Archive for January, 2011

The west and our commitment to democracy

Some things just seem strange to me these days.  I’d like to think I’m an enlightened person who makes a real effort to consider perspectives beyond those of my own culture.  I’m starting to consider that all our assumptions about the west’s role as stewards of democracy are not all that solid.

The west invades Iraq for a number reasons, but high on our agenda was democracy.

Now take a look at Egypt.  They get about 1.5 billion dollars a year in aid from the United States.  They also have a fictitious veneer of a democracy slathered over decades of autocratic repressive rule.

The people rise up in opposition to this government.  They are scared, and some die but the rest don’t give up.  There is looting but some of the looters are discovered to be government agents.  The government shuts down the Internet and mobile phone service and the police disappear.

Neighbourhood groups band together armed with anything they can find to defend their neighbours against looters.

If there is ever a ripe moment for the west to cheer on a desperate and courageous people it is now. 

All the United States can say is the corrupt autocratic leader needs to deliver on concrete reforms.  Initially they couldn’t even utter the word democracy.  Nor have they threatened to pull the 1.5 billion dollars of funding.  1.5 billion dollars they could probably using patching that 1.6 trillion dollar deficit they are running.

Al Jazeera is kicked out the country.  Not CNN, not the BBC, not the CBC,  but Al Jazeera.  Is it perhaps because their hard hitting and honest reporting is more of a threat than western media?  I don’t know for sure.  Perhaps they just have more people on the ground and constitute an more viable threat to the government.

Egypt isn’t the only country uncomfortable with Al Jazeera.  Al Jazeera’s channel isn’t available in most of the United States.

Has the west lost its place in championing human rights, free expression and democracy?

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One things leads to another

I used to watch a television show that would start with one person or object and follow its impact through history.  I don’t remember the name but I absolutely loved it.  I enjoy using intuition to see connections.  It is just as much fun watching someone else do the same thing. 

Sometimes in human history one small spark leads to an inferno of flame and destruction.  The assassination  of an archduke in a country that doesn’t exist anymore started what we know as World War I.  The agreements made at the end of World War II provided the kindling for next the great inferno.  When tensions are high there are few buffers to mitigate the consequences of unfortunate events.

There are food shortages in the world today.  Freak weather across the globe has causes numerous floods and droughts.  2010 is statistically tied for the hottest year on record.  Increasingly global warming is identified as a likely contributing factor with all these extreme shifts in climate.  In 2005 we reached what will likely be the maximum level of conventional crude oil production leaving us to steam tar out of sand or drill thousand of feet deep in the ocean to find more of the precious hydrocarbon energy.  This drives up the price and provides incentives for thousands of farmers to grow crops for energy rather than food.

Combine this dramatic shifts in energy and food production with unsustainable economic policies in the west.  The west uses financial tricks to monetize their debt and manage to do it in such a way that exports the inflation to the developing countries.   Food prices start to skyrocket.  Less food is being produced as more goes in to ethanol, oil prices drive up the cost of growing food and climate change reduces yields across the globe. 

Food and energy supplies are not at crisis levels but there is tension.  Combine this tension repressive governments that really have few levers to pull in the face of basic commodity inflation.  One man decides to protest the repressive policies of a country most people couldn’t find on a map.  He lights himself on fire.  Word of his protest spreads through digital media.  Using the Internet, SMS and mobile phones people organize.  Pressure mounts on the government and aA relatively stable western friendly Arab government falls.  Word spreads to another Arab country with a repressive government.  Thousands of people fill the streets.  The government tries to shut them down going so far as to cut of all digital media.  The Internet, blackberries and SMS is shutdown but the protests continue to overwhelm the police.  Today the only thing that stands between popular revolution and Egypt’s leader is the army.  The police have already surrendered.

The fear now is that the wave will continue to another western backed repressive Arab government.  Instead this one is Saudi Arabia and its oil keeps the world running.  If Saudi Arabia is destabilised the modest tension in the oil markets will become a global crisis almost immediately.  If Saudi Arabia were to go off line we would run in to instant shortages that no group of countries would be able to make up for. 

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The number of churches unable to pay their mortgages is surging in America

ROSEVILLE, Calif.—Residential and commercial real-estate owners aren’t the only ones losing their properties to foreclosure. The past few years have seen a rapid acceleration in the number of churches losing their sanctuaries because they can’t pay the mortgage.

Just as homeowners borrowed too much or built too big during boom times, many churches did the same and now are struggling as their congregations shrink and collections fall owing to rising unemployment and a weak economy.

Since 2008, nearly 200 religious facilities have been foreclosed on by banks, up from eight during the previous two years and virtually none in the decade before that, according to real-estate services firm CoStar Group, Inc. Analysts and bankers say hundreds of additional churches face financial struggles so severe they could face foreclosure or bankruptcy in the near future.

Read the rest here

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Rick Mercer nails it

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I deeply appreciate the older friends in my life

I just got off the phone with a man in his 70’s.  Someone who has taught in a bible school and pastored for 25 years.  Last night I shared communion with people some of whom are their 60’s and 70’s  The night before I was with another couple of retirement age as I helped with a trip to the hospital.

I love these folks.  I’ve been in all kinds of house churches, discussions and committees with church leaders and if there isn’t a senior there, something is missing.  Some of the most radical people I know are over 70.  They have more than just wisdom, they have a peace that eludes most of us that have only been around the block once or twice. 

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A good passage to remember when blogging

But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will.
(2Ti 2:22-26)

Oh, how much time i could have saved if I actually followed this advice 6 or 7 years ago.

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Academy of Discipleship

I’m excited about a new project I’m involved with in Saskatoon.  It’s a new ministry geared towards discipleship and Christian education.  It is aimed at filling the gap between Sunday School and Bible College/Seminary.  The academy of discipleship is offering a course on Anabaptism and it is only $40.

Here is a blurb from the website.

Essential Anabaptism and the 21st Century
500 years ago a radical group of Christians were persecuted by the established Church and State.
Come learn what they might say about:

  • Peace and Justice
  • Materialism
  • Individualism
  • Discipleship

Our first text is Stuart Murray’s “The Naked Anabaptist”

Starting February 7th, 2011

To learn more click here to visit the website.

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The dusty ghost town of Emerging Churchdom

Last night I took a virtual tour of all the old storefronts in the emerging village.

Emergent.ca : closed down.
Resonate.ca : closed down.
JordonCooper.com : No mention of church
EmergingChurch.Info : A few scragglers
TheOoze.com : Remodeled
EmergentVillage.com : Signs on the window saying the Emerging Church is dead
Forge.org.au : They just unlocked the doors after 12 months of dormancy

For all its faults I really did enjoy the conversation.  I miss battling fundamentalists on Phil and Dan’s signposts blog.  I miss the MSN messenger chats.  I miss the feeling of being part of something new that was trying to honestly address deep problems in the church. 

While the emerging church is largely dead, I don’t think the church has solved the problems the EC tried to address.  Some elements of the church may have done of good job of shooting down some of the answers the EC purposed, but I don’t think they did any better job of coming up with better answers.

The question of relevance was approached in the wrong way.  The EC tried to become relevant by becoming current without ensuring they were sourced in the timeless.  It is the same mistake the seeker church made. 

I think the fear of over-institutionalization kept people from building relevant and necessary structures to maintain some level of durability and fruitfulness.  Don’t get me wrong on this, I’m a house church guy, I like church as simple as possible but organization is required for some things.  When honest criticism began there was no way to make course corrections.  How does one correct a conversation?  A movement can shift but a conversation just is.

I think the general impulse that helped form the emerging church still exists.  The house church movement doesn’t seem to have lost steam.  Those that chose timeless answers (e.g. community and genuine fellowship) over timely answers (e.g. coffee, candles and cool) have much more life in their churches.  Especially those groups that are led by people of substance with genuine love and a willingness to sacrifice.  I’d like to think the missional movement still has life.  Those of us that have attempted to be missional have learned that there are large elements of risk and sacrifice involved.  It is much easier to talk missional than to actually be missional.  I’m not thinking of anybody other than myself as I write about this.

The questions that face the church will only become more difficult as society transitions through peak-oil, climate change and an overhaul to our economic system.  The over-commercialized and Americanized version of Evangelicalism is doomed.  The mega-churches are doomed.  Who is going to commute 20 miles to church at $5 / gallon especially when their disposable income has been dramatically cut?  I’d like to think more difficult economic times would be able to create some disillusionment in the prosperity gospel, but if such theology can take over large swaths of Africa, I think it might become an attractive escape for those who don’t have a hope of living the famed “best life now.”  There is a dramatic need for discernment and correction in the church.

I think there will be a 2nd wave of (attempted) transformation in the church.  Next time it won’t be about keeping the twenty something’s around and looking cool, it will be about survival.  It will be about rediscovering the timeless strength of faith in Christ and fellowship in a world full of crumbling idols. Idols and false gods that the church as accepted as much as the world.

In the timeless words of James T. Kirk “Buckle up.”

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Handy tips for those trying to comfort the grieving

1) Express your love

2) Express your sorrow

3) If you are one of the people you know they would turn to for support do your best to listen and care.  Even then be sensitive, the first couple of days is filled with details to attend too.  Some folks don’t have a chance to really start grieving until after the funeral.

4) Recognize that the people grieving have endured their loss plus had to put together an event for dozens or even hundreds of people, shell out thousands of dollars and put up with deluge of well meaning but ultimately clueless people.

5) Recognize that you too might be a well meaning but clueless person.

6) Most families draw support from a small circle of their closest friends and family.  If you aren’t sure you are one of those people don’t burden them with another phone call or visit.  Don’t be surprised if they don’t answer the phone.

7) Don’t try to comfort people by telling them how you make sense of their loss. 

8) Be gentle and patient, some people take a long time to grieve.  You may listen to the same stories or the same sentiment time again.  That is ok, let people grieve at their own pace.  Sometimes it makes a tremendous difference to the grieving to just be present and silent. 

9) Don’t tell them how you think God told you how to make sense of their loss, or blame the Devil, or talking about this tumultuous event fits in God’s grand master plan. 

10) Give people space at the funeral, let them eat.  Don’t ignore the recommendations of those directing the funeral.

11) Think!  If 100 people did what I plan on doing would it be more of a burden than a comfort?  If so don’t do it.  

12) Sometimes people need extra support from their closest friends.  If necessary take grieving family members in to your home, field phone calls from the clueless masses, make meals, clean up, attend to details.

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A love letter to Android

My first smartphone was a Palm Treo 600 and I loved it, when it worked.  It would randomly meltdown require a full restore from backup.  It drove me nuts.  I went to get it repaired but the cell phone repair guy said it just wasn’t worth it.  The hardware was horrible, so I got a blackberry.  I never liked as much as the Palm but it was certainly more durable.  It worked and I even upgraded to a better blackberry but last Christmas I lost it.  It was precious to me.  I picked up a used Windows Mobile  phone, a throw back to my old Palm, but before I could even use it a family member had pity on me and bought the latest version of the same used unit I bought.  Last summer gadget lust overcame me and I ordered the Google Nexus One.

With all deference to the Motorola Droid the N1 was the first phone that truly placed itself in the league of the iPhone.  Despite my distaste for Apple  I might have got one if I didn’t have to use Rogers and its absolutely pathetic coverage in Saskatchewan.  I had my N1 in hand when Sasktel launched its 3G+ network.  I haven’t regretted it one little bit. 

A lot of things I love about my Android are applicable to the iPhone but not all.

a) It’s fast, very fast especially with Android 2.2.

b) Grooveshark : Unlimited music from almost all artists for $3 / month. 

c) TuneIn Radio : I can listen to internet radio from around the world.  Oddly enough I pick stations fairly close to home.  Thank you 92 Citi FM in Winnipeg and kRock in Edmonton for just existing.  I like to make fun of Winnipeg but they have great radio.

b + c = I NEVER EVER have to listen to Saskatoon’s terrible radio stations.  Even Regina’s station’s are better and that’s just not civilized.

d) A great gmail client and integration with google calendar, talk, maps, contacts and even google reader. 

e) The WeatherEye app

f) 5 megapixel camera takes pretty good shots

g) Portable Wifi-hotspot.  I can access the Internet through my phone using a Wifi connection.

h) If I wanna see what is playing at the Galaxy I use the Flixster app, where I can also see the Rotten Tomatoes rating.

i) The LED flash can be used as a Flashlight

j) GPS and whole host of apps that use the GPS to tell me where I am in several different ways.  Use Open Street maps for free offline mapping.

k) Skype.  I can call long distance for 3 cents a minute.

l) Several different keyboard options

m) Voice search and commands.  Last week I pressed the voice search and said “call Moxies Saskatoon” and it looked up their number on the Internet and called it. 

n) Voice dictation : ever wanted to just talk to your phone to complete a text message, Android does that.

m) Nice bright high resolution screen

o) The twitter app, not I don’t twitter but I do follow Sasktel to find out when they will finally expand their network to the Pelican Lake First Nation.

p) Google listen: download podcasts straight to my phone.

q) Web browsing with a standard browser like Skyfire or a mobile browsers like Opera Mobile. 

r) The Facebook app, when I’m truly  and horribly bored and I’ve exhausted other options. 

s) I get the latest upgrade to Android when it is released, not when the carrier decides to upgrade me

t) My phone is unlocked so I can use it with any carrier I want.

u) A bandwidth meter shows me how close I’m getting to going over my limit

v) I can customize my home screen with widgets and live wall paper

w) I can run as many apps as I want at the same time

x) I can expand the memory

y) When the warranty runs out I’ll have all the freedom to use alternative and enhanced versions Android

z) Steve Jobs didn’t get anything from me when I bought it.

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