Sunday, December 17, 2006

Football, Marriage & Transformation

Marriage changes you! Yes, I know, to those of you who are married (even to those of you who aren't but have close married friends) that doesn't come as a surprise. I even expected it when I got married. You know, the whole idea of the 'sacred marriage' - the tumbler in which God smooths away those rough edges and shapes you more and more into the person He wants you to be. That incredibly intimate relationship in which the other person knows all of your deep dark secrets and weaknesses and failures and shortcomings and yet somehow accepts you as you are and helps you to overcome them and become better than you were. That lofty, spiritual ideal.

Yeah! That's it. So I'm sure you can understand why it came as such a shock to me today when I realized that I'm actually enjoying football! That's one change I never expected to happen - even for the love of my life.

You see, I used to hate (American) football. I thought it was stupid, boring, disgusting, and certainly not worth the fanatical dedication it seemed to inspire in its fans. It had no finesse. It was just a bunch of over-muscled macho freaks bluntly running into each other. "Yaaaawn" at best. "Idiots!" at worst.

Now true football: futbol. Don't even get me started on the glories of futbol! The skill, the finesse, the grace! After all football is only a provincial pasttime, a product of the thuggish imaginings of those gauche Americans. But futbol - that crosses borders - it is a beloved pasttime of the rest of the world and surely six continents cannot be wrong, can they? But I digress...

Now imagine my distress when I discovered that I had married cross-culturally without knowing it. I love futbol - she's immersed in the culture of football. Yikes! Well, okay, I can accept her as she is, I guess. Sunday afternoons will just be an excuse for a little alone time. I can get some reading done, recharge for the week ahead. We can make this work.

Now we have a daughter and my wife wants to indoctrinate that poor, innocent soul. And our friends - the ones we usually have lunch with on Sundays after church? - want to get together for football potlucks on Sunday afternoon. So I find myself thrown unwittingly into situations where I can't avoid it without looking un-Christian for avoiding our Christian community (I am joking, of course). My wife and friends are trying to teach my daughter how to say "Go Bears!", and I at my subversive best twist it into "Goobers!"

The truth of the matter is, though, that it's difficult to avoid for too long something that is so important to someone who is so important to you. Out of sheer confusion I began asking questions, and now I find myself actually understanding what's going on on the field and some of the, yes, finesse that is occurring. And today I didn't even realize until afterwards that I spontaneously cheered when the Bears won in overtime and genuinely felt excited that they had done so! Hold on. Wait a minute. What?! Does this mean I like football? Yikes! How did that happen?

Marriage changes you! And, yes, I know that doesn't come as a surprise. But every now and then a change occurs in me, under the radar, without me even realizing it until after the fact, that takes me entirely by surprise. In some small or large way I come closer to my wife, become more one with her. Sometimes it's a matter of faith. And sometimes it's a matter of football. Now if I can just get her to start watching the World Cup.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Okay - what is up with all the mud-slinging political ads? Here I thought that 2 year olds and junior highers weren't allowed to run for political office. Silly me! But seriously, if you have to tear down your opponents in order to strengthen your own position then maybe you shouldn't be running for political office.
The thing that really bugs me though, is that these aren't logical, thoughtful rebuttals of the agenda and values of their opponents. They're raw emotional attacks, designed to bypass the mind and incite negative emotions such as fear, worry, hate, condescension and anger. And they expect people to vote well after being worked into such a state?
And why do people vote on the issues anyway? Why are special interest groups such a strong - and revered - force? In my mind, you should be voting for someone you trust to do a good job, and make good, sound decisions - and by that I DO NOT mean that they will make only decisions that you agree with. Nobody is going to make decisions that everyone agrees with all of the time! One of the lessons of growing up and becoming a mature adult is that you're not always going to get your own way, and people do not always have to agree with you. And even in the political/governmental arena - that's okay. The country's not going to fall apart. Really.
The problem with current political ads, even the 'positive' ones, is that they don't really deal with how the person makes decisions, or how the decisions they've made in the past have turned out. They don't give you any idea whether they're capable of making good, strong, well-reasoned decisions. Or, just as importantly, if they're capable of standing by decisions, even under pressure. This seems to me to be a better political skill than fighting for the issue of whatever special interest group will give you the most money.
Next year I'd like to see a new generation of political ads. 1) I'd like to see a complete lack of negative, mud-slinging, junior-highish ads. 2) I'd like to see ads that use logic and reason, rather than raw emotion. 3) I'd like to see ads that deal not only with WHAT decisions have been made in the past by a candidate, but WHY they made those decisions, and HOW those decisions turned out. Then I might actually have a reason to vote!
(Republican elephant and Democratic Donkey above from their respective Committe websites. Does not imply endorsement of the Republican or Democratic party in any way, shape or form.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Thursday Thirteen #2 - Ways to Use Pumpkin

In honour of fall, halloween, Thanksgiving and general pumpkin season here are a few ideas on how to use this ubiquitous fall vegetable.

1. Obviously, carve it into fantastic shapes, such as tiger faces. (See
2. Pumpkin-Ginger Cloud - a layer of gingersnap crust, a layer of chocolate, a layer of pumpkin mousse and a layer of whipped cream. Deeeelicious!
3. Pumpkin Chicken Stew - use cubes of pumpkin instead of potatoes in the stew and add a whole new dimension of taste.
4. Savory Pumpkin Dip - mix cooked pumpkin with cream cheese, sauteed onions, salt, pepper and any herbs or spices you might like. Serve with crackers or bread.
5. Roasted pumpkin seeds, lightly salted.
6. Anger management or stress relief. Lift pumpkin high over your head and smash into the ground or sidewalk as hard as you possibly can. Stomp on the remains (possibly imagining them as the brains of your boss, or?...) until the anger has drained out of you.
7. Fill ten 2 litre bottles with water and set them up in a triangle, then use a pumpkin as a backyard bowling ball.
8. Draw or carve a face on the pumpkin and use it as the head for a scarecrow.
9. Did you know you can eat pumpkin leaves? Go to a local pumpkin patch and ask if you can have some - use them in a stew, or in any recipe you would use spinach in.
10. Cut a smallish pumpkin (perhaps a longer, narrower squash would work better for this) in half. Tape a triangular piece of paper or cloth to a skewer and stick it into the flesh of the pumpkin as a sail. Float it as a sailboat in your bathtub, or in a pond or river near you.
11. Cook the traditional pumpkin-marshmallow stuff in a scooped out pumpkin and use the shell as a decorative serving dish.
12. Scoop out the seeds and as much of the meat as possible, bend a wire coat hangar into a handle shape, stick into opposite sides of the pumpkin near the top, and carry it as a costume purse for halloween.
13.vqqqqqqqgggtf bbbbbbbbbbb bghgr hyhh (That's my daughter's way of saying 'Come up with your own - you are only limited by your imagination!')

Spiritual Authority

I have been thinking a lot lately about the spiritual authority I have as a father in the life of my child. It's not something I hear preached or spoken about very much in the church. Of course we have authority in general over our children, authority to choose for them what they will wear, or eat, or do (or not do), where they go to school, even to some degree which friends they will have and who they interact with. We also have authority to shape them through discipline and teach them how to grow up into an adult step by step; to teach them values and morals and faith. This is all well and good, truly good.
But what I don't hear spoken very much, if at all, is the authority we have as fathers and parents, to stand in our children's place in the spiritual realm before God and against Satan. The one place I hear this dealt with is during infant baptism when parents take the spiritual authority to make a decision for Christ for their children. It is done with the understanding that one day that child must make their own decision either for or against Christ (hopefully for), but for as long as the parents' authority extends they will submit this child to Christ's will. Then we go on with our lives, assuming we've done the right thing, and that's that, and we trust Christ for the rest (if I sound accusatory I'm only accusing myself - the "we" in this case being a "royal" we).
However, it was brought home to me recently that my spiritual authority in the life of my daughter doesn't end with choosing to baptize her. You see, I struggle with masturbation and fantasy. It is something my wife and I have dealt with many times in our marriage, and I know that it affects her and hurts her. I had been doing well for a while, but then a few days ago I did it again. At first, I didn't want to deal with it, didn't want to tell her about it, so I kept it to myself. Now, my wife has noticed in the past that usually when I masturbate, I have really bad nightmares until I deal honestly with it, which was the case this time as well. I know many of you will scoff, saying I have nightmares because of unresolved guilt or something. But I truly believe that my masturbating gives Satan a foothold into my life, and that my nightmares are at least partly his doing. What struck me this time, however, is that, without exception, for four days every single time I startled awake from a nightmare, heart thumping in terror, my daughter woke up crying or screaming.
I might have dismissed it as a coincidence (she's been teething and sick), were it not for the consistent timing of it. What really amazed me, though, was that a couple of days ago I finally dealt with what I had done. I confessed and repented before the Lord, and then my wife. My wife and I talked it through (it took a while) until she forgave me and we made up :) And since then? My daughter's slept like a baby the whole night through, without waking up at all - as have I.
On the positive side, I pray with my daughter every night as I'm putting her to sleep. Now when she was a bit younger, and I was still learning how to pray for her, I would not always be very specific - I'd pray that the Lord would bless her and protect her, etc. Good stuff, and things I think the Lord honored. As babies are wont to do, she often woke up in the middle of the night when she was teething or sick, and I would have to wake up with her to take care of her. I just assumed, at first, that this was a natural part of parenting. One time, after several nights of sleeplessness, in sheer desperation for sleep and rest, I prayed at bedtime that God would help ease her teething pain during the night and help her to sleep the whole night through, without waking up. What happened? She slept the whole night through without waking up at all. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so. Ever since then I've made that a specific part of our bedtime prayers. But sometimes I forget, and it doesn't get prayed, and she wakes up in the middle of the night. Then I will remember the next night and she'll sleep the whole night through again. That has happened often enough that I can't believe it's just a matter of chance.
Does God act directly and specifically in our lives and the lives of our children? Do we have the authority to ask Him for intervention in the stead of our children? Do we have spiritual authority both for good and for evil in the lives of our children? Do our actions, not just our prayers, have spiritual effects on our children? I would answer yes to all of those! And after my recent experience with sin and forgiveness, it is more important than ever to me that I stand in obedience to God, not just for myself, but to protect the spiritual and physical life of my wife and daughter as well.
(Photograph by Ian Britton)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thursday Thirteen - Things I Love About Being a Father

1. My daugher's face lights up whenever I come home.
2. I love watching her grow and develop - it's amazing!
3. I've learned more about how God loves me than ever before.
4. I love that I get to teach her about God's love for her (this also terrifies me because I don't always do it very well).
5. She reminds me to "become like a little child" and teaches me every day how to do that.
6. Even when I'm upset with her, I'm glad that I get to keep her, and don't have to give her back at the end of the day.
7. I love to make her giggle! She has such an infectious laugh!
8. I know it sounds selfish, but I love that she looks up to me more than any other man (this is also humbling and terrifying).
9. I get lost in how beautiful she is sometimes - I love looking at her and wondering at how gorgeous she is!
10. I love that she challenges me to be better than I am, for her sake (and she doesn't even know it!).
11. I love making stuff for her - it's somehow more special because it's for her.
12. I love teaching her about the world: words, ideas, images.
13. I love her, just for who she is!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bad Job vs. Good Job

I recently went on a job interview. I desperately need a new job, but as a Christian I also want what I do to have some eternal significance, so I posted my resume on Intercristo which is a specifically Christian job search engine. It's not just for ministry work, it also has 'secular' jobs, but it is for both employers and employees who are Christian, and looking for the same. Anyway, the person I interviewed with had seen my resume on Intercristo and contacted me because of it.

Now, I will be the first to say that I don't really know anything about the office culture, and the day to day interactions that take place there. However, there was such a striking difference to me between the values, mission and vision of my current job, and the place I interviewed at.

I currently work at a place where no one (and I do not exaggerate - absolutely no one) enjoys being there. I will say that I do actually enjoy WHAT I do, and a good deal of my interactions with customers and agents. But it is a horrible place to work. My immediate supervisor complains loudly and crudely about practically every call - calling people names, swearing at them, exclaiming over how stupid they are. There are constant comments about how people hate working there (mind you some of these people have been complaining about this for years and years). When somebody in my department voices a desire to move into a different department, my supervisor threatens them and tells them they can't do it. Management is constantly putting new rules and regulations and requirements into effect, so that rather than making anything easier, and more palatable, the effect is to make it more difficult, complex and time consuming. I actually overheard one co-worker tell another one that he was going to dress as her for Halloween - he was going to "put on a long black wig and sit around and piss and moan all day!" And they pay at the lower end of the scale for my job, despite the fact that they are the largest company of their kind in the world. There is also a pervading sense of dishonesty throughout the company. When faced with telling a customer something that might cause more work, I've actually heard co-workers encourage others to lie, and then cheer them on when they did just that, exclaiming over how good it feels to get away with it and not have to do the extra work. In general it is a place of dishonesty, disrespect and chaos - not a pleasant place to be for most of your week!

In contrast was the company I just interviewed with. It's a smaller company (only 14 employees) and I was interviewing with the owner of the company. From what he said, he truly values the contribution of each employee and wants to compensate them fairly for what they do. He wants to take 25% of the profits and donate them to mission/ministry work, 25% to "pour back into the employees", 25% to continue to build the company and expand it. (Yes, I know there's another 25%, but I can't remember what he said he wanted to do with that.) He wants to hire Christians, because he wants people who have that eternal perspective, and who share the same values he does, but he also wants to hire non-Christians - both because he doesn't want to be exclusive and because he wants to have opportunities to witness at work. You occasionally have to work on Saturday, but when you do the company provides breakfast at a restaurant down the street before work starts. In general he was very down to earth, respectful and peaceful, and I got that same sense from the other people in the office that I met, however briefly.

These two stand in stark contrast in my mind at the moment, and I find myself hoping and praying that I will get offered this new job, and that it will pay enough that I'll be able to take it. I have the job I have now because I desperately needed a job to support my family, and I knew even going into it that I would not want to stay there for very long. But I need a place where I can look forward to coming into work, look forward to my interactions with co-workers (not just customers), feel good about what I do - a place that I can stay at for a while, a position that I can grow and progress in. I've been developing a very keen sense of what I don't want in a new job - and by extension what I do want - and this new place seems, so far, to fit in well with both of those. I don't know yet if I will get it - but I do know that I cannot stay for very much longer where I'm at!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Free to Love Your Enemy

Today in church, the main passage the sermon was based on was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37, all Bible passages quoted are from the NIV). The title of the sermon was "Free to Love Your Neighbor", of course based on the question, "And who is my neighbor?" To which Jesus responds with the parable and then ends with the question, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

But it struck me as I heard the gospel reading, and then listened to the sermon, that Jesus has done it again - he's turned our understanding of things upside down and inside out. For this parable is not just about loving our neighbor, but it is also about loving our enemies.

You see, the man who was waylaid by robbers was a Jewish man. The ones who people of the time would have considered his neighbors (the priest and the Levite - fellow Jews) were the ones who acted in very un-neighborly ways; the ones who, practically dripping disdain and fear, carefully walked by on the other side of the road, as far away as they could get.

Yet the one who acted with neighborly love and compassion was for all intents and purposes, culturally, an enemy. Samaritans were, as our rector pointed out this morning, half-breeds - not quite Jewish and not quite Gentile. They were scorned, forced to remove themselves geographically from the main Jewish population, avoided, feared and hated. Certainly he was the one who should have been expected to walk by on the other side of the road, probably with a certain degree of righteous glee that such ill fortune had befallen one of those who opressed him.

But somehow his experiences developed in him a deep compassion, enough that he went to one of his enemies who had been wounded and left to die (someone his own compatriots had refused to help) and gently washed and bound his wounds, took him to a place where he could recuperate and heal, and - to top it all off - paid for his stay at the inn, promising to return and pay for whatever other expenses might be incurred during his stay.

Matthew 5:43-44 says, "You have heard it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Here in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows us exactly what it means to love your enemy. Perhaps his point is that it's useless to ask who your neighbor is. Anybody at all can be your neighbor. We make a person our neighbor, and become neighbors ourselves, when we choose to love them. Even if they are our enemy. Even if we have every right to hate them because they have persecuted us. This is the culture of the Kingdom of Heaven - where we are free to love our neighbor, and free to make neighbors of our enemies by forgiving and loving them.
(The painting is "The Good Samaritan", by Giovanni Battista Langetti.)