>Blessings – A Life Worth Living, part 3


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Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. Matthew 5:1-2

Before we get started with my analysis of The Sermon on the Mount, I need to make a few things clear.

#1 – I’m not a theologian. I have had no formal training in Bible study or religious doctrine. I won’t be writing line by line exegesis here, I’ll leave that to the professionals.

#2 – I’m really only writing this for me, as a way to work out my purpose in life. The fact that it is going out worldwide on the internet is secondary. I invite your feedback and would be honoured if God spoke to you through my work but that’s not the primary goal.

#3 – Jesus spoke this sermon to his disciples. It says so right in the text. To be sure many people were there listening in but most of this teaching is directed at his closest followers. This is a manual for life as a Christ Follower. If you’re “listening in” welcome but this really is Jesus Following 101.

Here we go!

The first thing that jumps out at me is the word blessed. It’s not a word we use a lot in our daily life so I looked up the definition.

Blessed; adjective; divinely or supremely favoured – Dictionary.com

Jesus begins his hillside chat was a list of 8 blessings, commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:3-12) Right from the start it is clear that he is advocating a counter cultural movement. Those that are to be “supremely favoured” are not what anyone would expect. Poor in spirit, mourners, gentle, seekers of righteousness, merciful, pure hearted, peacemakers, and persecuted. When you contrast this list with the things that our society gives favour to there are stark differences.

– Blessed are the Poor in spirit? Society says; blessed are the rich in self importance. We live in a narcissistic society that values confidence and self promotion. Get with the program. Jesus says; by recognizing your inadequacies you can enter life on a whole new level.

– Blessed are those who mourn? Society says; Get over it! Dust yourself off and get on with life, quit being such a downer. Jesus says; you will be comforted.

– Gentle? Society says; nobody ever got ahead by being gentle. Lead, follow or get out of the way! Jesus says; you will gain the whole world!

– Hunger and thirst for righteousness? Society says; what is righteous in our world of hyper choice and information overload? Who are you to claim that you are right about anything? Live and let live. Jesus says; you will learn the answers.

– Merciful? Society says; you deserve what you get, you should have known better. Every man for himself! Jesus says; you will be treated in kind.

– Pure in heart? Society says; see righteousness, you pansy! Don’t waste your time making decisions with your heart you’ll only end up with heartburn. Jesus says; God will reveal himself to you.

– Peacemakers? Society says; that’s military slang for a cruise missile. You want to make peace the fastest way is to wipe out your enemies. Jesus says; you are doing God’s work and will be recognized as part of his family.

– Those who are persecuted? Society says; there is no blessing in persecution. Don’t rock the boat. See Merciful. Jesus says; you will be rewarded for your commitment.

Living this list is not easy. I fail daily. Aligning my life with these blessings is a first step in defining and living out my purpose.

>A Life Worth Living, part 2


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Though simple sounding and easy to read, each beatitude offers a radical rearrangement of our ordinary value system, daring us to be different. What we find here, in short, are guidelines for true Christian character. Charles R. Swindoll, Simple Faith

The year was 1992. I had just left home for the first time. After 19 years of living in my parent’s house with their values I found myself on my own trying to find my way in the world.

I was still surrounded by other Christians. I had found work as a technician on tour with a Christian motivational speaker but much of what I experienced in that first year on the road was nothing like what I thought it meant to be a Christian. The rules of evangelical engagement; do this; don’t do that, turning a blind eye to obvious need while preaching a brand of “health and wealth” was like a foreign language. I’m a Mennonite boy from Southern Ontario, taught to live simply and trust God. All this “name it and claim it” you’ve already won, born again mumbo jumbo didn’t make any sense to me.

By Christmas, just 4 months into a 10 month contract I was burnt out. That’s when I saw an ad in a Christian magazine with the following headline;

In the Hurried Lives of too many Christians There’s a Peace Missing.


The advertisement was for a book by evangelical theologian Charles Swindoll called Simple Faith. This was exactly what I needed. The more I listened to the motivational message I was paid to help deliver the more I felt that they were muddling it up and leave a lot of pieces out. K.I.S.S. was my personal mantra – Keep Is Simple Stupid!

I had heard of Swindoll a few years earlier. He had gained some notoriety in Christian circles with his other book, The Grace Awakening and so without knowing very much about the premise of his follow up work, other than the title and the headline in that magazine, I went out and bought it.

As it turned out, it was a detailed analysis and commentary on what is commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6 and 7, Jesus longest single speech in any of the Gospels. Practically all of Jesus teaching either further explains or expands on ideas first put forth in this speech. It is possible to build your entire relationship with Jesus solely on what is said in these 3 chapters of the first Gospel without missing a single major tenant of Christianity.

I recently returned to the Sermon on the Mount in my search for meaning and purpose and it was like sitting down in front of a warm fire with a nice cup of coffee and an old friend. No flashing lights or loud music and no wild claims of utopian bliss, just simple straight forward life coaching from the heart of God.

My purpose begins with putting Jesus’ teaching in the centre of it all and Jesus teaching boils down to the Sermon on the Mount.

For the next little while I’m going to dedicate this blog to my own analysis of this speech. Hopefully it will help me to refocus my purpose.

Lucky you – You’re invited along for the ride!

>A Life Worth Living


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Why are we here? What’s life all about? Monty Python

One of the reasons for this blog is to help me to continually work out my place in the world. My wife brought home a book from the library last week called “It’s Not what you Sell, It’s what you Stand For” by Roy M. Spence Jr.

Mr. Spence is a partner at a marketing and advertising firm in Austin TX and has worked with some of the best known brands in the world from Wal-Mart to former president Bill Clinton’s, Clinton Global Initiative. The primary thesis of the book is that you must figure out what you stand for, and align it with your work first and foremost. If you don’t you just bounce from one thing to another without ever making a lasting impact, individuals who don’t understand their purpose float from job to job or relationship to relationship. Purpose is True North on your compass. If you understand your purpose decision making comes down to one question, will this get me closer or further away from True North?

So I’m working on a statement of purpose.

So far I come to the realization that I view human life as absolutely sacred. Whether or not you define life with some divine meaning as I do most of you can agree that all human life is equally valuable. Let me be clear, I am not interested in a debate over the origins of life. Don’t try to draw me into some endless, pointless circle of creationism versus evolution or a pro-life argument over when human life actually begins. I don’t care! Whatever marker you use to define it; Life is Sacred.

With that as my starting point things like war, political oppression, murder, capital punishment, environmental degradation (wilful or inadvertent) the spread of poverty through preventable disease and just plain selfish ignorance are all evil! I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t also acknowledge that as a Christ Follower I stand convicted of every one of these things.

My heart breaks daily;

– When I learn that the average age of girls trapped in prostitution all over the world is 12.
– When thousands die as a Tsunami takes out coastal settlements in Indonesia.
– When children can’t walk safely to school for fear of harassment in Palestine.
– When millions continue to die of AIDS in Southern Africa because they can’t get access to life saving drugs.

But simply stating that Life is Sacred is not a purpose. My purpose in life is not to say that life is sacred and move on. My purpose is to live daily with that realization first and foremost on my heart and react to the world around me in kind.

– Help the prostitute get off the street and find a better life.
– Help clean up and rebuild after the Tsunami.
– Protect children from wars and civil unrest.
– Provide drugs and other life giving services to the sick and dying.

“The true joy of life is being used by a purpose recognized by yourself to be a mighty one.” George Bernard Shaw.

Now that is a life worth living.

>Universal Healthcare


>I just spent that last 24 hours with my wife at Credit Valley Hospital in our home town of Mississauga Ontario. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, we are a city of just under 1 million on the western edge of Toronto. You might say that we are to Toronto what Burbank is to Los Angeles.

There has been much talk in the media lately about universal healthcare. Republicans in the US have used the Canadian system is a kind of boogie man in there debate with President Obama’s plan to over hall the system there. Our system is far from perfect, believe me. However; when you are in pain and need help the last thing you should be thinking about is how much this is going to cost.

As a resident (you don’t even have to be a citizen) of the province of Ontario I receive access to one of the best run emergency health care systems in the world. We do pay for it but the premiums deducted from our pay cheques through income assessments are based on our ability to pay, not our need or how much we use it. A healthy person who is rich pays more than a sick person who is poor on the assumption that the system is there for everyone when they need it. I pay roughly $100 per month for this access, others pay less and use it more but that’s okay.

In the last 24 hours my wife has undergone an x-ray, ultrasound and eventually had to have her gallbladder removed. She stayed overnight in a private room, had access to a private telephone line, received a meal and was given a prescription for pain medication. My total bill at the end of the day was $57.77. Half of that was for parking the other half for the prescribed drugs not covered by the government insurance plan. In two weeks she will return to the hospital for a follow up assessment by the surgeon, FREE. We visit our family doctor for routine ailments and check-ups on average 3-4 times per year, also FREE.

I don`t pretend to understand all the complexities of a government verses private health care system but when you need surgery to continue to live nothing else matters. Worrying about how you`re going to pay for it, whether or not your insurance company will cover it or if you will one day lose your coverage should never enter the debate. I know that if I lose my job tomorrow the Ontario government will no longer be getting their $100 per month from me but I will still have access to the same health care my wife needed today and that`s all the matters in the end.

>Believer’s Trust


>Okay, so I had this idea…

Micro-Finance organizations all over the world are dominated by non-profit, religious based NGOs. They are there to help people by giving them a low interest, sometimes even zero interest loans to start a business and feed their families. In theory the recipients pay back the loans into the pool and the money is then re-loaned to others or they take out new loans to expand their businesses take on new employees etc and thereby benefit the whole community.

But there are some who say that Micro-Finance doesn’t work. My guess is that the religious connections of the organizations alienate some ethnic communities, the loan amounts are too small to really make a difference, the communities are too focused on subsistence to truly run effective businesses or that it creates a culture of dependence on easy credit (sound familiar?). There is also some merit to the argument that the recipients have almost no concept of how a free market economy actually works.

The fact that the seed capital came as a donation from an individual that does not expect a return on investment also creates a culture whereby the parent organization does not have a long term investment in the recipient, without an expectation of a return there is no mechanism that allows the Micro Loan to grow beyond a very small amount, enough to effectively support a growing economy.

What if Micro-Finance were managed like a bank or bond market, complete with shareholders who expected a return on their investment?

Simply put – a Bond is a created when a debt is portioned out to a number of different individuals. If I buy $1000 bond in a mortgage company that doles out mortgages to individuals in the amount of $100.000, I in essence own 1% of someone’s house. As the mortgage is repaid I receive a dividend equal to value of my ownership plus interest and I can sell my entire bond at market value at any time. So if the house increases in value, so does the value of my bond.

As always these brain storms bring up more questions than they answer.

Questions – What are the reasons most often cited that Micro-Finance doesn’t work?
– Who can I partner with on the ground to manage these loans?
– What is a realistic rate of return?
– What kind of regulatory hurdles are there to making this work?

If anyone out there can help me answer these questions I would appreciate it….

>Your Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman


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With Great Power, comes Great Responsibility

Spiderman

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DYodUX4sJU&feature=related

Oh Spiderman – how did you get to be so wise? He listened to his elders, paid attention to experts and learned from his mistakes. That’s how!

For those of you who never read the comic books or saw the movies the basic story goes like this. Spiderman (Peter Parker) was raised by his Aunt Mae and Uncle Ben in New York City. One day he was bitten by a radio- active (or bio-engineered depending on the version) spider and gained super human strength, agility and the ability to spin webs out of his wrists.

After his uncle loses his job and the Parker’s are faced with the possibility of losing their house young Spiderman decides to join an underground fight club to make some extra money. His uncle notices a change in Peter’s attitude and delivers the now famous line. At the end of the night the club is robbed and Peter has a chance to stop the thief but doesn’t. As he is running away the thief stabs Uncle Ben. Because Peter Parker didn’t feel it was his responsibility to stop a robbery, even though he had the power to do so, his uncle died.

From that point forward Spiderman made it his mission to steward his power responsibly.

One of the most powerful institutions in North America, outside the government is the Christian Church. Some would say it is even more powerful than government.

But Jesus never taught his followers how to steward power. His only teaching on the subject was to give it away and just serve people. And not just to serve but to serve to the point of giving up your own agenda, a kind of spiritual death to self. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” Jesus (Matthew 10:39).

The Christian Church is in a position of power that it was never intended to have. Unfortunately recent history has shown that the biggest hurdle many good people face when trying to serve others is none other than the Church. Church politics, arguments over doctrine and structure determine who’s “out” more than who to serve. Jesus corner stone teaching, best known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapter 5, 6 and 7) is inclusive and humble. Not exclusive and superior.

I get a lot of flak from people on this blog aimed at my Christian bias. One of the things I have noticed about it though is that it almost always comes from people who have been wounded by a powerful church. The message of Jesus is not a message of institutional power. It is a message of service and humility. Much of the church today looks nothing like Jesus intended. My challenge to everyone, believer or not is to read the Sermon on the Mount and ask yourself this question; “Am I living this life?”

And because I know some of you might not have a bible, here it is, just click the forward and back arrows to go to the next chapter.

www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%205&version=NIV

I welcome your feedback!

>Out of a Clear Blue Sky


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“What Makes a Person So Poisonous, Righteous that He’d think less of anyone who just disagreed?”

The Gulf War Song, Moxy Fruvous (1993).

An Earworm is often described as part of a song. So it’s fitting that my first entry after I renamed the blog is prompted by a song.

Moxy Fruvous was a “one hit wonder” from Kingston, Ontario that wrote and produced a full album of politically charged folk songs in the early 90s. The hit was a fun little ditty called “The King of Spain” in which the band tells a prince and pauper type story of international trade. But the album reaches its most poignant moment on the final track, in the “Gulf War Song” a 4 minute acapella lament of politics turned to self-righteousness. In addition to the line quoted above my other favourite says “I’m just a pacifist, he’s just a patriot, if I said you were crazy would you have to fight me?”

This song was written during the first Gulf War. Before 9/11, before anyone knew who Osama bin Laden was or how to spell Taliban and before anyone but a few pentagon staffers knew what WMD meant.

I haven’t written much in the past few weeks. I’ve been reading a lot of the recent history of the Bush administration and how the world reacted to September 11, 2001. Like everyone, I’ve lived that history and at times had a front row seat. 9/11 is one of those events, like the moon landing, pearl harbour or the assassination of John Kennedy that everyone who was alive at that moment will never forget.

As was often the case, I was the first one in the office that morning and I vividly recall sitting at my desk in a Toronto high-rise looking out at a clear blue sky and watching aircraft on final approach to Pearson International Airport. The thought crossed my mind that there appeared to be more planes in the area than on other mornings, little did I know that US airspace had just been closed and a number of flights were being diverted.

I had the window open and a maintenance crew who happened to be repelling down the side of the building making repairs to the balcony leaned in and asked if I had heard was what happening in New York City. They had a portable radio on their work platform. It was a surreal moment; 4 men literally hanging from a rope 19 stories above the ground talking to me through an open window about how airplanes were crashing into a similar building half a continent away. Would we be next?

As I have read the historical and political commentary of what followed two things have stood out.

# 1) In 1998 journalist Thomas Freidman said, “It’s not another superpower that threatens America at the end of the twentieth century. The greatest danger that the United States faces today is from Super-empowered individuals who hate America more than ever because of globalization and who can do something about it on their own, more than ever, thanks to globalization.” (The Lexus and the Olive Tree). 3 years before 9/11, Freidman prophesied that Globalization could become a double edged sword. Our struggle in the 20th century is to keep one edge sharp, that of expanded markets and empowerment and the other, increased poverty and widening economic gaps, dull.

# 2) Decision makers need to have complete information. In the case of George W. Bush my reading of the accounts from journalist like Bob Woodward (State of Denial) and Ron Suskind (The One Percent Doctrine) have revealed that the president was functioning with bad intelligence. The people with good intelligence were unable for various reasons, not the least of which was fear for their own jobs, to pass the information up the chain. In one instance a general on the ground in Iraq later wrote in his personal journal that he felt the government was making huge mistakes that would take years to correct and yet when given the opportunity to meet face to face with the president said that the mission was proceeding as planned.

I am not an apologist for George W. Bush, but how can you expect a man to make effective decisions when his closest advisors aren’t giving him correct information.

Over the next few posts I hope to expand on the first idea, the second I’ll leave to the historians.

Go ahead and download the Gulf War Song at:
www.itunes.com/moxyfruvous/bargainville

>New Month – New Title


>I found a new title for my Blog!

After months of looking for the perfect word or phrase that really says what I mean I’ve settled on this. These musings start out as Earworms. I’ll see something on the news, read it in the paper or a book or hear it spoken by someone in the know; it’ll get in my head and stick there like a worm.

The only way to kill the worm is to understand it, listen to it, and figure out where it came from so that you know what it wants from you. That’s what I do here.

Having an Earworm isn’t fun! The term conjures up images of creepy, crawly things in your head. These thoughts that I explore here, crawl into my brain and won’t leave until I give them the time and understanding they demand.

In short – they drive me crazy.

Welcome to life with my Earworms….