Extravagant Generosity

No Surprise Here

Anyone who’s even passingly familiar with Christianity is probably familiar with the fruits of the Spirit (or should be). It’s easy to slavishly rattle them off like a check-list of to-dos:

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

That’s why I think the Message’s fresh approach is worthy of attention:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Galatians 5:22

We’re sometimes tempted to think of fruit as the product of hard agricultural labour.

Well, sure, fruit takes attentiveness.

But on our own, our efforts to grow fruit are about as productive as running flat-out in a hamster wheel.

A Better Picture of Fruit

Hey, full disclosure: I’m not a really big fan of fruit. Everybody in my life knows that. It’s a common joke with my family and colleagues. But I have an appreciation of fruit as a metaphor that I think is worth sharing.

As a missionary, my Dad took his students on outreach trips. One of these provided a picture which has become formative for how I think about spiritual fruit.

On one trip into the bush, they arrived at the zenith of watermelon harvest. Watermelons started coming one-by-one, carried on the heads of women. Then two-by-two, carried by men. Then they were delivered by wheel-barrow. And finally a donkey cart, stacked to the sky!

These watermelons are not cut into dainty little cubes, or even triangle slices. They are hacked with a machete-sized knife into full length wedges.

With so many watermelons on hand, they could all afford to be picky. If a watermelon was cut into, and wasn’t juicy enough, it would go to the livestock, and another would be chosen.

Watermelons were consumed eagerly, indelicately, satisfying hunger and thirst simultaneously, amid the smiles, laughter and easy conversation of new friends.

Dad brought one home with him, and our family ate it like they did in the village. It was hilarious. We ate it outside in the front yard and my brother, 3 at the time, was stripped naked so he could easily be hosed off when we were done — a smart move, as it turned out.

Eating fruit like that is not a prim and tidy experience. The juice runs off your chin and elbows.

It gets all over you!

The Whole Point!

This is about “exuberance of life” — fruits of the Spirit are not a grind. They are the very signs of life!

Maybe we need to raise our standards.

Maybe we need to live into a heightened appreciation of abundance.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to discard a few of the less-than-satisfactory fruits we’ve been snacking on.

If we are the witnesses of an extravagantly generous God, our lives should probably resemble that.

If Only…

If the majority of your thoughts include the phrase “if only,” you need some better thoughts.

“If only” means you’re fixated on limitations, roadblocks and lack. The only one who can make your dream transcend that stuff is you.

Start by believing your creativity is stronger than the factors which impede it.

There are things you cannot change right now. There are things you will never be able to change. There are things you wish you could change that should not change, ever.

Sometimes — too often, perhaps — it feels like life is just putting in time.

  • Working for the weekend.
  • Working for the next vacation.
  • It’s not about quantity time, but quality time, right?

We don’t want that feeling — great stories don’t have dead air. We have all this pressure to do stuff — great stuff! And time is an unpredictable and finite resource. So if not now, when?

All that and more.

The problem is that the urgency to act, to take bold steps, can lead us right down the garden path.

Is your “if only” about the change you want to make, or the best change you can make?

Is it just a means to another, better means? Or does it actually relate to the ends?

It’s very easy to let this “if only” routine take on a life of its own.

That’s a choice you can make. But you can make better choices, too.

  • Identify the ends — what does success look like?
  • What does each “if only” tell you about the ends?
  • How can you circumvent it?

Be less concerned about the new and the next, and tune in to the present. What are you doing right now that’s feeding your dream, vision, passion, calling, etc. You don’t need more training. You don’t need more equipment. You don’t need less anxiety.

You don’t need anything more or less than starting. Right now.

The Problem of Violence

Violence is the problem.

People who believe that violence is the way to solve problems are part of the problem.

People who believe violence is the only way they will get attention are part of the problem.

People who only pay attention when faced with violence are part of the problem.

People who provoke violence are part of the problem.

People who justify violence are part of the problem.

People who minimise violence are part of the problem.

People who don’t care about violence are part of the problem.

People who only care selectively are part of the problem.

People who make the tools of violence are part of the problem.

People who sell the tools of violence are part of the problem.

People who defend unrestrained ownership of the tools of violence are part of the problem.

People who feel the need to own the tools of violence are part of the problem.

People who propagate a culture where owning the tools of violence is a felt need are part of the problem.

People who think that blaming politicians will solve anything are part of the problem.

People who think that blaming anyone will solve anything are part of the problem.

People who flippantly tell other people that they’re part of the problem are part of the problem.

People who believe that any effort to solve the problem is doomed to futility are part of the problem.

The problem will be solved by crossing the dividing lines of fear. Of mistrust. Of profound, entrenched hatred. Of reinforced, natural patterns of thought, and expected consequences.

The people who do this will bear the burden of immense fear, mistrust, hate and shame.

They will be vilified, worst by their own camp — considered sell-outs, seen as conspiring with enemies, and viewed with suspicion by all sides.

But they will also be loved, for love is how they will choose to live. It will be the reality that shines out of their lives, as they forge new hope, richer understanding — a fresh re-awakening.

And that love will quite possibly turn them into martyrs.

The Clash of Legal and Moral

I was listening to a podcast where a book on love was recommended, though the author was criticised for unnecessarily pushing his religious views.

Think about that for a sec: What did the author do to impose his religious views on the reader?

In a democratic society, the very exercise of reading a book is voluntary (even in school where the book is part of the curriculum, though that choice may have a cost). There is no insistence that anyone read anything -- in the broadest strokes, nothing is being "pushed".

Rather, the assumption comes from the reader in this case: the relationship is presupposed as a pushy one. It is an unfair, bad-faith assumption that a book which is being read voluntarily is pushing its views.

Part of the interplay of plurality is allowing there to be messages and meanings in the world that we disagree with. They should not presumed to be insistent, or even instructive.

It's enough for them to be descriptive.

If they're viewed as descriptive, we can learn from them. We can understand divergent worldviews. And the better we understand, the more rich and hospitable a conversation we can have. If they're viewed as a play for power however, then we feel the need to react in some way or another -- either adoption or rejection.

I wish more people paid attention to their desires and feelings -- what motivates these reactions? -- instead of simply reacting.

I'm not unfamiliar with the unpopularity of religion in the west. And yet, even within that framework, there is a problem the church needs to internalise and grapple with.

The church is pushing its religion. It's supposed to. But all too often, it's pushing the wrong aspect of that religion -- a subjective, superficial, non-essential, moralistic one.

Bottom line, if what the church is preaching requires a pre-existing belief in God to make it true, it's preaching to its own choir.

That's without the wild assortment of adjuncts that have been added which Christians can't agree on.

One of the great ironies that the church blames the population for its inability to change the population's laws, when its arguments don't even find resonance within all of the church -- a minority of the population.

If the church can't operate from a position of unity, it should stop trying to impose more uniformity on the broader world.

Offering people more freedom doesn't mean by default that individual or group morality is in jeopardy.

The broader world largely accepts diversity. Effectively, more freedom merely means that we have more freedom to not do what the law permits.

When it is perceived that morality is being imposed, there is a backlash.

This is hypocritical, because some kind of moral is constantly believed to be larger than oneself -- this is evident even in the reaction.

What I'm saying is that at some level, everyone believes that some kind of morality should be imposed.

The very act of loudly resisting someone else's moral standards is imposing one's own.

That's not wrong. We should not be feeling the pressure to compromise, so resistance is necessary. And yet, we should recognise that our loud resistance can be quite easily a call for others to compromise.

This is why people have a hard time talking about politics civilly.

Sometimes grace means inviting people to think about an issue more deeply.

Sometimes grace means making a case for people raising the bar on their moral standards.

But sometimes grace means letting people be wrong, and loving them anyway.

Because in all that rabble-rousing about ethics and morality, it's easy to miss that love is the highest virtue we're called to.

Has Morality Failed Us?

There are two primary problems in the world. I know it seems like there are a lot more. But trust me, there are just two:

  • Knowing what the right things are.
  • Finding the will to do them.

If you think that distilling all of life into two distinct problems makes it easy, you're wrong.

Cultural cohesion around this stuff is eroding. The world is getting bigger and smaller at the same time.


We are becoming more aware of profound divergences which influence societies all over the world. The moral conclusions people arrive at are so radically different that they can be baffling to the uninitiated.


Globalisation means that differences are all being constantly shoved in everyone else's face. Not literally, of course. But where those differences are the most stark, it can sure feel like it. People are likely to respond emotionally!

One of the biggest contentions in morality is the difference between prescriptive and proscriptive.

It's the difference between should and should not.

Far too often morality is couched in negative terms, trying to censure actions, words and even thoughts. It sets up morality to be combative, even hostile, as if we can fight our way to more harmony.

There is little energy given to imagining more, better and richer ways to live.

It's not too surprising though: in its giddy rush to embrace strict theological paradigms, the church has been systematically rejecting the lofty, unrestrained imaginings of its poets and prophets.

We have to invest more energy into presenting a compelling dream of what life can be.

Many of the ways culture is moving sets up paradoxes. It traps people into hypocrisy. Humanity cannot be confined by, or even described with straight lines and right angles. The harder the push toward a moral standard, the more evident the hypocrisy -- people's logic will inevitably be used against them.

Aside from the most extreme cases, appealing to some baseline morality is mostly ineffective.

There is less "obvious" in our world. People don't "just know". The definition of morality is shifting -- in some ways, dramatically!

And here is the controversial kicker: it is allowed to!

The Question of Levels

We have to recognise that instead of trigger points, there's a sliding scale of levels.

  • There are people who are unknowingly harming themselves.
  • There are people who are unthinkingly hurting other people.
  • There are people who believe (or perceive) that there is harm, but who cannot demonstrate or prove it in any objective, concrete sense. (Which effectively means that it doesn't count.)
  • Then there are people who see the intention to hurt where it doesn't exist, and they twist their own pain into abusive accusations of others.

Ultimately, there is a line so disgusting, so gruesome and so horrifying that the vast majority will agree that it shouldn't be crossed. Ever!

But that's way down the road from where a lot of Christian I've heard make their assumptions about "universal morality", and bring to bear every manipulative trick in the book to push their agenda.

(Of course, this isn't specifically a Christian thing. It's a human nature thing, though people seem mostly oblivious to it unless it's done to them.)

When people put all their energy and intention into drawing their line so early that it just sounds bizarre, and there is no justifiable rationale to back it up, it will become ignored...or perhaps lampooned.

If your goal is to win hearts and minds, getting lampooned by the majority is not generally a pathway to success.

In a democracy, we have to go with the will of the majority.

When the morality of the majority shifts to an apparently more lax standard, it causes discomfort for the people who wanted it to stay where it was. Or get more restrictive.

So, Where is the Line?

  • Do we let people live in a way that we believe is self-destructive?
  • How do we intervene in a way that will become sustainable without us?
  • How hard do we push against someone's attitudes or behaviour before we become the element of destruction?
  • Does our definition of evil require obvious consequences?

The external signs in all of this can be deceiving. People can care deeply, and be silent. The loudest people may not actually care much at all.

Finding the Good

As usual though, the most important differences are made through from celebrating and reinforcing positive change. (Not berating the "guilty".)

We bear the onus to demonstrate how adopting your perspective will improve people's lives -- not in abstract, hypothetical ways. In tangible, practical ones.

In other words, how would people become objectively better?

And if we can't do that, maybe we should go slow in making moralistic declarative statements.

Strength, Gentleness and Identity

Courage is found in all of the following:

  • Action
  • Reaction
  • Resistance

Seeing as these can clearly become polar opposites, courage cannot be the only benchmark by which engagement is measured.

Courage is generally regarded as a virtue -- one that we assume our ideological opponents lack.

Yet courageously holding to folly is clearly not virtue.


The only chance we have to manifest the virtue of courage is if it is internalised, not externalised.

In other words, true courage is the ability to let others continue on in our definition of wrong if we cannot form or articulate adequate reasons to correct them -- or indeed, if they resist our correction.

Our courage is formed in identity; the more confidence we have in identity, the more gently we can hold our convictions.

The courage to examine and hold loosely to ideas is inherent to being a growing, changing person.

Whimsical change is not an objective virtue (shifting shadows). But then again, neither is artificial rigidity, couched in terms of "faithfulness" (stiff-necked).

When we have our anchors in the right places, we're able to be impressively malleable, flexible and accommodating.

How do we know if we've put our anchors in the right places?

Once again, we need better, deeper, richer tools to understand character.

Do People Want to Know and be Known — Really?

What is our current relationship to community?

I’m torn. I think technology has added richness, efficiency and effectiveness into our understanding of connectedness. But I also think it adds noise, clutter and distraction. Technology is increasingly enabling surrogate experiences to shape our lives.

I want to rant. But a rant is too one-sided.

Largely, I think people are becoming inured to depersonalised relationships. By 2020, an estimated 85% of the relationships people have will be with technological substitutes (eg databases). This isn’t hard to imagine.

Think of the ways current financial transactions are conducted:

  • Self-checkouts at the grocery store
  • Card payments at a gas pump
  • Purchasing apps and content on a mobile device
  • Taxes done online

At what point does your transaction interact with an actual person? If everything is working right, never! These are all interconnected, automated systems.

You are being distilled into a tiny source of information connected to a myriad of informational hubs. You already have a multi-pronged relationship with a variety of databases. These databases hold vast amounts of intimate, concrete detail about you, and can quite accurately infer a whole lot more.

You are being sold something at every turn. To that end, your entire life is being turned inwards to reflect you: your values, your expectations and your aspirations. Apparently deep organisational affiliations can be made with very little input from or interaction with actual human beings.

I often hear people blame parents for their kids’ sense of entitlement. It’s not parents. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s not just parents.

The tsunami of entitlement is culture!

In this world where everything is catered to each person’s whims and desires, who doesn’t feel entitled?

Our entire economy is based on “can equals should” — or often, if we’re really honest, “should trumps can”. By making people feel important, they are steered to spend money, or affiliate, or advocate, or align in some way. These connections are aimed at emotion, not rationality, so they can steer people into their own big messes. (What’s the average debt load people carry these days?)

Making people feel important is reciprocated. It has incentive attached to it. Legitimately empowering people earns you money, attention and popularity.

Of course, you can’t be can be anything you choose. But you don’t need to get too deep into it any more. If you want to be a web designer, you can grab a WordPress template and the majority won’t (or can’t) discern any difference between it and a custom site. You don’t have to be a photographer — you can find stock photography, cheaper and higher quality than most photographers can pull off. You don’t have to be an interior decorator, artist, or chef with original ideas — that’s what Pinterest and YouTube are for.

There’s a baseline of ability you can aspire to that’s higher than any previous generation in a wider assortment of fields. Whatever you want to know is available to you without the drawn-out process of learning the theory and becoming an apprentice.

In all the resultant noise and confusion, it’s more unlikely than ever that any of us will be remembered by history — but that doesn’t seem to matter to most people. Enjoyment in the moment does.

There are broader implications.

As just one example, the world’s current leader in technology and wealth, the USA, is seriously polarised. It is beginning to encounter the diversity within itself, and it is being rocked to the core by it.

All 7 stages of grief are in full display simultaneously.

The social structure doesn’t welcome or even accept the diversity it contains. Each side sees each other side as anathema or absolutely incompatible. Groups of people who have never before faced the reality that their opinions are not universally-accepted fact feel threatened by each other. This is not helped by their apparent willingness to apply shallow, reactionary labels, and respond in arrogant dismissal, or (threats of) violence.

This is the struggle we face when we talk about the value of community as a human default: we don’t know if we’re right.

We can talk about the need that people have to know and be known. We can talk about reducing fear of the ‘other’ by breaking barriers and engaging in dialogue. But when fear is entrenched, community is something to only engaged-in on shallow terms, or to be avoided altogether. There is human-nature driven momentum leading us away from community.

I wonder about that — what are all the fears of community? And who’s benefiting from keeping our populace afraid?

The Harsh Deception of “Countercultural”

It’s still so trendy for Christians to declare themselves to be countercultural. It offers up the rebel-thrill justification of any departure from the mainstream.

The only problem is it just isn’t true.

We don’t oppose every part of culture — not even most of it. Neither did Jesus. In fact, it only ever applies to a rather narrow set of values which insiders can’t ever seem to agree on.

Culture does not set itself against the fruits of the Spirit.

Indeed, most of the values we can agree on are shared, at least in an abstract sense, by the broader culture.

Calling ourselves countercultural makes us dependent on culture to know what to oppose. And even worse, it doesn’t help us or anyone else to identify what we’re for. Just what we’re against.

Some of us, at least.

Some of the time.

Turns out, it’s just a smug-sounding, hollow, divisive label.

Which, uh, isn’t actually all that countercultural now, is it?

False Disparagement of Consumerism

It seems right and biblical for the church to go after consumerism. It seems to strike right at the heart of the selfish fickleness of mankind.

It often doesn’t.

Have you heard leaders say that people who claim to be too busy for church are just giving excuses? I agree with the sentiment. For my part however, I think that’s to let church off the hook — at least as much as themselves.

What people call consumerism is simply the reality of choice. And there is a whole lot of it! There are varying theologies, congregations and whole denominations that fit under the banner of orthodoxy. But all that aside, if a church isn’t feeding a family’s needs as much as (for example) a child’s sports team, then said church should probably take a long, hard look at itself.

Pointing out people’s apparent fickleness is actually merely whining about unchangeable realities.

What does a church need then? It needs to recognise what it is and where it fits in people’s lives. In short, a church needs to (prophetically) discern what its people need. The way a group is attracts others of a similar mindset. That becomes organisational momentum. Momentum itself is neither virtue nor vice. It simply needs to be steered.

Church and God are often conflated, to the detriment of both.

For some, the church needs to ask questions. For others, the church needs to provide answers. For some, it’s a place of respite, refuge and safety. For others, a place of imagination, possibility and challenge.

It’s been suggested that these are seasonal, and that may be. But any church that makes all of its plans based on too narrow a mission will inevitably lose the people it’s ignoring. And too broad of a mission will lose people who cannot find solidarity behind any purpose.

Though it’s potentially painful, that is as it should be.

Church should never be something that removes people’s volition and/or demands their allegiance. Rather church should be what course-corrects these, shapes them and expands them in the most healthy directions possible.

Awareness of the diversity of intentions, perceptions and purposes heightens the importance of communication — this is how alignment is achieved.

We need to (re)discover a baseline of truth — it’s not as deep and robust as some people often claim, or as perennially elusive as others do.I believe it is available, it is rich and it is vibrant.

We’re not all that different from each other. But we’re not identical, either.

How big we draw our circles of inclusion depends on the issues and concerns at hand. But most often, we could all stand to make them at least a little larger.

Given a given baseline commonality, diversity is not a problem to be solved, but a strength to be leveraged.

Bickering as an Evangelism Strategy?

“We have to have fights! That’s how we figure out what’s true!”

Have you heard this line of reasoning? Does it strike you as oddly discordant?

Of course no stupid idea should get a free pass — ideas should be tested. But that’s not my issue with this mentality.

It’s probably no secret, but a win-at-all-costs perspective has seeped into evangelism. It masquerades as a healthy, vibrant imperative — truth saves people!

But its dark side is pervasive.

And I’m afraid the collective church has been subjecting people to this dark side for a long, long time.

Smart people know how to resist pushy pseudo-intellectuals: just reveal their contradictions. The tricky bits. The stuff that it’s hard for the most ardent proponents to understand, reconcile or accept. This is true for all people of any side of any issue — everyone is vulnerable because everyone absorbs contradictions.

Plot twist: the louder people get, the more obvious their contradictions.

Additionally, the facile arguments are found easily, too. Let’s use postmodernism as an illustration:

  • If you believe in medication over rat poison, that proves you don’t believe in relativism.
  • If you defer to a sport’s authoritative replay instead of a referee’s perspective, well, how very modernist of you!
  • People claim that they don’t believe in absolute truth. But they wouldn’t step out in front of a speeding bus, would they?

Those things don’t denounce postmodernism as they’re intended to. They don’t even describe it. Postmodernism doesn’t reflect how we approach the tangible aspects of reality, but digs into how we relate to its intangibles.

Conflating tangibles and intangibles isn’t just unconvincing, it sounds condescending, petty and trivial.

Because it is.

Postmodernism is not about denying facts so much as pondering the methods of discovery, being open to alternatives to the discovery, and removing artificial restrictions about who can make (or question) discoveries.

Postmodernism challenges systems of thought. Apologists tend to double-down on their systems, and their accompanying fallacies:

  • appealing to history
  • appealing to authority
  • appealing to popularity
  • cherry-picking from the Bible and tradition
  • all the while consistently claiming to put little stock into subjective experience.

The inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that any study is merely an extension of subjective experience makes them ripe for critique. Rubber, meet road.

While it may be popular, bickering misses the point. Or more accurately, evades it.

Postmodernism isn’t a threat because it is inherently false. It opens up a quagmire by removing artificial restrictions about what is true. Unfortunately, apologists regularly fall into the trap of being unable to define truth, or being able to adequately show the working behind their conclusions. Or perhaps they assume that their reasoning is universal and incontrovertible, which brings its own baggage (intellectual arrogance).

Christians attempting to denounce postmodernism are wasting their time. Indeed, without postmodernism, faith would never be allowed back into a conversation about science, reality and what can be known. The presumptions and resulting pressures of secularisation would win out. (Mercifully, here in Canada at least, there is still a general belief in pluralism, which makes a dream of peace possible.)

Within postmodernism, a physicist and filmmaker can both present truth, even though their truths may be remarkably different.

So can a communist and a capitalist. In fact, any ideology can face off against any ideology, stand on its own two feet, and earn its supporters. It doesn’t necessitate war. It doesn’t even necessitate debate. Because, especially in this era, truth has to be held with open hands, not clasped fists. Faith and knowledge are not valued equally by everyone, and therefore they certainly don’t relate seamlessly.

If that wasn’t tricky enough, there is a greater challenge within.

  • What if I’m a believer, and I see a hollow desperation in apologetics which makes me, once again, suspect that all of faith is merely a self-confirming shell game?
  • What if apologetics drive me further toward the questions an apologist would deem “dangerous”?
  • What if all of this weakens my resolve to engage in community?
  • Or further, what if I believe that this proclivity to debate weakens the entire fabric of community?
  • What if I’m convinced that apologetics actually drive an unnecessary wedge between faiths, ideologies and cultures by the very act of turning people into positions to refute?

Should these factors be taken into consideration?

In their eagerness, like practitioners in other fields, apologists make melodramatic pronouncements about “if it saves just one soul”. The hypothetical end appears to justify any means.


  • What if the outcomes are opposite of the intended goals?
  • What if this strategy tips more souls away from truth?
  • What if the rise of the “nones” is actually caused by the very messaging people are trying to combat it with?

What if the belief that the whole concept of rhetorical skirmish is itself seen to be antithetical to Scripture?

It’s a conundrum. Especially in this light: where Christ was faced with a direct confrontation, his responses were quite often confoundingly and transcendently oblique.

If this is our benchmark, I don’t see much Christ-likeness in debate.

While Jesus didn’t shy away from truth claims, they were often wrapped up in parables, which are open to interpretation. He did not often seek out or engage in one-on-one debate.

Instead, he made rather a habit of simply, humbly shaking people to their very core!

And if there is any truth at all to this life of faith, he still does. So if apologetics are ever caught hiding the process of perpetual transformation behind slick, airtight, ironclad ideological conjecture, they’re profoundly missing the point.

Or more accurately, evading it.