advantage of the wisdom right in front of you.

5. Confront relational blocks.

Now that you have lived apart for a while, coming home may make you painfully aware of the problems you have with your parents. Maybe you’re frustrated because they don’t seem to support your lifestyle choices, or maybe you are still bitter from an argument that happened years ago. This season is the perfect opportunity to deal with those problems instead of running away from them. You may need to seek outside counsel to figure out how to go about addressing the issue, but don’t let it drive a wedge between you and them. And remember — you can’t change your parents, but you can start by changing yourself.

Don’t waste your parents’ gift to you by staying holed up in your room, only emerging to grab your keys and walk out the door. They’ll likely relish the extra time they get to spend with you now that you’re home. If your experience is anything like mine, you may even start to look forward to nights of dance competition shows and ice cream.

Photo (Flickr CC) by mykle hoban.

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Finding God in the inner city Tue, 19 Aug 2014 11:00:27 +0000 Finding God in the inner city by Paula Cornell

Though I consider myself a Christian, I am well acquainted with doubt. When I think about “God,” the concept seems...

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Finding God in the inner city by Paula Cornell

Though I consider myself a Christian, I am well acquainted with doubt. When I think about “God,” the concept seems so astoundingly ridiculous; I can’t believe anyone in their right mind would believe — let alone submit to — an omnipresent, invisible, supernatural being, who created the entire universe out of nothing. 

During a time in my life when I was able to conquer my doubts, when I felt God’s presence particularly near and real to me, I found myself following a calling from God to not only continue to work in the inner city, but to move there. (Although the doubtful part of me might tell you that I simply took advantage of a privileged opportunity.) 

Whatever the case may be, a month after I turned 23, I moved to the middle of one of my city’s most notoriously impoverished neighbourhoods. (Perhaps this story speaks more to my parents’ faith in God than mine). 

The neighbourhood where I now live has had a long and often troubled history. Many of the homes were developed during the First World War, but over the years, as many inner city neighbourhoods do, it developed a rather sordid reputation that it has struggled to shake ever since. Despite a concerted community effort to re-brand public perception and revitalize the community, the area largely remains known for poverty, drugs, addiction, violence, and perhaps most notably, prostitution.

I certainly have had some interesting reactions from people when they find out that I am a young, single woman living in the inner city by myself. But despite its challenges, there hasn’t been a day yet when I’ve regretted moving here. 

A note of clarification: while I don’t want to minimize the issues in my neighbourhood, I think it’s important to mention that my community deals with only a fraction of the issues that inner city neighbourhoods in major cities deal with. I also need to acknowledge that I am still a benefactor of many privileges (such as choice — I chose to move here) that are not afforded to all residents in low-income areas. Nor does living here make me any better of a Christian than someone who chooses to live in a more suburban setting. The Kingdom is found in many places and neighbours are called to love one another in all kinds of communities, even ones with rows of identical houses and well-manicured lawns.

Living in close proximity to people on the margins keeps me grounded in my faith. I am certain that if I lived elsewhere, I would find it very easy to give in to skepticism of the Gospel and become fixated on a capitalistic pursuit of happiness, the pseudo-American dream. 

Quite simply, living in the ’hood keeps me real. The poverty I’m surrounded by, combined with the resilience my neighbours demonstrate in the face of struggle, forces me to practice self-awareness, confront my privilege, and teaches me that I have enough.

It’s counter to what society constantly tells me: that I’m not enough, that I don’t have enough.My neighbourhood brings me back to the reality that my worth and purpose in life are not defined by owning many nice things.

Living with people from a variety of income levels has also been teaching me about God’s power to redeem. My neighbours have been instruments of restoration in our community at every turn: from our volunteer-run coffee shop (which allows people from all walks of life and ability levels to volunteer), to art projects (by both professional and amateur artists alike, including those with disabilities), to multicultural festivals, block parties, and community gardens. 

God is working here. I see it in the way people from diverse backgrounds are striving to take a community saturated with brokenness, exploitation, violence, and addiction, and make it a better place for all of us to live. Critics might see the revitalization efforts as gentrification, but from my perspective, what stands out is the beauty of Christ’s redeeming power at work.  

But despite the amazing collaborations among our residents, the imperfections in our neighbourhood are still glaring examples of the work yet to be accomplished here. 

Every day when I walk past a woman selling her body on the corner, or an addict picking up his next fix, or a person pushing a cart with all her belongings stuffed inside, I am unavoidably faced with the tangible reality that my community is still very much a part of a world full of suffering, pain, and injustice. This sobering realization is really what keeps my faith alive, despite my doubts. I am reminded not only of the poverty of my neighbour, but of my own poverty too, and for my need for God’s grace and redemption. 

No matter how hard we try to love our neighbours with projects, community barbecues and needle exchange programs, our efforts seem insufficient for the struggles that still exist in our community. In the face of the overwhelming and pervasive problems experienced by not only our neighbourhood, but also the world, having faith in a redemptive and loving Creator has become imperative to maintaining hope. 

Even though the task of ending poverty is enormous, this Kingdom of God that I find so incomprehensible, is so big that even the magnitude of poverty is contained in the hands of our Creator.


Photo (Flickr CC) by green kozi.

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Palestinian Christians seek justice in Gaza Mon, 18 Aug 2014 11:00:21 +0000 Palestinian Christians seek justice in Gaza by Phil Reilly

July, 2014 will forever be remembered as the time of one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the...

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Palestinian Christians seek justice in Gaza by Phil Reilly

July, 2014 will forever be remembered as the time of one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the Gaza Strip. As Israel has flexed its military might, Gaza has endured unprecedented destruction; it is difficult to see how, once a lasting ceasefire is agreed upon, the area might carve out a new infrastructure that allows for freedom, growth, and opportunity.

Amidst the tragedy, there is a small community of Palestinian Christians in Gaza and the West Bank committed to seeking justice, peace, and hope.

Though many have left because of the stresses of the occupation, there remains a faithful few who believe their role is to be the catalysts for change, to advocate for a new paradigm where Israeli and Palestinian can live together.

I’ve been able to talk with members of the Palestinian Christian community in Gaza and the West Bank to hear their perspective on the conflict.


Yohanna Katanacho

Yohanna Katanacho is the Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College and Galilee Bible College

Rev. Dr. Yohanna Katanacho

Tell us about yourself and your ancestry.

I am Palestinian Israeli Arab Christian. My nationality is Palestinian and my citizenship is Israeli. 20 per cent of the citizens of Israel are Palestinian. My people speak Arabic as well as Hebrew. I am married to Dina whose Arab Christian family roots date back to the sixth century. What a blessing!

What does it mean for you to be a Palestinian Christian?

A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. I am simply His follower in a Palestinian context. Sometimes, my life seems as if I am Israel under Pharaoh, second class Gibeonite citizen, a murdered Naboth, and a weeping Jeremiah. It is depressing. Other times I feel like Ruth, Rahab, or one of Solomon’s wives. I am not allowed to be Aaron or Ezra because of impurities in my genealogy. I am not Jewish in a “Jewish State.” My best times are when I imagine myself a Paul, or a Peter, or even a Stephen sharing Jesus Christ.

How is the Palestinian Christian community responding to the crisis in Gaza?

We are weeping like Jesus who wept over Jerusalem. We lament with the book of Lamentations and mourn like the sisters of Lazarus. Sometimes we feel like Job in our prayers. Other times, we are praying the prayers of Jesus and Stephen — “forgive them” — and we assert that we are committed to loving both Palestinians and Jews. We pay condolences at funerals. We write essays encouraging people to seek peace, not war, love not hatred, justice, not oppression, equality not bigotry, peaceful solutions, not military solutions. We seek to spread a culture of love, peace, and justice in the face of violence, hatred, and oppression. We help the afflicted and plan for building a better future through education and other efforts.

How should the church reframe questions surrounding the land?

In a biblical worldview, all life is theological. I don’t want to think of land issues in isolation of theology. God is the creator of the land and Jesus Christ is its owner.

Several people use the word “Israel” to refer to biblical Israel as well as the state of Israel. Equating the modern state of Israel to Biblical Israel is a common error that prevents us from understanding the biblical text properly, and hinders us from advocating a fair solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition, insisting on equating biblical Israel with the state of Israel marginalizes the distinctions between the words Hebrew, Israel, and Jew. The terms “Israel,” “Jew,” and “Hebrew” are not identical. We cannot define Israel in a simplistic way that ignores its multiple meanings, social locations, and diversity in the genre of the text.

Describe the Kingdom of God, and what hope it gives you as a Palestinian Christian.

We can see the Sermon on the Mount as one of the best representations of the Kingdom of God. Jesus describes the blessed life as a life that hungers for justice and holiness (the first four beatitudes). We start with failure and hunger. Then we become agents of justice as we employ mercy and peacemaking for bringing about a world full of justice and holiness. This world needs people with transformed hearts. These hearts are without revenge, murder, and hatred. We advocate for a future rooted in creative nonviolent resistance to evil, love, and holiness. We seek to embody God’s agenda in building a future not on the sand of ethnocentricity, but on the rock of inclusive human dignity.


Hanna Massad

Hanna Massad is the pastor of an Iraqi Refugee Church in Amman, Jordan. He is also the founder of Christian Mission 2 Gaza.

Rev. Dr. Hanna Massad

What is your background history of life and ministry in Gaza?

I was born and grew up in Gaza to a Greek Orthodox family, and got to know Jesus in a personal way through Gaza Baptist church, the only Evangelical church in the whole of the Gaza Strip. I went to Fuller Seminary in California, and earned my Master of Divinity degree and then later gained my Doctorate in theology. I had a sense that I was being called back to Gaza to serve the people there. I returned to pastor Gaza Baptist and joined the Faculty of Baptist Bible College teaching in their extension program until 2007.

My time in Gaza was not easy, and we experienced persecution and threats.

Could you describe what it is like for the Gazan people to live under blockades and military occupation?

The Israeli occupation has been very difficult to say the least. We experienced this difficulty at a very personal level a number of years ago. My wife and I were forcibly separated from each other for about nine months because Israel refused to give her a visa to come to Gaza. During this time she was in Jordan and I was in Gaza. We had to take our case to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem to bring her back to Gaza. During this time, my second child was born, and I was unable to see her for two weeks because of the siege.

What are the reports you are hearing from Gaza just now?

It is very, very bad. The war — we probably should not call it war because is not equal in terms of capability — in Gaza is the worst my people have endured. So many innocent women and children have been killed. Many houses are destroyed and so many are now homeless, seeking shelter in UN-run schools and refugee camps. There is now further threat from disease and malnutrition. So many Gazans are living in fear for what tomorrow might bring.

What would you encourage those in the West to do?

Gaza has been destroyed, and so many families are left with nothing. In spite of this, we can pray. Pray for the Palestinian people and join efforts to help the many people who are in need of food or medicine.


Sami Awad

Sami Awad is the Executive Director of The Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem.

Sami Awad

Tell us about yourself and your family history.

I am the son of a Palestinian refugee from Jerusalem (on my father’s side) and a family from Gaza (on my mother’s side) having uncles, aunts and cousins who still live in Gaza until this day. My father was nine-years-old when the 1948 war broke out, his father was killed and the family was expelled from their home and became poor homeless refugees, mostly growing up in orphanages. The story of our family is the story of the legacy of my grandmother who, in all her suffering, always insisted that revenge and retaliation will never be an option to us. At the same time, we will not stand silent in the face of injustice, but will seek justice through working for peace and reconciliation with those who did this harm to us.

I was born in the U.S. in 1971, but since six months of age grew up in Bethlehem. Growing up under the iron fist of the Israeli military occupation was not easy. At age 12, I was introduced to nonviolence through my uncle Mubarak Awad who started the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence in Jerusalem. His deportation by the Israeli government in 1988 (claiming him as a threat to the national security of Israel) because of his nonviolence activism was the trigger for me to focus on learning and practicing nonviolence. I went to the U.S. towards the end of that year, did a BA in Political Science an MA in Peace and Conflict Resolution. I came back in 1996, and started Holy Land Trust in 1998.

You’ve committed your life towards nonviolent resistance. Why?

I saw it as the only tool to resist oppression and injustice that exposes the injustice and systematic oppression without harming those who are even leading it. At the same time, it creates no justification for them to continue their measures under pretense of threat. It is, as [Martin Luther] King said, the means to liberate the oppressor and the oppressed from the oppression.

What does it mean for you to be a nonviolent Palestinian Christian?

Being a Palestinian for me means to engage in nonviolence. Being a Christian for me means to have the spiritual roots for such engagement. It is not just about resisting, not only about exposing the injustice, but the deeper dimension of seeing all as created in God’s image. All need love, and all must be loved. It is connecting at a deeper human level of oneness.

How accepted is the nonviolent movement in the wider Palestinian context?

I believe that in theory, nonviolence is fully embraced and accepted. Very few criticize nonviolence from a purely rejectionist point of view. This said, I don’t believe that we have the deep roots in nonviolence that would allow us to engage in it fully. The main reason is the deep sense of resignation that exists in the community, and the feeling that nothing works. Even when violence is used, most believe it does not work for liberating, as much as it is perceived as “at least doing something.”

How do you seek restorative justice as opposed to retributive justice?

Our work is about peace and justice between communities, and a call for communities and individuals to take responsibility. It’s not just limited punishment of crimes. Restorative justice addresses the core causes of why violence has happened, and how to deal with it at its roots. It’s not just a reaction to the act of violence itself, it is about restoring the dignity and humanity of the victim and even the victimizer rather than just punishing one for the crime, and compensating the other for being violated.

What have been some of the breakthroughs you have seen in your work? What hope does that give you for the future?

Our work is slow and challenging, especially in a situation that has been in existence for so long, the new generation have no reference to anything before it. The work that needs to be done is like deep, complicated, and long surgery. Our success is not in quantity but in quality, working with a few over a long period of time, rather than working with many over short periods of time. [We are] healing traumas, developing leaders, and using nonviolence strategic thinking in both the Palestinian and Israeli communities.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies. What does this mean for you personally?

First, it is a commandment. There is no questioning of a commandment when you surrender your life to follow Jesus. You do not have the luxury to pick and chose what you want to follow and not follow. Second, it is about love, not negotiations, not resolving conflicts, not reaching an agreement. Jesus calls us to love, love means (just like in marriage) becoming one. When we are one, there is no enemy, there is no animosity. In a sense, what Jesus calls us to do is seek to live in oneness as human beings, even within the diversity we carry in us. Just like a union of two, the union becomes them while they are still two. It shows that all our differences, no matter what, are minor in our Creator’s eyes than our unity with each other and in Him.

 Photo (Flickr CC) by Oxfam International.

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Do you know what you believe? Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:00:56 +0000 Do you know what you believe? by Nathan Henderson

An interview with apologist Andy Bannister The tired discourse is that millennial Christians are leaving the church in droves. And...

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Do you know what you believe? by Nathan Henderson

An interview with apologist Andy Bannister

The tired discourse is that millennial Christians are leaving the church in droves. And while that topic has mostly been beaten to death, the truth is that young Christians are doubting their faith, and often, are finding that their foundations are not as strong as they should be.

Knowing this, I’ve realized how important it is to know what I believe, and be able to explain to people why I believe it. There’s a word for that: apologetics. The word comes from the Greek apologia, which means a formal written defense of one’s opinions or conduct. 

Apologetics helps Christians to think through what they believe so that they will be able to make sense of the faith that they may have never questioned before. Knowing this, they’ll be able to engage with others and spread the gospel in a way that’s credible, and in a way that doesn’t shy away from the tough questions that so often catch people off guard.

One of the foremost leaders in the field is Andy Bannister. Hailing from England, Andy is the director and lead apologist for the Canadian division of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), an apologetics organization founded by Ravi Zacharias, an accomplished apologist in his own right.

I was able to catch up with Andy over the phone while he was in Vancouver, to help flesh out how he got involved with RZIM, apologetics, and why knowing why you believe what you believe is so important. 

What in particular inspired you to become involved with apologetics?

Well we’ll have to go back to the late ’90s, where I was a youth worker working for a church in London (England) with Youth for Christ. One weekend my church went to a seminar on Islam. The guy who was presenting — one of the most charismatic and engaging speakers I’ve ever heard — he was doing a ministry called “Speaker’s Corner” in London.

Andy Bannister is the Director and Lead Apologist for RZIM Canada.

Andy Bannister is the Director and Lead Apologist for RZIM Canada.

Now Speaker’s Corner is part of one our big parks in London and it’s known in some ways as one of those world centres of free speech where you can go up and stand on a ladder and talk about whatever you want, whether it’s religion or whatever. And this speaker was using Speaker’s Corner to reach out to Muslims, because there were hundreds of them there.

So after this seminar on Islam we got to talking, got along really well, and he said to me, “Well why don’t you come on out next weekend and see what we do!” So I trucked along to Speaker’s Corner next weekend, and it turns out his idea of coming out was to have me on the ladder speaking next to him!

So I went up there in front of about 300 Muslims, and they just ate me alive. They had dozens of questions about the Christian faith, and they just destroyed me. I stepped down from the ladder thinking, “This is what I’m supposed to do, but after this I think I may just have to become a Muslim. They just had all the questions, and I have none of the answers.”

I went up there in front of about 300 Muslims, and they just ate me alive.

I lay awake that night, tossing and turning, and that morning my long-suffering wife elbowed me and asked me why. I told her what happened and she told me to read a book to help answer the questions that they’d been asking. So I went off to the bookstore and found a book on reasons for the Christian faith, and I read and I read and I read.

The next Speaker’s Corner I went back up there with the answers to every question they’d asked, but this time they had new questions. They made me look stupid all over again. We repeated this over and over, and I believe what happened was that God used that whole process to give me a love of apologetics and a love of thinking through the Christian faith, and at the same time a love for Muslims. It’s my journey with apologetics that has gone alongside my growing love for Muslims, which led me to getting a PhD in Islam. So it’s Muslims I have to think that inspired me, because if it weren’t for Muslims asking me good questions, I never would’ve grown the way I did.


What are some of the greatest challenges facing millennial Christians?

One of the first I’d say is really understanding the gospel. I think sometimes one of the reasons we don’t know how to relate the gospel to our culture is because all we know is this caricature of the gospel. An example of this is the idea that the gospel is all about moralism. The idea that if you’re a good person, you live a good life, then God will like you, and vice versa. Versions of this myth have been pernicious in the church, and I think that if you don’t understand what the gospel actually is, then you’re going to struggle wherever you are. I believe that the church has not always been altogether clear in helping young Christians articulate and decipher what the gospel is truly all about.

If you don’t understand what the gospel actually is, then you’re going to struggle wherever you are. 

In relation to this, is to know why we believe the gospel. Jesus famously said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” I sometimes think that we’ve become very good at loving God with all of them except for one: our mind. I think it’s very important, especially in the age we live in, especially those who are young, is to know why we believe the things that we do.

The typical answer you get from a young Christians as to why they are a Christian is instead a story about how they became a Christian. For example, you met this guy playing hockey, you became friends, he brought you to this program called Alpha, you got involved in the church and you became a Christian. The problem with that is that you’re just telling a story, you’re recalling the narrative; you aren’t answering the real question. The same thing can be said of a Buddhist: you met them playing hockey, you became friends, he introduced you to the tenets of Buddhism, and voila, you became a Buddhist. That’s a bit of a problem.

To answer the question of why we’re a Christian we have to give good reasons for why we believe what we believe.


Where should we start when looking at how to defend our faith?

I think a good place to start is to examine what exactly we’re trying to do when we’re at work, or in university, or in any non-Christian environment. What we should be trying to do is to live as authentic disciples of Christ, who are spiritually as well as intellectually deep. We have to make sure our actions back up our words, that we live our lives with that goal in mind. Examining that, we must make sure we’re constantly building on our relationship with Christ, whether it’s through going deeply into Scripture, working on our spiritual disciplines etc. That way when non-Christians see us, they will be able to see something different about us.

We just need to learn to pause, and learn to listen.

Secondly, I think another thing is really listening to our non-Christian friends. Sometimes I think how we think is that if we read up on apologetics, devour ten books, fill our minds with arguments, then we’ll be useful. But we miss the first thing; we don’t listen to what our friends have to say. What is the culture here? What are the prevailing ideas? Why do our friends believe what they believe?

If we just learnt to stop and listen for a while, a number of things would happen. I think we would have more of an idea of how to engage with the gospel, because we would know where people are. We’d also get a reputation for being people who actually listen and engage with others.

Sometimes Christians have a reputation as people who never stop talking or as people who don’t listen. John Stackhouse from Regent College said that “apologetics is not the art of making people wish they had never asked a question.” We just need to learn to pause, and learn to listen.

Once we’ve begun to understand what the questions are that people are asking, where they’re actually at, then we can start the thinking. We can read, find the resources, and learn the answers to the tough questions that people ask that will help us engage with our culture. It’s an investment of time, but if we take the gospel seriously, we should realize that it’s worth putting time into.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Jonte Edvardson.

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Depression’s toll: death of icon Robin Williams Wed, 13 Aug 2014 17:38:13 +0000 Depression’s toll: death of icon Robin Williams by Joshua S. Hill

When I heard this week that Robin Williams had taken his own life I was devastated.  But I was also...

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Depression’s toll: death of icon Robin Williams by Joshua S. Hill

When I heard this week that Robin Williams had taken his own life I was devastated. 

But I was also completely unsurprised. 

The death of a celebrity can be a touchy subject; many use the opportunity to rail against the injustice that we care so much about one person’s death while thousands die in Third World countries and war-torn regions. Without dismissing those concerns, I want to simply lay them aside for a moment, and dwell on the tragedy of Robin Williams’ death. 

The police currently “suspect the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia,” but naturally they will do their due diligence in the matter. For me, however, it seems a foregone conclusion. 

Williams has struggled with depression and addiction for many years. He had even entered a Minnesota rehabilitation centre last month to “fine-tune and focus” his sobriety after a hefty work schedule, according to Williams’ representatives. Famous the world over for being an actor and comedian, I can’t help but wonder how often Robin Williams was simply allowed to be Robin Williams. 

I suffer from anxiety and depression, and my time in the spotlight has been negligible in comparison to one of the world’s funniest men. And yet I can recount several times where public attention has rendered me mentally devastated, an emotional wreck after some thoughtless comment or pressure-filled situation. 

How, then, did a man like Robin Williams cope? Did he cope? Was he offered the support of friends, the time to recuperate? How much of the man we saw in public, on the silver screen, was simply a facade hiding an emotionally fragile human being who was time and time again called to be someone other than himself? Even beyond the rigour of most acting careers, Robin Williams was rarely called on simply to be an actor — but to be the funniest on film, the most outrageous on set, the most vibrant and exciting person in the room. 

When did it ever stop?

When could he stop?

There will be those who attempt to place blame on those closest to Robin Williams for not intuiting his fragility. Such comments are ignorant, plain and simple. Those with depression are the best actors you will ever meet. Forced into a world which refuses to accept their frailty, they walk amongst us looking as if they have not a care in the world. 

What could be done, then, for Robin Williams? I do not presume to know, guess, or even speculate. It is simply not my place. 

This I’ll say though. Talk to your friends. Get inside their armour, allow them a safe place, so that they might feel free to break down.

Because if a person cannot break down, they will simply break. 

Photo (Flickr CC) by Hot Gossip Italia.

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