Book review: Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor

After years of serving as an Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor began teaching Religions of the World at a small liberal arts college in Georgia. She guided her students through Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, discovering more about herself and her faith along the way.Image result for holy envy

She recounts stories about this in her new book, Holy Envy. The title speaks volumes; only does she allude to be very much attracted to elements of religions other than her own, she sees holiness in all of them. We are all created in the image of God, and religion – at its best – is humanity’s attempt to figure out what means.

There’s a million different ways to go about it, and certainly a fair amount of diversity within Christianity itself. Regardless of what you believe about God and Jesus, few object to the notion of a divine spark within us, and the call to love. As the author writes:

Yet this, in a nutshell, is the monuymental spiritual challenge of living with religious difference – and more centrally than that – of living with anyone that does not happen to be me. “Love God in the person standing right in front of you,” the Jesus of my understanding says, “or forget the whole thing, because if you cannot do that, then you are just going to keep making shit up.”

Amen.

We don’t need to be afraid of the differences between us; a lot of it comes down to using different languages and symbols to try and articulate the same things.

We are all made in God’s image, called to love each other and take care of this world. It’s OK to open our eyes and look around at what others are doing, and we don’t have to be afraid of otherness.

All that matters in the end is how we loved each other.

Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for hooking me up with a review copy of this book.

The time hockey made me cry

There’s nothing wrong with crying.

I don’t tear up as much as I used to, having said that. My first memory of crying comes from kindergarten, when I slipped on some ice outside the school, busted up my chin and had to get stitches. In Grade 3 or 4, someone tossed a pencil at me and it landed in my glasses, poking me in the eye. I cried then, and was so embarrassed when the teacher helped wipe my nose that I yelled “HONK” into the tissue.

I absolutely wept when Lauren decided to work at a different camp during the summer we were first dating, which is quite embarrassing in retrospect. I cried on our wedding day, when each of our sons was born, when our youngest was undergoing a procedure at 4 months to have a heart issue repaired, when Lauren was diagnosed with breast cancer and many times during her treatment.

These days, I mostly get emotional watching an episode of This Is Us and when one of our boys tells us a story from school about kids not including them.

Hockey has only made me cry once, as far as I can recall. It was back in 2011, and the Bruins had just won a Game 7. They did that three times that year, and the one that got me emotional might not be the one you’d expect.

I had been a Boston hockey fan for over two decades by that point, really coming to love them in the early 90s thanks to Cam Neely, Adam Oates and Ray Bourque. In fact, one of the big pushes to cheer for this team was the fact my older sister was mad about Edmonton, and I took it upon myself to passionately cheer for the enemy during 1990 Stanley Cup Final. That didn’t go well for me, but the black and gold stuck.

The team hadn’t attained much success in the intervening years, and the previous year had featured the infamous collapse against Philadelphia.

Their run in 2011 almost didn’t happen, seeing as Montreal had gone up 2-0 in the opening round courtesy of two road win. The Bruins fought back and pushed the series to seven games, winning in overtime thanks to Nathan Horton.

No tears to that point, though.

Those would come in Round 3, actually. The Bruins were once again faced with a Game 7 on home ice, this time against Tampa Bay. Vancouver had already won out West, and as the Presidents’ Trophy winners, were sitting pretty as the Cup favourites awaiting their next combatants. Be that as it may (or mayn’t, as it happened), all I wanted was for the Bruins to have a shot at winning it all.

The game remained painstakingly scoreless until late in the third period, when Horton once again clinched it off a sweet feed from David Krejci. The Bruins held on, and as the celebrations began, I started crying.

 

 

We had a 9-month old baby, and he and Lauren were both sleeping at the time, so I went out into the backyard, raised my hands in the air, and let out whispery, teary, celebratory cries into the atmosphere. If my neighbours had looked out the window right then, they would have thought I was nuts.

It seems silly, looking back. Crying over a game played by people I’ve never met. I was certainly overtired at the time (see note about baby), and I had never really seen my favourite team advance to the Final with years of disappointment behind me. The fact it was up in the air until the very end set it apart from Game 7 of the next round, which was won with far less dramatics and was enjoyed my yours truly with smiles and beers.

I’m not sure it will ever happen again, either. Even if the Bruins were to go all the way this year or in the future, I’m not in that space anymore. My head and heart don’t have as much emotional real estate for fandom as they used to, and my time writing full time about hockey helped me learn to appreciate good stories all over the NHL and therefore become less invested in one particular outcome.

Still, I’ll never forget that moment.

Horton from Krejci forever.

The most beautiful song I’ve ever heard

The musical duo soon to be formerly known as Gungor is currently in process of saying farewell, touring down in the States for the final time using that brand name.

As Michael wrote not too long ago, “Gungor feels to us like it’s done what it needed to do. Said what it needed to say.  And now it’s time for something new.”

Gungor’s music has become extremely important to me in recent years. I jumped on the bandwagon through I Am Mountain, developed an appreciation for their older beautiful songs, and was helped through times of struggle and doubt by the truly amazing One Wild Life album series as our family weathered through various health issues.

I wrote a bit about all of that when I reviewed Lisa’s book here.

I have their songs tucked in a De/Reconstruction playlist on my computer, alongside Derek Webb, David Bazan, The Brilliance, John Mark McMillan and Audrey Assad, all of whom I adore. But there’s one Gungor song that fills me with … something I can’t even describe when it comes on, and it’s truly the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.

Please enjoy ‘Vapor’ and I hope it speaks to you today.

 

 

I’ll miss you, Gungor. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Also, please read Butt Prints In The Sand if you haven’t already. It was inspired by another one of Gungor’s projects.

5 Simple NHL Trade Deadline Rules

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I mentioned on Twitter the other day that this will be my first NHL trade deadline as a casual observer since 2013. In recent years, I had the privilege of covering the annual gong show as “work”; this year I’ll be at my home office, performing my current duties while obviously keeping an eye on the proceedings (although I did write something for Daily Hive already).

 

 

In my experience, these are 5 simple NHL trade deadline rules you need to follow:

  1. Don’t expect anything to happen before lunch – If you tune into the trade deadline shows in the morning, you’re basically watching a hockey version of The View.
  2. Don’t fall for breaking news from fake insiders and team accounts.
  3. Remember that not every report or rumour is fact until it’s announced by the teams, even if it’s coming from the most trusted hockey people.
  4. Don’t immediately judge a trade. Sometimes these things take years to gestate. (Exception: Anything resembling Erat for Forsberg).
  5. I originally have “everyone have fun out there!” here, but Ashley (who rules and you should all be following on Twitter) wisely came through with a good and important one here: Don’t @ your team.

Finally, don’t forget there are actual human beings with feelings and families involved in these decisions:

Seriously, this is too much.

What say you? Did I miss anything?

Butt Prints in the Sand

I was listening to a wonderful Liturgists podcast episode on Buddhism the other day, featuring a chat with Bushi Yamato Damashii. He talked about how we spend so much time trading all over the earth looking for answers, solutions, advancements, often failing to find what we’re looking for or making a mess of things – literally and figuratively – in the process.

Bushi also talked about the importance of rest, meditation, contemplation, being, and he and Vishnu Dass joked about creating butt prints instead of footprints. It’s been done before by others, but here’s my simple spin on a popular poem to remind myself of this podcast and the impact it can have on my life.

Butt Prints in the Sand

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was sitting on the beach with my Lord,
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of butt prints in the sand;
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the butt prints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of butt prints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d sit with me along the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of butt prints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of butt prints,
It was then that I remained still
While you ran off trying to figure things out on your own.”

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Remembering Why I Write

I came across an old post of mine, and went down a rabbit hole that led me to all my old blogs, the first of which dates back over 13 years. I was reminded why I write, why I keep putting stuff out there for few to actually click on. It’s part of who I am, and something I won’t give up anytime soon.

I’ve been doing a lot of hockey writing these days (on top of the 150 or so posts written for my day job in recent months), which I love. It’s been something I’ve been working towards for a while, the whole reason I started my own little sports blog (the now defunct scorenation.ca).

I didn’t realize how technical this new venture would be; there’s a lot more to it than posting some relevant information about a hockey team or players, or crafting a good story about some current event. There’s a distinct way to structure the post so as to attract hits, involving the use of embedded tweets and videos and something called SEO (Note: This is hilarious because my current marketing job is all about SEO). The more I wrap my mind around it, the more I see the value of it, and it’s actually kind of fun.

But there’s something to be said about eschewing structure and just writing for the hell of it.

That’s why I started blogging 13 years ago, and it’s something that I feel I’m missing the boat on these days. Like I said, I love the hockey writing, but there are different spheres of my life that also deserve attention: marriage, parenthood, and oh, the fact that I have a Master’s in Theology but haven’t written much along those lines in some time.

That’s where this website comes (back) in. This small corner of the Internet will be a place where I come to basically jot down some life notes, in a wholly unstructured way. Maybe I’ll type up a couple paragraphs on my phone and submit on the go, or just post up a quote or song that I’m feeling at that moment.

I hope I can keep up with it. Life is indeed pretty busy these days. But that’s part of the appeal, to stop and share.

And maybe, just maybe, start a conversation or get people thinking or remind at least one person that they’re not alone in this crazy world.

Confessions of an unapologetic Switchfoot fan

I originally wrote this in 2016 and thought I’d update and re-post in light of a new album dropping on Jan. 18.

In 2015, I wrote a post on this blog entitled Confessions of an unapologetic Lifehouse fan, wherein I admitted to being fully on board with a band that might not land me many cool points.

Here I am once again fessing up, openly expressing my appreciation for a band that has helped provide the soundtrack to the past 15 years of my life.

Drawn to their alternative rock sound, catchy pop hooks and positive lyrics, I became a Switchfoot fan during my college years (early 2000s).

I picked up a copy of The Beautiful Letdown and made the journey downtown with Tyndale friends to see them perform at El Mocambo, then quickly went out and grabbed everything they had recorded up to that point.

Yes, that included their contributions to the ‘Walk To Remember’ soundtrack, and Lauren and I even had ‘Only Hope’ sung during our wedding ceremony.

I’ve picked up every album since, and while some of have been better than others, the band’s constant challenge to make the most of life and impact the world for good has always left me feeling hopeful.

It’s right there in the band name.

According to (frontman) Jon Foreman, the name “Switchfoot” comes from a surfing term. “We all love to surf and have been surfing all our lives so to us, the name made sense. To switch your feet means to take a new stance facing the opposite direction. It’s about change and movement, a different way of approaching life and music.

(Wikipedia)

Switchfoot releases its 11th studio album Friday, and NATIVE TONGUE proves the band is as tight as ever.

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The first song that stands out to me is All I Need, making me think about where I’m at as a husband and father in his late-30s.

Sometimes I feel so small
Like a picture on your wall
Like I’m hanging on just to fall
No matter how I try
So love sing to me gentle
That I’m more than just accidental
More than just inconsequential
Burning out tonight
All I need is the air I breathe
The time we share
And the ground beneath my feet
All I need is the love that I believe in
Tell me love, do you believe in me
There’s a place down by the ocean
Where I take my mixed emotions
When my soul’s rocked by explosions
Of these tired times
Where love sings to me slowly
Even when I feel low and lonely
Even when the road feels like
The only friend of mine
All I need is the air I breathe
The time we share
And the ground beneath my feet
All I need is the love that I believe in
Tell me love, do you believe in me
One light
One goal
One feeling in my soul
One fight
One hope
One twisting rope
I’m ready to run where the ocean meets the sky
All I need is the air I breathe
The time we share
And the ground beneath my feet
All I need is the love that I believe in
Tell me love, do you believe in me
Tell me love, ’cause you’re all I need

It brought me back to that first album I bought, and the question ‘this is your life, are you who you want to be?’

That’s what makes me love this band; they challenge me to be a better person as a result of listening to their music. Some may consider it cheesy, but as I get older, I see great value in embracing that side of life.

Again, in the words of Dave Grohl,  “there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure; if you like it you like it and that’s ok.”

I like you, Switchfoot. I like you a lot.

p.s. Lauren and I went to see a Switchfoot + Lifehouse show during the summer of 2017 and it ruled.

Book review: How The Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns

y450-274 “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

This is a common trope heard in evangelical circles, but it’s light years away from that simple, as Peter Enns explains in his new book, How the Bible Actually Works:
In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers – and Why That’s Great News (which I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of courtesy Harper Collins Canada).

His central argument is that God is not a helicopter parent and the Bible is neither an instruction manual nor a rule book; instead, it’s a a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to seek and use wisdom.

The Bible itself is an embodiment of wisdom at work. Its ambiguity, antiquity and diversity dictates certain noticeable and intentional shifts as you move from Genesis to Revelation. That’s because each text was written at a specific time for a particular audience and in order to communicate something unique within that context, resulting in certain tweaks – big and small – as people grew in their understanding of who God is and the nature of his relationship with creation.

Through the pages of the book, Enns offers example after example of how the biblical writers exercised wisdom and made additions to or removed bits from previous pieces of scripture, showing us that the aim of the Bible is not to give definitive answers, but to discern what it means to live God’s way for our time; “thus the Bible, rather than closing down the future, sets us on a journey of relying on God’s presence to discover it.”

The Bible says a lot of things, many of which contradict each other, raise troubling questions about God, and appear to give answers to pressing questions that weren’t meant to be applied in 2019.

Wisdom, therefore, is needed not only to read the Bible, but also to continue on with the very biblical tradition of questioning, debating, and working out of the life of faith that its pages point us to.

It’s all far from settled, and that’s the point.

This is one in a long line of books about the Bible, but the best I’ve read in recent years, along with Rob Bell’s What Is The Bible? Do check it out when it becomes available on Feb. 19.

The new cynics

This is a post that I originally wrote in March 2010, but that I have revised and re-posted as part of the Rally to Restore Unity hosted by Rachel Held Evans.

The new cynics: From critical thinking to positive action

All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism – it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.
– Conan O’Brien

As I look back upon my 20s (now five months 8 years into my 30s), I would have to say that those ten years were defined, in part, by the practice of critical thinking. Whereas my teens years were all about going with the flow in so many ways, my four years at a Christian university (followed by six years of marriage, more school, moving / travelling around & becoming a Dad) introduced me to different ways of thinking and looking at the world. Nothing was taken at face value any longer; everything began to be questioned and looked at from different angles.

In many ways, I believe that this was a good skill to develop. It allowed us (for I believe that I speak on behalf of many of my peers) to begin to truly wrap our minds around what it means to be a decent person, to consider the reality of grave injustices many face on a daily basis, and to uncover fresh ways of helping make an increasingly messy world a better place.

In short, a new hope that things do not have to be the way that they are is springing up and taking over because of a refusal to merely go with the flow.

While this has been happening, however, something less grand has been bubbling beneath the surface and has, at times, become the more dominant sentiment.

cyn·i·cism An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.

What I have found in my own experience is that the more I have engaged in the process of critical thinking, the more I have come to expect and accept the negative. What I mean by that is that it has become so easy to sit back and criticize that which I deem to be not up to whatever standard I have created for the world around me.

Critical thinking has, at times, morphed into critical living, whereby something is always wrong with anything and everything that does not jive with my new way of thinking, and this has come to affect my attitudes and actions.

For example, I have experienced a very long period of time wherein I could not sit through a church service without coming out with a list of several negative points. Rather than coming to the house of God to worship and join together in community with fellow believers, I would sit there and stew over this theological point or how the worship was being led etc. I couldn’t even step foot inside a Christian bookstore because I simply could not stomach some of the titles being sold as, well … ‘Christian.’ (Yes, I too have been guilty of judging books before having actually read them.)

And I don’t think I am alone. Look around, and you can see this propensity to point out the negative just about anywhere these days, particularly in the world of my generation of ‘Christians.’ And while it is good to question, I am coming to realize that I have been missing out on a lot lately. My first inclination has become to pick at things, and as a result, I have, in many ways, been guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I do believe that followers of Jesus are called to think differently about the world, to speak out against injustice and to be a Church that lives according to his Way. I believe that this involves thinking critically and calling into question traditional modes of … well, just about everything.

However, I also believe that we do a disservice to that mandate by focusing too much on that which is wrong with the world, often mainly among ourselves and with a view to demonstrating to others that we are the ones that really and truly ‘get it.’

I believe that followers of Jesus should be quicker to point out that which is good in the world, to seek out and illuminate the subtle glimpses of the kingdom that rise up among us, and to be united in our pursuit to show the world that this different Way is a movement defined more by positive action than negative banter.

Which brings me to Conan the prophet. Cynicism – constantly focusing on the negative – has gotten me nowhere, and will do the same for all of us. In truth, I have missed out on a lot because of my propensity to point out the negative. My desire is to be kinder, more loving, and quicker to embrace that which is good around me. While I do think it’s important to think critically and not take things at face value, I also believe that the challenge of embracing and creating a better world is far more rewarding than constantly pointing out the negative and picking at each other.

Be kind. Work hard. Seek, embrace and create some good in this messed up world. Maybe, just maybe, we can all (mercifully) come to see that we don’t have all the answers, that our way is not always best, and, in so doing, open ourselves up to be blown away by goodness at work within us, among and all around us.

Life notes: The importance of keeping a journal

I’ve been keeping up with the practice of writing in a journal off and on since high school. Not to age myself, but it’s been almost 20 years since graduation, so that’s a lot of ink spilled.

My early journals were full of heartache and late-teenage angst, lamenting patterns of sin and wondering if I’d ever find a girl who loves me. There are whole journals in my bedside table that outline why the answer was going to remain “no.”

Now, as a husband (I did it!), a father of 3 boys, a keeper of a full-time job with freelance writing gigs on the side, and someone who’s involved in various other things in our community (softball, volunteering through church), I use those pages to keep track of what’s really going on in my life and how I feel about it all.

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I try to bring my journal around with me wherever I go, just to be able to make note of some thoughts on different aspects of life; it’s not only a space to express my thoughts, feelings, anxieties, success and failure as I try to sort through it all, but also a reference to look back on and see how things have worked out.

And while I do use my journal to write down some thoughts on current life events, what makes this practice so worthwhile for me is having one place where I can jot down quotes from and notes on books that I am currently reading, the verse of the day from my Bible app, funny things the boys say, writing ideas, memorable lines or scenes from movies / TV, musical lyrics that make an impression – anything worth noting, really.

If you don’t journal, I would highly recommend it. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.