Thursday, January 10, 2019

book review: Cory and the Seventh Story

title: Cory and the Seventh Story
companion title: The Seventh Story: Us, Them, And The End Of Violence
author: Brian D. McLaren and Gareth Higgins
date: 2018

The children’s storybook “Cory And The Seventh Story” is written with the goal of inspiring a new generation. The book is the engaging tale of a racoon, Cory, who struggles with the “six stories” that are lived out and defended in the troubled Old Village. One day Cory leaves the other animals and walks alone by a stream to think. He realises, “We are in trouble. Our stories are failing us.”

A surprise visitor stops by and begins to reveal a new story. A story that begins with listening instead of telling.

But this is not a simple “happily ever after” story. The six stories have a strong hold on the village. Cory and the others realize that these old stories are all about dividing the village into “us” vs “them”. The end of the story is not the end of the story, but an invitation to listen to the stories that each one tells.
I think this delightful little book (the artwork by Heather Lynn Harris is warm and inviting) can be a great discussion starter for young school-age children as they are all too well aware of the negativity of the six stories. 

Maybe, this next generation will learn that “There’s a new Seventh Story to live by, my friends. A new Seventh Story without ‘us against them’”

From time to time, I receive free books and/or e-books to review.
The opinions I have expressed are my own. 

appendix: Thoughts on the companion book.
The children’s storybook “Cory And The Seventh Story” is further unpacked. A grown-up version of the story starts the companion book, “The Seventh Story: Us, Them, And The End Of Violence.” It is followed by essays from the authors that help us understand the six failed stories and the hope of a seventh. This expanded book develops foundational ideas, case studies, and examples of how people can step into a new story.

The six old stories are domination, revolution, isolation, purification, victimization, and accumulation stories; the seventh is the story of liberation and reconciliation.

Both of these books are only available at 

movie review: the road to edmond

I don't often post a film review. But I was sent a link to review the film "The Road to Edmond."

The story revolves around Cleo (Nathanael Welch) who loves his life as a youth pastor, but when he supports a teenage girl who is wrestling with sexual identity, his job is in jeopardy. The church's Elder Board asks him to take a couple of weeks off to consider his actions.

Cleo grabs his backpack and trusty bike to hit the road and figure out what to do. He gets a ride with a guy named Larry (Tripp Fuller) and his dead father. Larry's intense way and a number of events cause Cleo to question more than his relationship with the teen... he questions the very existence of love.

Buddy road trip movies are nothing new, but "The Road To Edmond" is more than another a generic road trip. This is a film that asks questions about faith and love and grace. It’s a film that’s also full of laughter. Larry, a Jack Black-like character, is a great foil to the straight-laced Cleo. Acting more than a little oddly, Larry begins to unpick and unravel Cleo's ideology, decisions and logic – not in an attempt to shame or ridicule him, but to help him explore what he holds to be true.

The truth of this film is that we all need a little Larry in our lives. Someone who challenges us, hold us to account and open us up to new ways of thinking.

Too many “faith-based” films manipulate and preach. This film never does that. "The Road to Edmond" simply asks why we hold what believe so tightly and shows the value of having your grip loosened to reveal something broader and deeper than we may have considered before.


Monday, December 24, 2018

sing a song of hope in troubled times

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth! Let the sea roar and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Let the desert and its towns lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the tops of the mountains.” Isaiah 42:10-11
Walter Brueggemann comments on this prophetic word:
Can you imagine writing this poem and singing this song in exile?
Can you imagine defying the empire by sketching out this daring alternative?
Can you dare to sing this song under the nose of Babylonian soldiers, about a new reality that counters the empire?
Think of it, new reality conjured in worship, by the choir, inviting to new courage, new faith, new energy, new obedience, new joy.

The new song is a protest.
The new song is also a bold assertion, innocently declaring that the God of the gospel has plans and purposes and a will to reorder the world, to bring wholeness and health to the blind, the poor, the needy, to the nations to the fearful and to the entire creation now so under killing assault.
The song asserts God’s future against our present tense.

It is no wonder, once the singing begins, that all creation sings and dances and claps with us.
The whole creation sings about God’s new world.
Heaven and nature sing and earth repeats a loud amen.
We sing the song, even in exile, then we live the new reality.
The Babylonians (or anyone else) cannot stop us, because the song is true and more powerful than the tearfulness of the world. 
The exiles are indeed on their way— rejoicing.”

Thursday, October 25, 2018

the "caravan"

There is a “caravan” of hundreds of people from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala walking towards Mexico and then further north to the Texas border. The US government cannot pretend that these human beings are going away. You cannot stop desperate people. This immigration issue will not solve itself when people are threatened with military violence, they will still come. Desperate people will not be deterred. You simply cannot say “Go away” and expect them to turn back.

But what if, instead of threatening violence, the USA government said to Mexico, and to the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala:
  • How can we work together to safely transition people? 
  • How can we work together to address the security needs of our countries,
    the security needs of these human beings,
    the basic needs of these human beings,
    and everyone’s economic interests in this process?

Simply deciding that people should or will go away is not only ridiculous; it’s unholy. And if violence befalls this “caravan” of thousands of humans, there will only be more people in more caravans who will continue to seek security in other countries.

The very first book in the Bible says that all people are created in God’s image.
And even if there are human efforts to erase those created in God’s image, those efforts will ultimately fail. The more important issue is not keeping people out but addressing the needs of vulnerable people, loving the people God loves.

Friday, October 05, 2018

the 48% white evagelical christian problem

A recent Marist poll of 997 American adults, conducted between 22-24 September 2018, for NPR and PBS NewsHour asked several questions. Including this one on page 17:

If the charge of sexual assault during a party in high school 
by Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh is true,
do you think 
Brett Kavanaugh 
should be confirmed to the US Supreme Court / should not be confirmed / unsure.

This seems pretty straightforward: 
if the sexual assault is TRUE and HAPPENED, 
then should an unrepentant attempted rapist 
be voted into a lifetime of judging others as a member of the Supreme Court. 

The total spread of American adult responses was:
29% should be confirmed / 59% should not be confirmed / 12% unsure

That seems about right: a majority saying unrepentant violence against women should disqualify people from public service in the highest court in the land.

The largest group that was the most divergent from the national polling was self-identified White Evangelical Christians. For the question:
If the charge of sexual assault during a party in high school 
by Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh is true,
do you think Brett Kavanaugh
should be confirmed to the US Supreme Court / should not be confirmed / unsure.

White Evangelical Christians respond:
48% YES, Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the US Supreme Court 
36% NO, Brett Kavanaugh should not be confirmed

So the question says that the sexual assault was TRUE. ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

And White Evangelical Christians, the same ones who have said that moral failings disqualified other people from public service, said that actual, verifiable, true sexual assault was not a disqualifier for public office. 

I can’t say for sure.
But the basic answer is politics. And fear.

Politics is a way of life. 
American and Canadian governance and legal decisions are increasingly made in the political realm. This was seen recently in Ontario Premier Ford's threat to use and reuse, as often as he deems necessary, the "notwithstanding clause" to push through his agenda.

But even more powerful is fear. 
Fear that something has been lost. Fear that if, in this case, Kavanaugh is not confirmed, the conservative agenda will be further reduced. 

So this poll reports that, if the assault is TRUE, it ACTUALLY HAPPENED, then 48% of White Evangelical Christians are fine with Kavanaugh being confirmed to the highest court in the land for life.

If this poll is accurate, then this is a sad indictment of USA White Evangelical Christians. 

  • It is no wonder that we have made so little impact on our culture. 
  • it is no wonder that we look no different than anyone else. 
  • it is no wonder that our politics look no different than anyone else. 
  • it is no wonder that the gospel of Jesus Christ is ignored because it hasn't changed our hearts and our thinking and our living.
maranatha - come quickly Lord Jesus
and in the waiting time
may we be about your work in your way with your attitude 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

book review: everything happens for a reason and other lies I've loved

title: everything happens for a reason and other lies I've loved
author: Kate Bowler
publisher: Random House
date: 2018

Kate Bowler is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, a researcher of the "prosperity gospel", and grew up in Manitoba near Mennonite communities.

And then she was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer.

"Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I've Loved" is her story. A story of pain, disappointment, humour, joy, friendship, sickness, dying and living.

"Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I've Loved" is well worth reading. The appendices at the end are must reading for anyone who has someone with friends or family that are dying - i.e. all of us: 

  1. Absolutely never say this to people experiencing terrible times: a short list 
  2. Give this a go, see how it works: a short list

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

10 commandments, beatitudes and Acts 2

I don't why Christians get so adamant about posting the 10 commandments in public spaces. I have seen several of those facebook memes again recently. But then, I don't really understand USAChristianity. And I suspect a lot of Canadian Christians post or repost those 10 commandment memes without thinking. 

I could be wrong, but I suspect that... 
  • some of it is waving a big stick... people you need to get in line;
  • some of it is a longing for something that never was. Many people have an idealized misunderstanding of mid-20th century North American culture, thinking it was Christian.
Why should we argue that the 10 commandments should be posted? That's not the defining passage for the follower of Jesus.

Why don't we declare (& live out) the beatitudes
That would be a much Christian thing,

Why don't we call each other to live out Acts 2:42f
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 
Maybe if we lived that way, then there might be reason for
everyone [to be] filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
Maybe if
all the believers were together and had everything in common. [And] sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God 
then maybe the church might 
enjoy the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Just a thought

Friday, September 07, 2018

film review: God bless the Broken Road

"God Bless the Broken Road,” directed by Harold Cronk (“God’s Not Dead”) is based, in part, on the 2004 Rascal Flatts hit “Bless the Broken Road.” It's a mixture of country music, NASCAR, the war in Afghanistan, tribute to the military, and faith. 

There are lots of positive elements around the community (both church, military, and other friends). Although at other times, that same community seems judgmental, and offers support that seems shallow. My sense is that while trying to portray the complexities of a life broken by pain, Cronk has tried to add too many things into the storyline, that just don't fit within the limited time frame.

The film does an excellent job of depicting the struggles of a woman who feels as if she's lost everything, despite her having put her trust in God. The scenes of Amber's deep disorientation after her husband's tragic death, the lose of her home, her daughter turning her back on her, realistically explores the gritty, grief-filled aftermath of terrible loss.

The film, is at times, a little melodramatic, a little too pro-military for my liking, but it suits the setting (Kentucky).

Here is the trailer

review based on an advanced on-line screening
via Nuts About Books

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Shooting on the Danforth

Sunday night, as you have heard by now, a single shooter shot and injured 13 people, killing 2 along the Danforth in Toronto. 

I have not commented. Not because I don’t care. But because words are hard to find. It’s hard when 2 young women are killed. I have no answers. 

I could go on about how awful guns are, but someone else is going to start an argument about how more people having guns would have resulted in less devastation. I don't believe that for a minute. I know that no gun laws will stop this epidemic. (That's not to say we shouldn't have restricted laws on guns). If we ban guns, we will simply see violence taking other forms. 

Who and what do we blame? Because that’s what we do when difficult, painful things happen, isn't it?. Access to firearms? Religious ideology? Mental illness? Lack of social resources? Family members? Immigration policies? Racism? Socio-economic status? Probably a little bit of all of them. 

In the days since Toronto council has passed a series of motions intended to begin addressing the proliferation of illegal guns in this city. These include: 
  • a motion to immediately hire 100 new police officers; 
  • a motion asking the province to change legislation to permit the city’s social housing landlord, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, “to evict people for criminal behaviour specifically related to guns, gangs, and drug trafficking”;
  • a motion asking Ottawa to change federal legislation to:
    o Include tougher penalties — including mandatory-minimum sentences — for gun traffickers;
    o Direct more resources to tackle domestic firearm trafficking, specifically targeting large single purchasers of firearms; and
    o Implement tougher screening for mental health and intimate partner violence issues for licensed gun owners and those seeking to acquire firearm permits. 
We will never know exactly why this man chose to fire a handgun into restaurants along the Danforth. (Anyone suggesting that they know why is speculating.) 

We do know he was Muslim. (Anyone who suggests that every, or even the majority of Muslims are violent has bought into a stereotype.) 

We do know he had diagnosed, mental health issues that were unable to be treated. (Anyone who places blame at the mental health system for not “fixing” him, doesn’t understand mental health.) 

There has been an unsupported claim by ISIL that the gunman was one of their soldiers. (Anyone who believes everything that ISIL says, doesn’t understand propaganda.) 

Among the saddest of responses has been some who call themselves Christians: 
  • who seem to be ready to jump all over a possible terrorist connection; 
  • who seem to see any reference to mental health as a red herring; 
  • who are ready to blame Muslims for this; 
  • who seem to delight in stirring up hate. 
Among the best responses has been the folks from theJesusnetwork. The gunman lived and his family still live in Thorncliffe Park. Friday, 27 July at 7pm, they are hosting a prayer walk through the area. 
  • Instead of feeling helpless watching endless news reports, they will shine a light into this darkness. 
  • Instead of being paralyzed by fear and withdrawing, they plan to step out in faith. 
  • Instead of sitting and worrying and doing nothing they will march for and with Jesus into the places he seeks to reach. 

We cannot control how other people choose to act or what they say. But we can control how we respond.

Can any good thing come out of Thorncliffe? Yes. 
I would encourage you to join with theJesusnetwok, wherever you are this Friday in praying for the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood

God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love. Let's pray to show the gates of hell they will not prevail! Let's believe with others that God is working in the midst of terrible darkness.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

book review: the fingerprints of God

title: The Fingerprints of God
author: Robert Farrar Capon
publisher:Wm. B. Eerdmans
year: 2000

Capon, makes you think. Whether you agree with him or not, he makes you think. In this little book (163 pages) he explores some of the images in the Bible and in church history that point to God.

In this book, he tackles some of the mistakes of some of the church fathers, he calls it "transactionalism" - the old left-brain idea that one must contribute something -  sacrifice, repentance, good works, or whatever - to deserve the free gift of forgiveness and grace given by God. 

He argues that the Reformation kicked transactionalism out the front door, proclaiming salvation by grace, through faith, (not works), but let it right back in the back door by stipulating that faith was the current coin of the realm.

In his unique style, Capon has the Holy Spirit saying (in a dialogue among the Trinity at the beginning of the book), "They're going to paint themselves into a corner and say that the unbaptized go to hell or even that sins after Baptism make forgiveness flake off like a bad paint job, and that unless Christians go to confession for a second coat before they die, they'll go to hell too. Oh sure. We've also agreed on this Reformation business where I convince them that nobody has to do anything to be forgiven except trust the grace that Jesus has already given everybody. But give them a hundred years after that and they'll manage to turn faith itself into a requirement for grace: no faith, no forgiveness. Out the window again goes the free gift we've given them once and for all; and back in comes forgiveness as a deal that's good only as long as they behave themselves."

Capon explores how some of the church reformers such as Irenaeus, Athanasius. Luther, Calvin and Melanchthon, while contributing invaluable insights essential to a true reformation, still slipped into this transactionalism. 

Capon says he was originally planning to call the book "Re-forming the Reformation" and I think that may have been a better title for the second half of the book. And is probably even more relevant for today, with the rise of neo-calvinism.

I would have liked to see more exploration of images. Capon roots his exploration mostly in his discussion around Literalism/Fundamentalism vs. Liberalism (turning the Bible into a book of ethics and denying the mystery). He, I believe, rightly says both views are mistakes. God can use whatever device he wants to tell the STORY of scripture - images in poetry, hyperbole, allegory, parables, and yes, even literalism - even though that is used far less than some think.

One of the key things that Capon repeatedly says in this book that it is essential that we continually come back to Who Jesus Is... not just focus on what he did. As important as that is, if we lose sight of Who Jesus Is we miss his mission, his incarnation, his role in creation, his relationship within the Trinity... in fact, we miss Jesus. And that is the whole point... to know Jesus.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

book review: deep impact

title: Deep Impact: keys to integrating theology and psychology in the treatment of complex traumatic stress
author: A. E. Gilles
publisher: World Alive Press
year: 2016

A.E. Gilles writes about complex trauma from the perspective of personal experience, as a psychologist and as a pastor.

She provides a great overview of some of the dynamics of complex trauma. While the book is short, and is not intended to be a textbook on the issue, it is an excellent introduction to something the church does not often recognize. She also provides some helpful approaches and resources to assisting people with complex trauma.

book review: The 49th Mystic

title: The 49th Mystic
author: Ted Dekker
publisher: Revell
year: 2018

I have not read much of Ted Dekker before. This novel is an immersive journey that mixes suspense, fantasy and spiritual truths into a compelling whole. While this is part of a "circle series" I think this works as a stand-alone... although I am awaiting part 2 in the fall of 2018.

Dekker alternates between scenes from the present and those from a radically different future. The character development and storyline are complex and intriguing. 
In addition, there are extra resources available online The 49th Mystic 

If you are looking for a compelling read this is well worth it.

A free copy of this book was provided by Resourcing Leaders