Please Lord, send me a sign

Please Lord, send me a sign

Recently, I’ve been writing about ways we can listen to our neighborhoods. I’ve been saying we need to lean in closely and hear the deep yearnings of those around us. Only then can we create bespoke ministry responses, not the off-the-shelf, prefabricated religious goods and services available in so many churches. This process of digging deep into the soil in which we’re planted and designing truly contextual practices is called cultural exegesis. And it’s an essential part of the work of missional leaders. Last week I introduced Michael Mata’s work on social research and began exploring how we can read the five S’s of any town or neighborhood – structures (which I looked at here), signs, spaces, social interactions, and spirituality. Later I want to add a sixth S of my own. In this post I want to look at the second S in the list – signs. Remember that scene in Bruce Almighty, when Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is at the end of his emotional rope, driving through the darkness, begging God to send him a sign? He passes a flashing caution sign, but ignores it. Then a truck loaded with road signs reading Wrong Way, Dead End, and Stop veers in front of him. Still no reaction from Bruce. Caught up in his own worries and feeling sorry for himself,

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Listening deeply to your city

Listening deeply to your city

In my previous post I encouraged Christian leaders to consider ways they could listen deeply to the yearnings, desires, hopes and disappointments of their community. My reason for encouraging such deep listening is that I believe all mission is contextual. All mission. We’ve been buying ministry ideas off the shelf for too long, dishing up the same old tired suite of products currently on offer in every church right across the country. Mission is provincial. It’s local. It’s indigenous. It grows in the peculiar eco-systems in which its planted, and so it will taste and smell different in different settings.   So, how are you to know how to respond to the needs of your community, or how to collaborate with the things God is already doing there, unless you can listen? Truly listen. One of the world’s most revolutionary listening devices is the stethoscope. It was invented in 1816 by the impressively named René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec. He pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions (stethos derives from the Greek word for chest). In commending his new instrument, Laennec was noted for saying, “Listen to your patients. They’re telling you how to heal them.”   Get that? The patient’s sick body knows what it needs to be healed. You just have to listen carefully enough. I think deep down your

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What if you could listen to your neighborhood like scientists listen to trees?

What if you could listen to your neighborhood like scientists listen to trees?

Take a walk through a forest and it seems the trees stand still like silent sentinels . A tree is the ultimate individualist, right? Each one appears totally independent of the others. That is, until you realize that trees talk to each other. Yep. They talk to each other. Underground! Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver did experiments that proved that trees pass information between themselves in a silent underground network. And not just between members of the same species. She found that Douglas fir and paper birch trees can transfer information across species’ lines. It’s all a bit technical and sciencey, as she explains here, but, bottom line, she found the underground life of trees is alive with the transfer of information. Basically their root systems can transfer stuff like carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus via something called mycelia. What’s mycelia, you ask? Well, it’s all a bit technical and sciencey, but essentially it’s fungus. Fungal bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. These threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants, and passing nutrients and elements between them.  If you cover one tree in a forest with a huge plastic bag, like Suzanne Simard did, and pump it full of radioactive gas, like

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We don’t need better politicians; we need better voters

We don’t need better politicians; we need better voters

Bishop Will Willimon of the United Methodist Church recently participated in a political demonstration in his home state of North Carolina. He even managed to drag several of his conservative parishioners along too. They were standing up to the Governor’s recent decisions regarding voting rights, cuts to social programs, and the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. Maybe the good bishop and his flock imagined they had struck a blow for truth and justice, and made a difference in the lives of those affected by the policy changes. Well, that was until Governor Pat McCrory dismissed the protests as “just a bunch of aging hippies from the sixties.” McCrory was completely unmoved. And unbowed. That was when one of Willimon’s parishioners said this, “Preacher, we don’t need better politicians; we need a better class of voters. Maybe you should stay home and work on your Sunday sermon rather than protesting in Raleigh.”   Think about that. We don’t need a better grade of politician. We need a better class of voter. And according to Willimon’s friend, in order to enhance the class of voters, preachers need to work as hard on their sermons as they do on their public demonstrations. We need voters who’ve been shaped by God’s word and who cast their ballots to reflect the biblical values of

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In Praise of Protest

In Praise of Protest

I recently came across these two photographs on social media. They both depict elderly protesters at recent anti-Trump rallies in the United States. The photo on the left is of a woman named Shirley, attending her first protest rally at the ripe old age of 93. I found it on a Twitter feed of people posting that they were attending their first public protest. Most were young. But some were old. Like Shirley. What’s happening in America when a frail 93-year-old is moved to protest for the first time? And is it a good thing? Some are saying that such protests are just made up of sore losers who can’t deal with Donald Trump’s election victory. I’ve heard (often), we need to stop complaining and just allow duly elected officials govern. But protest shouldn’t be dismissed so readily. Indeed, protest is a noble cause, a collective responsibility, and a necessary form of self expression. Here’s a few reasons why I think we shouldn’t be afraid of mass protests. Protest is Essential in Liberal Democracies   Dissent is what forged democracy in the first place, and it remains essential in fomenting change in democratic societies. In fact, it moves those societies forward. It always has. Protests nearly always arise in response to social or political changes and can therefore be rightly

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Truth-telling in a world of fake news, alternative facts, and America First

Truth-telling in a world of fake news, alternative facts, and America First

Remember the days when we used to suppose that Western society pretty much held to values drawn from Christianity? In those days the church used to rail against such social ills as drugs and booze, and marital infidelity, and gambling, all the while assuming that society basically valued things like truth-telling, justice, neighborliness and generosity. That seems long ago. Now we find ourselves in a world of fake news, alternative facts, America First, and that “beautiful” big wall. Now we find ourselves in a world where telling lies and looking after yourself isn’t just secretly practiced; it’s openly championed. And all the way to the very top. A few years ago I was visiting friends and the 12-year-old girl of the house was running for president of the student body at her school. She asked if she could practice her campaign speech to the grown-ups, so we all assembled in the living room. She cleared her throat, readied herself, and launched into her presentation. And started telling straight-out lies. She promised better teachers, more appetizing cafeteria food, less homework, brand new lockers, and a whole range of other inducements for her fellow students to vote for her. We applauded dutifully and told her she was great. Which she was. But later I asked her mother whether it was alright for

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I’m pro-life and I marched.

I’m pro-life and I marched.

I was in San Diego on January 21. The morning was bright and crisp that day. The previous night the city had been lashed by a rainstorm, leaving everything shiny wet and the streets and sidewalks littered with puddles. You couldn’t help but feel the energy in the city that morning. It was the day of the Women’s March.  Blue skies opened up as residents streamed down Broadway toward 5th Street to start the march. And I joined them. There were smiles and laughter. People were dressed in costume, many wore pink. Muslim women wore hijabs. Most carried signs, some of them hilarious, others quite touching. No one was threatening to bomb the White House. It was one of the most joyous public demonstrations I’ve been part of. And I’ve been part of a lot of them over the years. By now you know, the marches were originally conceived as a single event, the Women’s March on Washington, and intended to send the freshly minted Trump administration a message about women’s rights and social justice.   But it couldn’t be contained to the capital. Marches began sprouting up in over 400 US cities, including lil’ ol’ San Diego. And 168 other countries, where there were nearly 700 marches worldwide, including 20 in Mexico and 29 in Canada. It is estimated more

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My Most Popular Posts So Far

My Most Popular Posts So Far

I started blogging less than six months ago and I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier. I’m having a blast. It takes some discipline to try to regularly write meaningful content in beautiful ways, but I’ve been delighted by the huge response it’s receiving. So far I’ve posted 50 articles on everything from Star Wars to Botticelli, from Donald Trump to John Calvin, from the missional movement to bald presidents (I have diverse interests). As I’m hitting the road on a speaking tour I won’t have the time to produce any new posts for a while, so I thought I’d share with you links to the five most popular posts from one to five. Thanks for reading.   1. YEP, MEANINGFUL PUBLIC DISCOURSE IS DEAD This article reflected on a social media conversation I had with someone after Meryl Streep’s famous takedown of Donald Trump at the Golden Globe awards ceremony. In it I outlined why I think public discourse is so difficult these days.  The reaction to this post was phenomenal. It really struck a chord for many readers. And it annoyed a bunch of others who just wanted to argue whether Trump was actually mocking a reporter’s disability or not (groan).   2.  <a href="http://mikefrost Full Report.net/homepage/not-liberal-agenda-gospel/”>IT’S NOT A LIBERAL AGENDA, IT’S THE GOSPEL! Here I expressed my frustration that advocating

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Decision Making and the Will of the People

Decision Making and the Will of the People

This week, Donald J Trump will take the oath of office of the president of the United States. A lot of people can’t believe it’s actually happening. There have been “Not My President” rallies across the country. There’s been hopeful talk that Russian hacking scandals might forestall him taking office. Some Democrats are planning to boycott the inauguration ceremony. Like it or not, Mr Trump won office fair and square. Well, according to the rules of the US electoral system. Complaining about his victory will achieve nothing. But trying to figure out how he did it might prove to be more profitable. How did a man with no experience of public office whatsoever manage to defeat a woman who was regarded by all to be one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for the presidency? What were people thinking when they voted for Donald J Trump? In the early 1970s two brilliant young academics embarked on a research project to unravel the mysteries of human decision-making. Amos Tversky (left) and Danny Kahneman were professors at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and they hoped that by revealing the mechanics of decision-making, their work could transform how individuals, corporations and governments chose which courses of action to follow. Tversky and Kahneman thought if they could transform decision-making into a kind of engineering problem, they

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LIVE: the more we watch, the less we care.

LIVE: the more we watch, the less we care.

“Sony wants you to stream your whole life online.” “Show off how marvelous your life is.” “Stream your world live to Facebook using the ‘Social Live’ camera feature.” “Fill YouTube with constant videos of your cat sleeping or your baby dribbling, thanks to the new Live on YouTube app.” These are actual advertising slogans. If you use social media you’ll know live video streaming is being pushed pretty hard these days. Facebook has changed its algorithms to ensure live videos appear in your notifications and fill your newsfeed. Sony, Apple and Samsung are falling over themselves to develop the necessary products to make live streaming even easier. I expect the boffins who decide these things think that video will overtake text as the primary way we share stuff online at some time in the near future. And of course it’s pitched to us as a way of boasting about our fabulous lives. Post a vid of you arriving at a big concert, or dancing at a music festival, or sailing on the harbor, or singing along to the radio on a road-trip with friends. Everyone’s life is meant to look awesome online. Except if it’s not.   On December 30 last year, a 12-year-old girl in Georgia live streamed her own suicide after telling the world that she had been

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