Preaching: A Status Update - Preaching in a Social Media Age

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"You are Not a Machine" and "The Church is Not a Factory"

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incipiosermo: latin for "beginning conversation"

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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. 

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.


Who is your life rooted and built up in?  Who is your church rooted and built up in?

If you have been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, you know what the answer should be – JESUS.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” 
Colossians 2:6-7, NIV

Sometimes we are like the child in Sunday School who was asked, “what has fur, lives in a tree and collects nuts?”  The child’s response, “I know the answer should be Jesus but it sure sounds like a squirrel.”  Like the child in this story, when we are faced with questions we should know, we often answer with what we think is the right response rather than the one that reflects the true reality.

Although the question of whom we are rooted or built up in may seem like an easy question to answer, I would suggest that, for most of our lives and churches, this isn’t as definitive as it should be.  Too many of our lives and our churches, if we were to be honest, are built on something different than Jesus.  For example, our lives and churches are often rooted and built up in:

  1. Strategy – For the most part, in our lives and in our churches, we love to plan; the need to plan and to trust a plan is engrained in us.  We have emergency plans, savings plans, retirement plans, career plans, vacation plans, etc.  We love to plan, and when things get difficult, we turn to our plans for security and safety.  In our churches, we do the same thing.  We have a plethora of plans, methodologies and strategies. Because of our focus and trust in plans, strategies, and methodologies, when things get difficult, we turn to them, hope in them, and place our trust in them.  Although there is nothing inherently wrong with plans, methodologies or strategies, if they replace Jesus we have tragically and dreadfully missed the mark.
  2. Pet Theology - We all have pet theologies – minor theological beliefs.  We all have things we believe about the end times, about predestination, about spiritual gifts, etc.  None of these are bad; however, if they begin to take the place of Christ as being the most important thing in our lives and churches then we begin to become rooted and built up in them rather than in Jesus.  This reality is more prevalent than many realize, creating tribal warfare in the Church at the expense of mission and the Church’s collective witness.  When we become rooted in our eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, etc., rather than in Christ, we have radically missed the mark. 
  3. Celebrity - In our culture, our churches love to follow celebrity voices.  I think we like to listen to someone tell us what to believe and why.  With endless information, it is easier to trust a voice than to discern the truth ourselves.  As a result, we are addicted to celebrity leadership.  The problem is that all celebrity leaders will do one of three things.  They will all, eventually, either fail, fall or die.   They will not sustain.  If your life, or your church, is based on a person other than Christ, you are destined to fail because they will not sustain, last or endure.  

I want to be clear, I am not against strategies, pet theologies, or strong leaders but when they begin to take the place of Jesus as our only hope and the Head of the Church, we end up lost in a desert of our own desires.

So, how can we tell what our lives and churches are based on?  When the next storm comes, look carefully at what happens.  Just like the roots of a tree or the foundation of a building, a storm will reveal the solidity of its roots or foundation.

  1. Strategy - If your life or church is based on a strategy or methodology, when something goes wrong, where do people turn?  Do you look to the plan or do you look to Jesus?  Do you hone in on the methodology or do you hone in on Jesus? 
  2. Pet Theology - If your life or church is based on a pet theology, what happens when someone questions it?  Do you welcome the pursuit of truth and the ability to think and grow or do you demonize them, push them away, and stop listening? 
  3. Celebrity - If your life or church is built up on celebrity, when something goes wrong where do you turn?  Do you turn to a celebrity or leader or do you turn to Jesus?  Is your first response a falling to your knees in submission to Jesus or is it turning your head to look at the leader for what to do next?
In your life, who are you rooted in?  Who are you built up on?  Is Jesus your way, your truth and your life?  Is Jesus your Chief Cornerstone?

In your church, what happens when things go wrong?  What happens when there is a conflict?  What happens when there is a challenge?  Do you look to a leader, a theology, a strategy, or do you look to Jesus (The Head of the Church, the Chief Cornerstone, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords)?

Who is your life rooted and built up in?  Who is your church rooted and built up in?

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?