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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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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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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To be shaped as much as to shape

To be shaped as much as to shape

I love this image of a tree growing in a barren plaza, its root system spreading across the cement pavers. I love it, not only because it’s an image of organic life bursting forth from a pretty ugly built environment, but because the trees roots have been shaped by that very environment. They extend across the plaza, zig-zagging at the same angles as the pavers. The tree is conquering the plaza, but the plaza is shaping the tree. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the church. We too have been planted in a dry and barren place. We long to grow in a verdant forest, but we find ourselves here in this strange, broken place, trying to figure out how to be in this world, but not of it. This makes me think of the experience of those great exiles of the Old Testament – Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, and Esther in Persia. Like us, and this tree, they too were planted in foreign soil. Literally. All three were forced to live in foreign lands and, like this tree, all three adopted many of their host cultures’ values and practices, while remaining faithful to Yahweh. They flourished like the tree, but were shaped by the contours of their captors’ cultures. Joseph, Daniel and Esther all prospered in their host

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Give thanks for the kindness of strangers

Give thanks for the kindness of strangers

My mother died last week. She was 85 years old and frail. We’d watched her slowly diminish over recent years, like a flame tapering ever smaller. On her last day, that flame barely flickered at all until at the very end it gently extinguished itself. It was peaceful and natural, and she was surrounded by those who loved her. One of the nurses who was present told me it was a “good death”. I spent her last day with her, sitting on her bed or beside her, telling her she wasn’t alone, that we were there and that we wouldn’t leave until she was gone. She wouldn’t have to make that transition alone. At one point, I was alone with her for several hours, speaking to her, praying for her, reciting Scripture and singing hymns. During that time a nurse’s aid knocked on the door and entered reverently. She whispered that she was finishing her shift and wanted to say goodbye. Everyone knew my mother wouldn’t make it through the night. I’d met her before and seen her often on my visits to my mother’s nursing home. She’d delivered my mother’s meals or cleaned her bathroom. Her name was Naomi. She sat on my mother’s bed and took her head in her hands and kissed her gently on her cheek.

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Not Everything Has to Make Sense

Not Everything Has to Make Sense

On the east coast of Japan, in the small town of Otsuchi, on a hill overlooking the Pacific, a 70 year old man named Itaru Sasaki has installed an unusual garden feature – a phone booth. Like the ones Clark Kent used to use when he was in hurry to save Metropolis. Or the old fashioned red phone boxes you still sometimes see in the UK. Only Sasaki-san’s isn’t red. It’s white with a green roof. He installed it, along with an old disconnected rotary-dial black phone, to help him deal with the grief he felt at the passing of a beloved cousin. He has cultivated the habit of regularly retreating to the booth, picking up the receiver, and talking to his departed relative. This might just be a quaint little provincial story, except for the remarkable role Sasaki-san’s phone booth has played in helping a nation come to terms with one of its greatest natural disasters. We all remember the horrific images of the relentlessly rising black wave that engulfed much of the north east coast of Japan after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. Those images, plus the news that the tsunami had caused meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima nuclear power plant, dominated our news broadcasts at the time. As did the tally of nearly 16,000 deaths and 2,500

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Minimizing sexism IS sexism, so knock it off

Minimizing sexism IS sexism, so knock it off

This is not a blog about Donald Trump. Can I just make that clear? It’s about how some men think and speak about women. But I’m going to use Donald Trump’s recent comments as my jumping off point. No doubt you’ve heard (unless you’re newly arrived from Mars) that back in 2005 Mr Trump made some very lewd, indeed disgusting remarks about women in a conversation with Billy Bush of Today and Access Hollywood. As they see actress Arianne Zucker approaching, Trump is heard saying to Bush, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”Movie All Is Lost (2013) When Bush expresses some incredulity at this statement, Trump presses the point, “Grab them by the p*#%. You can do anything.” In brief, Mr Trump boasts that he can grab women’s private parts because he’s a celebrity. He refers to another woman as a “bitch” and a “piece of ass”, and bemoans that she, a married woman, had once rejected his, a married man’s, oafish advances. There’s no need to go into Mr Trump’s obvious weaknesses. Neither do I want

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Jesus Dancing on the Hospital Wall

Jesus Dancing on the Hospital Wall

I’m sitting in my wife’s hospital room while she sleeps off the effects of a general anesthetic. I’m looking at Jesus. That Jesus in the picture above. This being a Catholic hospital I’m assuming that’s a crucifix on the wall behind her bed, but I can’t help but think the Lord looks like he’s striking a bit of a modern dance pose. Caz has just come back from theater after a major procedure (don’t worry, nothing life threatening), so she’s out like a light right now, leaving me to watch over her and contemplate Dancing Jesus. I quite like the thought of him as Dancing Jesus rather than Dying Jesus, because who wants to think about dying in a hospital if you don’t have to. Also because Dancing Jesus seems a bit more present and helpful than Dying Jesus right now. Don’t get me wrong: I know he died for our sins and that was very helpful. But, at the risk of getting a bit corny and sentimental, I’ve been dancing with this woman for over 30 years now and I absolutely love her to bits, so it’s nice to think of the Dancing Jesus with us on the dance floor of life. Actually, that was corny, wasn’t it?  Sorry. Reminds me of the awkward lyrics to that old 1960s hymn,

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A New Moral Majority?

A New Moral Majority?

Remember the Moral Majority back in the 1980s? Its name was coined by Paul Weyrich, who believed the majority of Americans were morally conservative but largely ignored in general elections. Weyrich believed this huge silent cohort were opposed to feminism, homosexual rights, abortion, and communism, and they wanted prayer and creationism back in public schools. You might also remember the Moral Majority after it got all weird when Jerry Falwell started calling out MLK as a communist, Muhummad Ali as a terrorist, and Tinky Winky from the Teletubbies as a gay activist (I’m not kidding). But I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a new moral majority emerging, as silently as did the old one. It’s my hunch that there’s a growing number of people who identify as neither liberal nor conservative but who want to see action on climate change, government and corporate corruption, systemic racism, immigration reform, education funding, socialized healthcare and the military-industrial complex. And many of them are Christians who see these issues in distinctly moral terms and who have arrived at their views based on their understanding of the values taught in Scripture. Recently, a Christian friend of mine posted a kind of 95 Theses on the 21st Century’s version of the Wittenberg door (Facebook) and got a hugely positive response, including from me. In

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In Praise of Eccentricity

In Praise of Eccentricity

When you were a kid did you used to have those anxiety dreams about going to school in your pajamas? Or without shoes? Well, I still have those, only my nightmares are about turning up to casual social events in a suit. It’s not that I’m anxious about drawing attention to myself (those of you who know me personally can stop nodding now). It’s more that I’m afraid of what wearing a suit represents to me: a kind of deadening, monochromed conventionality. Hey, if in your professional role you’re required to wear a suit, that’s cool. It’s not the actual piece of apparel I’m uptight about. It’s just that the older I get the more terrified I become of being straightjacketed. I genuinely fear I’m becoming a square. Did you know that the word eccentric comes from a combination of the Greek terms ek (out of) and kentron (center). When put together, ekkentros means “out of center”. The term gained currency in the late Middle Ages when astronomers like Copernicus dared to suggest that the earth was not at the center of the solar system. By claiming the earth in fact orbited the sun, Copernicus became the original eccentric. Enter Richard Beck, a professor from Abilene Christian University, who pushes the definition of eccentricity a bit further. In his book

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Here’s to the crazy ones

Here’s to the crazy ones

Remember Apple’s now-iconic Think Different campaign back in the late 90s? It featured black-and-white footage of groundbreakers like Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, Pablo Picasso, and others. Who can forget that famous opening line, “Here’s to the crazy ones,” voiced by actor Richard Dreyfus. To this day there’s debate about who actually wrote the copy for the Think Different commercial. Most agree it was largely the work of Rob Siltanen, a creative director and a managing partner of the ad agency that produced it. But it included contributions by various members of his team, as well as Steve Jobs himself. In any case, the Think Different voiceover is one of the truly great pieces of advertising copy ever written: Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the

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