On the train on the way home from a meeting in central London, I was reading one of those free papers they give all the train station travelers. I read those mostly for the sports stories…honest.

On the front cover of this paper was a headline that read: ‘D’oh homer_simpsonLevels: How Homer Makes You Brighter’. Now who wouldn’t want to read an article that claims watching The Simpsons can make you smarter, or as the typical Simpsons viewer might say, ‘makes you more smarterer’?

The article states, that a study done on 170 TV viewers from the US, Greece and the Netherlands, that watching TV comedy and dramas like The Simpsons and The Sopranos ‘helped viewers acquire new political insights’. Nearly 1 in 4 viewers said ‘they had a better understanding of political issues after watching the shows’ and even scarier 54% of viewers thought Homer Simpson was similar to real life people, that these fictional TV programmes were nearly as believable as news broadcasts, and that after watching the shows they discussed them with friends and adapted their political and ethical outlooks.


So are they actually trying to say that watching these shows can be beneficial to be people from the standpoint of organizing their political and ethical beliefs? Or is this study more of a reflection about how low the comprehension of political and ethical issues in our cultures really is, that The Simpsons and Soprano’s can have a ‘positive’ effect on viewers. What’s next…a study showing that people get relationship and dating advice from Friends, Sex In The City and Desperate Housewives? Oh yeah…that probably does happen.

You can’t turn on the radio in London right now and not hear about Orange’s (a UK mobile/cell phone company) volunteerism program called Orange Rockcorps. Their bigorange tag line for the promotion is ‘Give, Get Given.’ The idea is you give 4 hours of your time, volunteering and serving on a designated community project and in return are given a ticket to a gig at The Royal Albert Hall in London. The catch? You can’t buy tickets to the gig and you don’t find out who is playing the gig until after you’ve earned the ticket and right before the show.

Music is big big business…especially in London. The music and club scene operate at incomprehensible levels…you would never run out of gigs to go and see in this city.
This is just a smattering of the line-up around the city in the next week: 22/08: New Found Glory, 22/08: Steve Lawler (DJ),25/08: The Offspring, 25/08: Wilco…Freakin WILCO!!!, 26/08: LadyHawke…all kinds of music by all kinds of artists and this is the line-up during the massive global festival season where anyone who is anyone is playing one of the bazillion festivals all over the planet. So when Orange rolls out a ‘huge gig’ at an amazing venue and it’s all super secret…who wouldn’t want a ticket, especially if your a cheap/poor student in London? Last year the gig involved Busta Rhymes, Guillemots, John Legend, Feeder and more artists.

My first thought is Orange sounds like they’re doing a pretty cool thing. Fully sponsoring what sounds like a sick gig and in doing so also sponsoring over 50 local projects and increasing volunteerism in the community. The press on this project also seems to pretty upbeat and positive.

Perhaps I’m overly cynical but is this really as good as it seems? Sure loads of work gets done on worthwhile projects…sure loads of people get involved…sure loads of people enjoy a great gig, an exclusive gig (even better, right?). I’d be really interested to find out just how many of these ‘volunteers’ continue doing volunteer work without receiving a gig ticket.

I guess I just don’t see it as true ‘volunteerism’ if you do it to get avolunteering ‘reward’: in this case a free ticket to an exclusive gig. But seriously, we live in a world where you are rewarded for good behavior, good grades, for being a good person. As a youth minister, I’ve been in too many churches and given too many talks to kids where we communicate that if they ‘live right’, make ‘wise decisions’ and ‘love Jesus’ they will be ‘blessed’, He will ‘answer their prayers’ or ‘go to heaven’…when we do mission trips, or take kids to homeless shelters we even ask kids ‘how they felt serving others?’ or talk about how ‘rewarding’ volunteering is. But doesn’t talk of ‘reward’ or ‘what you get out of it’ defeat the purpose of volunteering? Isn’t it the same with living a life for Christ? Shouldn’t we be living it as if there wasn’t a ‘reward’ or upside or benefits for us simply because of who He is? If Christ is as compelling as we say he is, we should live relentlessly, passionately and freely for Him as if there was nothing in it for us…simply because we know He is true.

Ok, back to the Orange Rockcorps. It’s a sliding scale right? This is the first step, from a secular vantage point, of creating a generation of young people who are passionate about volunteering, making a difference in their communities and serving others. If this gets even a hand full of people onto the next step I suppose that’s a good thing. I suppose I’m just not content with the ‘what’s in it for me mentality’ and tired of it seeping into our theology and spirituality. I’m also not advocating a sense ‘obligation’ for Christian living either…that will only lead to a dark and angry place. But what happens if we get addicted to the carrot? Everytime we volunteer or ‘live for Christ’ we need a bigger and bigger carrot in order to ‘reach the next level’? This will only lead to a false sense of intimacy with God and volunteering for a reward will only create a false sense of commitment to one’s community and to those we are in community with.

I’m always diggin for new music. Like Cake sang in ‘Rock n Roll Lifestyle’ way back in the day I have to have ‘the tshirt to prove that you heard of them first’. Good music always seems to sound better when no one else seems to be listening to it.

Moving to the UK has opened some new doors musically. Vinyl stores are a joy to wander through…and tomorrow I’m headed to Rough Trade…one of best ones.

But lately, what’s been playing on my ipod and my shuffle (on bike rides) is Mat Kearney’s new album ‘City of Black and White’. mat-kearney-city-of-black-whiteIts been a few years since his last and it seems to me to be well worth the wait.

The sound seems to be pretty well produced…maybe a little too good. There isn’t any tracks where he raps, which were my favorite on the last album, which is disappointing. But lyrically, I find his lyrics seem to be trying to follow the path Bono has been blazing. The lyrics seem to have mutiple layers that have cultural cache and real spiritual symbolism.

The album starts with “All I Have”.
In the first verse he sings,
“Tired of the same song everyone’s singing
Rather be lost with you instead”
This line is one of those that could be to a girl, but could be something more.

Later in the song he sings:
Oh I still trying to do my hardest
Pick us all up from the fall oh
Off the little corner of the darkness
Just a crack the light in the middle of it all

Here Kearney seems to be speaking of our tendancy to embrace grace but then still expend endless energy ‘doing it on our own’ in a world that seems dark all over and light that we long for appears to be only a sliver or a glimmer.

Closer To Love is even more intense lyrically:
She got the call today
One out of the gray
And when the smoke cleared
It took her breath away
She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon

And later in the song:
I’m gonna get there soon,
She’s gonna be there too
Cryin’ in her room
Prayin’ Lord, come through
We’re gonna get there soon

Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love

Some critics have railed against Kearney for his song ‘Annie’ that it’s too cliche, because it’s about a girl…”“Annie” is the token weepy ballad. A song named after a girl? That never happens! (Forgive the sarcasm, but I definitely thought Kearney was above this.)” So what…Taylor by Jack Johnson is a rubbish piece of cliche trash as well?

At any rate, while Kearney’s new album seems a little more mainstream than I’d like, lyrically he has a depth that reveals a deep commitment and passion for his faith and a commitment to contextualizing in way that is relevant and challenging to his listeners, fans and critics.

I’m a big fan of Douglas Coupland, the author. His books are crazy funny and deeply insightful in regards to culture, technology, relationships and the difference between generations.

I’m re-reading Micro-Serfs, which came out in 1994…a loooooooooooooooong time ago. It’s about a group of friends who all happen to work at Microsoft and idolize Bill Gates while they sort out their lives, make meaning for themselves and try not to self-destruct.

Because it’s written in 1994 and deeply steeped in the culture at the time it’s a bit like a walk down memory lane. One paragraph in particular got me reminiscing….and wondering…

‘Then we digressed into a discussion of how the word ‘dialing’ is itself such an anachronism-a holdover from rotary phones. ‘Inputting’ would be more true. And who came up with the word ‘pound’ for the ‘#’ symbol. Wouldn’t ‘grid’ have been easier and more fun? I mean ‘pound’?
Or think of how dumb it is too say, ‘I’m going to the record store.’

It made me start wondering what things technology has made obselete that are still apart of our daily vocabulary?….technology advances far faster than language, we invent new words to keep up with technology but often don’t delete old, obsolete, archaic words from our vocabulary, as evidenced by the fact that in 2009 I still say ‘Awesome’ too much.
Whats the over/under on when Blockbuster video rental places no longer exist?

It also made me realize that I miss the experience of going to the ‘record store’ and flipping through vinyl or even CDs. Especially when the other day I was walking down Berwick Ave in Soho in London and realized that is the street where the cover art for ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ by Oasis is from. Said record shop is the red door on the left by the second street light.


Tonight on prime time TV no less, I watched coverage of the Tour Series, a national crit race series…on TV during freaking Prime Time coverage. How cool is that? This would never happen in the US…that time slot is reserved for some rubbish reality TV show…that people can’t live without.


Read the full coverage here.


I never grew up near the ocean. So when I first went swimming in the ocean at Long Beach off the coast of Vancouver Island in 9 foot waves with my brother Eric in the summer of 85, I LOVED it. It was amazing. Living in CA in Los Angeles later in life and going swimming and learning to surf at Zuma, Manhattan, Churches and Tressels…it only deepened my love for the ocean and for going to beach with my family.

But right now I also hate the ocean. It is playing games with my head. This week I’m reminded that the ocean is one MASSIVE barrier between me, my family and a lot of people we care deeply for and miss.

I hate the ocean today because this spring it kept me from taking a group of kids back to a city I love, New Orleans to serve along side a man, Whitney, that I respect so deeply for his service, love and compassion for a city and for Christ.

I hate the ocean today because I miss going for bike rides with my friend Pete Troskey and getting to see the La Plata peaks at the mid point ride. I hate the ocean because it means I can’t go for a mtn bike ride with my moustached friend Coye who has only learned the joy of mtn biking since I left. I hate the ocean today because my wife and I can’t eat chips and salsa with Mike and Erin and watch our kids play with theirs. I hate the ocean today because I can’t say ‘Shoooooooooot’ and ‘Tur’ with Kelly and Daniel and laugh our heads off. I hate the ocean today because I cant enjoy a cup of Durango Joes with Chad, Stephen, Al, Shaun and a bunch of other Farmington friends. I hate the ocean today because I can’t sit with a student I miss who emailed me today saying he’s having a hard time staying positive.

I hate the ocean today because I had to miss my last class at Fuller where I could make fun of Julia’s Pirate Pride, be in class with Tom, Mike, Whit, Bill, Mindy, John, and Brandon and listen to a man I respect deeply, Chap, ramble about his love for kids and Christ.

I hate the ocean today because I was vividly reminded as I said goodbye to my parents at Gatwick airport that my family and I are more than 4000 miles from the people that have meant the most to us in the last 15 years.

We know we have been clearly called to serve the Kingdom of God in England. But today the ocean reminded me that that cost is very high and the distance is very far…and no matter how convenient skype, facebook, and email is…it’s just no substitute. I’m not whining, i’m not complaining, I’m not looking for any sympathy, pats on the back, any ‘You guys are so awesome’ or any of that junk…I’m just saying, sometimes I reminded the cost of serving the Kingdom can feel incredibly hard.

To anyone mentioned in this note and others that aren’t mentioned…thank you for loving and caring for my family in the past and I hope the ocean will not keep us divided for long. In the meantime, maybe i need to go surfing in England to remember why I love the ocean too.


People's mandala - 12 hands

An interesting news story appeared on BBC news this morning in London. Manchester City council is considering passing a new law where a school could close for a day if more than 40% of the students are absent, presumably because of religious holidays.

The possible decision is arising out of the fact that large numbers of Islamic students are absent from schools on some Islamic holidays. While in and of itself this appears to be nothing abnormal, it has been asserted too many muslim students missing school due to Islamic holidays in a ‘Christian’ country could cause social cohesion in England to deteriorate. The logic supposedly goes that if religions are allowed to take days off from school from their own holidays, this could encourage segregation within communities.

What concerns me about this assertion is that it places the burden of ‘social cohesion’ on schools. While I agree schools are one of the primary focal points of any community, the schools primary purpose is education, not to create social cohesion. But critics argue Christianity remains our state religion and claim communities risk becoming more segregated if different religions dictate school calendars. It is this kind of thought process that seems to dilute a school’s ability to deliver a quality education and give a child the environment they need in which to work on individuating.

Second to this, it is surprising as a Canadian who has lived in the United States and now lives in England, to move from one country where they still think they are a Christian nation (when it certainly appears on every level that it isn’t) to a post-Christian nation and to hear people assert that Britain is still a Christian nation. Third, i’m shocked that someone would assert that in order to be ‘british’ means you have to have one holiday calendar. ‘Either people are British and have a particular holiday system, or we decide to carve the country up into areas that are Muslim and non-Muslim, and I think that’s what this does.’ I’m an evangelical Christian who is still modern enough to believe it is the one true way but post-modern enough to see the danger in statements like this…the right to religious diversity must be preserved…schools must be allowed to deliver quality education, not be charged with the preservation of social cohesion.

The ultimate victims in this kind of thinking are the kids.

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