Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm Moving

I started this blog way back in 2005 as a means to force myself to write, connect with other thinkers, and dialogue some of our burning questions. The first couple of years were spent debating, commenting, and agitating each other to a fuller, deeper, more authentic faith. It was very common, through the years 2005-2007, to have many many comments on a single, poorly written post. I believe the record amount of comments for any one post was 109.

Anyhow, if you are a regular follower of this blog, I appreciate the many years you have read and learned with me. I would invite you to update your RSS feed, reader, or subscription service over to my new home on the web. You can find my new home here.

The contents of this blog are protected by the creative commons. All Rights Reserved. Protected under Creative Commons (Noncommercial-No Derivative Works-Use With Permission) © 2005 - 2010 (CANADA/USA) 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top Ten Best of 2010

1. Best Movie – Jonah Hex, another graphic novel film adaption that made little to no money at the box-office. I’m a sucker for westerns.

2. Best Sporting Event – The Vancouver Olympics. Of course, the best moment was Sidney Crosby’s goal that is burned into every Canadians memory. The most entertaining, though, was Shaun White’s winning half-pipe run.

3. Best AlbumRise Against, Appeal to Reason. In came out in 2008 but my iTunes shows it has the most plays.

4. Best Book – Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Steven King, published in 1983. Just happened to be the best book I read in 2010.

5. Best Video Game – Angry Birds.

6. Best New Website Addiction – Twitter. I finally joined and, after a couple months tweeting, realized that the only people on Twitter are egomaniacs and PR people. I’m not sure which I am. Either way, you can follow me here.

7. Best TV Show – The Office takes the cake again. I know exactly what character I would be if I was on the show.

8. Best Life Change – Quitting coffee. Except, I seem to drink more coffee now that I’ve quit.

9. Best Trip – Dominican Republic with my wife for our 10 year wedding anniversary! So good.

10. Best Photo – My ankle 11 days after falling while rock climbing. This is after the stitches came out.

What are your Top Ten Best?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Christian Christmas Party

It is coming to that time of year when people from all different walks of life come together to enjoy a dizzying amount of Christmas parties. Some of these parties are good and some of them, well, should never have happened. For those of you fretting about your staff Christmas party, you would do well to Google something along the lines of “work Christmas party etiquette” and remember to mind your toos. Your skirt shouldn’t be too high or your neck line too low. Don’t be too flirty, too hairy, or too late, and definitely don’t drink too much. Remember, your boss is there.   

Anyhow, the remainder of this post will deal with another beast altogether: The Christian Christmas Party.

There are two characters that make up the Christian Christmas party guest list; the Christian party-goer and the reluctant non-Christian. Meanwhile the host, who generously opens the doors of their home to their Christian friends, cautiously hides any incriminating evidence that may call their Christianity into question. This may include R-rated movies, an empty bottle of wine or two, or a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.

The first on the guest list are usually friends from church. These Christian party-goers usually plan to show up late and arrive extra hungry. In fact, since receiving their invitation to the party, they’ve probably stopped eating altogether. These people know that the host has spent the last month baking and preparing tasty little finger foods. As long as they’re not later than everyone else, they’ll feast like kings. Gluttony, of course, is only a minor sin. Right?

The other guest, much rarer to find at a Christian Christmas party, is probably nervous about the whole ordeal. They’re likely a neighbour or a friend from work who has been a targeted evangelism project. They’ve Googled “Christian Christmas party etiquette” and still don’t know what to expect. If this is you, pay attention! I’ll answer a few questions for you:

1. Yes, as is your custom, bring a bottle of wine as a gift for the host. As long as you arrive on time, they will have ample time to hide it.
2. No, you will not need to plan for a DD. *Note to Christians: “DD” is short for designated driver.
3. Yes, feel free to speak as you normally do. For extra fun, add some color to your conversation if the hosts’ pastor is there.
4. When you are offered a “cider,” don’t be surprised when you are given a “hot apple cider.” These are also good.
5. Yes, dress the same way you would for your office party and mind your toos. Remember, Jesus is there. 
6. If the host advertises ugly Christmas sweater party or white elephant gift exchange, any reason not to go would be fine.

Well, now that we’ve got that all straight, go out and enjoy the Christmas holiday season! It is a great time to get together with friends and family, to tell stories and laugh together, to share good food and drink, and to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Christmas & Traditions

For most people, I think, Christmas is not really Christmas unless the right traditions are observed year after year with a dedication rivalling Santa Clauses’ devotion to cookies and mall appearances. Of course by “right traditions” I don’t mean “right for everyone.” Each person and family have their own traditions, twists on popular traditions, and traditions that make the rest of us wonder how much rum was in the egg nog.

Traditions get funny around the holidays. It is one thing to have your morning coffee tradition (or is it addiction?) and an entirely different thing to have a giant tree slowly dying inside your home. One friend of mine decorates their family tree with sour soother candies. Given the choice, I’d decorate it with bottles of maple syrup, but that’s just me.

Perhaps one of my favourite Christmas traditions, providing many opportunities over the years, has been the mistletoe. It stands to reason that anything that stays green during winter and produces fruit, should be celebrated with a kiss! And though I can’t prove it or find it anywhere in history, this might be the reason men started bringing trees inside the house. The reasoning? The bigger the green plant, the bigger the kiss.

While the Christmas tree first shows up in 16th century literature, most believe its origins date back to 8th century Germany when a missionary with a chainsaw cut down a sacred oak on Christmas Eve. The outraged locals, understandably ticked, were eventually calmed by the planting of a young fir tree and disaster was averted. Eventually, German settlers brought the Christmas tree to Pennsylvania where it sprang to life as a good ol’AmeriCanadiana tradition.

Even earlier, in 4th century Britain, evergreens were given as gifts to each other during the week of Winter Solstice. Interestingly, during this gift giving time, slaves and masters would exchange positions making speech free and, theoretically, unhindered. I imagine this to be like a modern day office Christmas party where cubicle dwellers tip a few back with the boss but can’t and shouldn’t say what they really think.  

The great thing about traditions is that, while you and I may have the exact same tradition, each of us gets to inject our own meaning into the tradition. We are free to adopt and borrow traditions from other ages and cultures and make them uniquely our own. Traditions act as symbols and guideposts that generally point people and communities to something larger.

Christians have been doing this for centuries, and it’s not wrong. Traditions change, they morph, they pick up new meanings and discard old ones, and people carry on. If a Christian wants to decorate an evergreen tree to be reminded of Jesus, fine. Others in history have held that evergreen trees increase sexual potency. Obviously, symbols and traditions mean different things to different people.

As Christians, our hope is that people would come to know the reason behind some of our kooky traditions. Christmas is a celebration of the life of Jesus and we’ve adopted certain cultural things to be reminded of this. What will our Christmas traditions of the future look like? Who knows, but for Christians, it will always include Jesus.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jesus told stories. So do we.

Some version of this hits news stands this weekend. Enjoy.
If there is a universal currency that seems to have transcended country and culture across the ages of time, it certainly would not be the Canadian dollar, the English language, or a gift card to Starbucks. The currency of the ages is story.

I remember passing by an Aldo store full of people, shoes, and people buying shoes, which, at the outset, is totally normal. The giant advertisement in the window was, however, odd. Everything was in its right place; model in a short skirt, long legs, trendy shoes, and cool photography. The only odd part was the question on the advertisement: “What is your story?”

Is Aldo selling shoes or stories? I think the Aldo execs in Montreal know something that the church has sometimes forgotten: our stories are important.

Humans love to tell stories; they are somehow attached to our very nature. Every inspiring story develops out of mundane details of simple day to day living. It’s not extravagance or heroism that tell the miracle of life so much as it is the ordinary moments that all add up to something. The sound a humming bird makes when it hovers in front of a flower, the feel of rain hitting your forehead after a hard day of work, your child’s first words, an old friend emailing to say hi. These are the scenes life is made of; these are the ordinary moments translated into the extra-ordinary. 

We are storied creatures. Right from a very young age we learn to think, believe, and even process the world around us through the context of story and narrative. Not only that, we like to turn life experience into story. For example, a significant experience, a trauma, a close call, a surprise – whatever the experience – we tend to remember as narrative. We don’t necessarily recall the details or get them all right, but that’s not the point. What matters is that we have this story and it somehow shapes how we view the world around us. 

It’s no wonder then that Jesus spent much of his time telling stories. He spent his time wandering around with a vagabond crowd of blue collar workers, terrorists, drunks, sex trade workers, the religious elite who he continually made fun of, and even a few normal folks, telling them stories.  

Story and narrative was the centerpiece of Jesus’ preaching and teaching style. His stories weren’t cute little side dishes of garnish to augment or transition weightier matters. No. They were the epicenter of Jesus’ communication. Jesus hardly said a word to the crowds unless it was framed in story. 

Jesus told stories. Aldo gets it. Why shouldn’t we, the Church? I’m not sure when or how proposition, water-tight logic, and long winded homily took center stage, but it certainly hasn’t proven to be all that inspiring or compelling. I wonder what would happen if preachers spoke in the language of story? I wonder what would happen if preachers narrated, spoke in metaphor, and created images for people? Is it possible for Scripture to become self-evident to people through the stories that are told rather than it being explained point-by-point, proposition-by-proposition? Jesus thought it was possible; imagine if we did.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Confession Booth in the Media

Two weeks ago the UCM crew at UFV hosted a confession booth at the school wide party: Dis-O. The confession booth made it into three separate articles in The Cascade; the university newspaper. Here is my favourite quote re: the Confession Booth from The Cascade.  

Of the various booths set up around the green I believe two specifically deserve attention….The second booth was more mysterious: it was a plywood hut reminiscent of a rural outhouse bearing the title ‘Confession Booth.’ When I saw it, I was immediately intrigued, and I marched up to a helpful volunteer outside to demand an explanation.

“What is it?” I asked him.

“A confession booth,” he explained helpfully, “a reverse confession booth. You see, we are going to confess to you.”

It turned out that “we” was the University Christian Ministries student group, and the “confession” was an apology for most of the boneheaded things Christians have done throughout the ages. Whatever one’s views on religion, a heartfelt apology is a powerful thing, and I look forward to more creativity from UCM in the future.

You can also check out my article on the Confession Booth for the Abbotsford Times.
Grace and Peace,

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thrice:: Come All You Weary

I love this song! Performed live by Dustin Kensrue, the lead singer and guitarist for Thrice. Take a moment to listen and enjoy...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What are the Rules of Brainstorming?

I’ve had the privilege of working and brainstorming with a lot of incredibly talented people over the years; daring people, risk taking people, entrepreneurial types with creative appetites that never fill. These are artists, film makers, business people, preachers, musicians, graphic designers, internerds, super-shreds, and even a few random strangers who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I love dreaming and scheming with creatives and have enjoyed seeing the product of some of these sessions when they hit the street.

My experience with these people has helped form a set of guidelines that I use in leading and shaping creative spaces to brainstorm. I don’t hold to these with a tight-fisted rigidity, however, brainstorm sessions are markedly different when I ignore any of the guidelines. Sometimes these guidelines are explicitly expressed so that everybody knows and understands the “rules,” other times – with seasoned creatives – the guidelines are implicit and embedded into the conversation; everybody just knows.

  1. Be Careful Who You Brainstorm With
There are certain people who have a tendency to stir creativity, give life to a thought or concept, and who are ok with wide-open reckless imagining. There are other people, often calling themselves realists, who are especially gifted at putting out the fires of the creative process. At some point, these realists do come in handy offering valuable insights; however, they are rarely helpful in the beginning stages of brainstorming. Make sure that the people you invite into your dialogue are generous with their imagination.  
  1. The Environment is Important
Simply, get out of the boardroom*. A bunch of suits sitting around a big board table trying to drum up the next slick marketing campaign, initiative, or whatever, does produce results; but maybe not the best. The environment does influence how we think and live – the study of human geography clearly shows this. I’ve found that getting out of places that encourage systematic, top-down, and structured cultures and into places that are more fluid, relational, experimental, and playful generates a culture of creativity that far surpasses the boardroom. Some of my favourite places to brainstorm and imagine are brewpubs, apr├Ęs-shred patios, the forest, crowded public spaces, and in my living room with people that I like.

*One other note re: leaving the boardroom: turn your mobile device off and stop worrying about your twitter account, noisy emails, and text messages. Give your attention to being present with your thoughts and where they might lead.
  1. Practice Imagination
Once you’ve got the people and the place nailed down, begin with some exercises in imagination. Don’t link these warm-ups to the project. Make them fun and eccentric, and go out of your way to show how an idea can blossom into something never imagined just moments before. This helps people to loosen up and begin thinking wildly without the controls and limitations that so often ambush a brainstorm session.
  1. Mix and Match Opposites
Mixing and matching opposites, experimenting with apparent contradictions, messing around with the taboo and the prude, turning propositions into metaphors, and using unconventional mediums go a long way in helping ideas develop and form. Plus, it’s a Canadian metric ton of fun to peer around corners and feel out nuances and subtle connections. If we look hard enough, we begin seeing that everything seems to be connected to everything else. This requires creatives to have good eyes, listen with attentive ears, and delve into seemingly unrelated disciplines of thought and practice. When the curious brainstormer pokes and prods around with ambiguities, new ideas are likely to be unleashed.        
  1. Where There is Smoke, There is Fire
If a thought or an idea sparks an interest, follow the idea and flesh it out until the thought becomes ridiculous…and then follow it a little further. Over and over, I have found that out of some of the very weirdest, wackiest, and worst ideas come the very best. The endurance to follow these ideas from horrible-to-great requires some creative hop-scotching and a singular dedication to this: Do not prematurely evaluate ideas. Leave that to the realists (aka CFO’s and accountants) and wait for a good level-headed strategy session later on. Critical evaluation of ideas is important, but it is for a later time.
  1. Have a Safe Word
Finally, build into the brainstorm a place of refuge for anyone who feels like their idea is being unfairly attacked. Make it fun, light, add an action to it, but whatever you do, make sure that your creative team feels safe to explore. The safe word or action should be decided on beforehand and respected when it is used. Safe words provide a moment of pause that helps everyone to recalibrate and begin moving forward again.

Brainstorming with daring creatives is a tremendous amount of fun, tends to look more like fun than work, and is likely to produce more results at a consistently higher quality more often. Happy brainstorming!

Friday, September 10, 2010

If the the entire world lived in a village of 100 people...

A number of years ago, a credible organization endeavored to build a profile of the planets' population by shrinking the population from 5.7 billion people down to a village of 100 people. In the years since, the world population has grown to about 6.8 billion, however, my guess is that the village profile would look very similar. This village of 100 people would look like this:
  • Fifty-seven Asians, twenty-one Europeans, fourteen North and South Americans, and eight Africans.
  • Seventy would be non-white.
  • Seventy would be non-Christian.
  • Fifty percent of the entire world’s wealth would be in the hands of six people.
  • Those six people would be citizens of the United States.
  • Seventy would be unable to read.
  • Fifty would suffer from malnutrition.
  • Eighty would live in substandard housing.
  • Only one would be college educated.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Leading from Collaborative Spaces

Most who have visited the office space of Christian Life Community Church have uttered comments of surprise as to how chaotic and unordered it seems to be. In fact, most visiting and out-of-town pastors who come through our office usually make a comment very similar to… “Interesting, you guys actually get work done here?”

What makes our office space unique to many offices spaces – whether they are church, business, or other social sector office spaces – is that we don’t actually have offices. Rather, we have what some might call a “team room” or a “commons area” where all of us – lead pastor right through to our yearly apprentices – share a common working space with no walls, doors, sound proofing, or cubicles. Our desks are open, side by side, and within elbow space of everyone else in the office.

Admittedly, this does cause some tension from time to time when one person needs some quiet and another feels like whistling or, for example, when some mysterious team member keeps ‘borrowing’ all the best pens. However, the benefits of our shared work space are amazing. Let me share just three of those benefits with you.

1. Shared Space is Collaborative Space

A major benefit of the shared space at CLCC has been the weekly, daily, hourly times of collaboration with other team members. As pastors we are constantly trying to solve problems, find solutions, and innovate new forms of community and communication. So often, the solutions we are looking for are needed in “real-time” meaning that we need real conversations with real people, right now. The simple proximity of having other people around allows for many impromptu meetings through-out the day without having to leave your desk. Not only that, it is not uncommon for a team member to overhear a conversation in another part of the room and quickly pipe in with a thought or an idea that shapes the rest of the conversation and informs the decision. We believe that decisions and innovations are better in community than they are alone. Our space allows for it to happen.

2. Collaborative Space is Casual Space
Not only does our office function as a work space, it doubles as a place where real friendships, conversations, and familiarities develop. This means that it’s not uncommon for our children to be running around the office exploring its nooks and crannies, that I can proudly wear my stinky bike commuter clothes all day long, and that hundreds of non-work related jokes, stories, and conversations happen all the time. The effect has been that our team has a sense of safety and freedom to express real concerns and have real opinions without the guardedness found in organizations where people don’t really know each other. Collaborative space – especially for lead leaders – takes the concept of the “Walk Around Manager” and evolves it to an “Every Moment Manager” where casual interactions with the rest of the team happen all the time.

3. Collaborative Space is Creative Space
One of the best parts of collaborative space is that it is a breeding ground for creative ideas and innovative solutions. For any organization, the ability to create, dream, and innovate together should be very close to the core of its organizational values. Collaborative spaces jump-start the creative space and inspire people to imagine. This happens for a number of reasons: (1) A diversity of people with their widely different worldview and opinion force us into seeing, thinking, and even believing differently, (2) Mixing and matching seemingly opposite ideas have regularly produced breakthroughs in science, music, education, film, etc., teaching us how to live with duality, and (3) These spaces tend to breakdown the “hierarchy of imagination” opening the doors to ideas not found in the board room. These creative spaces are especially important for Christians whose belief is in a God who, not only is creative, but who has imaged us to be co-creators with Him. Creativity is a natural result of a maturing spirituality. The church, of all people and places, should be among the most creative entities on the planet.

Finally, collaborative spaces are not just open spaces with a bunch of people crammed into them. Collaborative spaces are intentional spaces that motivate a culture of shared learning, shared discovery, communal accountability, and a deep driving commitment to a common mission or cause. I believe that collaborative spaces are part of what is going to be commonly known as “best practices” in team leadership. Here, we applaud differences, honour the curious nonconformist, respect the odd and quirky, allow opposites to live side-by-side, and embrace a collective imagination as a means to lead us forward. Who are the people in your collaborative space?