Paradise is a Parking Lot


If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about Derek Webb. For the better part of 20 years now, he’s been one of my favourite musical artists, from his time with Caedmon’s Call through his solo career (and podcast, which I appeared on).

Webb’s Album ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ turns 10 this year, and it remains one of his best, in my opinion.

Here’s what I wrote about it back in the day:

A huge theme on Stockholm Syndrome is sexuality. I have already blogged about the not so controversial song What Matters More, but sexuality is also a theme in the upbeat but cautionary tale of Jena and Jimmy, in What You Give Up to Get It [Like sex when you’re too young … Oh it’s never quite worth what you give up to get it], and in the final tune American Flag Umbrella. I am a big fan of the song Freddie Please, a song directed to the figurehead of Westoboro Baptist Church, infamous for their anti-homosexuality demonstrations featuring the ‘God Hates Fags’ signs. This song seems to be sung from the perspective of Jesus, who asks this question of Phelps: ‘Freddie please / How could you do this to Me? / How could you tell me you love Me when you hate Me Freddie please?’

One of my favorite songs right now is Becoming a Slave, which addresses the reality of imbalance in the world in which we live and causes the listener to consider the price that is paid in order for us to have the ‘things’ that we value so highly – ‘There’s always a price to pay / It’s gotta hit somebody’s back / Trust me, new worlds / Don’t just build themselves.’ Slavery is alive and well in the world, and Christians must sit back and think about our implicit participation in oppressive systems. We are slaves to our ‘stuff’ whether we acknowledge it or not, and this cycle will continue until we fight for ‘justice in the system.’

Other key tracks for me are Heaven, Black Eye and The Proverbial Gun, but who I am kidding, I dig them all!

While some may argue that this album is quite critical of contemporary Christianity and perhaps might even come across as judgmental and short on grace, I would say that Webb provides an important prophetic voice that constantly points us back to the key question, ‘what matters more?’ While doctrinal debates rage on, the world around is desperately looking for a group of people to embody a different, more loving way of living. This is what the Church has to offer; that we can be a hand to hold to keep the world on its feet, a reminder that, though Chrust, the following is true: ‘And in the end it will all be OK / That’s what the wise men tell us / So if it’s not OK / Then it’s not the end, oh my friends / There’s hope for everyone’

To commemorate the occasion, he’s going on tour to play the album top to bottom (fingers crossed that I can swing a trip to the closes venue – a mere 6 hours away), and he also released a ‘making of’ documentary on YouTube. I share it here in hope that you’ll watch it and come to love Derek as much as I do.


“What the hell is life apart from moments?”

The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?

September 1. Where did the summer go?

It began for me with a pair of massive sports moments that fell on opposite ends of the spectrum – a crushing defeat and a first time championship.

Those moments have remained with me over the past few months. I felt joy whenever I put on my Raptors lid or championship t-shirt, and wondered if it was too soon to don any black and gold in public.

Thankfully, the summer was filled with moments that made me forget about sports. A quiet bench by the lake, picnics on beaches at conservation areas, a visit to my parents’ cabin, a week at church camp with our oldest son, another in Ottawa with two of the boys, fun times at Wonderland, trips and bike rides to the corner store.


The quote above is another great one from Beartown and delivered by Ramona, the town barkeep. It reminded me of Pete Holmes and his adoption of the mantra “yes, thank you.” This excerpt from a recent GQ article explains what that’s all about:

It’s a mantra that Holmes began to use after he noticed his inability to be present. He’d find himself at a museum or in a garden near his home, and instead of enjoying his surroundings, he’d find himself stressed about making sure he saw the right paintings, or comparing every tree he saw to another he’d seen before. He calls this “running the program:” going into the oh-so-human mode of judging, evaluating, or interpreting what you’re seeing—instead of just experiencing it as it is.

Saying “yes, thank you” is Holmes’ way of being grateful for things exactly as they are, something he learned, at least in part, from Ram Dass, an important teacher of his. And as you find out in his book—a spiritual manifesto disguised as a very funny memoir—this was particularly important for a man who, still in his twenties, got divorced, began to question the Christian faith within which he was raised, and had something of an existential crisis.

Those huge shake-ups caused a lot of pain, obviously, but they also helped him understand that you don’t just say “yes, thank you” to the trees and white roses. You have to say yes to the challenges, too. That’s how you make friends with the constant, inescapable changes that define human life.

What the hell is life apart from all the moments, both good and bad? Nothing.

Bruins lose, Raptors win: “yes, thank you.”

One summer day with my kids is bright and full of sunshine and laughter, another is replete with challenges and doubts about my abilities as a parent: “yes, thank you.”

Seasons come, seasons go: “yes, thank you.”

Moments are all we have. Embrace each one. Good and bad.

Beartown Thoughts: “Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion”

What follows is one of the most powerful quotes from Frederick Backman’s Beartown.

Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.


Beartown Thoughts_ _Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion_


It’s important to note the context, though, before digging in. This comes at a part in the book where a junior hockey player has sexually assaulted the team manager’s daughter, and as the fallout from this horrific act begins to spiral. I’m therefore going to share some old thoughts on hockey fandom that tie into it, as well as on hockey culture in general.

First, let’s talk about why things are the way they are in regards to hockey fandom, and discussions around the sport in general.

Jeff Marek made an interesting point on the MvsW podcast back in the day that speaks to a divisive nature that is all too prevalent. His basic premise was that sports marketing and culture is set up to create and “us vs them” mentality, and that this is expressed most clearly in the use of “(Blank) Nation” or “(Blank) Army” or “(Blank)Fam” *barf* to describe a fan base.

What this does is establish a mobilization of the fans wherein we feel as though we are actually part of the battle, so to speak. We follow and support the cause of our favourite teams, and feel intimately linked to the outcomes that befall them. If they win, we take to the streets to celebrate; if they lose, we feel like our home and native land has been invaded and pillaged, leaving us wander aimlessly until the battle picks up again.

The fallacy here, of course, is that what will be will be, regardless of how we personally feel about the team in question. Our attachments to our teams and the players are mostly peripheral, in the sense that we likely have no personal knowledge of or attachment to the actual people who are playing the game.

We pay money for tickets, jerseys and cable packages, investing in war bonds if you will, but we don’t affect the outcomes of the games, Bartman notwithstanding.

Again, regardless of what happens, it’s not a reflection of who we are personally; if they win, we cheer but the accolades are not ours, and if we lose, it stinks but the failure is also not really ours.

Another thing that this mobilization does is create a black and white way of looking at the world. We get so drawn in to the cause that the lines between right and wrong or good and bad are blurred.

For example, if Player X on Team Y commits an egregious act either on or off the ice, we rightfully demand that he be held accountable. BUT, sometimes if Player Z on our favourite teams commits a similar act, well then we spin it any which way to make it out to be not so bad, that the world is just out to get him/us.

In short, mobilized fan bases creates “us vs them” and “black and white” thinking, often allowing emotion to trump logic and decency.

So how do we get around this?

I can only speak about my own situation, but here are two ways in which I’ve been able to balance being a fan, enjoying the game and reconciling my place within its often toxic culture.

First, over the past several years, I’ve dipped my toes into the hockey writer pool. While whether or not I’m any good at it is very much up for debate, what I’ve learned through the process is the importance of trying to maintain a level head, to look at situations from all sorts of angles, and to remain as reasonable and logical as possible when watching games and analyzing news.

Obviously that’s easier said than done, especially for a hetero white dude who’s been conditioned to wear a loyal fan hat in all circumstances, reason be damned.

But the reality is that approaching the game from a position of responsibility and with a view to building credibility lends itself to being more honest, more realistic, less attached, less emotionally engaged in the success or failure of the team, way more reluctant to Stan players no matter what trouble they get into.

An old boss of mine used to say to me “it’s not whether or you not you disagree, but how.” There’s no question that I will, at times, see things through the lenses I’ve been conditioned to use, as any fan of any team will. It’s OK to disagree about what happens on and off the ice, the merits of roster composition and fancy stats or which team won a trade, but if one is not prepared to step aside and admit that their biases and preconceived notions might be off, then it’s game over and there’s no point in continuing the conversation.

The second big part of it for me is my current stage of life. I’m 38, married, and have 3 boys age 9 and under, all of whom are playing the game at some level.

I want my boys to appreciate and love the game the way I do, and I also want them to be good people, to respect others, to think and care about the things in life that really matter.

What kind of example would I be setting if they saw me getting worked up about a hockey game to the point where I can’t speak to friends and family, or started cursing out guys on TV or Twitter, or losing sleep over the outcome of a game or playoff series?

Additionally, how could I tell them “hockey is for everyone” if I sit back and accept the ongoing ostracism and outright rejections of women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community?

But what I’m trying to learn and subsequently demonstrate to my boys is that you can be a loyal fan and a good person, enjoying the game for what all games are supposed to be – FUN and INCLUSIVE!

Even more than that, your team can lose and you can be happy for the fans of the OTHER team because you know they care as much as you do.

I want to be known as someone who enjoys being a fan of this team, who enjoys watching the game I love, and who’s able to allow all others to do so in relation to their team of choice in any way they see fit. Not only that, but we also need to empathize with those that hockey continues to shun or disregard, standing up for what is good and right in the face of a way-too-slow-to-change culture.

All this to say, I love hockey, but it’s only hockey.

And hockey should never take precedence over being a decent and loving human being.

Danny McBride’s relationship with the church is heartbreaking and familiar

The ever-hilarious Danny McBride has a new HBO show called The Righteous Gemstones in which he plays a prominent member of a “world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed and charitable work.”




McBride recently appeared on Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, and due to the nature of his new show, the topic of church was raised. I was surprised to learn McBride grew up going to church, but the story he told about his experience there was all too heartbreaking but not unfamiliar.

He told Dax he grew up going to a Baptist church and his parents were both really involved. His mom even did puppet ministry. And then life happened, and his family’s relationship with the church came to an unnecessary end:

We went hardcore. We were there all the time. My parents were so involved in it. And then my parents got divorced when I was in sixth grade and my dad kind of ran out on us. Suddenly, here’s my mom who works in a department store at the mall, she’s got two kids living in an apartment, and you’re thinking “maybe this church you donated all this time to will be supportive.” Instead, the people there turned their backs on her, shamed her for getting a divorce. I can remember seeing my mom and how much the church meant to her, and now she didn’t feel like she could enter the church.

He said his mom would take the kids back to church for a couple months after her husband left, but  their relationship with the church ended altogether shortly thereafter. And while McBride didn’t exactly love going at the time, he did feel a bit of an emptiness when that it was all over.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence. All too often, the church is a place of shame and judgement when we are at our lowest points instead of a loving and supportive refuge in times of trouble.

In my life, I’ve experienced the good that church can offer, there’s no doubt. Meals delivered to the house, visits and prayers in times of need, the development of lifelong friendships to name a few.

But I’ve always witnessed my fair share of what McBride detailed above – shunning those who didn’t live up to expectations and a complete lack of love when it was needed the most.

No church is perfect because it’s made up of imperfect human beings.

But you can never, ever go wrong with love.

Introducing Beartown

It’s no secret that two of my great loves in life are hockey and books.

So when I first heard about Beartown, I was all in.

For those who don’t know, it’s the story of a middling Swedish junior team in an industrial town, both of which are slowly but surely dying out in favour of bigger and brighter markets.

This year’s Beartown team, however, is on the verge of contending for a national championship, thanks to a star talent, a tight supporting cast, a young and unexpected contributor, and a former NHLer who returned home to manage hometown club.

As we all know, hockey is a beautiful game that’s all too often sullied by the boys club culture that’s built up around it, and Beartown doesn’t escape the ugly effects. As a result, this book becomes less about the game and more about the people and their failures and successes, rights and wrongs, virtues and victimization both on and off the ice.

Author Frederick Backman weaves it all together with masterful storytelling and careful exposition, and I’m excited to read this book again and share some thoughts about it here as my part of my Beartown Book Club.

I grabbed my copy today and invite you to read along (both the book and my posts) and share your thoughts in the comments below and on Twitter.

I’ve got one book to finish, and will start later this week, so no rush picking up. Once you do, you won’t be able to put it down.

Beartown book club

Beartown (Beartown, #1)With Disney announcing so much new content for their streaming service, it got me wishing for a Mighty Ducks reboot but with a Friday Night Lights meets hockey vibe.

That reminded me that HBO Europe is developing a Swedish-language series adaptation of Beartown, the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman.

Then I remembered it’s been way too long since I read that amazing book.

So, while we continue to wait for hockey to start up again here in North America, I’m going to work my way through it again, posting some thoughts on here from time to time.

I’d love for you to join me! Please feel free to read along and comment here or on Twitter as I post.

If you love hockey and have yet to experience this book, you won’t regret it; if it’s a second, third or fourth reading, you’ll still get something out of it. I know I do every time I pick it up.

Let’s Beartown together, shall we?



What draws me to hockey

Working as a full-time hockey writer changed the way I look at hockey.

When you have to cover all the teams and players objectively, you really begin to shed the binary nature of hockey fandom.

It’s no longer about “us vs. them.” You actually begin to appreciate and even root for  teams and players that you would not have in the past.

That was my experience, at least, because what draws me to hockey the most is the stories the game produces.

As I’ve written before, my love for hockey grew strong through the 90s, and I’ve been captivated by the stories the sport has told ever since.

Stanley Cup championships, great players, not-so-great players that I loved regardless, trades, signings, coaching hirings and firings, and on it goes – all these stories captivated me then (and still do), and I pored over the sports section every morning not for the box scores, but rather the quotes, player profiles and rumours du jour.

Look, it’s not hard to see how messed this sport can be. Despite declaring it to be fully so, the NHL clearly is not yet for everyone, and hockey culture has a ways to go before women, people of colour and the LGBTQI community feels welcome, supported and appreciated.

There are moments when I’ve been tempted to walk away from a sport that doesn’t know what it has in these faithful fans, but I can never quite pack it in.

A couple years ago, I pitched a story for theScore that was fairly well received – Season in a sentence: 1 positive storyline for every NHL team. It was so fun and rewarding to write, I did it again on this prior to last season.

That’s the stuff that keeps me coming back to this game.

Here’s a couple more recent examples for good measure.

Full disclosure: I’m not yet over Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and as much as I don’t want it to bother me, I cringe at the thought of Boston losing to St. Louis. And then I think about what that win meant for Lalia Anderson, and it all gets put back in perspective.

And let’s not forget the game itself can be magical to watch. Again, I use another instance where my favourite team was at the wrong end of things. Yes, shit went off the rails between these two players off the ice, but how can you watch this and not fall in love with hockey?

This all doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s a start.

Being a hockey fan can be maddening and upsetting, but I truly believe it’s the greatest sport in the world and I’m happy to be a very tiny part of the community.

Here’s to making it a better place in 2019-20.

The NHL is a Lazy Susan

Picture a large dining table surrounded by 31 white rich dudes.

They’re all gathered together anticipating varying degrees of cuisine – some are prepared to spend top dollar for the best possible food experience, while others are happy to spend the bare minimum on appetizers, content just to have a seat.

In the middle of a table is a Lazy Susan, replete with all that is needed to help make the meal a success – condiments, cutlery, serviettes etc.

One man plucks something that catches his eye off the Lazy Susan. He pours what he think is gourmet sauce on his steak, and right in front of his eyes, it becomes ketchup garnishing a Cheeseburger Happy Meal.

Unsatisfied, he puts the sauce right back on the turntable.

The man seated to his right, having just witnessed what happened to his colleague, recalls a time when this particular sauce actually helped improve a meal. And so he grabs the exact same bottle, adds some to his plate, but experiences the exact same disappointing result.

Others around the table catch wind of what’s going on, but instead of requesting something new from off the table in order to avoid the same plight, they simply keep repeating the cycle.

And so the Lazy Susan keeps going around and around the table, with the same bland results.

This is the National Hockey League whenever a general manager or coach is fired and the list of replacement candidates is named.

Sermon Notes: Thoughts on Philippians 1:9-11

I’ve spoken in church a handful of times in my life. This one is from 2011. Does it hold up? Maybe, except for the outdated Wii reference.

This morning, we are going to take a look at a few sentences written by Paul to the people in Philippi, a very important prayer that I believe has much to say to us this morning.

Before we get started, I just want to share this quote as a bit of a compass for where we are going together this morning. It’s from Dallas Willard, who has written some great stuff about faith, discipleship and spirituality over the years.

The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – student, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ.

In the first part of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes this prayer:

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (NIV)

 And again from The Message:

9-11 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Before we take a closer look at these words, let’s take a brief look back at few important details about the author.

Paul, of course, was born as Saul, probably within 10 years of the birth of Jesus. It’s believed that he was born in Tarsus, a centre for Roman imperial activity and Greek culture back in his day. At some point, he moved to Jerusalem, whether with his family or sent there by them to be educated. He studied under the renowned Rabbi Gamaliel I, was extremely well versed in the Old Testament (as any young Jewish student would have been). For those not familiar with the Rabbinic educational system, basically how it worked was that Rabbis would study and meditate and pray over the scriptures, deciding how certain passages were to be interpreted, trying to get as close to the original meaning as possible. He would then come up with set rules and regulations of how to live out the scriptures, and this was called his yoke. If you followed or studied under a certain rabbi, it was because you believed in his interpretations and were prepared to live according to them. This was called a Rabbi’s yoke, which helps us to understand what Jesus meant when he said his yoke is easy.

 It’s more than likely that Paul had the contents of the Hebrew scriptures memorized at a young age. He knew Greek, and probably Hebrew and Aramaic as well. Many scholars believe that it’s more than likely that Saul was aware of Jesus, and some even believe that “it is very possible, even probable, that the young Saul even witnessed Jesus’ death.” Saul’s upbringing brought about an entirely different reaction to these events than the original followers of Jesus, however. As Paul himself sums it up, he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Phil 3: 5-6) He was fervently religious and knew much about God and his Scriptures, but the specific way that he was taught to interpret it was far from the Way of Jesus and ultimately led him to persecute the early church.

A couple years after Jesus’ resurrection, something happened to Saul, a change that has since helped others redefine their lives.

For a few years after Jesus’ death, Saul was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus with authority from Rome to basically hunt down Jesus’ remaining followers. He was stopped dead in his tracks by a bright light, and Jesus himself appeared before him. Immediately, Saul was changed in many ways; he was given the name Paul, began following Jesus, accepting the mission to spread the good news to Gentiles. Please don’t miss this: a man who grew up devoutly studying the Hebrew scriptures was on his way to kill Christians one minute and began not only following Jesus but reaching out to Gentiles the next. Talk about a complete 180.

This brings us to Paul’s letters, which I’m sure he never would have ever guessed would have been part of a new part of the Scriptures. They came out of his missionary journeys, where Paul would travel around and help establish and sustain faith communities throughout the Roman provinces. About 50 years after the death of Jesus, Paul was able to travel to Philippi and got to know the people there, and it was this community that he would address from prison later in life after being arrested in Jerusalem and sent to prison in Rome. Paul felt very strongly about the people in Philippi, as this letter would suggest. He appeared to very much enjoy his time with them, and he was very grateful for the support they had offered him throughout the years. He is essentially writing them to reassure them that everything was going to be ok despite his imprisonment, and to encourage them to keep Christ before them as they live out the gospel that he had brought to them.

Which brings us now more specifically to the verses at hand. Paul has begun his letter with a standard greeting of “grace and peace to you”, and has reminded them that he has been remembering them and praying for them, “confident that the one who began a good work” in them would carry it on to completion. He in turn thanks them for remembering him even in his imprisonment, and then offers up this beautiful prayer on their behalf as a culmination of this opening section.

Paul begins by saying that he prays that their love would overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight. Unfortunately, in reading certain passages of the Bible that have become familiar to us in our various favorite translations, we often miss certain things that the original Greek text would have brought out and that would have been evident to the original audience. Here, Paul is speaking of agape love, a love that comes from God and is unconditional, self-sacrificing and active. The Greek word for abound is parisos, and means “no limit to the growth of increase”, or that it is “more tomorrow than it was today.” This word, or the Hebrew equivalent, is used a few times in the Old Testament, and usually addressing the same kind of theme. In Psalm 86, we read the following: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you,” and also “you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” To abound, then, isn’t about reaching a certain point; for Paul, he is praying that the people at Philippi would literally actively and sacrificially love more and more each day, qualifying it even further by adding “with knowledge and full insight.”

Now the word that Paul uses here for knowledge is epigenosis. This is not ‘about’ knowledge, or the obtaining of a certain and fixed amount of information. The knowledge that Paul is talking about here is participatory; this is not a reading or hearing about something, but intimate, deep and rich knowledge that can only come from experience.

Take, for example, the Nintendo Wii. When it first came out, it revolutionized video gaming because, more than any other system in the past, it actually made you go through the motions of the game that you were playing. The two that I enjoyed the most were tennis and bowling. You would pick up that controller, make sure that it was safely fastened to your wrist to avoid having it fly across the room and break a lamp, and you would stand at a safe distance from your opponent to avoid popping them in the face with your backswing. As the game would start, you would flick your writs just right and rip an ace down the line – game, set, match, and you’re a tennis player. In bowling, you line up the ball just right, put the perfect curve on it, and bam … you’ve bowled a perfect game. Two sports mastered, just like that. But hold on. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to play Wii tennis, and actually knowing how to play tennis. Who among us didn’t figure out pretty quickly that you could get the same result sitting on the couch and barely moving your arm as you did standing up and swinging away with reckless abandon? But to step outside onto a court, with an actual racket and a tennis ball, and to actually fire a ball hard enough and straight enough for your opponent to not be able to send it back over the net … that’s the epigenosis of tennis. It’s the same difference as watching the running of the bulls on TV, and actually running with the bulls; or seeing a picture of the Eiffel tower and actually looking down on Paris from its heights. The kind of knowledge that Paul is talking about here is not something you can read in a book or see on TV; it must be experienced.

In a more technical sense, Paul here is addressing the differences between the understanding of knowledge in the Hebrew sense vs. that of the more contemporary Greek world in which he lived. As author Alan Hirsch describes it in his new book “On The Verge”, whereas the Greek model was very education and information based, concerned with concepts, ideas, and (dare I say it) doctrines, the ancient Near East worldview, on the other hand, was more life-oriented, concerned with the practical outworking of the interrelationship of all things under God. Essentially, the Greek approach was based on the idea that if people have all the right information, it will change how they act; we are to think our way into a new way of acting or being. Based on the Hebrew approach, we act our way into a new kind of thinking, and this is what Paul is getting at when he is writing about love overflowing with knowledge.

Think about another one of Paul’s letter, this time to the church in Corinth. “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” And Paul is speaking from deep experience here. Remember, he had accumulated just about as much knowledge as he could, about the scriptures no less. But all that knowledge failed to translate into a way of living that was congruent with the call that God has upon his people, the call to love that which he has created, and to show others what he is like. Again, we can listen to all the right sermons, read the best books, attend conferences, but it all means nothing if we are not engaged in acts of love, then, Paul is saying, we don’t really have a full or meaningful knowledge of God and what he is all about.

But of course it’s not just knowledge that Paul is praying for, but also “depth of insight.” The word in Greek is esthesis, and this is the only time that this particular word is used in the Bible. It essentially means having the ability to know what to do in difficult situations, or discerning what the next right thing to do would be. It also involves a keen awareness of what the consequences of these actions will be. Again, this does not revolve around being able to pick out bits of information and dissecting them for the sake of knowledge. This is not about theoretical insight, or, like Paul in his earlier days, having a set list of rules and regulations to live by. This is deeply rooted in the present, in experience, in the daily realities of life, in seeking Christ and hearing His Word spoken to us in fresh ways. It involves being called to and immersed in difficult situations in the first place, and having the courage to step out in loving action on behalf of those who are in need, even when we don’t know what to expect or how it will work out.

This is all about the difference between hearing and acting, between knowing about God and knowing God; it’s about knowledge and insight that affects every area of our lives, so that we are every day living out the love of God and putting it on full display to those around us in meaningful and exciting ways.

Paul finishes off the prayer with 3 pieces that serve to qualify why this kind of knowledge and insight is so important. First, he prays that the people in Philippi would be able to ‘discern what is best”. The Greek word used here is ‘dokimozo’, and was used primarily in reference to money. The other week, I stopped in at Tim Horton’s, and the guy in front of me pulled out a $100 bill. I was hoping that he was going on some sort of pay it forward rampage and would be paying for everyone in line, but sadly this was not the case. The cashier took the bill and placed it under the purple light to make sure that it was not a fake, to examine and check its authenticity. This is ‘dokimozo.’ Paul is praying that the Philippians would be able to check and examine their hearts so that they would be able to live in a way that reflects an authentic and genuine walk with Christ.

Furthermore, he prays that they would be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” A few months back, I was listening to an interview with Dan Rather, former anchor for the CBS Evening News and currently the managing editor and anchor of the television news magazine Dan Rather Reports. In these reports, Rather takes a deeper look at certain political and cultural stories, at times shedding some light on or exposing certain injustices going on in the world. In this interview, he had a great line that speaks to what Paul means when he writes about being pure and blameless. What Rather said was this: “I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Paul is urging the people in Philippi to love in such a way that if all was brought into the light, they would have nothing to worry about. When the full splendor of the sun shines, darkness cannot exist; light and dark are not opposites, but rather the absence of the other. Light cleans all the dark and dirty areas of our lives, and Paul was saying to them and saying to us today – what if the sun were to shine on our jokes, the websites we visit, the things we spend our money on. Live in such a way shows that you have nothing to hide in the dark spaces, and also in such a way that those around you are not tripped up by your actions and attitudes. This is what it means to be pure and blameless.

And finally, Paul prays that they would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” To understand this, we must return to the beginning of the prayer, and the word parisos – “no limit to the growth of increase”, or that it is “more tomorrow than it was today.” Paul is calling the people at Philippi to be ever growing, ever reaping a harvest of spiritual fruit. We must look at another letter to see what this might look like. In Galatians, we read that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These are habitual attitudes must be developed in order to gain the epigenosis and esthesis that Paul is writing about. As Dallas Willard notes, “if we take note of and follow Jesus in what he did when he was not ministering or teaching, we will find ourselves led and enabled to behave as he did when he was ‘on the spot’”. Remember the example of Jesus; in the Gospels we read was regularly engaged in such spiritual practices as prayer, fasting, silence and solitude, practices which led into transformative, missional encounters with those in need. In order to be ready, to display esthesis or to know what the next right thing is to do it is important to adopt various practices and habits according to the Way of Jesus. For, as Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann says, “discipleship fundamentally entails a set of disciplines, habits and practices that are undertaken as regular, concrete, daily practices.” Harvesting fruit takes time and hard work, but if done right, it can be pretty sweet. And as Paul qualifies it at the end, we are to ever be growing in these things, putting them into practice as we interact with the world around us, not merely for the sake of self-improvement or knowledge, but for the glory and praise of God. It is through this, as the Message puts it, that we will make “Jesus Christ attractive to all.”

If you read the NT closely, you will find that the term Christian is found only once in its pages. The more common designation was simply ‘the Way’; Jesus came to show us again who God is, what he cares about, and how to go about making the prayer ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ a reality. What Dallas Willard is calling us back to and what Paul has reminded us this morning is that as God has demonstrated his abounding love to us in Christ, so to are we to abound in love to all those that we come into contact with through our day-to-day lives. It is this abounding love that leads to knowledge; the Way of Jesus must be lived out before it is mapped out. And as we step out in loving action on behalf of those who are in need, even when we don’t know what to expect or how it will work out, it is then that we will truly begin to know God, our neighbors and ourselves in the esthesis sense of the word.

*note: the info re: Greek translations was borrowed from Rob Bell’s sermon in the same passage a couple years ago.

Agony and Ecstasy: On 2 Nights of Sports That Pulled Me Through the Ringer

It was almost perfect.

Anyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of my three sports loves: the Toronto Blue Jays, the Boston Bruins, and the Toronto Raptors.

I was fortunate enough to be of an age where I was able to appreciate the baseball team’s World Series wins back in 1992 and 1993, but it was a good while before one of that trio came out on top of its respective league.

18 years, in fact, and I’ve written about how I cried when the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and what it meant to me to be able to celebrate the win when Rich Peverley brought hockey’s holy grail to Guelph that summer.

The Bruins reached the Final again in 2013 (let’s not talk about that), but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d see this group – or any other in black and gold – get very far anytime soon.

The Blue Jays unexpectedly offered two straight years of playoff baseball, and I truly thought they’d get another win in 2015 – let’s not talk about that either.

As for the Raptors, the greatest joys I had previously experienced in all the time spent rooting for them since Day One resulted in a missed buzzer beater back in 2001 and an inability to get past LeBron James in more recent times, even with the best regular season teams assembled to date.

Cut to two recent nights in June, and the chance to witness two more league championship wins on consecutive nights.

Too good to be true, right?

Nailed it.

I’m honestly still not over how the Bruins fell flat in Game 7. It was honestly the perfect opportunity to win another Cup, and to cement the legacies of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, the only carryovers from 2011.

I felt pretty good through the opening 15 minutes, while lamenting a few glorious missed opportunities. As hockey is wont to do, the opposition found a way to capitalize despite limited shots on goal, and a late first period goal on one of the most ill timed line changes I’ve ever seen basically sealed the deal for the St. Louis Blues.

The TV was turned off with a few minutes left in the third period, if I’m being honest. Yes, I know “it was 4-1” once upon a time, but you could tell this group was lacking that magic on this night, and it was too painful an ending to watch.

Earlier than expected to bed I went, and that rest was much needed for the night after.

The Raptors have meant a lot to me over the years. Many of my college memories revolve around this team, and they’ve remained an easy talking point, an impetus to keep in touch with good old friends.

While I usually watch Bruins games alone because nobody around that I’m close with really cares as much as I do, I went to my brother-in-law’s house to watch Game 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals with him and his wife. The energy up here had been palpable for weeks chance to see the Raptors win their first Larry OB was to be shared with others.

Kyle Lowry came out firing, and Kawhi Leonard continued to prove why he’s one of the best players in basketball, and in the end, the Raptors did the damn thing.

I cheered, we hugged, we drank celebratory scotch, I cried and took to Instagram to express how I was feeling in that moment:

It’s a night I won’t soon forget, and the days that have followed have been filled with smiles, high fives, parade viewing, a championship t-shirt order and quiet moments of contentment and thankfulness that we all got to share in that long-awaited moment.

Still, I’m bummed about the Bruins. Through the Draft, the release of next year’s schedule, and as we move into free agency, I continue to lament what could have been, and daydream what could have been with a little more puck luck in those opening minutes.

But hey – if the Bruins themselves were able to party and celebrate getting that far only a couple days after the loss, then far be it for me to dwell on it for too long from a much greater distance.

Because let’s be honest. It’s rare to see the ideal or even expected scenario play out in reality. Lord knows we’ve seen our fair share of hardship around here over the past few years. That’s what puts all this sports stuff in perspective when it doesn’t go your team’s way, and makes life all the sweeter when it does.

Those two nights were a reminder to not take anything for granted, to accept that life will include losses, to celebrate even the smallest of victories along the way, and to enjoy the hell out of the big ones.