REMEMBRANCE DAY

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My speech from the Hamilton Remembrance Day Ceremony earlier today.
You can hear the speech on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kevin.makins/posts/10155945081588453
Feel free to share:

Mayor Eisenberger, City Councillors, Hamilton Veterans, Silver Cross families, members of Government, ladies, gentlemen, children, and Hamiltonians;

I am very grateful, and humbled, to be invited to offer some reflections this Remembrance Day.

When I first received the invitation I assumed there was a miscommunication. When it comes to honouring our veterans, and remembering those we have lost, there are churches, mosques, and synagogues who have been far more directly affected than us. My community, Eucharist Church, is made up largely of younger people in their twenties and thirties, Millennials, few of whom have ever directly been affected by war, most of whom are separated from World War 1 and 2 by multiple generations.

When I mentioned this to the person inviting me, they said that was exactly why they had asked me; to help answer the question: “What does Remembrance Day mean to young people?”

To me, Remembrance Day is sitting on a cold gymnasium floor, gathered for assembly, or my mom helping me pin on a poppy on my shirt without stabbing my finger, or black and white movies with dramatic voice overs. It was the foreign and beautiful sound of the bagpipe, and “in Flanders Field where Poppies Grow,” and two minutes of silence in an otherwise loud world.

Even then, as a child, I knew there was something special about Remembrance Day.

There was something important, even sacred, about this annual rhythm that disrupted our classes, our tests, and even our talking. Once a year, for half an hour, we would look back on our shared history and vow to remember.

But to young, media saturated minds, it can also feel time-less; flat and two-dimensional. For my generation, the First and Second World War lived in the realm of movies, video games and comic books; along with stories of aliens invading Washington and Hobbits delivering the One Ring to Mount Doom. I don’t say this to be crude, or crass, but if I’m being entirely honest, for most of my life, that’s where it lived.

And while I knew that, unlike these other stories, there was a real world cost to the Wars, it was just too far removed from me for it to really take on flesh and blood.

My Grandma, Eileen, is charming, smart, and at 93 years old still regularly beats me in euchre. Five years ago, on Christmas afternoon, I got to sit down and listen to her tell stories of her life, and as she did it was like a whole new world opened up.

We talked about her parents, and how the first world war impacted their lives, and what it was like raising children in the forties and fifties, and how her and Grandpa fell in love.

They met at a dance, in the late thirties, back in the days where people went to dances to actually dance. She told me how he swept her off her feet, and how they started preparing for their future together, and how the war began and interrupted all their plans. For years their dreams were frozen in time; as soldiers, and sailors, air crew and nurses were sent overseas. Others, like my Grandpa, worked in repair shops or mess halls. My Grandma, and the others left behind, struggled to keep the world turning, raising and teaching children, stepping into the work force, rationing food; all the work that exhausts us today, picked up by fraction of the population.

And as Grandma shared these stories with me, something happened inside my heart; the story took on flesh and blood. It was sitting here, right in front of me. These were real men and women, just like you and I, who were swept up into an incredibly complicated and challenging situation; who’s present and future would be forever shaped by war.

Some of those people are standing here today.

This had a rolling effect on me. As her story took on flesh and blood, so did the stories of others; those who lost friend and family in the world wars, those who’s loved ones were sent to Korea, or Afghanistan; the stories of those in our city who have fled from places of war to the safety of Canada.

Real people who had violent conflict thrust on them.

And they responded with bravery, courage, and dignity; with hope and faith. Men and women who willingly picked up their responsibility; sacrificing their plans and future for others.

We need to remember that.

We need to remember loved ones leaving and not returning, we need to remember those who came back haunted by what they had experienced, we need to remember exhausted mothers putting their children to sleep alone, and we need to remember the men and women killed by our soldiers, who’s families and communities were also forever changed by war.

We need to remember how much war took from us. We need to hear the stories and ensure they are retold well. We must stand on guard.

We must continue to guard our memory.

One Christian group I deeply respect is the Mennonite Central Committee; who during this season say: “To remember is to work for peace.”

It would be far too easy for those of us who have not experienced war first hand to sit back and be passive, but true remembrance calls us to action.

“To remember is to work for peace.”

To remember is to guard the peace and health of our marriages, families, and friendships.
To remember is to teach our children that every single person is worthy of dignity and love.
To remember is to stand against bullying and harassment wherever we see it.
To remember is to practice forgiveness, especially when it costs us.
To remember is to be willing to serve our neighbours, even if it interrupts our plans.
To remember is to welcome into our city those who have fled places of war and conflict.
To remember is to continue the process of reconciliation with our First Nation brothers and sisters.
To remember is to ensure safe, affordable housing to those displaced by Hamilton’s revitalization.
To remember is to shape a city where all people can find home, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, economic standing, politics or religion.

To remember is to work for peace.

Today we honour and remember those who have sacrificed so that we might have peace. Today we honour and remember those who have faced the hell of war, whether this year or one hundred years ago. Today we honour and remember those who's hearts still grieve.

We stand with you. We thank you.

May we continue to sit on cold gymnasium floors for assembly, and pin poppies on our jackets, and read “in Flanders Field,” and stand in silence, and listen to the stories told by our loved ones.

May we continue to remember. May we continue to work for peace.

PHOTOSHOPPED FAITH

Christians: Stop Photoshopping Your Faith
Miracles, Witness, and Church Conferences

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I’m not a conference person. In large part, I feel about church conferences the way I feel about getting travel vaccines: I avoid them at all costs, unless their going to get me somewhere exotic. If a conference is in Vancouver or Barbados, sign me up! If it’s in a suburban mega-church an hour down the highway, well, I’m probably a little busy those days.

Don’t get me wrong, everything AROUND a conference is great. Making new friends from across the country, connecting over coffee/lunch/beer with people you know from Twitter: It’s great stuff!

But the content is often… frustrating. Presentations are usually bloated, filled with the biggest successes, including larger than life stories, usually presented by American preachers who seem largely disconnected from our local context or lived experience. 

I found myself reflecting on this a lot last week while I was at a conference. I was sitting in the main sessions, listening to presenters tell stories of their church success, and feeling like my body was physically responding to something. 

Here’s my thesis, and don’t judge me if it seems overly skeptical: I just don’t know if I can believe them. I don’t know if the storyteller is trustworthy.

I want to be really clear it wasn’t a “this conference” thing (I actually really enjoyed the conference) but something I’ve noticed again and again, across multiple fields and disciplines: The stories we hear, especially “up front,” tend to feel a little fudged. Since I’m a pastor, I’m going to focus on church world, but you could apply it to any other field.

I get that our experiences are raw clay, which needs to be crafted and shaped into a good story. But there is a fine line between exaggerating stories for dramatic effect, and accidentally (or intentionally) deceiving the listener. ESPECIALLY when we are talking about God.

This is the testimony of how “100 people made a decision to follow Jesus,” without the caveat that they were all already professing Christians who were “recommitting” to the faith. Or it's the miracle story about how someones leg was healed after prayer, but failing to mention that the next day the injury was back and worse than ever. Or it’s the “church growth success story” that fails to mention the new church has a really great band, and a bunch of other churches across town have suddenly shrunk.

They are photoshopped. Not LIES, but exaggerations; some details airbrushed out, skin tones smoothed, pimples erased so that the whole thing is easy on the eyes and tickling to the ears.

But I think people are starting to notice.

Remember the first time you saw a photo that was OBVIOUSLY photoshopped? The model was missing a thumb, or the person appears to be floating over the rest of the image? You instinctually get a feeling that something is “off” in the picture; but once you see the photoshop it’s impossible to un-see it. 

You might start seeing bad photoshops everywhere. 

I think people in the church are starting to notice photoshopped faith stories. Their gut has told them something is wrong for a long time, but now they’re noticing the missing thumb in the story, and it’s ruining the trustworthiness of the presenter, preacher, or storyteller. If they don’t find the story honest, they’ll begin to distrust the church, the faith, or even God. 

Jesus’ followers are called to be “witnesses” to what they have experienced, and when a witnesses testimony is called into question, their credibility goes out the window. 

Ignorance is no excuse. I think that a lot of well-meaning Christians ignore or push away information in order to preserve the magic. This is the faith healing that receives no follow up (because what if they feel bad again tomorrow?), the new member at church that is welcomed in without questions (because what if they come from another church down the road?), and the street evangelist that praises how someone has “changed their mind” (when really the person was just sick of being harassed and bothered by the annoying preacher).

It’s photoshopped. The stories are kept in the shadows so that the full light of truth can’t shine on them; exposing what has been hidden. Willful ignorance is no excuse. Someday God will bring to light all that has been hiding in darkness, so why not bring it into the sun willingly?

Here’s my call to faith-leaders everywhere: Stop the photoshop. 

Stop making the stories slightly better then they were, stop fudging details, stop speaking vaguely, stop being willfully ignorant, and stop lying to yourself and others.

It’s ruining our witness.

A photoshopped picture presents what our culture assumes is “beautiful,” but I think most of us actually prefer an unedited photo.

To quote theologian Kendrick Lamar: 

“I'm so ****** sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin' natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin' natural like ass with some stretchmarks"

… or something like that.

Show me something real! Tell me the story of what actually happened! It’s beautiful and worth celebrating for what it is.

I believe in miracles. I believe in revival, I believe in resurrection, I believe that God works in millions of massive ways.

But I also praise God for the small signs and wonders:

Praise God for churches that are fifteen people in a living room. Praise God for prayers that “only” offer inner peace. Praise God for people who recommit to their faith. Praise God for healing that lasts just an afternoon. Praise God for divine coincidence. Praise God for the mystery of unanswered prayer. Praise God for grace in the good fight.

It may not be flashy, and may not get you up front at the conference; but it will allow you to follow Jesus, keep your soul, and keep your witness.

Praise God for unedited faith: Messy, painful, honest, humble, and real.

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What do you think? Is this photoshopping of faith stopping us from being honest? Have you attended any events or conferences that you felt were pushing against this culture? Do you spend time in a different culture that also struggles with this editing? 

Leave a comment below and let's have a good conversation!

CANADIAN JESUS

A Pastor’s Reflection on Canada 150

It may be the fact that we experience seasonal affective disorder for half the year, or simply our proximity to a country quick to toot it’s own horn, but every Canadian knows one thing at a molecular level: you’re not supposed to be “proud” to be a Canadian.

When I was a kid there was a short-lived swell of Canadian pride, boosted by a particular beer commercial, declaring loudly on bumper stickers and billboards: I AM CANADIAN!

That’s us at our most boastful. We state facts.

For most of my life I never left “the true north strong and free,” which meant I assumed our normal was everyones normal. Sure we had a family trip to Montreal (where they spoke that language from the cereal boxes), and a few sport tournaments in Edmonton (where the big mall was), but all was more-or-less similar. I couldn’t understand what we would be PROUD of.

Recently my wife and I took a two month trip to Sri Lanka. An unexpected aspect of travel is you tend to meet a lot of other travellers. We made friends from Germany, Switzerland, Europe, Australia, Holland, America, Japan, and lots from Sri Lanka. All of them, when they heard we were Canadians, lit up.

“We heard your country is always welcoming refugees”
“You guys are so humble and polite”
“That’s where Drake is from, right?”

After a few of these conversations you begin to reflect on your country and it’s culture, and on just how LUCKY you were to be born there. You even feel a little bit of… pride!

This got me thinking about Jesus. Jesus had a fascinating relationship with his own country. He was an Israelite, and at the turn of the century the Israelites were being ruled by the Romans. Their land had been occupied by a military force, who were now taxing them, and putting pressure on them to break their religious devotion to their God. Jesus was proud to be an Israelite, constantly making reference to their cultural values and teachings; but he called his disciples to an even higher devotion, another country and kingdom:

The Kingdom of Heaven.

or

The Kingdom of God.

Depends on who is telling the story!

Either way, the idea is the same: “What if God was King here, in this particular place? What would that look like?”

Which, of course, is a big question that revolves around another big question: “What is this God like?” What God are we talking about here? A vindictive and violent God? A God of judgment and rage? A God of ethnic superiority?

Thankfully, Jesus defined his terms incredibly well. He told us that when we watch his life, we see what God is like. He said that he, in his body, would SHOW US what God is like. “If you see me, you’ve seen the Father.”

And what did Jesus do?

He ate with those who were rejected and beat down.
He healed those who were sick and socially outcast.
He spoke out against corruption and fear mongering. 
He cast out all the unclean spirits that haunted people.
He prayed and lived in full trust, believing God was only good.
He acted creatively and disarmed his enemies without the use of violence.
He forgave everyone, even those that persecuted and crucified him.

He told his own tribe, his own country, that to truly be an Israelite is to stretch out, beyond your own group, and bless those who are NOT a part of you.

He called them to be citizens of a higher Kingdom, not because being an Israelite is a bad thing, but because the only way to TRULY BE an Israelite is to, above all, commit yourself to living in a world where God is King.

Now if you have a hard time with God language, start with a translation: live according to the Highest Good you can imagine.

Pledge allegiance to Love, to Goodness, to Kindness and Mercy.
Pledge allegiance to Grace, to Truth, to Your Neighbour, to the Foreigner.
Pledge allegiance to Everyone Else You Meet, Even Your Enemy.
Pledge allegiance to Being Truly Human.

Pledge allegiance to the Sort of Life Jesus Lived.

If you’re a cook, which I’m not, I imagine you have an allegiance to the restaurant that hired you. That’s well and good, you have to belong somewhere! But above that you have a first love, a higher allegiance: you have given your life to the table. Your allegiance to your workplace can only exist if you have truly committed to being a chef.

If you’re a musician, which I’m definitely not, you have an allegiance to your record label and your band, but above that you have an allegiance to the music itself! You have to honour that first love. If you lose your love for music, you’ll never truly be able to serve the band or the label.

But here’s the kicker: if the label, or the restaurant, (the political party, the team, or the church) ever tempts you to break your first love, you will have to decide which allegiance is higher.

Now back to Canada.

I used to hate paying taxes. Then my friend had cancer in his mid-twenties. He’s a survivor today and not crippled by debt. Now I don’t groan when my bill is a few dollars higher. I meet people in our church, every week, who fled their country because of war, or prejudice, or corruption. They embrace me and say they love Canada because they are safe here. I’m currently writing a blog telling Canadian’s that their highest allegiance should NOT be to the flag, and no one from the government is going to drag me into an alleyway and beat me. We have freedom to criticize and challenge, to worship and pray.

There are many ways being Canadian fits within my allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

But scattered around our country are First Nations people, who are stuck in cycles of poverty and addiction, and largely ignored by our “progressive” country. There is a history of violence and racism that we still struggle to properly address and respond to. There is a certain self-righteousness that comes with our proud liberal identity, wielded like a sword against that OTHER country to the south, that we are SO MUCH better than. Our taxes contribute to a massive military budget. We have a bloated housing market, and serious gentrification problems, which are creating a larger gap between the rich and the poor.

There are places where my allegiance to Canada will be challenged by my greater allegiance.

Jesus talks a lot about love and acceptance, but he also said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Before you freak out, this is a metaphor. Jesus was extremely non-violent.

But he’s not come to pursue the status quo. He’s not come to keep things conflict free. He’s not come to coddle us and make life cozy. He’s come to give us a better vision for humanity, and that might require us to use a sword: to cut ourselves off from our family, our culture, even our nationality.

If these allegiances are calling us to live in fear, hate, greed, lust, racism, or violence; then we take the sword and cut ourselves off, so that we honour our First Love.

This Canada Day Weekend, celebrate that our country, in so many ways, pushes us towards a life that looks like the Kingdom of God. Be grateful and joyful.

But before you stand for the national anthem, take a moment to ask where your loyalty fundamentally lies. What’s the highest authority you submit to?

Pledge allegiance to that authority, first, in your heart.

And with that business settled, proudly declare:

I AM CANADIAN.

 

GENTRIFICATION

Hi, my name is Kevin, and I'm a gentrifier.

9 years ago my wife and I moved into the downtown of our city; an economically challenged place that was facing huge problems, including a life expectancy the same as many developing countries. We got to know our neighbours, started a local kids clothing store, got bike lanes across the downtown, helped other friends renovate their old homes, and even gathered people together to start a new church.

We've been a part of a lot of good things in this city.

We've changed it in other ways as well.

When we started a business, other businesses started, making the street busier, and increasing the cost of housing. The real estate market has responded to bike lanes and jacked up prices, which results in landlords selling their rental properties, and kicking established families out of their homes. Our values of local food and fair-trade coffee has lead to a boom of local coffee shops, but many of these places are too expensive for those who have lived in the city for a long time.

Gentrification is complicated.

(If you aren't familiar with the term, gentrification is the process of renovation of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents - see wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentrification)

Yes. It's very complicated stuff.

Was the city better when the storefronts were boarded up, and houses were falling apart from neglect, and the streets were impossible to navigate on bike?

But is it "better" because we have fifty new restaurants?
Is it "better" because we have nice lawns? 
Is it "better" because there are more people walking the streets?

Yes... and no... and maybe.

Here's an exercise to do with your friends, ask this question:

"What would a flourishing city look like? Who does it benefit? Who does it celebrate? What kinds of programs run? What kinds of businesses start? What do the parks look like? What does our street look like?"

And then ask this question:

"What would it look like to take ONE STEP FORWARD in that direction?"

We can't be ignorant to these changing realities.

But we also can't be overwhelmed.

Do not be overwhelmed.

Talk to your neighbours and listen well, walk and bike your hood, sit on your front porch (or stoop, or grass patch) and just be present and attentive.

Dream of a flourishing city for everyone, and take the next step.

Good will come of it.

Feel free to click "share" on this post. Hope it sparks good conversation about loving thy neighbour.

BANNED PREGNANT TEEN

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CHRISTIAN SCHOOL BANS PREGNANT TEEN FROM GRADUATION, BUT WWJD? 

So this week a news story has been making the rounds. In Maryland, 18-year-old Maddi Runkles found herself pregnant, and has been banned from attending her own graduation ceremony at her Private Christian School.

Which brings to mind a conversation I regularly have with well intentioned Christians.

“You know, Jesus loved the sinner but was hard on sin!”

People say this all the time, and when I ask them where they see that in the bible, they usually go to the same scripture, reminding me what Jesus told the woman caught in adultery:

“Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Yes. To be clear, THIS is what people quote when they say Jesus was hard on sin. That’s it.

What’s most important is to remember this is the tail end of a story.

Jesus is teaching a group of people when the religious leaders of his day come forward with a woman who they caught in adultery. They claim God’s Law requires she die by stoning. But Jesus bends down and starts writing something (mysterious!) in the dirt with his finger.

The text reads (John 8):

[Jesus said] “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

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So let’s just walk through Jesus’ actions here:

Jesus stands between the woman and her accusers.
Jesus refuses to let her be punished for her actions.
Jesus defuses the crowd by reminding them of their own sin.
After risking his skin for a woman he doesn’t know, he speaks to her with compassion.

He asks “who condemns you?” and when she replies “no one” he responds:

“Then neither do I condemn you.”

And THEN, after all that, he says to her “go and sin no more.”

Hard on sin? That’s the best evidence we’ve got that Jesus took a hardline on sin?

When “NEITHER DO I CONDEMN YOU” is the harshest you’ve got, you’re not dealing with an angry dude. He pushes away any who would condemn her, and then tells her what she already knows: she shouldn’t continue in an adulterous relationship because, d’uh, it’s a bad idea.

But surely she did something to earn this compassion, right?

She must have admitted what she did.
Or said she was so sorry.
Or undergone church discipline.
Or done Hail Mary’s.

But read the text again. Just stick with the text on this one.

Nothing.

She’s made some unwise decisions, and violent men are trying to punish her for them. Jesus stops the judgement without her having done a thing to earn it.

Turns out grace is a far better teacher than judgement.

I’ve read the four accounts of Jesus’ life over and over looking for another example, and I might have missed it, but to my count this is the ONLY TIME Jesus says anything even remotely “hard on sin” to a regular person.

When he speaks with women, people from other religious backgrounds, the poor or the sick, he always gives them good news. Often he just eats with them. But he never condemns or judges.

You know who he condemns?

Religious leaders who keep others out of God’s Kingdom. 
Those who are meant to open the doors of God’s love for everyone.
Those who try to erase God’s endless grace.

Jesus FREAKS out on the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day, calling them a brood of vipers, telling them they are children of hell, and accusing them of forgetting that mercy is what God is looking for. (Matthew 23)

He gives them hell because they know better. They are the ones that are meant to share good news, and instead they’ve created bad religion.

So this week a news story has been making the rounds. In Maryland, 18-year-old Maddi Runkles found herself pregnant, and has been banned from attending her own graduation ceremony at her Private Christian School.

A CBC article reveals the schools reason for banning her:

The school's administrator, David R. Hobbs, has defended the decision in an open letter to parents.

"Maddi is being disciplined, not because she's pregnant, but because she was immoral," Hobbs wrote before quoting from the school's student pledge.

"A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation."

A wise man may have said that…

But Jesus didn’t.

Jesus silences all those who sling shame on the vulnerable. Jesus says to David R. Hobbs and the school’s administration: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to ban her from graduation.”

I suspect Jesus would be giving hell to any pastor, administrator, or religious leader who shut the door in the face of a young woman who has been shamed.

Jesus says to this pregnant teen, who he loves with an endless love: “I do not condemn you.”

And probably follows it up with a smile: “Let’s go get lunch together… you’re eating for two now!”

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CBC As It Happens has the whole story here: http://www.cbc.ca/…/it-hurts-says-pregnant-maryland-teen-ba…