Uncategorized

Book: Deep Work

A trusted friend recently recommended this book to me. So I’m paying it forward. If you want to excel in anything – business, the arts, sports, leadership, even ministry – then you need to embrace deep work.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is compelling, thoughtful, and practical. It will challenge your unproductive and shallow work habits. The author, Cal Newport, makes a strong case for deep work, which he calls, “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” His hypothesis is that this type of work is becoming increasingly rare – and yet becoming increasingly valuable at the same time. In short, in a world of distracted, shallow thinkers, people who can focus, concentrate, and engage in sustained, uninterrupted work, are a pretty hot commodity. I won’t restate his arguments here…you need to read the book and examine them for yourself.

A quick point here: shallow doesn’t refer to ethical or social behaviour (think Shallow Hal), but to “noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted…[they] tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.” Shallow activities include Netflix binging, Facebook scrolling, constant email checking, and cleaning out your ear with your car keys.

How do you become a deep-work diver? Newport recommends we learn to embrace boredom, strategically re-think our social media input, and cut back on the habits that lead to shallow thinking.

Beyond these, you have to develop deep work habits. You do this by committing time and space to whatever activity you want to engage in: writing, learning chess, playing the guitar, etc. This state of unbroken concentration means committing to undistracted effort by scheduling time and developing consistent rituals. Your brain is like a muscle – it must be trained for this. But the more you engage in deep work, the more effective you become.

This is why I’m sometimes slow in responding to email or social media. I don’t turn on notifications. I’m also committed to deep work for the first few hours of every day and don’t go online until about 11:00 am. I only check email a couple of times a day and I don’t keep my phone at my bedside. I know, right? What kind of a monster does that? Don’t they care about the world and people enough to be accessible throughout the day? The truth is that people who do deep work do care deeply about the world – that’s why they’re committed to leaving the shallows.

Friends, read the book. But more importantly, dive deep.

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Bringing Sexy Back

We’re doing a new series at Crosspoint this week.  It’s about sex.

I suspected that talking about sex would be a bit of a divisive thing.  Some people blush.  Others giggle with glee.  Some have even responded with disgust and anger.  There are many who applaud what we’re talking about.  Still, others are curious.

Talking about sex is a difficult task in the church.  And really, it shouldn’t be.  What I’ve learned over the past couple of weeks is that, even though this is 2012, five decades after the beginning of the Sexual Revolution, we’re still a pretty sexually repressed culture – both inside and outside of the church.

What do I mean by sexual repression?  I’m using the term loosely, not in the strict Freudian sense.  I mean this idea that sex is dirty, wrong, taboo, something we don’t talk about.  Sadly, one of the greatest contributors to sexual repression in our culture has been the church.  I wish I had time to trace the historic timeline of this idea – it goes all the way back to Plato, then evolved into Stoicism and Epicureanism, and then affected the theology of the early church fathers.  The essential understanding was that the body was evil, the spirit was good.  Anything to do with the body and it’s passions (like sex) was to be shunned, stamped out, avoided.  So sex became a necessary evil, a means to procreation, but not to be enjoyed or celebrated.  The idea took root and found its way into the DNA of the church.  Since our Western culture was founded largely on Christian principles, the idea took root there also.  Then entered the Sexual Revolution as a response to this repression.

Now, I’m not waving a flag for the Sexual Revolution.  But I understand why it happened – and in some ways it has brought a correction to some of our flawed thinking about sex.  On the other hand, this reaction against sexual stoicism has swung so far that we are again off balance as a culture.  It’s a swing – and a miss.  Now we’ve replaced sexual repression with sexual expression.  We’ve traded self-control for license.  And the repercussions are endless.  Who would have thought fifty years ago that we’d have to create a term called “sexual addiction”?  Who would have suspected it would be so rampant?  And what has happened to us that human trafficking and child molestation are so prevalent?

I’m not saying we need more sexual repression.  But what about sexual suppression?

There are many of us who are still figuring out what to do about the topic of sex in church.  You think it’s awkward for you?  I’m the one who has to talk about it!  I’ll be putting on my best face, but please understand…I’ll be blushing on the inside.  Because my gut reaction tells me there’s something wrong about talking about sex openly and freely in the church.  And I know I’m not alone.  I’ve seen hard-nosed blue collar workers, who could swear the paint off a snowmobile, stare at their shoes when I tell them we’re talking about sex on Sunday.

Why is it so difficult to talk about sex in church?  It shouldn’t be.

Because the Bible has a lot to say about sex.  In fact, it celebrates sex.  Sex is God’s idea…and it’s a good idea.  You were designed for sex.  Sex is a source of pleasure and not just for procreation.  In fact, it’s (*gasp*) an avenue to worship God.  Yet, sex is not cheap or casual, but priceless and beautiful, the height of human intimacy.  It’s something that was designed to be fully experienced between a man and a woman –  two trusting partners who give up their independence and embrace life-long interdependence together.  Sex is a good idea.

So we’re going to talk about sex.  Because we believe God rolls that way.

I’m already blushing on the inside.

Uncategorized

I’m a Sucky Blogger Part 2

Sure, I haven’t written a blog in 1.5 years or so.  And I’m sure you’ve been spinning in your chair and drumming your fingers on your desk waiting for me to write something.

And I haven’t.  I’ve given you a bucket-load of silence.

All I can say is…have you ever planted a church before?

Last week I sat at a table with a few people who were interested in planting a church – or at least interested in knowing what planting a church would be like.  Here’s how I started:  “Planting a church can be one of the most soul-sucking experiences you will ever have.  In my eighteen years of ministry experience, this has been my hardest, hands-down.”  How’s that for a sales pitch?  Of course, I also talked about the upside.  The upside is that you don’t have to feel guilty about keeping up on your blog.

This has been a crazy year.  Do I have any regrets?  Nope.  Did we do everything right one-hundred percent of the time?  Nope.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely.  Do I feel good about where we are at?  Absolutely.

Thank you Crosspointers.  Thank you supporters.  Thank you donors.  Thank you God.  This has been quite the ride.

Now – I think I might get back to blogging some more.

We’ll see.  No promises.

Uncategorized

Going Native in an Anger Fantasy

 ** Disclaimer: This post entry describes a recent experience I had with racism.  I need to let you know, before you read this, that I am a proud Metis (First Nations) Canadian.  I’m doing this now so that the irony in the article is not lost on those of you who do not know me well. **

A number of days ago, picture me in Starbucks, up in the north end of the city.  It’s quiet in my favorite watering hole.  I’m working on a paper, enjoying the sun streaming in the window.  All is well with the world if you like writing papers.

Two guys walk into my barista haven.  They’re uber loud, yapping away at each other. Scratch record.  The mood in the place changes.  Peaceful tranquility, meet loud obnoxious. They order their coffees and sit down right behind me, even though there are dozens of other empty seats in the place. 

The worst of it is that everyone in the place can hear their banter, even the guy in the bathroom.  I’m trying to ignore them and get some work done, but I can’t stay out of their conversation.  And no, I typically don’t pry into other people’s conversations in public establishments.  If I want to pry, I can creep people on the web.

So the short guy, who talks way too much, is reading the newspaper and giving a running commentary on everything and nothing. He gets to the sports section and reads something about a NHL hockey player who he says is basically getting paid millions of dollars to sit on the bench – to do nothing, as this guy describes it. (Of course he probably doesn’t sit on the bench during practice.  And he probably didn’t spend twenty years training, at unreasonable hours of the morning, to become the athlete he is. But that’s for another time…)

But here’s the shocker.  Suddenly the short guy goes off on a racist rant…”Typical native,” he says.  Then he looks around and says to his buddy, “There aren’t any natives in this place are there?” 

Feeling certain that he’s pretty safe, he continues, “Typical native, so <insert word here> lazy. Just wants to sit around all day and get paid for it.” 

His friend, noticeably uncomfortable with the turn in the dialogue (especially in a Starbucks), tries a redirect: “Uhh…are you sure he’s Native?  Maybe he’s just Metis.”  Didn’t help things much.

As of today, I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation.  I kind of got lost in a few anger fantasies. My feelings were mixed with righteous anger, shame, self-protection and pity. Almost instinctively, I began rehearsing speeches in my head. I’m not proud of them. I’m as human as the next guy. Let me share a few of my fantasies:

Fantasy Conversation 1: “Hey there.  I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I was just sitting over here, fascinated by your views on the aboriginal work-ethic. It’s kind of ironic becuse I’m aboriginal, a Metis in fact. Don’t worry, I have no plans on retaliating.  I was just wondering how such a hard-working fellow like yourself manages to find time to just hang out at Starbucks and read the newspaper while a guy like uses his spare time to finish papers for continuing education. You see, I’ve worked about fifty hours every week for as long as I can remember, am busy raising a family and trying to make a positive contribution to society. I know, I know…I should try to do more, but laziness keeps getting the better of me.”

Fantasy Conversation 2: “Uh…hi…wow, you’re short…I was wondering…could you look me in the navel and say that again?”

Fantasy Conversation 3: “Golly…you can read?  Could you teach me?  I’ve been too lazy to learn how.”

Fantasy Conversation 4: “Hey, do you know how hurtful your words are?  What if a First Nations or Metis person overheard you?  Oh wait…I am one!”

Now, truth be told, I wasn’t really that angry. More than anything, I was shocked. I guess I hadn’t heard those types of comments in a long time. I was beginning to hope that the values of our society had changed enough to make such bigotry obsolete.  I guess it’s still prevalent.  And it’s just sad.  There’s no other word for it.  Sad.

When I hear comments like that I sometimes wonder…can multi-culturalism and its ideals really succeed?  I don’t have an answer to that today.  But it’s something I have been thinking a lot about lately.

What I do know is that there’s no room for such bigotry in God’s kingdom. His is one where there are no ethnic, socio-economic or cultural boundaries. In Colossians 3:11, Paul talks about the type of thinking that belongs to those who are part of God’s kingdom.  He says, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”   
The Cross is the point where all the nations can come together under one family.  If you get a chance, read Ephesians 2:11-22 sometime this week.  It talks about how through the Cross, the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (and hence, all people) was torn down.  Through Jesus we all have access to God.  Through Jesus, we all can have the Spirit when we trust Christ.  The Cross is the point where all the nations come together.  Cross…the point.  Crosspoint Church…the name of our new church community if you hadn’t heard yet.

You’re wondering what I did, aren’t you?  Well, truth be told, by the time my anger fantasy was done, I was five minutes late for a meeting.  So I decided to just take off.  You might think it was act of cowardice but I think it was an act of wisdom.  Jesus taught us not to throw our pearls to swine or to give dogs what is sacred.  Sometimes we need to assess whether or not it’s worth it to confront a person.  Proverbs teaches that as well – sometimes you’ll waste your breath scorning a fool.  My sense was that this was a time to save the C02 for someone more open.

I’m still dreaming, reading and praying about what a multi-ethnic church might look like in northeast Edmonton. I think it could be a thing of beauty, a beacon of hope in a world of bigotry.

Uncategorized

Truth Bombs from Afar

Okay, so here’s how the story goes. While I was in Turkey we stayed at this fantastic resort. One morning Karen and I went to the gym to work out, so I took off my two rings because soft metal rings and heavy weights don’t mix. You’ll scratch them or bend them. I put both rings in my shaving kit, which I left open on the bathroom counter.

While we were out, someone cleaned our room. When I came back, my cheap silver ring was still there, but my gold wedding band was not.

I assumed the best of people (i.e. that it was not stolen) and that I had somehow misplaced it. We scoured the luggage and the room all week. But we never found it. 

Bottom line…I think my wedding ring was stolen.

So I got back to Edmonton late Monday night and suffered through a few days of jet-lag plus work. Then I had to preach that weekend. It went well, and I felt God had done a good thing through me.

Then this week I got a letter on my desk. It was mailed and addressed to me.  As soon as I saw the envelope, I knew it was suspect. This wasn’t the first time that I had gotten a truth bomb from afar. I had two reasons to be suspicious. First, there was no return address on the envelope. Second, it was hand-written with a very shaky script. My Sherlock-Holmes-like instincts told me that this was going to be some sort of a reprimand from a dear old lady who attends our church.

I said to my assistant, “Think I should open it? I bet you anything that this is not going to be good, that someone is upset about something.” I wracked my brain to try and remember what I might have said during the weekend message that would have rubbed somebody the wrong way. I couldn’t think of anything…unless they were someone really sold out to prosperity gospel theology.

I was tempted to just not open it and shred it. But maybe they had something nice to say. Not everybody who forgets to leave a return address is a unibomber.
Well, my instincts were right. Inside was a copy of the weekend’s bulletin, with a note scribbled on the back of it. Here’s what I read inside…”Why is the pastor not wearing his WEDDING RING? Is he not committed to the wife of his youth? He NEEDS TO SET AN EXAMPLE for the young men in this congregation!” 

A few thoughts raced through my mind:

1. Was the message so boring that she was distracted by my absent wedding ring the whole time? 

2. Am I really so unapproachable that you can’t ask my why I’m not wearing my wedding ring?

3. She’s got really nice handwriting.

I was offended for about one minute (well, maybe two). Then I put the note through the shredder.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve received a truth bomb in the mail and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Here are some of the things I’ve concluded from this experience.

First, no matter who sends you a note or what motivates it, the first thing you should do is ask a couple of questions: “Is there any truth in what this person is saying? Is there anything I can learn from this?” Because even if it’s coming from a dark place, it might be an accurate assessment. I asked these questions and concluded that the note was a tad misguided.

Second, truth bombs from afar are cowardly. If you can’t do it in person, then at least have the courage to sign your name to it so they know who it’s coming from. Signing your name says that you are humble enough to admit that you might be wrong and are willing to be corrected. If you’re not willing to be corrected, why should the person you’re reprimanding be? Scripture actually asks us to reprimand others directly. So if you’re going to reprimand somebody, do it person to person (Matthew 18:15).
(Now, you might think this email is a truth-bomb from afar, but to my defence, I have signed my name to it and neither you nor I know who sent me the letter.  But if it was you, let’s do lunch. I’ll even let you buy!)    😉

Third, you gotta be careful not to judge others (Matthew 7:1). We just don’t know why a guy isn’t wearing his wedding ring. I think someone really smart said something about walking around in another guy’s moccasins. 

Finally, don’t leave your wedding ring lying around in your hotel room.

Uncategorized

Massaging Media

 This is a great addy for a new Nokia product, the Nokia N900.  The goal of the product is to bring the power of a personal computer to a mobile phone.  Different power, different platform, open source…  Check it out.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not here to try and sell you a cell phone (no endorsements from Nokia…yet). 

But I love the explicitly subtle proclamation at the end of the video.  The phone itself says, “The medium is the message.”  That’s a statement harkening back to the late sage, Marshall McLuhan.  The idea in this statement is that no form of media is without it’s effect, whether print, photograph, video, or…cell phone. 

Often we assume that the content of a message is all that matters.  It doesn’t matter what medium is used to deliver it.  So a speech delivered personally, in writing, or over the radio is really the same speech, so long as the content is the same.  In other words, it is what is said that matters the most.

McLuhan’s argument is that the various media we use affect us.  We are changed by the television screen, the computer, the satellite radio.  Our technologies shape us.

My Blackberry began to shape me a while back.  I was ecstatic when I first got it…I could get internet access anywhere, get my email at anytime, and be completely accessible to anyone who knew my number.  I could get all this information before, but now I was getting it pumped intravenously into my neurons. 

The technology began to change me.  Like so many, I was constantly checking my email or browsing the web.  Here’s the problem…I was doing it at home so it blurred the lines between work and recreation.  I was caught up in work or culture when I just needed to be engaged in the lives of those I love.  Everytime my phone buzzed, I picked it up – like a Pavlovian dog drooling over meat powder.  Sometimes I’d even get ‘phantom buzzes’.  I’d think I was getting sensations in my hip (where I usually hang my phone) when really it was just the leather of my holster rubbing against the leather of my belt.  I’d reach for my holster like a trigger-happy gunslinger only to find I had no bullets.

So eventually, I just turned off the email function of the phone and turned off the vibrate function except when needed.  Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think I need to be that accessible all the time.  But I do think that I need to be fully present with those who I’m with.  Sure, there are times when I’ll have the email function on (like when I’m traveling), but only as an exception.

Technology always has unintended consequences.  I think our social consciousness has not caught up to the daily advancements.  The medium is the message, and it is shaping us.  We have to be careful that we are not caught unawares. 

The thing I hate about email the most is the assumption that just because I send it to you immediately, I should therefore get a response immediately.  It’s the “real time” problem of our age.  We can see events happening on the other side of the globe in real time.  So shouldn’t I get a response in real time?  This is an example of our social consciousness not keeping up with technology.  There comes a point where you just cannot keep up with the ‘real time’ expectation of email.
That’s a feat that only God can accomplish.

 

Uncategorized

Forgotten

 

I’ve never been left behind before.  Have you?

A few weeks ago a friend of mine pinned me to my chair as he shared an experience he had a number of years ago.  He was doing relief and development work in the Middle East.  Thousands upon thousands of people were forced to flee their homes, journey hundreds of miles to another country, and reside in refugee camps.  My friend worked in those camps and what he noticed most was the type of people who arrived there; or rather, those who didn’t arrive there.  There were few or no people with disabilities.

Why?  Because at some point, in the midst of the helter skelter, war-wracked environment, a family member had to make a horrible decision.  You see, not everybody could survive the journey.  Somebody had to be left behind, or nobody would make it.  And those left behind were often people with disabilities.

I was struck by how painful that kind of a decision might be for a parent.  It’s hard to imagine from my latte-enriched perspective.  What is more, I wonder what it would be like to be left behind, to be…forgotten.

By the way, my friend’s name is Ed Epp and he’s the new Executive Director for cbm Canada.  It’s an organization I’m committed to because they are committed to the forgotten people of the world, people trapped in poverty because of disability.  I’ve been serving on the cbm Board for a number of years and I’m committed to their vision.

I want to share with you a video that has just been produced by cbm.  It will soon air on television but I couldn’t wait to pass it along.  FYI, the video is about an hour in length, so find a good block of time to watch it.

See. Listen. Learn. Discern. Remember.