Thursday, December 30, 2010

“Real Artists Ship!”

Steve Jobs said that...

He was frustrated with how long it was taking some of his engineers to get a new product out the door. One member of the team complained that if he wanted them to create artistry he had to be patient, Mr. Jobs' retort has become the stuff of legend, not only at Apple computer but has been picked up by business leaders all over the world.

Earlier today another of the men I currently admire, Seth Godin, published on his blog a list of 13 things he had shipped in 2010. Apart from earnestly training for a triathlon, which has been a dream of mine since I was in my early 20s, I’m hard pressed to think of much that I actually shipped this year. 2010 was for me a year of planning.

Godin says that the key to shipping is overcoming fear. The plans are almost in place, I hope that I can avoid the fear and actually ship something exciting in 2011.

Did you ship anything exciting? What was it?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don’t stop running...

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, [Hebrews 12:1]

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I tend not to be an overly emotional person. [See November 26 – Superheroes] That isn’t completely true. If there is one thing that gets me emotional it’s seeing, hearing about and most of all participating in a victory in the face of strong opposition or adversity. I cry tears of joy when the outmanned, underfunded plucky good guys win. My heroes are not the top of the heap, über-successful leaders of the world; they are the second place, almost winners who fight for everything until that fateful day when once, and usually just once, they win it all!

That’s one of the reasons I became an entrepreneur. As a child I always had big dreams of getting rich (who doesn’t?) but my dreams where always peppered with a bit of real world understanding. I’ve never been the smartest guy in the room, I’m not the most hansom, or the most charismatic and I am certainly not the strongest. What I am is there, quietly going about my business, putting in the time and working hard. I may never win but I won’t ever quit either.

You see the first step to victory is to show up and play the game. If you want to get better, you show up to practise. Once you reach the top, and you want to stay there, you keep working. There is always a second place contender who is trying to knock the number one guy off. All it takes is one slip and number two becomes number one. The only thing better than seeing an underdog win is then seeing him fail, get back up and win again.

Steve Jobs at Apple Computer is at the top of the computer, internet and smart-phone world. He used to be an also ran in all three categories. That is until he worked harder than IBM, Microsoft and RIM. Is he smarter than Bill Gates? I doubt it. Did he work harder? You better believe it!

The apostle Paul in his letter to the Hebrews called for perseverance. The passage quoted above comes right after the so called “faith hall of fame” [Hebrews 11], which is a list of great men (and a few women) of God who persevered through hardship holding on to nothing more than a promise. Some won great victories but many died before they could see their vision become fully manifest. The end of the chapter sums it up nicely while not shrinking from that fact;

who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— [Hebrews 11:33-37]

2010 has been a rough year for me. We’re in a recession and business is down almost 15%. I nearly lost my house at the end of August, but I persevere. Not because I know for sure things will get any better in 2011 but because perseverance is the only thing I know.

As 2010 comes to a close my prayer for 2011 and each of you is that we may continue to run the race with perseverance, whatever that race may be and where ever it may take us, because we can’t claim a victory if we stop running.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Can This Be?

It’s an age old philosophical debate;

If God is great, he must have the power to remove suffering. If God is good, he must want to remove suffering. Therefore; suffering must not exist. But it does, so rather God must not exist or at least one of the other statements about his greatness or goodness must be false.

This is at the heart of most people’s drift to atheism and agnosticism. When we first start to reason, at about the age of seven, the contradictions in the concept of an all powerful and wholly good entity functioning in this way become glaringly obvious. The church, indeed all churches, temples and mosques across the spectrum of faith traditions have done a poor job of arguing with this point. How can an infinitely powerful and infinitely loving deity allow any kind of suffering to enter the world without proving that he is neither?

Honesty... I don’t know. But what I suspect is that the whole debate is somewhat of a red herring.

First off the statement assumes that God and the forces of good are the lone spiritual agents in the universe. If this (and by this I mean our current, 3 dimensional, finite universe) is not all there is and if the forces of good are in a constant and ongoing battle with equally determined forces of evil then the whole question of what God wants to do get’s turned on its head. Indeed the fact that Jesus taught us to pray “your will be done,” [matthew 6:10] presupposes that it isn’t always that way. When you consider that this world is a battle field of competing wills, the idea of a good God wanting but somehow being prevented from removing suffering takes shape.

With this in mind God’s greatness is then called into question. If God can’t remove suffering then his power is somehow limited right?

Right; but not in the way you might think.

Omniscience is the capacity to know all that can be known. In most faith traditions God is considered omniscient but what most people miss here is the subtle limitation, did you catch it? I’ll show it to you again;

Omniscience is the capacity to know all that can be known.

A few weeks ago I talked about the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism; let’s take that one step further into a school of theology known as Open Theism. Open Theism is the assertion that the future, all of the choices that free will agents will make for the rest of eternity is open and therefore unknowable, even to God. God in his omniscience sees things more clearly because he sees all the individual actors at once but in giving us free will he removed his ability to know for certain the choices we would make.

People make bad choices; they ignore or misinterpret God’s will and are open to suggestion by the forces of evil. As a result bad things tend to happen. Does that make God any less good or any less great? I don’t think so. What it does is puts the responsibility back in us to make better choices, learn from our mistakes, fix our own mess and stay tuned in to Him. He helps us where he can but ultimately we need to take responsibility for the state of the world that our choice has created.

I don’t have children but that sounds like a pretty loving father to me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

When Minority Means You

What do you do, when democracy fails you?
What do you do, when minority means you? - The Proclaimers

Last week I re-tweeted a story from The New Civil Rights Movement which detailed the results of a vote at the UN General Assembly removing the term “sexual orientation” from a resolution designed to protect people from arbitrary executions. You can read the entire article here; The New Civil Rights Movement

On one hand, the resolution which is designed to condemn arbitrary, summary and extra judicial executions, has reaffirmed the idea that it’s wrong to kill people for their ethnic origins or religious beliefs while at the same time, by its omission, has quietly made it harder to condemn countries which persecute people simply for being gay. The committee which wrote the resolution was overwhelmingly stacked with countries in east Africa, the Middle East and Caribbean, all regions with poor Human Rights records when it comes to gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and trans-gender individuals. (LGBT)

While I am not an LGBT advocate, this resolution still raises some concern for me on a more general, human rights front. When I originally tweeted the story I immediately got into an argument with a follower over its legitimacy. I was told that it was all a lie made up by the LGBT community in an attempt to hi-jack a resolution that was never meant to include them in the first place. While I don’t want to rehash that argument here, the fact is that the draft resolution did include “sexual orientation”, but the phrase was removed at the last minute over concerns that many of the previously mentioned countries would vote it down. The argument then moved into a more general discussion over special interest groups and how they take control or damage the impact of some broader organizations.

Some selfishly motivated militant groups notwithstanding; I believe that for the most part special interest groups are an integral part of democracy. Democracy, by its very definition functions as a tool of the majority. But that means that minority groups have a hard time getting their concerns heard. So what do you do, when minority means you? You form a special interest group that’s what…

When done right special interest groups shine a light on minority concerns, giving the majority a chance to look at them honestly, understand them and maybe cast votes that appear contrary to their self-interest but rather in the interest of the minority for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do. In reality a rising tide floats all boats so as we become more inclusive, more open with each other, more honest and less oppressive, everybody wins. Game theorists call this a Non-Zero Sum outcome and it’s the ultimate goal of all human societies.

During my twitter debate I told my adversary that as a member of the majority, I need special interest groups to keep me honest. Otherwise it would be too easy for the majority to oppress minorities without ever hearing what they have to say. The debate ended when she tweeted that special interest groups are all about themselves and I responded; “there is a vast difference between me (or us) too and me first, or just me, I side with the us too camp.”

By looking at the world as “us” we enter into the ultimate Non-Zero equation and move society forward.

Friday, November 26, 2010


According to author, public speaker and marketing guru Seth Godin, author of Linchpin, Tribes and The Purple Cow; everybody is a superhero in their own way.

We live in a hyper competitive world. I see it every day. If you don’t stand out you blend in and blending in is death. Godin’s advice to salespeople, marketers and job seekers alike is; define your superpower so that you can become a superhero.

What is a superpower?

In defining your superpower it’s important first to recognize what is not a superpower. Your degree or overall level of education is not a superpower, colleges and universities all over the world graduate thousands of people each year with the same or more education that you have. Likewise your work related experience is not a superpower either, there will always be someone who can boast more or better experience. In short, anything that you can write on a traditional resume is not a superpower.

Your superpower is that one thing only you can bring to the table. It sets you apart from the crowd and makes you indispensible.

Superman is faster than a speeding bullet (and the man of steel), which makes him indispensible when being shot at. I am an empathetic entrepreneur with the ability to sense underlying emotional motivations driving decision making. I myself am not overly emotional which helps me to remain impartial and distant. This gives me the ability to develop plans and programs that compliment or counteract said motivations and makes me indispensible for any company with a high emotional connection to their clientele such as the arts, philanthropic organizations or socially motivated services.

I may not have an Ivy League education or decades of experience as a marketer but I am still a superhero when it comes to working with people who are emotionally invested in what they are doing.

So what’s your superpower?

Monday, November 22, 2010

What’s with all the Wisdom-Haters?

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. [1 Corinthians 3:18]
That scripture was recently quoted to me by a reader who disagreed with some of my conclusions. The implications of his comments were clear; “don’t think of yourself as wise or you shall be made a fool.”

Over the years I’ve witnesses a rising trend of “wisdom-haters” both on-line and through more traditional media. Somewhere in the last several years a good education and wisdom gained from careful study and experience has become something to scorn and question rather than revere. Maybe it started in the 60s, (“Don’t trust anyone over 30”) I don’t know but it has clearly accelerated recently.

Information is no longer locked up in ivory towers, the domain of an elite few. We live in the age of the Internet where information is free and easy. Gaining knowledge on almost any subject is only a mouse click away. But mere knowledge isn’t enough.

Understanding, figuring out what it all means and how to apply it, that’s intelligence. As we gain more knowledge we must also be intelligent with its use, otherwise we just become walking encyclopaedias. We’ve all met people like this, in high-school my best friend Jason coined the term Functionally Stupid to describe them, fountains of information with no social skills or ability at practical application.

But knowledge and intelligence can only take you so far. There is a third stage that often gets overlooked. Now more than ever the world requires people to not only be intelligent but also wise. Intelligence by itself leads to arrogance, an air of superiority brought upon by your vast knowledge but wisdom, the ability to distinguish right for wrong, fact from fiction and truth from lies, is also requires humility.

I’m not claiming any special wisdom for myself here but we learn from the story of Solomon that true wisdom is a gift from God as a reward for a humble heart and not something to be taken lightly.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” .. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” ...I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. [1 Kings 3:5,9,12]

We’ve seen it time and time again. Wisdom and humility go hand in hand. That’s why it’s so hard to find a wise person who will actually admit it. Wise leaders are the ones that change the course of history while no one’s watching; Ghandi and Dietrich Bonheoffer are two, there have been countless others.

Knowledge is easily gained and Intelligence is just a poor cousin of true wisdom. It’s wisdom that I look for in others and that which I pray for myself every day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Anatomy of a Turn-Around (a personal story)

The following is a true story to the best of my recollection; names and locations have been slightly altered. I apologize in advance for the overall length of this post, it’s more than double my average, but I felt it important to lay out a lot of detail in the beginning to give my readers as much context as possible.

This story takes place in 2001; I had been working for my current employer for a little over a year when things started to unravel.

Founded in 1996 the partners originally decided that the best way to rapidly spread their vision was to hire representatives in various territories across the country. Lacking the capitol to pay these individuals they instead settled on a franchise model which would attract highly talented and motivate people to the job with the promise of high return on a small initial investment.

The model worked. Within 4 years the organization had gone from two founding partners, one in Ottawa, the other in Vancouver, to a highly integrated network of entrepreneurs in 8 regions from Halifax in the east to Vancouver in the west. By the time I joined the founding partners had both sold their original franchises and moved to Toronto, the industrial and financial hub of Canada, to centralize operations and build a franchise in the country’s largest market.

I joined the company in 1999 as a franchise owner in the region of Southern Ontario, my territory stretched from the Windsor/Detroit boarder across the north shore of Lake Erie to Niagara Falls and around to the town of Oakville on the western edge of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Cracks began to appear in the system as early as 2000. Entrepreneurs are by nature impatient type A personalities. The more the corporate partners in Toronto tried to build an integrated system the more the free thinking franchisees fought for their autonomy. As franchise agreements started to come up for renewal (they were all 3 year contracts), frustrated franchisees started to opt out. First Vancouver, then Winnipeg, Montreal, and Halifax all pulled out within 6 months of one another. Edmonton changed hands and was hanging on by a thread and Ottawa hand never fully cut ties from its original owner who was now running the Toronto office as well.

The final nail in the coffin so to speak occurred in the spring of 2001 when the company’s biggest customer decided to centralize its ordering system. Suddenly one of the main functions of the franchise office was cut off at the knees and the need to quickly re-establish the network was eliminated.

Due in part to my proximity to the head office and my unfailing work ethic mine was the last franchise standing.

Without a strong franchise network however the company had a new problem. What to do with all the smaller customers that still relied on their local rep? We had managed to salvage our biggest account mainly due to lucky timing but were haemorrhaging the smaller accounts and an alarming rate. That’s when I got a phone call, at the end of July that would change the course of my career and eventually save the company.

It was the end of a long day. I had been talking to all of my remaining accounts, reassuring them that since the centralization of our biggest account I would have more time to focus on them. Word had leaked that some of the franchises in other parts of the country were closing so they were understandably nervous.

“Mitchell’s out and he’s trying to take Halifax with him!” It was the voice of Gary Tremblay, founding partner and president in Toronto. “I need you here to help retain our customers.”

Mitchell Anderson had been a rising star in the organization but also the loudest critic of the integrated model head office was promoting. Everyone knew that if he left angry he had the potential to do a lot of damage in the crucial East Coast region he controlled. Gary offered to buy out my franchise if I would move to Toronto and help him consolidate operations while fighting off the new competition. It was a bold move but the company was bleeding and something had to be done.

That’s the day I became a turn-around artist.

There are two ingredients to a successful turn-around; rebuild trust and aggressively seek new business.

My first task when I arrived at Head Office was to rebuild trust with our remaining customers and suppliers. Trust is a funny thing. It implies a long term relationship but is incredibly fickle. As such it’s hard to gain, easy to lose and even harder to regain.

Building and maintaining trust really comes down to 4 steps.

1) Full disclosure.
In a crisis there is absolutely nothing to be gained by playing it close to the vest. Lay all of your cards on the table right from the start, if people sense you’re hiding something they will probe until they find it. Never underestimate the power of the bullshit meter.

2) Listen.
Allowing the customer to speak their mind back to you shows respect. It’s important not to interject too much at this stage, just let them speak.

3) Ask Questions.
Often people will ask, how do you know you’re getting all of the pertinent information from a customer? Sure you are giving full disclosure but how do you know that the customer is giving it back to you? A few well placed questions show the customer that you are engaged and are truly hearing what they have to say, that will in turn encourage them to say more.

4) Make and plan and follow through.
No amount of disclosure, listening, or questioning is going to amount to a hill of beans if you don’t walk away with a workable plan and follow through. Rebuilding trust is hard enough when it’s damaged once, it becomes infinitely harder if it’s damaged a second time and nearly impossible beyond that.

So this was my life for 3 months. Starting in August right through until the end of October, I spent day and night talking to customers, giving them the straight goods, listening to their concerns and following through with plans but in the end it still wasn’t enough. Over all we lost about 15% of our business, Halifax was down nearly 40% and Montreal all but disappeared.

We had stopped the bleeding but it was now time to focus on the second phase, aggressively pursue new business.

When it came to time pursue new business all the same things I demonstrated in regaining trust still applied, full disclosure, listening, asking questions, planning and follow through are just as important to a new customer with the final addition of persistence. I found on average it took 3 phone calls to get past the gate keepers, (receptionists or voice mail boxes), and two or three more conversations to get a meeting but in the end persistence pays off. I can’t tell you the number of times I was told, upon signing a deal that the only thing that kept me in the game was my persistence. The average time from initial contact to purchase order in our business is about 8 weeks. But I have worked some contacts of over 2 years before getting an order, it’s all about persistence.

After the initial 3 months focused on solidifying existing customers the rest of my career has been spent in growing sales and maintaining the business. I permanently relocated my family to the Toronto area and until the current recession our business was on a consistent growth pattern of about 20% per year.

We are now faced with a new crisis, not only are we mired in recession, like the rest of the world, but we are also dealing with the overall decline of our industry. Did I mention we are a manufacturer and distributor of CDs and DVDs?
So this time the turn-around is being made infinitely more difficult to due to the fact that new technology has emerged that has eroded customer desire for our core product line. But as we fight the downturn and develop new products to fill in the gap, I’m finding that the same principles apply.

Now, back to work...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Get up and Go...

More reflections on Grace

I’m an Arminian.

If I could look through my computer screen, across the millions of miles of fibre optic cables and bounce off satellites to see your faces right now I’m sure I would be met with a lot of blank stares at this moment. I don’t blame you. Up until 6 months ago I had never heard of Jacobus Arminius or the school of theology that he founded even though I now realise that I have been raised in it most of my life.

Jacobus Arminius was a 16th century student of Calvinism but somewhere along the line he broke with the traditional line of thinking. The schism among other things was mainly over the Calvinist claim that salvation is predestined by God for a few elected individuals and that as a result salvation, once granted by God’s grace is eternal and can never be revoked.

Today even the most ardent Calvinists have abandoned, or severely tempered their support for the idea of salvation being reserved for an elect few so I’ll save the debunking of that one for another time, instead I want to focus on something I left hanging last week. The question I was asked most, not in so many words of course was, "what do we do with Christians who claim to be saved by grace and continue in their evil ways?"

Put more bluntly the question boils down to this; is it possible to lose your salvation through continued and persistent sin? A Calvinist would say no but an Arminian would say yes. To quote the 5th tenant of Arminianism:

• Believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace through persistent, unrepented-of sin.

Or to put in scriptural terms:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [Romans 6:1, 2]
Jesus illustrates this concept with the parable of the Prodigal Son. [Luke 15:11-32].

The prodigal son was a man who had it all but fell from grace through unrepented-of sin. When he returned, he was welcomed back with open arms, his salvation was restored, but what if the story had ended while he was sleeping with pigs in a far away land? A Calvinist would say it doesn’t matter, God would still welcome his soul in heaven because he never lost his salvation in the first place, but that’s not want the story says.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. [Luke 15:17-20a]
The key verse here is clear, “he got up and went to his father.” The son decided on his own to return, only then was he able to receive the grace that awaited him.

When we die to sin, as Paul puts it, we can’t continue living the same way we always have. Grace welcomes us back with open arms no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done but we have to come back on our own.

Luke 15:20 ends with one of the most beautiful lines in all of scripture,

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. [Luke 15:20b]
That’s what grace looks like to a repentant sinner. The father, seeing his son, “still a long way off”, jumps up and runs to him with open arms!

What are you waiting for? Get up and go to your father.

For more on Jacubus Arminius and the Calvinist-Arminian debate check out;

Friday, November 5, 2010

Today is Not Judgement Day

For the past month I’ve been engaged in an in-depth study of grace. In previous posts I have made no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of Social Justice. Some have misconstrued what I mean by that and assumed that it would result in lowest common denominator equal outcomes. (i.e. Communism). That is not what I mean at all, to me social justice amounts to nothing more than equal opportunity and personal accountability. The challenge comes when we apply personal accountability to the idea of grace.

Grace is one of those words that shows up in ancient writing like the Bible and Quran but that has lost a lot of its meaning in contemporary usage. What the early translators meant when they used the word was much deeper and all encompassing than what we consider it to mean today. gives no less than 20 definitions of the word Grace. Many of them have very little or nothing to do with the theological implications that I’m trying to work out here but two stand out.

• a manifestation of favor, esp. by a superior
• the freely given, unmerited favor and love of god.

Last week was Halloween. It’s tradition around my house to watch the classic Peanuts TV special; “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” We can usually find it on one of the major networks in the days leading up to October 31st. The post powerful moment comes toward the end, after Sally has spent the night in the pumpkin patch with Linus, without meeting the Great Pumpkin. Upon realizing that she has missed her chance to collect candy with her friends she turns on Linus and screams; “You Block-head! I’ve been robbed! I’ll sue! I demand restitution!” The image is one of complete contempt for Linus and what he has cost her.

In a world of justice based on personal accountability we are programmed, like Sally to demand restitution. How then are we to react when someone who has wronged us is offered this unmerited favor? More importantly, how are we to do the offering?

A full understanding of grace requires us to recognize how little we deserve it. When we break the law, or some other agreed upon rule we deserve punishment, the people we have wronged deserve restitution. Civilized people demand strict adherence to a code of conduct, whether it be written down as law or not. When someone breaks that code we are and should be held personally accountable. But that is not the way of grace. Grace, like love, “keeps no record of wrongs,” and therefore trumps justice.

The clearest example of this kind of grace that I can think of is in John 8. The Pharisees had found a woman caught in the act of adultery. The law clearly stated that she should be put to death but rather than apply the letter of the law Jesus asked if anyone present was completely innocent.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” [John 8:7]

As the full implication of Jesus words sank in every one of her accusers walked away and Jesus turned to the woman and said “Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.” [John 8:11]

Many will protest that grace just isn’t practical. Justice and the rule of law are important. Without it the world would fall into a trap of anarchy and oppression. I agree, but grace doesn’t let us off the hook either. Did you catch the subtlety in Jesus words to the woman? He stopped short of forgiveness, she was still accountable, just free to go for now.

As I’ve studied grace for these past few weeks one overarching theme as stood out; there will be a judgement day when we are called to make a defence of your actions in this life. But today is not Judgement Day. There is still time to make things right.

Go now and leave your life of sin.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Genovese Effect

On March 13, 1964 29 year old Catherine (Kitty) Genovese was raped and stabbed to death in the parking lot of her New York City apartment. Details are sketchy but it is widely believed that up to 38 people saw or heard at least part of the attack, which occurred over the course of half an hour, and did nothing. One neighbour is reported to have turned up his radio so he couldn’t hear her screams; another was later quoted in the New York Times as saying “I just didn’t want to get involved.” All 38 witnesses expected someone else to do something and by the time someone finally did, Kitty Genovese was dead.

This event was one of the first of its kind, at least the first to be widely documented, and the public outcry prompted a lot of research into was has been called “diffusion of responsibility” or “the Genovese bystander effect”. Simply put, contrary to popular expectation, the more people that witness an event the less likely anyone is to step forward and intervene.

It’s been almost 47 years since the murder of Kitty Genovese. Our world is more interconnected than ever before. Events that occur on the other side of the world are beamed into our homes in real-time. We are bystanders to literally everything that is happening at every minute of every day. And yet when tragedy strikes many of us still do nothing.

Whenever I talk to people about investing in the lives of our less fortunate neighbours whether through planned financial giving, donation of surplus goods or simply giving of your time, I often receive the same kind of response.

- Isn’t organization a, b, or c already doing that? Why duplicate efforts?
- How do I know that I’m not supporting corruption?
- What makes you think this is going to make any difference at all?
- I’ve got enough problems of my own. I have to take care of myself and my own family first.

I must admit, at one time or another, I’ve used all of these arguments myself. But the fact of the matter is, if you see suffering and convince yourself to do nothing you have contributed to the diffusion of responsibility and people will die.

It is a sad reality that much of the donor funds given to worthy causes are wasted but that is not a reason to stop giving. Demand accountability, do your homework but please for the Love of God, do not allow suffering to continue when it is in your power to stop.

I can hear some of you already; “But it is not in my power.” Yes it most certainly is!

Helping people is almost always uncomfortable. It requires sacrifice. Perhaps going without a luxury item that you feel you deserve or taking time away from a favourite leisure activity. But when it comes to human beings, isn’t it worth it?

My friend Rick Tobias is the director of the Yonge Street Mission in downtown Toronto. He puts it this way, “The greatest lie ever told is that some people are worth more than others, not that it places certain people on a pedestal but that if some people are worth more it stands to reason that others are worth less. When you give yourself permission to think of others as worthless it opens up all manner of abuse and neglect.”

The next time you’re confronted with the suffering of a fellow human being remember Kitty Genovese and ask yourself; "how much is a life worth?"

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Use of Money

The Protestant ethic as undermined not by modernism but by capitalism itself. The greatest single engine in the destruction of the Protestant ethic was the invention of the instalment plan, or instant credit. – Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

When I was a young boy my father was a Baptist minister. My sisters and I used to laugh when he would “recycle” his sermons. He would never preach the same sermon to the same congregation mind you, but from time to time when he was asked to be a guest at a different church, rather than write a whole new sermon he would go back into his archives and find something that applied, update it a bit and presto! The only people that had any clue were my sisters, my mother and me.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with recycling sermons. All the great preachers have done it. If you weren’t in the original audience it’s new to you right? Even the great John Wesley (1703-1791) an itinerant preacher who travelled all over England and the New World recycled his sermons. According to most accounts one of Wesley’s most preached sermons was called The Use of Money.

A complete transcript of the sermon is available here
If you can get past the archaic language, it was the 18th century after all it’s well worth the read.

Wesley makes three points on the Use of Money; Gain all you can, Save all you can, and Give all you can. To me this is the very essence of the protestant work ethic. I touched in this back in February in a post called “How to Get Rich (or at least not go broke)” but it bears some repeating, in a way I guess I’m recycling my message too, just like my dad and John Wesley.

As the first decade of the new millennium draws to a close I’m sad to say the protestant work ethic is dead.

It started in the 60s when big government started offering big plans supported through big taxes that took away the incentive and much of the ability of individuals to give on their own. Big organizations are nowhere near as efficient as individuals at getting support to those who need it. By one account $2.3 trillion has been given through government supported institutional aid to the poorest nations of Africa since 1949 with little measurable increase in per-capita income for individuals over that time. By contrast there is a mounting body of evidence that suggest countries that have shunned aid, or more accurately been shunned by aid, have actually fared better. (William Easterly – The White Man’s Burden)

The damage caused to the protest work ethic by taxpayer support aid has come by removing individuals from the process. The thinking follows that since government is going to take the money from me in the form of taxes anyway why should I give more or get involved? Without direct engagement of the donors however, in this case taxpayers, accountability suffers and corruption takes over, hence the aforementioned $2.3 trillion that has largely gone to waste.

By the mid 80s a new cancer had emerged in the protest work ethic. Easy credit in the form of lower interest rates and multiple credit cards made it possible to finance the purchase of everything from cars to home furnishings, clothing and even everyday items like food. With easy credit the notion of saving and delayed gratification gave way to buy now and pay later. The worst part was (and still is) that society became addicted to the free flow of cash and rather than put the brakes on by raising interest rates, which has the dual effect of discouraging borrowing while encouraging saving, governments kept the rates low. It’s a dirty little secret that government and big business don’t actually want you to save. Saved money is money that is taken out of circulation and not contributing to the economy.

For more on the savings verse the free flow of capital debate check this out this video; The Story of Stuff.

In recent years we have begun to see the last nail in the coffin of the protestant work ethic. The drive to gain all you can, indeed any desire to work for anything, has died. In this era of high taxation, easy credit and billion dollar bail outs, many are asking, “why bother?” Why bother, when the government is going to tax me into the ground and waste my hard earned money on inefficient programs that I don’t want? Why bother when I can finance my life on easy credit and consume all I want, now?

Why indeed?

I am calling for nothing less than a complete return to the protestant work ethic. Work hard (gain all you can), resist the temptation to spend on easy credit (save all you can) and support those in need (give all you can). Anglo-Saxon western society, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Canada were built on this. The foundation of our great society is crumbling but it’s not too late to fix it. Government isn’t going to change its policy overnight. Taxes will stay high and interest rates will stay low but if enough of us buck the trend we just might turn this thing around.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Asleep in The Light

Keith Green was quite possibly one of the most influential of the contemporary Gospel singers of the late 1970s. He was originally signed to Decca Records in 1965, at the age of 12, with the hope of making him a teen idol but as he matured his strong Christian faith caused him to balk at most of the lyrics to the songs he sang. By the mid 70s Decca had given up on him and released him from his contract.

In 1976 Green, now 23, signed a new contract with contemporary Gospel label Sparrow records and his first album was released in 1977. By the time of his tragic death in a plane crash in 1982 Green had release 4 more albums of praise and worship songs, with a few well timed barbs at the established church thrown in for good measure.

What follows are the lyrics to my personal favourite of his works. Asleep in The Light first appeared in 1978 on the album No Compromise. In it Green pulls no punches, pleading with the Christian church to put faith into action. This past week I’ve been meditating on Matthew 25, whenever I think of Jesus words about caring for the weak or the needy I think of this song.

I challenge you to read these lyrics and not feel a little uncomfortable about what you’re doing for the “least of these”;

Do you see, do you see
All the people sinking down
Don't you care, don't you care
Are you gonna let them drown

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job's done

"Oh bless me Lord, bless me Lord"
You know it's all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts
No one even sheds one tear

But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds
And He cares for your needs
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in,
Oh, can't you see it's such a sin?

Cause He brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
"God bless you, be at peace"
And all heaven just weeps
Cause Jesus came to your door
You've left him out on the streets

Open up open up
And give yourself away
You see the need, you hear the cries
So how can you delay

God's calling and you're the one
But like Jonah you run
He's told you to speak
But you keep holding it in,
Oh can't you see it's such a sin?

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can't fight
Cause it's asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you've been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can't even get out of bed

Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
Come on, get out of your bed

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job's done
You close your eyes
And pretend the job's done

Don't close your eyes
Don't pretend the jobs done
Come away, come away, come away with Me my love,
Come away, from this mess, come away with Me, my love.

Of course just reading the lyrics doesn’t give the emotion of them justice, so if you aren’t uncomfortable yet watch this concert footage and listen to the emotion. There’s some cheesy 1970s editing going on and he goes flat a few times but I dare you not weep!

What’s God calling for you? Don’t close your eyes!

Checking out the Believer’s Trust page for more information on God’s calling for me and to join the movement.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Teach a Man to Fish...

Give a man a fish and he eats for day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime [Chinese Proverb]

For the poorest of the poor in today’s world that old proverb is bullshit!

It should read; Teach a man to fish, and he just gets enough of a glimpse of what life could be like if he could afford a damn boat, that he hates you even more when you leave him standing on the shore!

The world’s poor already know how to fish, and grow crops and manufacture any number of consumer goods. What they lack is credit and the ability to get their commodities to market.

Earlier this week the United Nations General Assembly met to discuss the progress to date on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Of the 8 goals for reducing poverty and increasing equality only goal number 8 (Develop a Global Partnership for Development) even touches on the need to help develop small business. Yet it is small and medium sized business, especially those based in agriculture, that have proven time and time again to be the engine of economic growth for the wealthiest countries. If businesses were supported and given the chance to grow, I dare say the implementation of all of the MDGs would be made easier. With increasing domestic assets and sources of taxation the lesser developed countries would not be as dependent on foreign assistance thus lowering the cost of aid doled out by the wealthier nations. It’s a win-win!

Since the early 1990s Micro-Finance has become one of the fastest growing and most effective methods of raising real people out of poverty. Small, low-interest loans, which encourage trade among the world’s poorest, have been proven to move people from dependency on foreign handouts for mere survival into productive economies. Raising people out of poverty increases world wide security, reduces the threat of terrorism and violence and lessens strain on the environment.

This past week I hit 100 followers. I promised myself that when that happened it would be time to step it up and go from a passive journal to a real on-line community. I want to this blog to become a meeting place for people who are passionate for change.

My focus is Micro-Finance. I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life. I know first-hand what it’s like to build a business from scratch only to have it ripped away from you by market forces beyond your control, I know how hard it is to pour your heart and soul into something only to be told that you are a bad risk and I know that even a tiny bit of credit on fair terms can make all the difference in the world.

I am asking each and every one of my followers to get involved and help entrepreneurs. It’s the only way that makes long-term sense in fighting global poverty. Go to the Believer’s Trust tab at the top of this page to find out how.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. – Albert Pike

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This is NOT okay!

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. [Jesus; Matthew 25: 35,36]

As many of you who have been tracking with me for a while will know one of my main points on this blog has been that Peace without Justice is Oppression. Now I recently heard Justice defined as being motivated by compassion where compassion, which literally means “to suffer with” or “to suffer alongside”, is an emotional response to the absence of Justice. Put simply compassion is the emotion we feel when we are NOT okay with the suffering we see, it causes us to join with the sufferer on an emotional level.

Thanks to our 24hr a day news media, compassion is often felt by and for people on opposite sides of the world whom we will never meet. Regardless of physical distance and vast cultural or political differences we can all relate to suffering. Who can forget the out pouring of compassion we all experienced just 8 months ago when an earthquake practically destroyed the island of Haiti or even today while flood waters cover one fifth of Pakistan?

Natural disasters are a natural fit for compassion but what about man-made disasters?

Canada is currently debating legislation which would make it legal (although still against the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) for the coast guard to board ships suspected of carrying migrants while still in international waters and keep them from our shores. Why? Because the minute the ship enters Canadian waters the passengers would have the right to petition for refugee status. This could take years to resolve, usually resulting in the granting of permanent residency and a possible increase in human trafficking.

There is a clear double standard at play here. Why are we so willing to spend billions of dollars to help rebuild shattered lives when natural disasters hit while on the other hand crying foul and claiming we can’t afford to help when war and political unrest force people from their homes and quite literally onto our doorstep? The only crime these refugees have committed is having been born into a culture and a time that puts them in the minority surrounded by people who treat them as second (or even third) class citizens. There is no shame and certainly no crime in seeking a better life on the other side of the world. Isn’t that what our ancestors did with they founded this country?

Those of you who follow Canadian news media of course know that I am referring to the recent wave of Tamil refugees to land on the coast of British Columbia. But similar scenarios have also been played out on the coasts of the United States and Australia.

If you don’t want refugees showing up on your shores the way to stop them isn’t through confrontation on the high seas. You instead need to address the living conditions, both social and economic, that they face at home. How many Tamils would be willing make a risky and uncomfortable journey to Canada if it meant leaving a comfortable life and secure future in Sri Lanka?

Unfortunately debating foreign policy while refugees are knocking on your door is kind of like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. They’re here we have to deal with them and Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats, excerpted above from Matthew 25:31-46 is a good one to keep in mind while we do.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Lonesome Valley

Every so often, as I continue to develop this blog I run into something that causes me to stop and revise a lot of what I thought before. It’s like coming up to a T in the road I can’t continue in a straight line anymore, I have to make a turn. This past week has been like that for me.

After just over a year of writing I finally decided to take a closer look at existential philosophy. To be honest I used to think that the whole idea of existentialism was pointless and I had very little time for it. But that was before I understood what it really means. Funny how that works sometimes isn’t it?

The reason that I initially resisted existentialism was that I thought it was fatalistic. I thought that the statement at the core of existentialism was that life has no meaning and no purpose, que sera sera so to speak, but as I began to take a closer look at it I realized that couldn’t be further from the truth. In actual fact the core of existentialism isn’t a statement all but a question.

Existentialist don’t start by saying there is no meaning, they start by asking what the meaning is. When I realized that I began to understand that I am an existentialist and that The Earworm is an ongoing existential study of our post modern society.

While the search for a meaning to life is at the heart of existentialism, according to psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl the question itself is actually a red herring. In his landmark book “Man’s Search for Meaning” first published in 1945, Frankl explains that life demands meaning from us, not the other way around. For man to ask “what is the meaning of life” is to confuse the issue by trying to put the answer outside of ourselves when it is really life itself that demands, “what is the meaning of you?”

Put another way; it is up to each of us to find meaning in our own lives. Without it we may as well just give up and die right now.

When Dr. Frankl returned to clinical practise after three years as a prisoner at Auschwitz, witnessing and surviving through some of the worst human atrocities ever perpetrated, he would often ask suicidal patients what had stopped them before they came to him. After all, if they really wanted to kill themselves, wouldn’t they be dead already? The answers he got pointed to the meaning and higher purpose that his patients were able to find even in the depths of their own despair. They would talk about love, family and unfulfilled dreams. In a word, they would talk about meaning.

Nietzsche said that “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”. Pain and suffering are a fact of life. No one knew that better than Dr. Frankl, but it is meaning and purpose, despite that pain and suffering that can see us through absolutely anything.

There is a meaning to life, but it’s up to you to find it. In the words of an old American Spiritual;

We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.

Our task is to find meaning in the walk.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Renouncing Religion

There’s been a lot of talk lately about renouncing religion. It started about a week ago when author Anne Rice went on Facebook and renounced her association with Christianity.

In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen – Anne Rice

I must say that while I applaud Ms Rice for standing up and saying this, I’ve never experienced life in a church that is anything like what she describes. Growing up my church welcomed all comers. We accepted the broken, those struggling with the societal norms of sexuality, were home to several feminists, advocated for the use of condoms and the pill, never asked or suggested who people should vote for, and one year my Sunday-school teacher was a micro-biologist.

I first learned the term “legalism” in high-school. I was stunned! Stunned that someone could take the words of Jesus and twist them into something so rigid and ugly. I was even more stunned that some people could so completely ignore the words of Jesus and base a so called Christian worldview on modern teachers who were clearly manipulating religion for their own gain.

In 1987, televangelist Jim Baker was sentenced to prison for tax evasion and his marriage collapsed as a result of the same kinds of sin that people in my church were completely open about. Baker’s disgrace, and revelations that his wife was addicted to prescription drugs, came only a few years after our own pastor had confessed of a similar sin. My heart went out to the Bakers but I prayed even more for those who so viciously attacked them. I couldn’t help but ask “What kind of God would stand for this?”

I was recently asked if I was a man of precept or a man of principle. There must have a been a blank look on my face because my interrogator went on to clarify that a man of precept follows the rules while a man of principle interprets them and adapts along with the situation. With that clarification in mind I had to say that I definitely like to think of myself as a man of principle and I think Jesus was too. But that doesn’t mean you can throw out the precepts, they are there for a reason, you just need to get at the principle that informed them in the first place so that you can make an intelligent judgement.

Getting at the principle behind the precepts is what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount and it’s what he meant when he said he had come to fulfill the law. Starting in verse 21 of Matthew chapter 5, Jesus gives six clarifications of some very popular precepts. He starts by stating the precept, “you have heard it said” and then giving the principle, “but I say to you”. In every case the principle both frees his audience from a rigid interpretation of a popular precept and guides them deeper and closer to the heart of God; don’t murder becomes guard against anger, don’t commit adultery becomes be careful of lust, etc.

So to Anne Rice and all those who are struggling with legalism let me take a stab at some of the precepts you may find so offensive and point to the heart of God.

- You have heard it said; the church is anti-gay, but I say to you; expressions of sexuality are private and those who may not fit your definition of normal are still your neighbour and deserving of love and respect. (Matthew 22:37-40)
- You have heard it said; the church is anti-feminist, but I say to you; women are a vital part of your community and just as capable as men of leadership. (Judges 4:4-5)
- You have heard it said, the church is anti-artificial birth control, but I say to you; sex is awesome, enjoy! But regardless of your marital status do not risk bringing a child into this world if you are un-prepared to be a parent, it is a far greater sin to abandon or neglect a child than to prevent their conception. (Matthew 18:10)
- You have heard it said, the church is anti-democrat, but I say to you; the Lord can use all governments for His purpose, vote based on principles and know that no matter what, the Lord is in control. (Romans 13:1,2)
- You have heard it said, the church is anti-science, but I say to you; the universe is an amazing place, explore, study, and understand. (Genesis 1:28)

I’m glad Ms Rice started this conversation and I hope that she and others like her are able to find a home in a gay friendly, feminist friendly, birth-control friendly, democrat friendly and science friendly community of believers. If not she can call me, I know a few.

In Jesus’ name - Lauren

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tough Decisions

Have you ever had to make a tough decision, one that had the potential to forever alter the course of your life? Of course you have, we all have.

I find myself this weekend faced with such a decision. If you knew all the details I’m sure some of you would say it’s not a tough decision at all, a no brainer as the common saying goes. But for me it’s not so easy.

You see, there are at least three distinct courses of action that I could take, each with its own probable outcome. Only one possible result which in my mind is the least likely is desirable at this point. The desirable result is the least likely simple because it depends too much on circumstances beyond my control. The longer I hold out for the desirable result, the worse the consequences of the least desirable options become. The classic “catch 22” as they say.

I’m currently reading Rudolf Giuliani’s memoir and leadership manual, simply titled “Leadership”.

On a side note, even though I live in Canada and have no standing in U.S. domestic politics, based on what I have personally observed and read so far I think this guy would have made a great president. Maybe it’s not too late, for what it’s worth to my American friends, forget about Palin and convince Giuliani to run again, you’ll thank me later.


The biggest thing I’m taking away from this book at this time in my life is that the best decisions are usually the ones that take the longest to make. In the chapter on making tough decisions Giuliani says the first step is to figure out the last possible moment a plan needs to be put into action in order for it to be successful. Then begin putting all the pieces in place to implement that plan while always remaining open to an alternative course right up until the end, that way if a better solution presents itself at the last minute you aren’t committed to what would have been a bad decision just because you didn’t see any other options at first.

So here I am with three plans. Plan A, the most desirable would need to be implemented no later than this coming Thursday in order to be successful. If Plan A fails, Plan B would need to commence immediately and would require a lot of juggling in order to work. Failing Plan B, Plan C would go into effect by default, Plan C isn’t really a plan, its’ more like damage control. Being committed to Plan A at this point requires patience but being realistic also dictates that I be ready with Plans B and C and open to a possible plan D that I haven’t even thought of yet.

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst as the saying goes.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Who saw Rent? If you didn’t watch this!

Seasons of Love - Rent

I made my first posting on August 7th 2009 but since the month of July is coming to an end I figured now was as good a time as any to celebrate my first year in the blogosphere.

Whenever I think about looking back over a previous year I remember this song. “How do you measure a year? In 525,600 moments so dear.”

First off I want to thank each and everyone one of you for following. It’s not easy to keep up with people on-line and committing to read the random thoughts of a perfect stranger every week is commendable. The time I spent reading your comments and researching your blogs, although not quite 525,600 minutes has been dear to me.

The comments I have received have been both encouraging and challenging. On more than one occasion I’ve been forced to take another look at certain issues and even changed my opinion once or twice. I’m glad this blog has opened up so much debate, that was my original intention and I hope you all continue to have as much fun with it as I have.

My friend Cary talks a lot about seasons. Whenever he tells a story about his past he will often say that such and such went on “for a season” until circumstances changed. When I started writing The Earworm I was embarking on a season of inquiry. I have a big heart and so much of what I see around me is painful to look at; poverty, injustice, war, oppression, just turn on the news or surf the internet for a few minutes and it can be overwhelming. For too long I had allowed myself to look away but the more a forced myself to stare it in the face the more impotent I began to feel towards it.

In the last year I have read 49 books on topics ranging from Economics and International Development to Politics and Theology, joined 23 blogs and attended a conference on international development. But I know I have barely scratched the surface. My book list continues to grow and is currently up to 74 more titles that I wish to read and as I continue to write I’m sure I will come into contact with several more bloggers. Although the inquiry will continue and I will still use this forum to flesh out my thoughts I am now preparing to move into a season of action.

Back in early November I wrote a post called Believer’s Trust. It was a rudimentary idea about a for-profit Micro-Finance bank. I have since changed my opinion about the for-profit aspect of things. Somehow making a profit on the backs of the World’s poor seems immoral. I also believe that there are certain things that micro-finance is ill-suited to provide, such as health care and education. And lastly I feel that an exclusive focus on developing economies half a world away is short sighted. A recent study showed that over 1000 people per month arrive in Canada and settle within a 20 mile radius of Pearson International Airport. As I sit here in my home office I can literally watch them land. Many end up living in poverty in the thousands of cheap apartments that dot the landscape all along the 400 series highways ringing Toronto. As a result they are my neighbours.

One of the things that became obvious to me during this season of inquiry is that I lack the education required to build a Micro-Finance bank. You’re never too old to learn but as I approach my 38th birthday I am too old to invest a lot of time in formal schooling. What I don’t lack is passion and an ability to sell ideas. Therefore Believer’s Trust will become a fund raising organization that will partner with existing NGOs already operating in areas of Health Care, Education and Micro-Finance both at home and around the world.

I’m in the process of writing a business plan and have opened a new page on this website that will detail how Believer’s Trust will function. Watch this space for more details and how you can become involved.

As I prepare to sign off, I’m reminded of the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:14-28) God has given me a talent, entrusted me with the ability build business and sell ideas. I’ve used that talent all my life for my own personal gain now is the time to use it for His Kingdom.

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stand By Me

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone? [Stephen King – Stand By Me]

This has to be one of my favourite movies of all time. I had the opportunity to watch it again this past weekend and was struck by the fact that there are literally hundreds of coming of age stories from a Girls point of view but remarkably few about boys.

This time I watched it with my Dad, who was born in 1940. Although the film was set in 1959 and my dad is about 7 or 8 years older than the boys portrayed much of what they experienced would have been very similar to his own life. Hell, much of what I experienced 25 years later in 1984 was similar.

Boys are the same, generation after generation. As a result so are Men.

As the credits rolled my Dad cleared his throat in that way men in their 70s do when they are about to say something profound and said that he had read about a psychological study done a few years back that asked the question; “If you did something to completely screw up your life, do you have a friend who would stand by you, no matter what?” Over 90 percent of men said no.

Something happens when a boy becomes a man. He tends to become isolated from other men. Sure we have friends, or what could more accurately be described as colleagues, but we tend not to forge deep emotional bonds with one another that can withstand testing or trauma. It’s so pervasive in our society that it has become the butt of a lot of jokes. Quite simply men don’t talk about their feelings and therefore we don’t develop the same kind of emotional bonds that women do.

Why is that?

Psychologists, sociologist and anthropologists have wrestled with this question for years. Many people, much wiser and better educated than I, have written volumes on the subject. I’m not about to rehash that here. But I would like to think that if I completely screwed up my life, at least one person would stand by me.

Here’s how.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. [Proverbs 27:17]

That verse from Proverbs has been quoted so many times by men’s bible study groups it has become cliché. But the message is an important one. Men need each other. The way we love isn’t soft and fuzzy, it’s iron on iron, it’s loud, it’s rough, and sometimes sparks fly.

I’ve experienced my share iron sharpening sessions. It’s never a pleasant experience but two men who truly love and respect one another can walk away from a knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out battle of wills both sharper for it and with a stronger, deeper bond than ever before. If I totally screwed up and needed someone to stand by me, I would hope they would at least respect me enough to call me on my bullshit first and help me to become sharper as a result.

To me the deep respect that the main characters have for one another regardless of their past, family situation or future prospects is the enduring message of Stand By Me.

Do you have anyone who will stand by you? When was the last time your iron was sharpened by a trusted friend?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Socialist, A Libertarian and A Pacifist Walk Into a Bar...

I was going to write a joke but I quickly realized that if this were really to happen it wouldn’t be very funny. The socialist and the libertarian would get into a fight and the pacifist would end up getting punched in the head.

In truth all three of these characters are different sides of me. We’re all sitting in the bar together trying to figure out how to assimilate into one body without becoming a schizophrenic hypocrite. Not to be overly simple, but the socialist me wants everyone to have an equal share, the libertarian wants to be rewarded for his hard work without being told what to do and the pacifist just wants everyone to get along.

In my attempt to reconcile these competing agendas, I realized something profound. My personal struggle has NOTHING TO DO WITH GOVERNMENT. It is not about politics because responding to social needs and enacting my liberal democratic rights to do so (in a non-violent way) has nothing to do with who I voted for. Simply put, caring for the poor is not the primary role of government and as much as the UN Millennium goals are commendable, eliminating poverty is just not possible.

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. [Deuteronomy 15:11 NIV]

This is a direct command from God. It is not about how governments should behave, it is about how individuals should behave, about how I should behave.

Sure, it’s nice when governments commit money to pay for things like health care and education but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s my money from the taxes I paid. If they didn’t do it I would presumably have more money in my pocket but it wouldn’t negate my responsibility to make sure certain things get done. Nor does the fact that government is doing some of these things take the burden off of me to fill in the inevitable gaps.

Therefore I can live my personal life as socialistically as I want without conflicting with my more politically libertarian leanings. In fact, to live a politically libertarian lifestyle with a personal socialist agenda fits a lot better with biblical teaching than trying to be a political activist. Christ-Followers don’t need to put pressure on the government or other institutions to “do the right thing”. Doing the right thing is our job. If we do it effectively and the government wants to partner with us, fine but we shouldn’t expect it.

Bob Hartman, lead guitarist and principal song writer for the Christian rock band, Petra put it best in 1990 when he penned the lyrics for the song “Seen and Not Heard”.

There's too much talk and not enough walk
Sometimes God's children should be seen and not heard.

As regular readers will no doubt know, I do not hold organized religion in very high regard. Neither did the apostle James. The book of James is all about faith in action. Being seen, but not necessarily heard. As I’ve been trying to reconcile these thoughts James definition of religion has resonated with me in a new and profound way.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. [James 1:27]

Religion is not about steeples and bells, rituals and rules; it’s about taking care of people and remaining pure of heart.

So a Socialist, a Libertarian and a Pacifist walked into a bar, a little while later I walked out with a new vision and clarity of purpose.

Who’s with me?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Watching TV

So it’s been 5 days since the G20 summit wrapped up in Toronto. Does anyone remember what that was all about?

Last Saturday I switched on my television to be greeted by a live image I had never thought possible on the streets of my city. “Toronto the Good”, as the city likes to think of itself is known for its tolerance and multiculturalism. But last week I watched in horror and disbelief while a group of self-described anarchists ran wild and largely unchecked through the financial district, smashing windows at the nation’s top banks while a police car, parked in the middle of the intersection burned out of control. The images were streamed live over the internet and reprinted the next day on the front page of every major newspaper from New York to Mumbai.

Canadians often lament that the world ignores us tucked away up here on top of the giant and much more influential United States. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once described our relationship to our neighbours as that of a mouse in bed with an elephant. To be honest, most of us like it that way. We’re quiet and unassuming by nature which makes those moments when the world does take notice all the more meaningful. Remember the Vancouver Olympics? But when the attention is negative, as it was last week the national embarrassment can be palpable.

For the last 5 days the story of the G20 has been all about that burning car. While world leaders were meeting just a few blocks away, making deals and pronouncements about such weighty issues as economic growth, international security and the health and welfare of women and children living in poverty the only story that seemed important (sensational?) enough to be shown on television was the fact that a few thugs decided to take over our streets in protest.

What should have been a story of Canada’s arrival on the world stage, while we brokered deals on deficit reduction and banking laws and committed billions of dollars to aid maternal health in Africa, is now a story about police brutality and the stifling of free speech. What exactly where the protests all about? Nobody knows. At least nobody is saying. To hear the media tell it, and the images on my television screen seem to back it up, the entire story is about the conduct of police.

In his 1973 novel, “Gravity’s Rainbow” author Thomas Pynchon wrote; “If they get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” While I’m sure the quote is out of context this is pretty much how I feel about the media, the riots and the recent G20 meetings. Not only are we asking the wrong questions, nobody seems to care about the answers.

It used to be media’s job not only to show us what was happening but to explain what it meant. Today, in our culture of near limitless choice and competing platforms, media has abdicated that responsibility in favour of sensationalism designed to grab and hold our attention for as long as possible, or at least until the next commercial break. Gone are the days of long and detailed editorials that can engage the public’s thinking and affect real change.

At one point, while watching the riots un-fold I saw a banner in the crowd, which stated simply “Capitalism Sucks!” Really? Did you grow and weave the cotton for that bed sheet yourself? It was at that point that I knew the opportunity for intelligent discourse was lost, even if the author of that banner understood the real issues they didn’t have the ability to express themselves beyond a banal and meaningless invective. I found myself wondering aloud to my empty living room “where have all the smart people gone?” They certainly weren’t on my television that day.

This is the Art of Re-direction at its best or worst depending on how you look at it. David Copperfield beware, you’ve got nothing on the news media. The politicians know this and they count on it. How many of the protesters realize that they were actually playing right into everyone’s hands?

Torch a police car and suddenly nothing else matters. The politicians can make all the back room, closed door deals they want while the people are mesmerized watching the fire.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Welcome to Tornado Season

Thoughts on my Greatest Personal Fear

We had our first Tornado warning of the year on Wednesday. According to the Government of Canada peak Tornado season in Southern Ontario are the months of June and July.

When I was a child I was deathly afraid of tornados. The thought that a storm could become so violent that it would whip the wind into a rotating funnel capable of uprooting trees, lifting houses off their foundations and tossing full sized pickup trucks around like toys was terrifying to me.

It all started when I was 8 years old. I grew up in a region of Ontario that the government had dubbed “tornado alley.” Every spring we would have to sit through a slide show and learn drills on what to do should a violent storm hit. It didn’t matter that the so called tornado alley usually only spawned one or two major storms a year or that the actual risk of injury was statistically insignificant (about the same as getting struck by lightning), what mattered, as one of my teachers put it, was that we had a healthy amount of “respect” for the weather.

The result for an 8 year old with a vivid imagination wasn’t a healthy amount of respect, it was complete terror. To this day I have never been able to sit through the opening sequence of the Wizard of Oz without first checking on the weather network.

One year, at the urging of one of my more intuitive teachers, I completed a science project on tornados. You see this teacher knew the key to overcoming fear was knowledge. I did my home-work; I learned everything there was to know about tornados, how they form, how they behave, how to predict them and how to react to them. Through it all a funny thing happened, my fear dissipated considerably.

You see, our imagination is far more powerful than we realize. We are constantly coming up with outrageous scenarios that start with “what if” or “what about”. The whole purpose of those types of questions is to paralyse us with fear and prevent us from taking appropriate action. The truly sinister thing is that businesses and government know this and they want us to be afraid, fearful people are easier to manipulate.

Advertisers play to our fears every day by emphasising the negative result and then hold out a ready-made solution. The entire modern advertising industry is based on fear and politicians are experts at manipulating it. MIT professor Noam Chomsky called the whole phenomenon “Manufacturing Consent.”

Every year, at the start of tornado season I remember my fears but I also remember what they have taught me. They taught me that knowledge is the key to conquering fear and how to recognize when fear is irrational. The only way to get over our fears is to confront them rationally. In doing so we can recognize them for what they are and react appropriately.

So now ask yourself a few questions;

1- What are you most afraid of?
2- When did you first realize you were afraid?
3- Was it something you came by naturally, or where you taught?
4- Who taught you to be afraid?
5- What was their motivation?
6- How did you react?
7- Have you done your home-work?

Remember what Franklin D Roosevelt said at the height of the great depression. “The Only Thing We have to Fear, is Fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I especially like the last half of that quote, most people stop with the first half but it’s important to note that the biggest problem with fear is that it paralyzes us and when that happens the battle is already lost.

The politics of fear and manipulation is a real spicy meatball. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of something big here. This might take a while to dig through and honestly I have no idea where I might end up, stick around, we’ll figure it out together.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Your Turn – What do YOU Know To Be True?

Okay to be honest, for the past week I’ve been watching too much World Cup Football to stay focused on my writing. So now’s your chance to write The Earworm!

Last week’s post started some really interesting conversations for me, both on and off line, so I’ve decided to open it up and ask you all the same question.

In 500 words or less, tell me what YOU know to be true. I can’t promise that I will be able to publish everything and if I think your comments need to be edited I’ll send them back for your approval first.

If you don’t want your comments to be published that’s okay too, just say so. But I still want to hear from you.

Just a couple of rules;

1- Keep it brief. I have a really short attention span, especially when England is playing.
2- Please refrain from using explicit language, it’s just common courtesy right?
3- If you`re going to quote scripture or other wisdom writing, please give the appropriate chapter and verse reference so we can all go and look it up for ourselves.
4- No anonymous responses please. You know my name the least you can do is give me yours.

That`s it, rev up your keyboards and have fun.

Now back to The World Cup – GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAL!

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Do You Know To Be True?

A good friend of mine asked me that question at the beginning of this year. I was taken aback but never one to give knee jerk answers I said, “I’ll get back to you”. It’s been almost 6 months and earlier this week I finally gave him an answer.

I know a lot of things to be true but the real journey in life, for me at least, is learning to accept the truth.

I just finished reading “The Great Divorce” by C.S Lewis. In it Lewis shows us a profound grasp of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It is a place so real, so solidly built on truth and goodness that it can be painful for humans to even walk on the grass at first. In this allegorical story, when you first arrive in heaven you are given a guide, someone from your past life to help you. Everything is revealed by your guide, all questions are answered and the truth is laid bare.

One of the most profound moments in the story comes when a man who prided himself in on having an open mind in life meets his guide and continues to ask questions while refusing to accept the answers, every answer, no matter how plain only leads to another question. Finally his guide becomes frustrated and responds;

Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.

How many times have you heard someone comment that truth is all in the interpretation, or that there are kernels of truth in all things? That’s just poppycock! Truth is the absence of falsehood. A kernel of truth is not enough to make something right which is otherwise wrong. Conversely, all it takes is a tiny bit of falsehood to spoil the truth.

When I was a boy my father attempted to make fruit wine, goose berry I think. He did everything himself, harvested the fruit, squeezed out the juice, added the yeast and carefully sealed it up in the bottle. Everything was going well until one day he noticed something floating on top of the liquid, barely visible to the naked eye, it was a vinegar fly. Somehow the seal had been broken and the entire batch, months of work, had been spoiled by something no bigger than a speck of dust.

That’s what a kernel of falsehood does to truth. But if we take an eye dropper and place a drop of fine wine into a vat of vinegar we don’t suddenly get wine do we? To get at the truth you first have to eliminate all that is wrong. To take the analogy further rather than drop that fine wine into the vat of vinegar, you remove it, as far away as possible from any potential corruption. You protect that drop of wine like the precious and vulnerable commodity that it is.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a “pearl of great price”, something to be cherished at the exclusion of all else.

Again the kingdom of heaven is like a man who is a dealer in search of fine and precious pearls, who, on finding a single pearl of great price, went and sold all he had and bought it. [Matthew 13: 45,46]

Lewis makes it very clear that no questions remain in heaven all you have to do is accept the answers. To continue to question, after you’ve found the truth would be like dropping fine wine into a vat of vinegar.

So what do I know to be true? Jesus said it best...

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." [John 8:31,32]

It all comes down to the things He taught.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The G20

In just a few weeks Toronto will play host to the world when the G20 economic summit comes to town. City officials and federal politicians are desperate to show the best that Canada has to offer but I’m afraid that all anyone will see is a tightly choreographed event full of hand-shakes and photo ops.

That’s not Canada’s fault, the whole idea that the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies would be able to sit down and agree on anything of substance in just 48 hours is ludicrous. We already have a long standing system in place where the world can come together and discuss issues of real consequence, negotiate settlements and adopt resolutions given the time and attention to detail that they deserve, we call it the UN. Of course the UN is a paper tiger that nobody pays attention to anymore and nobody really pays attention to the G20 either, but that’s a posting for another time. What is Canada’s fault, and the fault of every other host country in recent memory, is the way they are handling dissenting voices.

Last week the story broke that the bill to Canadian taxpayers for security alone at the summit will be nearly $1 billion. The lion’s share of that is not for security inside the venue, it’s for the crowd control required for the protestors outside.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has defined a security perimeter of 50 blocks resulting in widespread displacement of citizens and the cancellation of passenger rail service into the city. No ordinary citizen is going to be able to get close enough to even smell the venue, let alone disrupt anything. I work downtown and am considering taking a few days off just so that I don’t have to run the gauntlet of security check points to and from my middle class job.

You would think that by now some politician somewhere would start to wonder why these protestors keep showing up. There must be something going on that they feel strongly enough about to risk arrest and permanent hearing loss, (the city of Toronto bought three noise cannons capable of blasting 143 decibels in order to help disperse crowds), but thanks to the security personnel the world leaders won’t see or hear the protestors and will be able to remain blissfully ignorant to their cries.

It used to be that politics was local. You could call your MP or Congressman and be heard. Nowadays more and more of the decisions that affect ordinary citizens are made in corporate board rooms on the other side of the world. Not only are the politicians not listening, they have abdicated their power and they couldn’t save us even if they wanted to. (See British Petroleum)

Of course, when the big corporations get into trouble they turn to government for bailouts claiming that if they fail they’ll take the whole economy down with them. The sad fact is; that’s not far from the truth so government caves and the bill trickles down to the ordinary citizen. (See Wall Street Banks, and General Motors)

At the end of the day government mortgages our future to pay for a bankrupt past. Huddling for two days in a posh Toronto hotel isn’t going to solve anything. Sooner or later the loans will be due and the people who are going to have to pay are sitting behind a billion dollar fence over a mile away.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Last Word on Pacifism (for now)

Last time I signed off by promising to wrestle with the concept of Pacifism vs. Jihad. What I had intended to explore was how we reconcile the warrior God of the Old Testament with the kinder, gentler God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. While I do intend to talk about that at some future date I don’t feel that I have had enough time to fully study and research this concept. Be patient, I’ll come back around to this theme eventually.

For now I want to wrap up my thoughts on Christian Pacifism and move on. I’ve spent a lot of time here lately because I feel it’s a key concept to my life’s mission and where I want to go but I don’t want to belabour the point anymore. I have more to say on a lot more topics and this blog was never intended to become a long winded sermon. Thanks for hanging in the there with me none the less.

When I started this series of posts back on April 16 (“It’s All There in Black and White”) I fully expected a lot of you to disagree with me. What surprised me was that the most vigorous disagreement did not come from my fellow Christians.

Let’s be clear here, I am calling Western Christians who have been raised on Just War theory and Church sponsored violence to abandon almost 1700 years of doctrine and embrace a radical application of the words Jesus actually spoke. I thought this was radical stuff, so the relative silence I heard tells me that maybe, just maybe, 9 years after 9/11 Western Christians are finally getting tired of Just War rhetoric and are ready to consider that there might be a third way. If that is indeed that the case, bravo!

I did get a lot of feedback though and as I said the most vigorous disagreement I received came not from Christians but from people of other faiths and some with no particular religious affiliation at all. At first I was surprised by this until I considered the words of the late John Howard Yoder, former professor of Theology at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Notre Dame;

I do not know what I would do if some insane or criminal person were to attack my wife or child, sister or mother. But I know that what I should do would be illuminated by what God my Father did when his “only begotten Son” was being threatened. Or by what Abraham, my father in the faith was ready to sacrifice out of obedience; he was ready to give up his son because he believed in the resurrection.

You see the bottom line is that Pacifism doesn’t make sense without the resurrection of Jesus. If you don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection or that we have eternal souls then a pacifist response is irrational and in the case of defending a weaker party, even immoral, as one fellow blogger put it.

Belief in resurrection does not end with “good” people going to heaven. The hard fact is that belief in resurrection also means that “bad” people go to hell. When Jesus laid down his life for us he was modeling pacifism in the extreme. He could have easily called down an army of angels to defend Himself whipping every Roman soldier or Pharisee from the face of the earth. Why didn’t He?

I believe Jesus refrained from violence because preserving human life, regardless of our sinful nature is more important than anything. Jesus had mercy on his oppressors because he loved them enough to give them every possible opportunity to repent and go to heaven. The bible tells us that at least one Roman soldier who observed Jesus death did just that. [Matthew 27:54]

There are no degrees of Sin. We live in a sinful world and we all fall short at one time or another. It is through the resurrection that we are all saved from eternity in hell. We all need Jesus to be merciful because if he wasn’t we’d all be dead already. It’s our job as Christ followers to emulate Him in every way possible and that includes laying down our own lives rather than taking a life.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. [Romans 3:22-25a]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jesus was a pacifist too.

A lot of people will disagree with me on that point, especially Western Christians who’ve been raised on Church sanctioned violence and modern Just War theory. But if you take a close look at Jesus own words and early church history, prior to gaining a significant amount power under Constantine, and read the New Testament in light of that first century context you’ll start to see things in a whole new light.

Bottom line; Constantine got it wrong and we’ve been living with the consequences of his error (sin) for nearly 1700 years.

You see Jesus never intended to set up a new religion at all, let alone one that would hold as much power over civilization as Christianity would one day command. On the contrary, Jesus wanted to tear down the old religious system and replace it with a new kind of covenant that would provide people direct access to the father without the need for a religious or political system at all. Remember the Jews only had a king in the first place as a result of a compromise God made with them through the profit Samuel. The entire political structure of the Old Testament was never part of God’s original plan. The fact that the Christian Church would eventually join with the state and form one of the most powerful political forces on the planet, a force that would leave oppression, coercion, torture and outright murder in its’ wake is a tragedy of epic proportions.

It is true that Christianity has lost a lot of its political power. The Catholic Church has been in decline since Gutenburg invented the printing press and Luther encouraged people to start to read the Bible. More recently authors like Charles Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have advanced the view that religion in general is nothing more than a relic of the dark ages and one of the last hold outs against enlightenment.

While I disagree with Hitchens and Dawkins on the broader points I do not dispute or lament the fact that Christian political power is on the decline. In fact I welcome it. The subtitle of Christopher Hitches 2007 book couldn’t be more correct, “god is not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything.” [Emphasis mine]

The truth is that Jesus never meant for us to hold real power over people anyway and it all starts with the way he viewed his kingdom.

"My kingdom," said Jesus, "doesn't consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn't be handed over to the Jews. But I'm not that kind of king, not the world's kind of king." Jesus (John 18:36 The Message)

It is important to remember that the New Testament was written in a time when freedom of religion for Christians simply did not exist. There is plenty of teaching, from both the apostles and Jesus himself on how to react to oppression, stand up for human rights and submit to authority but no teaching that gives any adequate instruction on how to steward political power or which would give credence to a Just War theory.

Why? Because the authors didn’t have any religious freedom! Most of the New Testament was written from prison cells.

When Christians kill they usurp God’s authority. The bible is rife with stories of God’s mercy against even the most corrupt and sinful regimes. God is merciful and when he decides to end someone’s life he doesn’t need our help, the cities of Saddam and Gamorah were destroyed by a natural disaster and Ananias simply dropped dead.

I’m over my self-imposed 500 word limit and I can already hear your objections. What about the God sanctioned wars and killing in the Old Testament? What about Hitler? I’ll get to that but I had to layout the frame work first.

Up next Pacifism vs. Jihad. Stay tuned.