Tuesday, March 31, 2009

last friday afternoon...

i'm no photographer, but i played a bit with the light and aperture, and got 6 photographs out of it i like:







Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Where is the church-led economic recovery?"

This article came up on CBC news the other day.

It's a hopeful sign to me in the wave of projects we've seen in recent years.... all that indicate that the church may once again be known primarily for their humanitarian work.

It's astounding to see how Christians went from being the dangerous, left-side liberals with revolutionary social policies to right-side conservatives concerned with big oil, big hair, and big houses, and I for one am glad we're starting to regain a more balanced identity.

Not that unpopular issues are pushed aside -- the "social justice begins in the womb" slogan Stand True just put up is one I resonate with profoundly -- but even that project talks about the injustice of child labor, human trafficking, AIDS, hunger and starvation, and self-harm as well as the 4,000 children who are aborted each day in America. (110,000 yearly is the current Canadian statistic)

If you're not familiar with how the church got from point A to point B politically, or thought the church was always at point B, there's many who can tell you that story besides myself.

Getting back to the topic though, finances matter. Not only because they affect where our heart is and accurately reflect what our priorities are, but how the ethics of Proverbs, the ethics of Jesus, the ethics of the Bible are relevant to the world today.

Of course, this starts for many of us by a personal turnaround.

I have been in the places where the million-dollar house and a new SUV were not cliches, they were choices Christians made without an ounce of guilt or forethought about the impact of their decisions.... but of course, the amount of money tithed to the church in a year reflected an abysmal percentage of their members bothering to give. A third car? Sure. Three vacations? Sure. But tithing? Not a chance.

Of course, for many of us, that's not how it is, right? We have normal incomes, we're not wealthy, we may be on a single income or students or even E.I.

I was absolutely flabbergasted to be told last year by a MacDiv student in one of our online class discussions that if he has to choose between eating deli chicken sandwiches, or eating peanut butter so he can tithe, he is always going to choose the deli chicken sandwich over principles he's convinced are Biblical, but he'll only follow if he can afford them.

Seriously... a sandwich? A sandwich?!?!? A SANDWICH is going to come between him and following God? And this guy is one of the future spiritual leaders we're cookin' up?

I spent a long time crafting and delivering a response to that... I came from the perspective that "Since this is something we don't typically talk about if we're not friends, let's assume we have a relationship in place. Let's assume I'm talking to you over coffee and this topic comes up. And because we're friends, I push my glass aside, I lean across the table, fix you with my gaze, and with a smile gently tell it to you straight, because I know you care about the truth...." (and then came the response)

The response was long and careful. But it doesn't take a degree to realize that if one isn't faithful in little, they won't be faithful in much, and if they can't afford to give now, they'll never afford to give later.

Not that I haven't seen waste and greed in my own life... every day I see the waste of my lifestyle, the useless things I consume that I don't need to.

But.. I have also been continually convinced that when we put our money in the right places - giving it first, saving and spending wisely, paying off debt, this stuff works, and God's not going to be inactive in your finances either... And that's been true when I got an allowance of $6 a week as a kid... when I've made a good salary in the past... and when I'm making $45/week like I am now.

But it's not just about following a rule or principles because I believe there's extra stuff comin'. Because even if you don't believe, following those principles works. Even for those who acknowledge no belief component whatsoever, following good principles works.

No, it's not rocket science... but we're in a world that's more or less completely unaware of those principles, and raising their children in environments with a large disposable income and no responsibilities, and bailing them out - even as adults! - when they make poor decisions: a recipe for future disaster in finances (and, um... life). (FailBlog even had a recent "Money Fail" competition... read a couple stories on there for fun.).

I meet people every day with the same story... no one taught them, never had to have responsibility, patterns modeled for them weren't good... or they were taught good things but had to have everything now and are feeling the consequences...

I don't typically watch TV in the afternoons. Nothing good on, I'm never home... what's the point? But I was home early one day last week and saw an episode of "Till Debt Do Us Part" filmed in our city. The subjects? A young Christian couple from Hamilton who were spouting off Christianese all over the place about how their marriage was based on God. She was an event planner making $35k a year, he was a a student making about 6k. And they spent thousands of dollars a month (over and above their expenses, and WAY over and above their income) on themselves, on clothing, on tanning, on restaurants, on appearing wealthy. In their own words, they "wanted it all" in life - a big house, fancy cars, expensive designer clothing. And they saw no discrepancy between their lives and their priorities... and their faith they claimed it was all based on.

I was flabbergasted again. It took a financial expert who brought no faith background into the show (it's TV, obviously) to show them these principles work. Was there no one in their community who could or would have done the same? (I guess God had some mercy on my poor brain, because poker came on TSN a few minutes later. Gah, I love poker. I got to play this Friday again. Not for money, obviously, since we're on the topic).

Back to the young couple on the show... even if you come from that - especially if you come from that! -- These principles work.

Paul puts together the Old and New Testaments beautifully when he tells the Ephesians to work hard, so that they may have something to give to those in need... that's fully OT and fully NT.

That's the summary. We rely on the hand of God, work hard, provide for the poor, and the ideal is to be the generous giver, no matter our income level: one who works hard, stores wisely, and gives generously. That's in Proverbs and the prophets and the Gospels and the epistles. That's from creation to Revelation. That's part of our identity as Christians. (And if your income is increased, and you've got this stuff down... that's when you can not worry about liking fancy clothing, or to put it Biblically, that the rich person is "dressed in purple" - purple being a very expensive dye at the time and very limited. )

Once I was looking at a picture of Bill Gates in National Geographic. He was sitting atop a pile of paper and holding a CD-Rom that could hold as much information as the stack of paper. Someone commented that his brand of shoes cost at least $300. I made a reply I've said over and over... I don't care how expensive Bill Gates' shoes are, because Bill Gates gives millions and millions more away than you or I ever will. When you give that much, you're free to enjoy what you've worked for as well... that's Biblical as well. Where your treasure is, there your heart is, and its the process of getting to where your treasure is in the right place... but if you don't make a start, you never get there.

It works. It'll work for those who are Christians and those who aren't. It'll work for those who know a lot about finances and those who don't. It works.

I see it in our own Finances Group at our church, teaching budgeting, tithing, giving, saving, debt repayment. I see it in the lives of men, women, old, young who are learning this for the first time.

I see it in the face of a friend from Bible College who started tithing in his twenties and things started making sense, even though he had previous family money and other resources.

I see it when times were brutally, brutally tough and we got through them with only minor injuries. (I still wonder somewhat why the minor injuries occurred... but I've seen at least a little good brought out of them). We've never been perfect in finances, but we've seen our track record pay off.

I see it in the spreadsheet I made the other day, before seeing that article.. that Jarod and I should be completely out of debt (and paid off a house) in less than ten years. And given that our student debt is the size of a house, and we're not yet done school (for the second time), that's no mean feat.And that's not for our own benefit only.... that's because then we can help others out faster, better, and more efficiently. I dream about buying up buildings, sponsoring people for school, digging wells, paying for trips, printing materials, really.. the things money can do if used well.

Back to the article... it's nice to see someone summarizing a bit of fairly-recent history on the topic and bringing it back to the forefront. In Canada, I'd think we'd be a step ahead of the States on this stuff also, but who knows....

I do know that I'm glad to be part of a church that uses their money well, and when I tithe I know it's going to help people, not pay for new carpet and shinier pews.

I'm glad to be part of a church that teaches this practically, and that is always looking for new ways to help people.

I'm glad to be in a country that recognizes and helps out its poorest: not that it's perfect, but it's better than the days when the only welfare around came from the church.

And I hope we can do more... and I hope that as I keep going, I'm able to do more.

the great new picture of downtown Hamilton ^^^ at the top of my blog

is by a person who has done many incredible photo tours of Hamilton. When I first moved here, it was these tours that helped me get oriented to the city and my neighbourhood more than anything else.

He's also let me use his photos before (for the cover of some interviews we did with the King West businesses in Strathcona where our new building is - Gilbert's, La Moda, Mark's Chinese, Tony's Barber Shop and MJM Productions. There were a few more we'd hoped to get to but didn't have the chance - yet!)

And sadly, he's moving away to Ottawa. On the bright side, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing some pictures of Ottawa neighbourhoods!

In the meantime (for those who haven't been yet) here's a couple pictures from the fine street Jarod and I reside on (credit to the same photographer). (We live at the intersection of four neighbourhoods [in Stinson, also right by Landsdale, Corktown and Beasley - there's tours of all of them he's done])

There's 4 apartments in this house, but the owner keeps it meticulously clean and always plants beautiful gardens in the summer. I wish I had a summer picture.

And our very, very, very fine house - all three floors and six apartments worth.

and the bridge, not too far away:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ok, ok, I get it.

sorry, friends:
I don't "Twitter."
I don't text.
In fact, I don't own a cell phone.

It's even true that I rarely talk on the phone.
I'd prefer to sit down over coffee than exchange small talk, or a phone conversation

But when these are the two messages on my answering machine tonight, maybe it's gone a bit too far.

"Hi Meredith, it's Mom. Oh forget it, I'll just e-mail you."

(no name, but I knew who it was) "Hi Meredith. I'll just e-mail you, it's faster."

Either everybody's really catching on, or I really am unreachable and hard to talk to :P I'm really not unfriendly, I promise. I just prefer methods of communication I'm good at and I'm truly never home.

Someday I'll get a cellphone... someday, when I'm very convinced I need it :)

Until then, I guess you can e-mail me! (Just kidding... mostly!!!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CPYU (Center for Parent/Youth Understanding) is a great resource

Walt Mueller is a great resource when it comes to understanding youth culture (for parents too, not just "youth workers" who fit a certain mold).

One of their more recent projects is the "College Transition Initiative"

The seminar seems a bit more of a stateside thing (as well as some of the specific cultural challenges in the States vs. Canada), but the articles and books look pretty good.

I'll probably pick one each of these youth or parent books up when it's in the budget. If there's one you'd like to read, let me know and I'll make sure to pick up that one. I'm also going to get Mark Oestricher's "Youth Ministry 3.0" soon too if anyone's interested in that title.

video off theawesomer today

Thursday, March 19, 2009

dear television:

when i come home and find the NCAA has overtaken Numb3rs and Eleventh Hour on CBS, I'm OK with that, if slightly disappointed.

But when I find an Akon concert is on instead of Becker on SunTV... well, things aren't going so well between us.

You see, I can handle a lot of other stuff. But I really enjoy having my the-pre-House-House type of cynicism (and NOT "aw, man, all good music has gone down the drain!" cynicism) to help me relax late at night.

sure, this is just one more nail in the "you shouldn't have cancelled cable and been left with only this free stuff" coffin, but you don't have me yet. i like having limited viewing choices and not a lot of crap on, especially late at night.

There just better be some late night pool or poker on TSN to help me get to sleep after SportsCentre, or else we're gonna have a TALK.

Just like McMaster's "Health Eduction Services"

institutions of "higher learning" are finding spell-check a bit too much these days:

(edit: Don't worry, CBC can't get it right either today. A little St. Patty's aftershock, perhaps?)

Monday, March 16, 2009

the last time i did dreadlocks

I've done dreadlocks as a hobby/sideline for about eight years now. I've got a website, a local store carries some little business cards of mine (they need a redesign), and I do a couple clients' hair a month - a little more in the summers. I just paid my taxes for it this year a few weeks ago.. fun fun fun.
Sarah is a good friend of mine and also one of my clients -Sarah and her husband Sam graciously agreed to let me steal some photos of them and ruthlessly exploit them... bwahaha.
I like this pic of Sarah somewhere along the lake:

This one's a promo shot (thanks to Cassandra Davidson for the photo)
The clients I get are always interesting people, and more often than not quite talkative. From the chef who lives in the Muskokas to the boyfriend and girlfriend both getting dreadlocks at the same time to the intern at MTV to the junior high skateboarder, they've all got a story.
Whenever I do dreadlocks, I tell clients to bring two things: snacks, and if they want, two or three movies to watch, But people usually just end up picking movies out of our collection. ( For some reason, everyone picks Nacho Libre or zombie movies. I like them too, but by now I've seen enough Jack Black and braaaiiinnss to last my entire life. Shaun of the Dead never gets old, though)
Sometimes they do bring over their own DVDs to watch - like the BBC Planet Earth series one teenager brought last year. A lot of skateboarding/extreme sports/Jackass type stuff too.
A few people are silent the whole time their dreadlocks are being done.
But most people talk a lot, especially parents. (I try to ask people about themselves, which usually starts interesting conversations). (Which can be a relief for their kid or teenager, or acutely embarrassing). More often than not we get into some spiritual conversations, which is also extremely awesome.
Last week, though, there was something completely different.
(not, sadly, And Now For Something Completely Different. I'd watch that any day.)
A teenager came with his mom to get his hair done, and they brought CDs to listen to. One was by Bedouin Soundclash, and the other was the live Foo Fighters disc Skin and Bones.

It was really nice to listen to music while working on someone's hair instead of seeing Jack Black in a luchador mask for the 1000th time.

And I haven't been able to get it out of my head since. I have a few tracks by these guys on my iPod, but none of their live stuff. I think I might buy it this summer, along with the new U2 and mewithoutYou.

It was a good few hours, anyhow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

coming up next month

Since I've always liked things like food and paying my phone bill, I'm doing heart tests in Toronto for a month (as part of a longer program training me to do a lot of heart tests in a lot of places).

Because of this, I'm commuting via the GO Train - possibly even the convenient new 7:17 one.

And.... this is great! here's why:

1. great location: I'm not going to Windsor or Ottawa for a month - that's a big relief.

2. great walking: I get to walk on both ends of the commute - walking places is one of my favorite things to do, and right now I only get to a few days a week.

3. great use of time: I have one uninterrupted hour in the morning and one in the evening on the train to/from work. Instead of pulling together scraps of my time, late nights and one afternoon. essentially, I'm getting two more usable hours in each day to work instead of giving up time to commute. And I'll have the time to fulfill my priorities because of it, in an environment I have to stay in one place and focus on what I'm doing. That's a big win for me.

4. great opportunity: I can see people I haven't in months or years; return to places I used to frequent, pick up things I can't get here (Burrito Boyz!) and learn from a great teaching hospital in an area i know - and then come home every day!

5. great time frame: it's one month. so whether it turns out to be an excellent month or not, it makes a good test run. And it lets me know if I could do this again in the future without compromising my job here - maybe even improving it, or if it's something I really could only do part-time.

Yep, pretty great so far.

I also go for this training at the end of this month -- I missed the opportunity to do it last year, so I'm glad I can do it now. It may seem too pre-programmed to some, or too much of a "one-size-fits-all" (well, "four-sizes-fit-all" really) way to go about doing premarital counselling, but I've seen it used successfully by so many people of different ages and affiliations, I think it'll be worth it to have those tools.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bucky Katt has a hard-knock life...

Bucky Katt: *purr?*
Human: "Blarg! Get off, vile creature!"
*purrr? purr?* (jumps onto lap)
"Gwarf! Hair in my ice cream! On my t-shirt! Glarrrg! Grog angry!"
*pout*... *purr* ... *nuzzle*... *roll*
"Fine, Bucky, you know I love you..." *pet pet pet*

We moved the TV to the edge of the living room so we could seat more people (and have a more people-centred room). You can see Eleventh Hour is on, which I watch because I'm so intelligent and refined.

Quite obviously, intelligent and refined describes all our TV viewing choices:

in other news:

I've been trying to make meat pershky/piroshky/perishky for years, and oh, this is it: (with my changes, anyways: halve the recipe, minus the soup mix and + 2 grated onions with a bit of salt)

i love finding recipes for Mennonite food that actually tastes like authentic Mennonite food. The combination of Russian, German, Mexican (yep, Mexican!) Paraguayan, and other influences make it incredible food, though: I haven't visited Mex-I-Can yet, but apparently that's the place to go in Hamilton if you're a Mexican Mennonite or just want authentic Mexican food.

i also spoke with an old friend today
- one of the wonders of Facebook.

i haven't seen him since Grade 10. and he's doing well.

he hasn't seemed to change much from the person i met in high school, and in a good way. i'm sure he's changed in many ways, but he's still the same person.

it's nice to see someone who still is.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

more than all of our scars

Abstract concepts are not at all my favorite thing

In one sense, principles that can be applied to many situations are great.

On the other hand, I'm a concrete,
concrete thinker. I have a big imagination, but it's never about abstract concepts or words bandied about - even in imagination it's always about what possible concrete reality can happen - what something could look like, smell like, feel like, sound like.

you've seen that "time to get new people" commercial, right? if you haven't yet:

The boss asks what his employees have put together, and they confidently reply: "First, we're gonna raise the bar! Then we're gonna think outside the box! Think big, start small, hit the ground running-" ... and that's about the time the boss says "I need to get new people!"

in 2002, i was still in st. catharines, and a local worship leader did this CD.

there was a worship gathering of many churches called (appropriately enough) the gathering that i heard many of these songs in, and they stuck in my head.

because as good as abstract songs are... these ones brought the concrete reality of the gospel home for me in a way I hadn't experienced yet.

The same worship leader, along with a few others, now are at a great church called Southridge in that city.

and today i got to work, and there was a very tough situation that happened before I got there. When I arrived, I couldn't help if I stayed - it was just that kind of thing. So I ended up working at the FRWY today (another great church + cafe around the corner from my house), a place I love but rarely have time to visit.

at work, in my "corner office" (the corner of a large room containing 4 shared offices) I pray in a certain way. I turn my chair, put my feet up on the chair rail, stare at the wall, and talk (to God, unless I hear something funny coming from another part of the office). Yep, I tend to get distracted.

But today working at the FRWY, i just opened up a word file and wrote it out. and for today, that worked real well.

and as i did, this song came to mind (though i didn't post till i was done - successfully fightin' distraction!)

because the gospel is concrete reality, more real than the (slightly moist) shoes on my feet from walking through the rainy city, more real than the tragedy that befalls us each day, more real than any of the shadows that we encounter and think that this is "real life." life can be great, but this isn't all there is. that's only "further up and further in" to requote a Freedomize Toronto phrase quoting C.S. Lewis. (huh, four churches in one post... i didn't intend that at all. but neat. except that now I'm stuck: is that me being very spiritual or namedropping? (just kidding... it's neither).

the song:

we've gathered here today
for we are hungry for the truth
so needing to be changed
seeing how much we're loved by you
that you take us as we are
but love too much to leave us there
giving your very heart
lifting us up if we will dare

if we'll trust you... believe you... give up our lives to seek you.

the cross has made it known

your love is serious

and we are not alone
you are not far --- you're God with us!
the grave is empty now

you're bigger than death itself
more than all of our scars

your power is greater than raging hell

you bring...
freedom thoughts and freedom words
freedom dance and song
freedom life, a second birth
freedom choices, freedom prayers
freedom deeds and ways
die to self and all it's cares
changing now by grace

if we'll trust you... believe you... give up our lives to seek you.

as real as the concrete under my feet: