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.