Black Lives Matter #2

January 01, 1970

If you watch the video of George Floyd’s arrest, you will see a man who looks calm, quiet, and obedient and a bit confused. From his vehicle to the wall, from the wall to the cruiser, from the cruiser to the ground, he is not resistive, he is not yelling, he is not flailing. He is letting his body be controlled by four people who have him handcuffed, while carrying guns, batons, mace, and tasers, all items intended to inflict damage on his body should the officers feel a sense of threat to their persons.

What I don’t get is how Floyd ended up in handcuffs in the first place. Police were called to the convenience store after the clerk discovered the $20 bill he was given was counterfeit. Floyd was already out of the store and in his vehicle. He wasn’t driving away, he wasn’t hiding, he was just sitting in his vehicle doing who knows what. I have no reason to believe Floyd even knew he had just used a fake bill.

I remember being at a friend’s house for supper in 2015 when the police came to the door. They asked him to step into the hallway and told him he had been caught on camera, leaving a gas station without paying for his gas. My friend was dumbfounded. How could this have happened. What happened was he had a head full of other things going on and the credit card function on the gas pump was down and he had been thrown off his usual habit of paying before pumping. He forgot to pay.

When he explained this to police he was asked to go back and pay the gas station for the gas. He left dinner and immediately payed for the gas and returned. No handcuffs, no ride downtown, no murder. They didn’t even escort him to the gas station. I wonder if George Floyd would’ve done the same thing if the officer had asked him to. I wonder if George Floyd was actually a criminal deserving of handcuffs or a link in a long chain of hands that had held and passed that $20 bill thinking it was legit?

I think if he had been made aware of the situation in a clear and helpful manner he would’ve been surprised and made it right by returning to the store, apologizing, and paying for whatever he hadn’t.

But we’ll never know for sure.

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Black Lives Matter #1

January 01, 1970

This is the first in a series of posts about the current crisis of race in North America.

Well, I guess I was waiting for a good time to get back to the blog. I just didn’t have much to say in the last few weeks. My daily practice was to calmly walk the woods and identify birds of all kinds. I felt a sense of calm, peaceful connection with the land my feet were on, I reflected on how creation reveals the Creator and the many metaphors the forest has for us if we will only allow the time to speak.

A little while ago, my interest was piqued by a story of a fellow birder called Christian Cooper in Central Park who was essentially threatened by a woman for being black. Her threat was that she was going to call the police and tell them an “African American man was threatening her life.” He wasn’t. There’s video. I shook my head and felt sorry for the dog the white lady was choking while she made it her business to get in Mr. Cooper’s face.

This sparked the conversation of how black people in America are profiled, targeted, feared, and disposable to many in the white community and the real risk that exists every time the police are called to intervene or interact with black people, particularly black men.

Other young unarmed black men killed by police in recent history were invoked as a reminder of tense realities between police and the black community. Michael Brown who brought about the “Hands up. Don’t shoot” chant in the aftermath of his death at the hands of police and Eric Garner whose murder from a police chokehold amidst cries of “I can’t breathe”, were two ghosts who haunted the video and preceding internet comment battles that ensued.

The event in Central Park occurred on the morning of May 25th.

Who would believe that on the evening of May 25th, at 8pm, police were called to respond to an allegation of forgery over a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis, Minnesota which ended in the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of the police? His name was George Floyd. Who would believe this? Black people. Black people would believe it. And it’s a damn shame. And I mean shame in the truest sense of shameful behaviour, shameful conduct, shameful police work, shameful habits, and shameful prejudice.

And the people are sick of it. America (and Canada) is covered in crowds of people who refuse to let these shameful practices rooted in history and passing the buck to stand any longer. Protests cover the country and have spread to other nations around the world with the most striking display being a mural of George Floyd painted on rubble in Syria. The world is now looking at America to fix its deepest wound of white supremacy that built the nation these folks are fighting to change.

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The Age of the Spirit

January 01, 1970

In this post I talk about a couple books and ask a few questions about the Holy Spirit.

The late Phyllis Tickle wrote much late in life about the age of the church that we are coming to understand as the Great Emergence. The Great Emergence comes to us almost predictably as Tickle and many other historians and theologians have pointed out the pattern that it so neatly fits into. It is a pattern of a major shift in the way the church exists in the world that comes roughly every 500-years.

These shifts have followed the coming of Jesus Christ, the fall of Rome, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Reformation; a 500th anniversary observed in 2017. And now, it is thought we are living through and into the Great Emergence characterized by non-religious forms of spiritual engagement in non-hierarchical settings in communities (or not) that look very different from traditional Christian church.

Tickle explains these forms of worship and community in depth in her 2012 book Emergence Christianity: What it is, Where it is Going, and Why it Matters. Tickle discusses churches that gather in traditional sanctuaries with couches in small groups instead of pews, communities that engage the Bible primarily through artistic expression more than the spoken word, and groups that meet in internet chat rooms instead of in person (pre COVID!).

In these settings, experience is a significant source of theological knowledge, more so than tradition. This might sound somewhat strange but Tickle helps us out in another book; 2014’s The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. In this book, Tickle unpacks the history of the church’s understanding and articulation of what the Holy Spirit is and does and how it works.

This history is fraught with major conflicts but ultimately arrives at the Pentecostal and charismatic movement of the early 1900’s. A movement that now claims nearly 25% of Christian believers around the world, began at 312 Azusa St. in Los Angeles under William Seymour. The movement started with people’s experience of the Holy Spirit directly impacting their lives in an old horse stable turned sanctuary. The flies and the smell of livestock lingered, but the Spirit moved through that place and transformed people into believers.

The Holy Spirit is strange and powerful. Descriptions of God the Father and God the Son are often easier for us to latch onto. Easier for us to trust. The Spirit is described as one that falls like a dove and blows like the wind, going here and there freely. It’s not always as clear what the Spirit is up to but we are given the impression that it is up to something because it was sent by Jesus to inhabit us, inspire us, and interpret us.

I expected to find in The Age of the Spirit prayer practices for connecting to the Holy Spirit or at least some solid meditative writing to better wrap my own head around this elusive One. Instead the book ends with a summation of the strange but exciting conclusion that the Holy Spirit is in the world and in us. The Holy Spirit is different than the Father or the Son because it is the Presence of God that we directly interact with.

All of the above has led me to a question for you and for me, which is “How am I being made aware of the Holy Spirit’s voice and action in my life?”

I think if you were to earnestly ask that question to a family member or spouse, you would first get a weird look. But when asked a second time, I really think people can think of somewhere in their heart and/or mind and/or spirit where something is niggling. Something that just pokes them in a direction that is a bit exciting and a bit scary all at once. I frame it this way because I don’t think we’re meant to ask these questions alone. I don’t think we can do life without the mirror of our brothers and sisters reflecting ourselves back to us and helping us stay the course.

So, I wonder, where is the Holy Spirit stirring you? In what ways is the Holy Spirit calling you closer to God? And how will you live into that? Your answer may be the first of its kind.

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A Spiritual Practice for a Chaotic World

January 01, 1970

This post is about a spiritual practice for everyone called Sit Spot.

Have you spent much time outside since the shutdown came? Maybe you’ve found more time for yard work or cleanup. Maybe your kids tried to dig a hole to China. Maybe you’ve taken more walks or runs than you used to. These are all great ways to get outside and move your body.

I know I have loved the extra motivation to get out of the house and spend time in the other-than-human world of the meadows, creeks, forests, and trails that are so close to my neighbourhood. I like to take a piece of almost every day and go outside and look for birds. I’ve got 32 birds on my neighbourhood bird list as of yesterday! Hot tip: early morning, right as the sun is starting to shine is a great time to see birds getting their breakfast for the day.

As much as I love moving around outside, there is one practice that I have always envied when I hear of folks who practice it well. It’s called Sit Spot. I first came across it when I was involved with teaching outdoor education to kids in Guelph and later found a great resource called Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.

Sit Spot is essentially the practice of being still outdoors. Often, we associate going outside with being active. We go outside so we can make big movements or change the environment we’re in. But the Sit Spot practice invites us to take on the posture of curious, calm, and quiet observer.

Here’s the gist: Find a place outside. Sit there. Wait.

It sounds very simple doesn’t it. It’s almost uncomfortably simple. It’s almost intrusively simple! It might not sound like you are doing anything at all but really, you are practicing inhabiting a space in a non-intrusive way and accepting the gift that it is. That’s one layer of what’s happening.

Another is that as you become more familiar with your sit spot and you are able to get comfortable sitting for longer periods of time, you will begin to notice the world around you in greater detail. You’ll begin to hear bird songs and calls that you haven’t heard in that spot before. Maybe a traveller is migrating overhead, or a visitor is stopping by. You might even get lucky and spot one of your local four-legged mammals rustling around for some food or coming and going from its den. I’ll bet you didn’t even know there was a den there!

I hope I’m not sensationalizing it! Sit Spot is not a guaranteed wild encounter with nature but it’s definitely going to give you some surprises if you stick with it.

One of my favorite things about Sit Spot is that you can do it almost anywhere. You don’t have to go very far to find a place that you can easily and consistently go back to for a sit. You don’t need a perfect place. You don’t even need to be hidden. Once the birds and other creatures are used to your presence and they know you are not there to harm or disturb them, you’ll just be another part of the environment.

Now, encountering nature is a splendid experience, but a sit spot can also help us to encounter our inner-world as well. And even more it can help us connect the outer and inner worlds by reminding us that we are a part of this good creation that God has placed us in. From the very beginning, humans and non-humans were intended to be in relationship. That doesn’t always mean interaction, but it does mean awareness. I think.

When I’m out looking and listening for birds, the words of Jesus to consider the sparrows or the birds of the air comes to mind. I’m amazed the more I look at birds (of all kinds) that there are endless things to consider. Jesus used them as an illustration that God will care for our needs just like he cares for theirs but are there other things we can learn from considering the expressions of life around us? I’m sure there are!

A Sit Spot is a spiritual practice you can engage in anywhere. Whether you live in the town or the country you can find a place to sit and breathe in the air, smell the smells, listen to the sounds, feel the wind. Watch how the place changes with the seasons (spring is a great time to find yourself a sit spot because it is an action packed season of change). Sit Spot is also a practice that people can learn and practice at any age, young and not-so-young.

In the Coyote Guide, there’s a story about a guy who had the same spot for 7-years. He would go everyday. It’s the place he credits with providing a lot of growth in his life.

I’m reminded as I write this of the classic verse from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.” Often this is a verse we contextualize to be about our inner panic that we’ve become accustomed to; appointments, chores, kids, work, hobbies, exercise, chores again, church, hygiene, parties, events, and on and on it goes. We often choose to try to “be still” in a cognitive/intellectual/or mental sense. Sit Spot challenges us to consciously remove ourselves from the dense and intricately distracting world of all those things and sit down in the grass, on a rock, a fallen tree, a hill, or a lawn chair and just be still.

I invite to take a walk and look for a nice place to sit. As you leave your house, ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you and guide you to a place. As you sit, ask Jesus to sit with you and share the quiet or listen to your heart, or share his with you. And as you go from your Sit Spot, give thanks to the Father for his good creation that blesses and teaches us.

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A reflection on Mike Tyson’s “Undisputed Truth”

January 01, 1970

This post is a reflection on my recent reading of Mike Tyson’s book, Undisputed Truth.

During this pandemic, I have a lot more time for reading. It’s something I typically do a lot of anyway, but now I can get into some of my books that have been waiting for a time such as this. Last week I read the Undisputed Truth. It’s the autobiography of Mike Tyson.

Mike Tyson is a polarizing dude. From the mean streets of Brownsville in Brooklyn, Tyson rose up to become the youngest ever heavyweight champion of boxing. He also became a convicted rapist (though he maintains his innocence to this day), serial adulterer, a burglar, and an addict.

His life in the spotlight making hundreds of millions of dollars was cast upon him without the wisdom or experience required to truly enjoy it. And though he had an excellent boxing mentor who taught him to have an animalistic mentality toward his opponents in the ring, he did not have the tools to deal with his fame and success and access in a healthy way. He was self-destructive and that self-destruction poured out into the world around him leading to physical and verbal altercations with others.

There was always an innocent side to Tyson. So many people in his life truly took advantage of him. He was robbed out of millions of dollars by Don King, opportunistically accuse by many people concocting bogus lawsuits, and his romantic relationships were often suspect. He was a walking cash machine in the eyes of so many “friends”.

I have been interested in Mike Tyson for a while now. I’ve seen lots of video footage of his fights. He was a tremendous and ferocious fighter. I’ve also been captivated by his press conference and interview statements (be warned, they are not for the faint of heart). I am captivated by how someone can be so bent on violence in every way. Tyson had the reputation to back up his words. A threat was all that was needed because nobody dared step to him.

The thing is, for Tyson, he believed he was a god. He truly did. He talks about it a lot in his book. He really believed he was the greatest fighter of all time and that he was unstoppable. Everything he did, he did with that frame of mind that came with disregard for others, entitlement, and aggression. And while it made for interesting television and even elevated the sport of boxing itself, Undisputed Truth reveals that it was horrible for Mike and everyone involved.

This is why I love Mike Tyson. As a person, he has been deplorable. There’s no getting around it. He himself will say that he was trying to be the bad guy. He succeeded. But he knew all along that he could not fill a void inside him. Whether it was money, sex, drugs, cars, or mansions it still left him feeling empty. A major turning point in his life was the death of his infant daughter, Exodus. She died tragically when she became tangled in a power chord for a treadmill at her home. Tyson was across the country and he got a call from Exodus’ mother. It destroyed him.

To make a long story short, he looked himself in the face and started making small decisions to turn his life around. Now, doing less cocaine today than yesterday might now seem like a huge change but his addiction had him in so deep that any step toward a different reality was a big one.

Tyson credits so much of his recovery journey and his transformation to his therapist. She was someone who could take him to task and challenge him. She was not afraid of him. The baddest man on the planet and she could look him in the eye and challenge him in his heart and soul.

In the past ten years, Tyson has reinvented his public image from that of aggression fuelled warrior and violent offender to a media personality who is downright affable. Tyson has the ability to poke fun at himself and to reflect on who he was and where he came from in a way that is honest and self-probing. He’s now seen as a nice guy.

It took a lot of people telling him a different story than the one he grew up with. One line that stood out in the book was when the movie director Todd Philips told him that when he wasn’t the angry and vicious Iron Mike that he had cultivated, and the light shone through it shone so brightly. He was told there was some good in him. And it wasn’t about being vicious and violent. It was about letting people in and letting the light out.

I love Mike Tyson because his failings have been so public. He’s quick to tell people today who want him to relive those glory years of boxing that he didn’t like that man. Tyson didn’t like himself and so he did everything he could to destroy himself. But today he is seeking freedom from the old man. His flesh is still fighting for his soul. At the end of his book, he shares that he struggles with relapses. He struggles with dark thoughts. But he also talks openly about joining Narcotics Anonymous and going to rehab facilities.

He’s a man who to this day is battling his flesh and looking for the light. In my mind, he is just like us, saint and sinner. I don’t write this as a promotion of anything but rather as a step in my own journey of understanding how God has made each of us for hid purposes but that we are shaped by so much more than that. That can lead to misguided desires, unchecked lusts, and destructive uses of what God has made for good. Through confession, repentance, and a community of love we can all grow more into what God has called us to be.

I know its kind of weird, but if you feel like joining me, I’m going to pray for Mike Tyson today. Maybe there is someone in the world who has caught your attention recently, a politician, a celebrity, someone in the news paper. Pray for them. The Bible instructs us to pray for our leaders and now more than ever influencers come in many stripes. So pray that God would use them for good and they would find freedom in God’s love and even come to know his son Jesus and learn to follow him.

Zach C.

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