Category Archives: Life

More Life Lessons from the Grocery Store

Not aloneIf I’ve learned anything from working in the grocery industry it’s that sometimes you have good days and sometimes you don’t. I mean, last Friday the workload wasn’t crazy, the team was on the ball, and we had most of the day’s responsibilities knocked out by early afternoon. And then this past Sunday, in the last half hour of my shift, four different things needed doing right away, all of which were important and of which I had time to do maybe two. It was overwhelming knowing that whatever I decided to go with was probably the wrong thing if only because it left something else undone. There can be so much to sometimes that you can’t possibly do it all and so you have to learn to prioritise. And again, sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t. Often there really is no right answer because everything is a priority.

Life can feel like that, too. You have all this stuff to do and only so much time in the day in which to get it done. And that’s true regardless of what job you work or whether you work at all. Responsibilities just don’t go away. You have to eat, you have bills to pay, you need gas for your car if you have one, maybe you’ve got others counting on you to provide… the list goes on. It’s all important and yet it will leave you burnt out and hollow inside if you’re not careful. As one who knows Jesus (I am leery of calling myself a Christian after all that the Religious Right has been up to lately), I take hope from Matthew 6. Starting in verse 25, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” This is the God of the universe saying, “I get it. You have needs and you’re concerned about them. How about letting me worry about them instead? I do it for others and I’m real good at it. You just focus on this.” 

I’m not about to offer my take on “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”  The term “kingdom of God” is one, I think, with a lot of baggage attached to it right now and that’s a post for another time. All I wanted to do here was show you that you’re not alone. Sometimes in the grocery store all I can do is make the best decision I can and go with it. If everything is a priority then all I can do is pick a place to start. That’s all you can do in life sometimes, too, and that’s OK. Jesus is there to help you with the rest of it. You are not alone.

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Thoughts from a Recovering Baptist

Much of this post has to do with fallout from the Nashville Statement which, by now, is old news but for me at least is something I am still working through. I hadn’t expected to be doing so at this point but I am. And I apologise in advance if it is a little rambling or disjointed. My feelings regarding my fellow Baptists are still more than a little mixed.

We spent most of today at our local Sam’s Club getting new tires for our car. While we were walking around the store just killing time I came across a 3-in-1 volume of works by A.W. Tozer. His Pursuit of God was one of my favourite theological books when I first read it years ago and having not read any of his other works my curiosity was piqued. As it turned out, that was only for a moment. Before going on I should probably explain that I have always cherished any older theological work that I’ve had the chance to read. Even the ones I didn’t agree with were deeper and richer works than many of their contemporaries. Too many contemporary authors only convey information. Older authors knew how to speak to the heart as well as to the head. Anyways, as I flipped through this volume it hit me. There’s no life in it anymore, at least not for me.

I’ve known since I moved to the South full-time three years ago that I’m a bit of an odd duck in the Baptist church. From my long, purple hair to my earrings to my positions on a variety of subjects, I just don’t fit in all that well. To be honest, knowing this didn’t bother me all that much. I grew up in a Baptist church in Ontario (which as it turns out is the same word but a very different experience). In that church, at least, what mattered was who you were and not how old you were or whether or not you fit some predefined mould. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. I can still remember having a conversation with one lady on the church staff about how in focusing on a Sunday morning “production” (for that’s what it was) we were missing the point of this whole church thing. She agreed right before she went back to organising the following week’s production. That being said, if you were different you were still welcome. I was an odd duck in general through most of my high school years and that church was the one place in the world where I did feel welcome.

When I first came to the South almost 7 years ago (commuting back and forth while on leave from the Canadian Forces), the Southern Baptists I met were the most welcoming people I had ever met. They say us Canadians are polite but Southerners can really give us a run for our money when they want to. Even as my oddities became apparent no one really said anything negative. I belonged, at least to a point.

About a year and a half ago we had moved back to my wife’s home church (the same people I met back in 2010) and were teaching a Sunday School class for young girls. The pastor had also taken me under his wing in an effort to provide me the exposure I needed to get a pastorate of my own. We had been asked to reach out to the girls where they were at in life, to try to connect above all else, and we did just that. As things quickly turned out, we ran afoul of the pastor for not using the proscribed Sunday School curriculum and when we pointed out that using this material (calling it boring was an understatement) would likely turn off the girls on church altogether we were quickly run off ourselves. (Getting called a demon in the church is a sure-fire way to want to find the exit door in a hurry.) Even then I still thought of myself as a Baptist. There was still life in it for me. That’s not to say that I put being a Baptist before God but just that my own views had to more or less line up with somebody’s and I felt at home there. Even as I’ve reached out to the LGBTQ community over the last year or so I’ve still felt at home as a Baptist. I don’t agree with a number of things the Southern Baptist Convention lists in its Statement of Faith (things which largely define one as a Baptist) but I’ve still thought of myself as a member of that community with a voice within that community.

And then came the Nashville Statement which, as I’ve written about already, was nothing less than abuse masquerading as love. The people behind it used this place where intellectually I’ve come to feel at home to say “This is who we are,” and furthermore, “This is what defines who we are.” It took the life out of it for me. I don’t belong here anymore. Hell, I’m not even welcome here anymore.

I understand that there are other Baptist denominations out there, and even individual churches, who do not support the beliefs embodied in the Nashville Statement. They, at least, can do so and still call themselves Baptists. I’m not sure I can.

And so I feel lost. I want my faith and I want Jesus and yet saying those things sounds so much like what they have and I want no part of that and so I’m not sure what I want or even what I should want. I’m not sure where I fit as a Christian anymore, and that’s at the same time incredibly freeing and incredibly lonely, too.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Intellectually I know the answer to that, and in my heart I know as well. But as to what it looks like lived out? I’m not sure. Too much of what comes to mind and of what I know is too close to how they look for comfort.

I usually try to have something to offer at the end of each post but all I have to offer here are questions. What does it mean to have a faith with room for everyone? Where and how does it exist free of the influence of those who want nothing but control? In many ways it feels like I’m starting over with my faith, seeking something but I don’t know what exactly. So all I have to offer is that, and I hope it’s enough.

Don’t Forget Where You Come From

IMG_5851_2lowres.jpgLiving in a country and culture different from what you grew up in is an amazing experience. When you first arrive everything is new and exciting. There’s so much to explore and get to know. (That goes both ways, too. I can’t tell you how many times I had to explain that it actually does get as hot in Canada during the summer as it does in the South.) The thing is, as you spend more time there you start to pick up new habits, mannerisms, and whatnot and change or set aside some of the ones you used to have. And then, when you’ve been there long enough, you start to think that you’re approaching life now the same as those around you and it’s genuinely shocking to find out that you don’t.

If you follow immigration issues much you’ll probably have heard the sentiment that people marry Americans, or find other ways into this country, just to get a green card. The idea is that the U.S.A. is such an amazing place, especially when compared to the rest of the world, that people will do just about anything to get here and then be allowed to stay here when they arrive. And don’t get me wrong. The United States is, in my experience and despite what you may hear on the news, still a great place to live. People here in the South have proven to be some of the most welcoming I’ve ever met (and that includes Canadians). That being said, Canada is still a pretty amazing place, too. I didn’t move here just to get the hell out of there, you know?

Growing up in Ontario, and then living and travelling all around the country, made me who I am. That’s something special and yet it’s so easy to forget sometimes. As much as I have grown to love the people here I will probably never really, truly approach life the way they do, at least not with giving up too much of myself in the process. I will forever be just a little bit different (and that’s OK).

I’ll be so bold as to suggest that wanting to belong and fit in is pretty much a universal desire. Whether it’s just to have a certain group of people like us, or to become financially secure through gaining the respect of your boss, or just to have someone to relate to, belonging is something we all want to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that, at least to a point.

The problem comes when we try to change who we are just to fit in. I’ll give you another example from my own life. When I first got to the Royal Military College of Canada, I didn’t fit in much. I wasn’t much of an athlete and I hardly ever touched alcohol (not that there’s anything wrong with a drink every now and then; it just wasn’t a big deal for me at the time). While this set me apart, for the first couple of months it didn’t really bother me. When it did become too much for me I deliberately gave up just trying to be myself and I actively sought the acceptance of those around me. Did it work? No. I didn’t seem to really be any more accepted than I had been before, so I hadn’t gained anything by it, and at the same time I had lost something very special. Me. Finding my sense of self again after all that took a very long time.

We are, each of us, who we are. You are who you are for a reason and the same goes for me. That is something far too special and far too important just to give up for the acceptance of those around you. So don’t forget who you are or where you come from. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

And for those who don’t know just how special a place Canada is, here’s a song all about it.

Life Lessons from Dogs

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We own 3 dogs, each one of which is unique in their own way and teaching me different things. Cookie, my dog, we got before Christmas last year. (That’s her in the pic.) Some friends of ours had more dogs than they could now take care of and she needed a home. We were told that she had probably been abused sometime before they got her. She whined about everything. She was always needy, always right up in your space. I figured there was nothing wrong with her that a little time and love couldn’t fix.

In reality, my reasons ran a little deeper. After all that we went through last year by the time we got to Christmas I felt broken inside. I guess I figured that if I could fix Cookie then I could fix myself as well. If there’s hope for one of us then there’ hope for both, right?

It never happened. Sure we fixed a few minor things. She had to learn to come when we called for her. But the deeper things never went away like I thought they would.

Working nights meant I was home during the day a lot over the past couple of months. About two weeks ago we had this really bad storm come through, and let me start by saying that Cookie hates storms. She came up to me shaking, with this look on her face that said I wish I didn’t do this but can’t stop it. It made me realize that she is who she is and I am who I am. I told her as much, and since that day she’s opened up to me. She’s been more loving, more playful, and a lot less worried about everything.

If you’ve been around the church much at all odds are good you’ve heard this one, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We Christians love to talk about ourselves as “works in progress,” the idea being that we have certain behaviours that have to go and Christ is helping us do that. He’s the one fixing us, so to speak.

If you’ve read enough of my posts here you’ll know that I’m going to disagree with that, but first let me say that I am not for a moment overlooking that we all have our rough edges. If you’re like me and have a temper from time to time it’s a noble thing to reign that in. All I’m saying is that maybe what Paul is getting at here goes deeper. Maybe it’s less about fixing ourselves, or having Christ fix us, and learning to love ourselves as we are. After all, he already does.

Happy Birthday to Us!

happy-birthday-card-in-watercolor-style_23-2147520643Church for Misfits started out as Far North Encouragement on this day back in 2015. In that time this place has grown and changed in ways that I never saw coming when we were first starting out. I have gotten to know people I never dreamed of meeting and been places I never thought I’d go. What I’ve written here has encouraged some, divided others, and pissed off a few, too. It’s also cost me a lot.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. Church for Misfits will always be a safe place for those who need it, whether you’re hurting or you’ve got questions or you just don’t know where else to go. At the same time, it will always be a voice within Christian circles for those who are not allowed a voice there. I have no idea where this community will be in the next year and beyond. All I know is those things will never change. Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of this over the last year. Church for Misfits just wouldn’t be the same without you. Here’s to wherever the road takes us!

You Don’t Know

1So I started working all overnight shifts in the grocery store last week, and I have to say that I’ve learned a lot in a very short period of time. For example, I’ve learned that if you want your life to include anything other than the cycle of eat, sleep, work, repeat while working nights then you’re pretty much always tired all of the time. (Like right now, for example, I should really be sleeping.) I’ve also learned that when the store is open 24 hours you get a lot of interesting people who only show up after midnight. I’ve seen Jpeople of all ages shopping in the wee hours of the morning, from young people to the elderly and even parents with young kids.

I’ve also learned how easy it is to assume that I know someone’s story. Take the parents with young kids. These people coming in that late on a school night gets me wondering, you know? “What the hell are you thinking?” is usually what comes to mind, which is then followed with, “Don’t you know better?” At that point I usually assume the moral high ground thinking that they should know better and are therefore probably bad parents.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t know why they brought their kids that late at night. There are any number of reasons for parents and kids to be in the store that late. When I worked childcare I learned that there are a lot of parents out there working what can charitably be called shitty hours. Maybe that late at night is the only time they can get to the grocery store. Maybe they can’t afford a sitter. Ultimately, I don’t know the story of anyone who shows up in my store.

Here’s the thing. How often do you make assumptions like this? And not just with complete strangers but maybe with people you know and love? It’s so easy to assume that we know someone, or that we know why they did what they did or said what they said. We just make an assumption, and then we write them off.

In Matthew 7:1-3, Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” There’s a lot we could discuss from this passage, but the point I want to make is this. How close to someone do you have to be to even notice a speck in their eye? How much else do you see that you look past just to notice whatever the speck may be? In assuming, in judging, we overlook so much else to focus in one insignificant thing. 

If you don’t know, it means you don’t know. If it bugs you enough, ask them about it. If it really is insignificant, just let it go. The people in your life, and in mine, too, will be better off for it.

On Turning 30

download-birthday-clip-art-free-clipart-of-birthday-cake-parties-9H4hL8-clipartSo today is my 30th birthday (yay me!) and this being the milestone that it is I marked it with Castle Season 8 and Chinese food this past weekend, along with getting my hair done and cake tonight. Being the introspective type that I am, it’s also had me thinking. It hit me last week, as today got closer and closer, just how much I’ve changed in the last 10 years.

Back in 2007, I was two years out of high school and on my second post-secondary institution (chosen mainly because I wanted to get back out to Western Canada and I had to choose something). People who knew me back then will tell you that I wanted more than anything else to matter. I wanted to make a difference, to have a fulfilling career. I was also, by my own admission, damned impatient. Every decision, whether it was regarding career paths or fields to study, felt like the be all and end all that would determine the rest of my life. And I had to get it right. I also had to get it right now. As I watched those I grew up with get married, start a family and progress in their careers, in my own mind at least I had to be right there with them. Every perceived misstep felt like the end of the world.

Fast forward 10 years and the job that I currently have is actually very similar to one I held just out of high school (it just pays better). Is it fulfilling? Does what I do matter to those around me? Not really. I mean, yes, it’s important and it keeps the store running, but is it what I thought I’d be doing when I thought of making a difference a decade ago? No. And you know what? The funny thing is I’m OK with that.

I’ve learned over the last few years that there is more to life than just the job you do. To be sure I still want to enjoy what I do, but that’s really the only requirement for me right now. There is something to be said for a job that pays the bills, that isn’t that stressful, and that allows me to do what needs done as best I can and then come home. A job that provides the freedom to enjoy life and to make a difference in other ways. A job that pays for a roof over our heads and food on the table and Internet to publish my writings. That’s the kind of job I have right now, and I couldn’t ask for more.

The other part of today is that in many ways I have even less of life figured out than I did just a year or two ago. The ironic side of it is that this doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as it probably should. Life will sort itself out, and while I’m not saying I’ve given up dreaming and hoping and wondering, I am saying that I do myself and those around me a disservice by trying to rush things.

So if you’re in your 20’s and you’re reading this, let the pressure off. You don’t have to get it right. You’ll probably get it wrong many times and that’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. Life doesn’t end when you turn 30.

Biology and Gender

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and I came across one particular article last week that for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it online but which raised the point that contemporary definitions of gender and sex might be a little too rigid. The main argument that I see conservatives making regarding the possibility of people being transgender is that, biologically speaking, you’re either male or female and while you may feel like your gender doesn’t line up with that you can’t change that fundamental reality. As the article pointed out, there are two problems with this position. The first is that the very characteristics we use to determine who is male and who is female, such as the presence or absence of facial hair, show considerable variation even between two individuals who are presumably of the same gender. For example, I rocked a goatee in high school at age 17, and I can still remember talking to one guy I worked with one summer who was shocked that I wasn’t 23 like he was because I had this awesome facial hair and all he’d ever managed to grow was stubble.

The second point raised in the article is that all of these various characteristics, from facial hair to breasts to the presence of one particular type of plumbing, can all now be changed. Hormone therapy and surgery can change everything but your genes. Yes, genetics determines what you start out with, but if every characteristic that indicates gender can be changed, can we really use biology as the ultimate indicator of one’s gender? I don’t think we can, and for me that raises further questions. What then do we use as an indicator of gender? And given that conclusion, is it wrong for someone to say I’m transgender, I’m a woman in a man’s body?

As Christians, even if biology is out as a fixed point in determining gender we would still say that the Bible is pretty specific. You’re either male or female, as God created you, and that’s that. To see if the biblical picture really is that fixed, I had a look at some of the evidence. In Genesis 1 and 2 we get the story of Creation, and what I found here is enough even by itself to make we question our commitment to our position on gender. In Gen. 1:27 we’re told, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse would seem to end the argument, right? 

Take a closer look at the wording of this passage, though. The structure of the sentence connects “male and female” with the “image of God.” In other words, we’re created in the image of God as male and female. Now there is a lot of debate out there as to just what the “image” of God actually entails, but that’s not what I want you to see here. What I want you to see is that if we are created in the image of God, then there should be a connection between our sex/gender (however you want to word it) and God. Depending on how you define “image” you can define that connection in different ways, but notice this. God at this point in the story does not have a physical body. Jesus and the Incarnation is all the way off in the New Testament. Whatever the connection may be, it therefore can’t be solely physical. Whatever makes us male or female can’t be solely our plumbing, so to speak, because at this very point, when we’re told we’re created male or female in God’s image, God doesn’t have plumbing that we know of. What makes us who we are in terms of gender or sex (again using those words interchangeably) must therefore be something deeper than simply our physical bodies. 

I am not for a moment suggesting we throw out every passage of Scripture that speaks to us as male and female. I am suggesting that our understanding of what it is that makes us male or female or transgender or agender or whatever else needs to change. If we can’t use physical characteristics as a fixed determination of gender, and if Scripture isn’t as black and white as it would at first appear, then what we are left with to determine the gender of a particular body is the person living inside that body. If they decide on something we don’t agree with, who are we to argue with that?

It’s Not Over Yet

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One of my all-time favorite TV shows is The Last Ship (I’ve quoted from it before in case you missed it). I’ve been slowly working through it as I find the seasons for sale at my local 2nd & Charles. Anyways, early on in the second season there’s an episode where the crew finally make it home to look for their families. If you’ve never seen the series, the USS Nathan James has spent the first season looking for a cure to this global pandemic and now that they’ve found it and fought off those who want it for themselves they get to go home to check on their own families. Many, obviously, don’t have families to go back to, but for Captain Chandler it’s different. His family, minus his wife who died before he could rescue them, is on the ship with him.

For Captain Chandler the questions are different than they are for his crew. Going home is only supposed to be temporary while they refuel and resupply. His wife died because he wasn’t there to save her and he blames himself, meaning he wrestles with the guilt he feels and whether or not he should go back to sea with his crew. What happens to his kids if he doesn’t come back this time? Given how badly his crew has been hurt so far, he isn’t just playing the what-if game. How can he justify that risk?

Chandler is not the only one in the episode who struggles, either. His Executive Officer, Commander Slattery, hasn’t had much word from his family since the show started. In short, he has no idea where they are and no one would really blame him if he left to look for them. He’s torn between leaving to look for them or staying with the ship.

Life can get that way for us sometimes, too, can’t it? You finally get to where you want to be in life, whether it’s in your career or with your family, and you start thinking your job is done. Or maybe you start to think that you’ll never get to where you want to be in life, so why bother, right? Maybe you’re one who follows Jesus and you get to where you want to be and so you say to him, “You do what you want. I followed you this far but I like where I’m at right now so I’m just going to stay here.”

For the characters of The Last Ship, the job isn’t done yet. Their mission, that of putting the world back together, is in many ways just getting started, and both the Captain and the XO belong with their ship. It’s a good thing, too, because greater threats await them when they do go back out.

I know how that feels because I’m there myself. My position right now is a curious mix of both. For one thing, I’ve been job hunting for so long that I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find something that affords us greater financial freedom. On the other, we’ve spent years longing for a place of our own and now that we have it I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do next. There are many days where I just want to take it easy. The battle’s over, right? I mean, we got what we wanted. And as one who follows Jesus, there are indeed days when I do just want to tell him that I’m good where I’m at so can we please just pause life here for a while? Let the world get on without me for a while.

Here’s the thing. We have the freedom to make that choice. We can duck out of life if we so choose. That being said, if you’re reading this you’re still breathing, and that means your life isn’t over yet. That, in turn, means you’re not done yet. There is more to do, and I don’t mean that in terms of religious obligations of some kind. I mean there’s more to see, more to learn, more times to be there for those closest to you, and more opportunities to choose intimacy with Jesus. And if you don’t know him, there’s more time to listen to his tug on your heart.

Will it cost us? Yes. Not everyone who goes back out with Captain Chandler is still around come the end of the season. The very thought of what that might mean in my own story makes me hesitate. Do I really want to go back out there again? Problem is, what we have to do in this life matters. It really does. And if not me, then who? If not you, then who? It’s your story, and it’s not over yet.

No Place Like Home

In Luke 9:58, when a man tells Jesus, “I’ll follow you anywhere,” Jesus responds by stating that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Now I’ve read that passage dozens of times, and heard it preached on once or twice, usually in the context of trying to explain the cost of following Christ. The entire end of this chapter actually explores the concept and it’s really quite fascinating, especially from a literary point of view. We get these 3 little snippets of conversation, without being told anything about who it is that’s talking to Jesus or how they respond to what he tells them or even why they say what they do in the first place. All we get, really, is the interaction. But I digress.

I’ve usually taken this particular verse in the sense of if I was ever a missionary in some foreign place then I might not necessarily have a pillow or a bed or whatnot. I’d have to make do with whatever I could find. What got my attention here, and what I want to point out, is in the first part of the verse. To a fox and a bird, a hole in the ground and a nest aren’t just a place to sleep at night. They’re home. They’re a place of relative safety, a place to raise your young. The human equivalent might be a place to be yourself. A place where you can relax, let your guard down, and check your worries at the door. As you might imagine, this isn’t just a physical place but an emotional one, as well. Home is where the heart is, right?

Here’s the thing. We’re not promised any of that. That’s what Jesus’s statement is meant to convey to this eager young man. If Jesus himself never had that, how can we expect to? And I don’t say that to burst your bubble or point you to some “super spiritual” wisdom. It’s meant to be a comfort in addition to a challenge. If you find yourself in a place where you’re not understood or not welcome, or where you’re alone, you’re in good company. And it’s probably not your fault, either. We are, after all, always going to be outcasts in this world. Only when we finally reach heaven’s shores will we truly be home. Until that day, don’t lose heart. You are not misunderstood or unwanted, and you are never truly alone. You are known fully and loved deeply by the one who died just to be with you and who, if you are willing to trust him, will be waiting for you there with open arms.