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Catalyst For Community Cohesion

The following post was also published in the Vermilion Standard.

Recently, I came up with the phrase “Catalyst for Community Cohesion” to refer to the need and increasing desire to see groups and organizations work together with intentional and open partnerships towards common goals.

Too often, in our communities, there are multiple groups and organizations with great intentions working towards an increasing expanding need.  As population increases and demographics change, there emerge increasing social needs.  In great communities like Vermilion, this need is then identified and addressed by individuals, community groups, businesses, faith groups, and government who work tirelessness and tenaciously to fill the need.  This is to be commended!  The challenge with this is that we, as humanity, inherently struggle with pride; thus, as individuals and organizations, we end up protecting our idea, program, solution, etc. from others and end up working in isolation.

Although this way of operating is typical, it is neither ideal nor efficient.  I have witnessed time and time again that one group can help one person, another group can help another, but if they worked together in humble partnership and openness they can actually help three people instead of just two.  This is the exponential power of community cohesion – when groups work cohesively together to meet a need.

The catalyst for community cohesion is humility.  Society, as a whole, needs more of it.  Vermilion needs more of it.  The church I serve needs more of it.  Our town businesses need more of.  My individual life definitely needs more of it.

If we can begin to stop protecting our individual programs, organizations, ideas, etc. and, with humble openness, join hands with others, we can accomplish exponentially more than we can on our own.

The Bible says: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

I sense change on the horizon.  Something unique and beautiful is happening in Vermilion.  In the various committees and organizations I get the privilege to be a part of, I sense increased and blossoming humility.  I sense increased community cohesion as people and groups come together towards common goals and mission.  This is a very positive thing.

To see this continue to grow and develop, we need more humble organizations, businesses, churches and individuals.  Humble people and organizations ask for help, listen, seek common goals and reach out.

Therefore, I call us to increased humility.  Together, let’s allow the catalyst for community cohesion to take effect so that together we can create lasting systemic and exponential positive change in our community.  We are better together and can do exponentially more when we humbly partner towards the common good.

Learn to Love; Learn to Listen

The following article is also published in the Vermilion Standard.

With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about love.  As I was reflecting on what to specifically address regarding love, I honed in on the skill and art of listening.  If you want to express love to someone, a great way to start is to listen.  In our loud and noisy world, listening is a rare skill and a fine art.  As a pastor, I know of many marriages that could be exponentially better if both partners would learn and practice the skill and art of listening.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” 
Proverbs 18:2

To that end, I want to suggest five things you can do to become better listener:

Stop talking – This sounds simple but you would be surprised by how many people think they are listening when they are really talking.  You can’t listen if you are talking.  Often when a person stops physically talking they are mentally focused on the next thing they are going to say rather than truly honouring the other person and listening unreservedly.

Give attention – This might sound like a radical idea but I would suggest that on your next date, you give each other your cell phones.  This way you will know if there is an emergency but you won’t be constantly checking your phone for texts and emails.  We live in a world that is clamouring for our attention; thus, a great expression of love and care is to focus in and give one’s entire attention to another person.

Actively listen – Don’t simply passively listen with your ears, actively listen with your entire body.  Lean in, show you are listening, ask clarifying questions, etc.  Demonstrate to the other person that you are listening to them.

Seek to understand rather than just comprehend – People confuse hearing with listening – they are not the same thing.  Someone can hear you but that is very different than listening to you.  Listening is about trying to understand the other person, honouring their words and ideas and trying to understand their perspective, dreams, thoughts and ambitions.  Don’t just settle for hearing and comprehending someone, listen to them and try to understand them.

Ask for feedback – If you are in a relationship with someone, periodically ask them how you are doing listening to them.  Let them know that you are trying to get better at it and that you value their help and feedback.  Trust me, if you do this with your spouse or significant other, they will be grateful.

I guarantee that if you learn how to listen, all relationships will improve – specifically the one with your significant other.  Learn to love; learn to listen.

The Unnecessary Upgrade

The following is also publish in the Vermilion Standard.

As we enter the New Year, there is a good chance you have braved and, hopefully, survived the Boxing Day shopping madness.

Boxing Day – the day we buy things we don’t need to replace stuff that still works.

We live in an upgrade infused culture where we upgrade everything.  If you have a traditional tube TV, you need to upgrade to a flat screen TV and, with new technology coming out this year, you will soon feel the obsessive need to upgrade to the new thin curved TVs.

Whether one is talking about appliances, phones, computers, electronics, etc., there is no doubt that our fascination with upgrading is perpetrating a lie in our collective consciousness.

Consider how an upgrade infused culture begins to effect how we look at people and relationships.  In an upgrade infused culture, we begin to believe the lie that people are disposable, consumable, and upgradable.  If you don’t like the person you are married to, perhaps outgrowing them, then it is time to find someone else even better.  If your friends are not serving your needs and causing you enjoyment, then it is time to get new friends.

If this sounds good and preferable, you may have been drinking the Upgrade Kool-Aid.

Consider this phenomenon from a different perspective.  What if all of your friends left you because you were not meeting their needs and they outgrew you?  What if your spouse, after years of life together, left you for an updated relationship?  What if you were on the other side of the upgrade transaction, left alone and abandoned at the relationship recycle center.

The Bible calls us to live in relationship with others in a way that intentionally lives outside the culturally embraced upgrade mentality.  We are called to commit to our marriage partner for life and to our friends when things get difficult.  We are called to love others even when it is painful.  We are even called to love our enemies.

In all relationships, we are called to live the Golden Rule: to love and treat others, as we would want to be loved and treated.  In other words, we are called to reject the notion of relational upgrading.

This New Year, reject upgrading in relationships and see what God might teach you as you love others and stay committed to them, even when it may, in our consumerist mentality, seem easier to upgrade.  What might God want to teach you about Himself, about yourself, and about the other people in your life?

Before You Give Up On Social Media…

Social media is often accused of making society more narcissistic and self-centered.   Although there is truth embedded in the diagnosis, I argue against the treatment that is often prescribed.  The disease does exist but the underlying problem is not the technology – it is us.

In many ways, social media is a technology that has given everyone a platform and a megaphone.  It allows everyone a voice without filter or control.  As a result, the megaphone amplifies what we all, unfortunately, have always cared most about – ourselves.  These megaphones are addicting, ubiquitous, frustrating and, I would argue, hopeful.

In many ways, social media has taken the web of the Internet and placed interconnected megaphones of self-expression everywhere.  This reality frustrates us and, as a result, we protest, complain and even threaten to give up social media completely.  We consider and contemplate putting the megaphone down in protest.

Before you give up on social media and put the megaphone down, try turning it around.  

There are reasons people are posting information about themselves on their social media channels.  People desire to be heard, loved, respected, etc.  Social media provides a unique and amplified opportunity to express these needs but it also provides a unique and amplified opportunity to hear what is going on in the lives of our friends, family, and culture.

I often picture social media as millions of people with megaphones shouting words, ideas, pictures, links, etc. at each other in amplified fashion.  But what would it look like if we took that same technology and turned it around, allowing us hear the hurts, challenges, successes, desires, etc. of our friends, family, and culture?  What would it look like for God to use us in amplified fashion through our amplified listening and awareness of others?  What would it look like to use social media in a way that allows us a unique and amplified view of what God is doing in our world?

Before you give up on social media and put the megaphone down, try turning it around.

Have a Wonder-filled Christmas

***the following is also published in the Vermilion Standard***

As we enter the Christmas season, we enter a season of wonder.  However, our busy lives too often
mask the precious gift of wonder and dull our curiosity to uncover it.  This Christmas, I want to challenge you to seek and discover wonder and, as a result, experience a wonder-filled Christmas.

The Christmas story in the Bible is filled with accounts of wonder.  Young Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, was filled with wonder when the angel of God came and told her she would be the mother of the Son of God.  Young Joseph, the carpenter betrothed to Mary, was filled with wonder when the angel met him, telling him to marry the virgin Mary who was with child.  The Shepherds were filled with wonder when a group of angels interrupted their normal evening outside of Bethlehem to sing and announce the birth of Christ and telling the Shepherds where they could find the new born King of the Jews.  The Wisemen, looking into the heavens, were so enveloped with wonder that they left everything to embark on a long and costly journey to follow the bright star in the East.

Consider each of these experiences of wonder in the Christmas story for a moment and one of the commonalities that pervades them all: wonder at ordinary times.  In each circumstance, the biblical characters in the Christmas story were interrupted by wonder-filled experiences in the midst of their ordinary.  Christmas reminds us that wonder isn’t so much hiding from us, but we are hiding from it.  Our preoccupied and dulled senses have become blinded to wonder in our God-created world through the intoxicating busyness of life and our self-centered lives.

This is part of the reason why we love Christmas through the eyes of a child, eyes that have yet to be clouded by skepticism and the discontent that dulls our senses to the wonder that surrounds us.

This Christmas, I would challenge you to see the God-created, incredibly beautiful and wonder-filled world around you.  A world in which God is working and a world filled with beauty on open display in the gallery of ordinary, testifying to the greatness and awesomeness of God.

Wonder is not hiding in a secret place with a secret lock solely reserved for the rich few who can afford to open it; rather, it is a gift that is found in the ordinary, available to ordinary people, in ordinary circumstances just like you.  This Christmas, open your eyes to God, open your eyes to Jesus, and see His wonder-filled creation where wonder is constantly on display in the gallery of the ordinary.  Don’t allow the dullness of skepticism, discontent and ignorance to blind you to God’s wonder proclaimed through creation and experienced through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.