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Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

The following will also be published in The Vermilion Standard.

We live in a culture diluted by desire. In our relative excess, we incessantly desire what we don’t have even if it is something we clearly don’t need. This desire has led to an epidemic of discontentment. Much like Jesus’ parable of the man who wants to help his neighbour with the speck of dust in their eye while being ignorant of the log in his own, this epidemic is easy to see in others, but it also exists in us. This is our problem with desire; we see it in others while we blindly struggle with it.

This epidemic exhibits two symptoms. First is the disorientation of wants and needs. We become confused and disorientated with what we need and what we want, making poor choices as a result. Second, it creates a culture of worry. We worry about what we don’t have and we worry about what we do have. Worry becomes omnipresent, reminding us that, often, we don’t own the things we have but they own us.

The bad news is, this epidemic is pervasive. It is everywhere. We all want what we don’t have, leading to a mass hysteria of want and need confusion. This confusion is compounded with the onslaught of advertisers telling us that we should deserve the bigger TV, the larger house, the faster car, and the shinier diamond. We are drowning in want and need confusion and the current of desire is pulling us away from shore.

The good news is, there is a cure to the epidemic. It is a cure that takes time, effort and discipline but it is effective. Much like the farmer who cultivates his land to ensure healthy soil, we too can cultivate our hearts and reorient the direction of our desire. That cure, according to the Bible, is prayer, gratitude, and thankfulness. As we change the direction of our desire we begin to re-orientate our sense of want and need. As we cultivate an attitude of gratitude towards God we begin to filter our ceaseless thirst of wants replacing it with contentment, generosity, and peace. As the Bible teaches:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7, NIV

The Bible lays out an important cure for us that we all need to hear and begin to cultivate in our own lives. First, we need to put God at the center of our lives and bring our worries and confusion to Him. Second, we need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude with God through thanksgiving. Third, we need to pray, bringing our worries and concerns to God. As we do this, God promises His peace and contentment in our lives. As we do this, not only will we grow in contentment but we will also grow in generosity.

Our lives are diluted by desire for stuff and we need to re-direct our desire toward God in our lives with thanksgiving and prayer leading to peace, contentment, and generosity. Allow God to redirect your desire and, with God’s help, begin to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It is time to take the logs out of our own eye, seeing the world more clearly and helping others who have sawdust in theirs.

The Beauty of a Messy Christmas

When we think of Christmas, it often conjures up images of perfectly trimmed Christmas trees, meticulously wrapped gifts and beautifully set tables. We love our picture perfect Christmases to be neat and clean with everything perfectly placed and arranged.

The irony of this image is that it is the opposite of the reality found on the first Christmas some two thousand years ago when Jesus, the Christ child, was born. Over the centuries, we have sterilized the reality of the situation in which Jesus was born and by doing so, have diluted the image God was displaying with the birth of Jesus.

Consider the picture the birth of Christ paints for us. Jesus was born to teenage parents at the end of a very long journey to a distant town. When they arrive, they discover that there is no room in the rustic first century “inn” and are offered a space with the animals. It is in this crowded dirty corner, with little privacy or protection from the elements, Mary gives birth to Jesus – the Son of God.

Jesus inhales his first breath in the company of animals. Jesus’ first smells are that of animal feces. Jesus’ first bed was a feeding trough. Jesus’ parents are teenagers who have journeyed a great distance together and are now sleeping in with animals. There is no crib, baby sleepers, diapers, nurses, doctors, showers, running water, bed, or heated hospital room. It is messy.

The God of the universe does not enter our existence in the sterile confines of a well-equipped hospital, but in the messiness of our world. This picture displays God’s love in the midst of our everyday broken and messy lives. The Christmas story communicates that our lives are not too messy for Jesus.

One of the common misconceptions for people about the church is that it is a place for clean and sterile people who have their lives together. This is not the case. Rather, the church is a group of people who are imperfect and broken but together we follow the God who entered our brokenness, bringing salvation in Jesus for all those who believe in Him. Your messiness doesn’t scare God or disqualify you from entering into relationship with him. The good news is, Jesus routinely enters the broken and messy places but He, also, never leaves them that way.

This holiday season let the reality of the Christmas story speak to you. Know that God isn’t scared of your brokenness and messiness but if we allow Christ into our lives by faith, there is new life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Discover Jesus this Christmas and never be the same.

Using Social Media As More Than A Window

Social media has impacted our world and our individual lives with wide sweeping effects. For the most part, we have enthusiastically and blindly entered this new reality, embracing the new abilities it offers. For the first time in history, social media has allowed us to see what is happening with our friends, family and acquaintances as well as to gather their thoughts and opinions in real-time. In addition, we can share our photos, ideas, thoughts and opinions with the world in real-time. Social media has provided equal access to a public platform that would have been, previously, only available to a privileged few.

This has led to a cultural critique of social media that people spend way too much time keeping up on what is going on with others through the large window that social media gives access to. Social media now allows everyone to be a celebrity in some sense, with our phones as paparazzi and us as the magazine editor taking clips from our lives and sharing them for the world to see. This reality also reverses itself and allows us to constantly look into other people’s lives with what seems to be an unquenchable appetite.

Personally, as an avid user of social media, I enjoy that I can see what is happening with my friends, family, and acquaintances, knowing about important life events (birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, deaths, etc.) but also discovering how people are doing, feeling, and what is happening in their lives. Social media has provided a large window into my relational world, allowing me access into the lives of my friends, family, and acquaintances that would never have been possible before.

This phenomenon has created large metaphorical windows into our relational lives. We can gaze through them and observe what is happening with others as well as, through a self-edited lens, allow people to selectively peer into ours. This relational window has also caused a temptation to voyeuristically view the lives of others as passive consumers of relationship rather than as active participants.

In our stubborn stare into the lives of others, we are often oblivious to the fact that the large window of social media also has hinges – that the window we are gazing through is actually a door. The hinge of social media makes the window a door, opening up the possibility to actively love others. The invitation for us is to walk through the threshold of relational possibility with a cadence of love. Social media, like all technology, extends our reach. It can extend our reach to peer with interest and it can extend our reach to walk with purpose.

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Proverbs 10:12, NIV

What if social media extended your reach not just to know things about others but extended your reach to actively love others by genuinely being happy for them, mourning with them, encouraging them, sharing hope with them and building them up. Let’s use social media more as a door than just a window and extend love beyond us. Our world needs more love, hope, and faith (the things the Bible says will remain – 1 Corinthians 13:13); therefore, use social media to walk through the threshold of relational possibility with a cadence of love and change our world.

From Wagon Wheels to Ferris Wheels

In our entertainment drenched, instant-everything world, we can so easily forget our roots and everything we have to be thankful for. The theme of this year’s Vermilion Fair, “From Wagon Wheels to Ferris Wheels,” reminds us of this. Consider what it was like one-hundred-plus years ago when our ancestors were settling in Vermilion.

The wagon wheel is not just a symbol of a horse drawn vehicle, but of a different way of life. This life, which we often romanticize as being simpler and happier, was, in fact, filled with great hardship and risk. Living with no running water, no gas furnaces for the winter, no hospitals, no dentists, no grocery stores, etc., people would spend ninety-percent of their time surviving, or preparing to survive, the harsh seasonal prairie winters. The wagon wheel is a symbol of that time.

We now live in a world of Ferris wheels and entertainment. In our Ferris wheel culture, we easily complain about our “first world problems” (our cell phones don’t keep their charge, our plane scheduled to take us to a tropical locale was late, our food at the restaurant wasn’t the right temperature, etc.), ignoring the fact that in our world’s economy we (all of us) are rich and have so much to be continually thankful for. The world of the entertainingly instantaneous can be intoxicatingly insidious. It can easily tempt us away from gratitude, driving us toward dissatisfaction leading to anxiety and worry. This reality is revealed in the Bible.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

According to the Bible, the way to deal with the regular anxiety that dwells in the dark shadow of Ferris wheel culture is by prayer and thanksgiving. Prayer puts our focus on God rather than on our fast moving world and thanksgiving adjusts the world into focus.

Ferris wheels can be challenging for people with motion sickness as it repeatedly goes up-and-down and around-and-around. In our fast-paced, entertainment-driven, and instant-focused Ferris wheel culture, we all suffer from motion sickness. The solution to both the physical and the cultural forms of motion sickness is remarkably similar.

The solution is to look at a fixed point and begin to orientate yourself around it; this is what the Bible is communicating in Philippines 4:6. As our world spins and anxiety grows, our hope is found in only one fixed point – Jesus. If we place our focus on Jesus through prayer with thanksgiving, we will experience peace, joy and contentment in the midst of the continual ups-and-downs of life.

As we continue the journey in our Ferris world culture, let up keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and be continually thankful. Let us combat dissatisfaction and discontentment with a thanksgiving and gratitude that is focused on Jesus. In so doing, let us enjoy the ride on life’s great Ferris wheel.

Five Reasons Why Superhero Movies Are Not All That Super

Unless you have been hiding underneath a piece of kryptonite, you would have noticed that superheroes are everywhere and they dominate success at the box office, primetime television, gaming devices, etc.  This phenomenon is not insignificant nor without cultural influence.
Before I end up stirring superhero fans everywhere into a Hulk-like rage and receiving a lifetime ban from Comic-Con, I want to state two provisos up front.  First, I like superhero movies.  They are entertaining, fun, and promote some great values like honesty and courage.  The following is not intended to argue that the superhero genre be abandoned or boycotted, simply that viewers consider the full spectrum of issues they raise.  Second, although there are exceptions to all the following, they are, by necessity, based on generalizations.
With Batman-like brevity, the following argues that these messages, values, and realities are not all positive or benign.  To that end, here are five reasons why superhero movies are not all that super:

#1: Superhero movies portray that villains and heroes look differently and have different powers than you.

Watch an average scene from a superhero movie and there is no ambiguity of who the superhero or super villain is.  They are identified by a unique costume and/or a unique superpower.  This is why no one mistakes Superman with Lex Luther – everyone knows all bald men in business suits are evil.
Granted, it is part of the storytelling mechanism to clearly identify whom the heroes and villains are, but this is very different than real life.  In real life, the heroes among us look just like us.  Real life heroes are firemen/firewomen who step into a raging fire without the supernatural ability to withstand it, teachers who work endless hours without super strength, and cancer patients who are injected with radioactive material in a heroic fight for life.  Heroes live in plain sight and are everyday people.
Disturbingly, the opposite is also true.  Sexual predators, murderers, thieves, etc. don’t wear costumes to display their evil intent.  The truth is much scarier than that: real life villains look just like us and live in plain sight.  Everyday villains, like everyday heroes, are everyday people.

#2 Superhero movies too easily separate people into categories of good and evil.

The simplistic moral compass of a classic superhero movie is easy to storyline but it can portray good and evil in too simplistic of terms.  This simplistic view of the world can easily place people in an “us versus them” posture without recognizing the complexity of human problems and the nature of good and evil.  This is why the writing of the TV show “Breaking Bad” was so compelling – it recognized the moral complexity that exists in everyday life.

#3 Superhero movies portray average as insignificant.

Superhero movies have a propensity to make average seem insignificant.   The temptation is to watch and assume that since one doesn’t have a superpower, one can’t change the world, be an agent of good, or tackle injustice.  The reality is that this has always been, and will always be, done by average ordinary people.  We can’t wait for superheroes to change the world because we are the agents of change the world desperately needs.
The problems of injustice, poverty, and inequality do not need just one person with the angry green power of the Hulk, the utility belt of Batman, or the Hammer of Thor.  Instead, it needs average ordinary people joining together to fight injustice, poverty, and inequality with the collective power of their everyday choices and voices.

#4 Superhero movies ignore the moral dilemma of collateral damage.

In superhero movies it isn’t odd to see the actions of the hero indirectly kill innocent victims as a matter of collateral damage.  The simplistic moral storyline may necessitate this, but its occurrence, without consideration of the moral dilemma it causes, is concerning.  Is it okay for a superhero to kill or risk the lives of other people in order to save someone else?  Does the ends justify the means?

#5 Superhero movies promote and elevate a compartmentalized view of life.

Whether we are talking about Batman (Bruce Wayne), Spiderman (Peter Parker), or Superman (Clark Kent), one of the traditional and common traits of superheroes is that they have two identities – an alter ego.  They are seen to be ‘mild mannered’ by day and ‘courageous’ by night, promoting the false belief that these two traits are somehow incompatible with each other.
Being two different people, depending on the situation, is not a trait to be fostered.  True heroes don’t have alter egos and costumes.  True heroes are the same good men and women in public as they are in private.  These are the kind of heroes our world needs.
Superhero movies are entertaining and fun but the nature of this popular genre affirms and promotes values that we need to be critically aware of as we enjoy them.  We need to view the superhero genre with a metaphorical x-ray vision and critically reflect on what is happening below the surface.