You May Be a Lousy Evangelical Christian If…

Ned-Flanders-ned-flanders-33045610-491-378Are you a lousy Evangelical Christian?

I am a Christian. For most of my life I have identified with the Evangelical camp in the broader Christian world. At least, if I had to give a definition that most people would understand, I would tell them I was an Evangelical Christian. I’ve never been one that likes labels, but after considering many things that are currently connected with being an Evangelical, I began to realize that I am not very good at it. I am a hopelessly lousy Evangelical.

However, I suspect I am not alone. In fact, I think there are many of us out there. You may be one, too.

To help in determining this, I’ve compiled a very un-scientific list. If you can relate to any of these statements, you may be as hopelessly lousy at this as I am.

So, without further ado…

You may be a lousy Evangelical Christian if:

  • Your view of God is so full of love, grace, mercy and perfect justice that it squeezes the Hell right out of the picture.
  • You suspect that God is much more enraged with injustice and greed than with Adam and Steve.
  • You have the audacity to vote for the candidate you think will do the best job and not for the candidate who leans most to the right.
  • You would much rather hear a song by Lorde than a song about the Lord.
  • You spend exactly 0% of your time worrying about the End Times.
  • You don’t spend time worrying because you consider yourself a “Panmillennialist”: It’ll all pan out in the end.
  • You don’t worry too much about whether or not the Bible is full of facts because you’re more interested in the fact that it’s full of Truth.
  • You found nothing offensive or scandalous in the “Noah” movie.
  • You thought the Rock Monsters in the movie were pretty cool, actually.
  • You figure people who use the term “church shopping” are likely looking for a McChurch or a Church-Mart.
  • You run the other way, screaming, when invited to see any movie with Kirk Cameron in it.
  • You have read exactly 0% of the approximately 37 “Left Behind” books published.
  • You were offended and scandalized by “The DaVinci Code”; not because of the content of the story but because the writing sucked.
  • You have never been tempted to leave your church because of:
    • A woman preaching/leading/using her gifts to help and inspire others
    • An article written in your denominational magazine
    • An opinion expressed different from your own
    • Any doctrinal minutia that maybe might possibly in some circumstances be different from your own.
    • The newfangled hymn books that were purchased.
    • Guitars and/or drums and/or pipe organs and/or didgeridoos in worship.
    • (Fill in any other reason here)
  • You were never concerned that kids reading the Harry Potter books would all become witches or warlocks and fly on broomsticks or cast spells that made slugs come out of someone’s mouth.
  • You actually really liked those Harry Potter books, to tell you the truth. And the movies, too.
  • You wonder why we take ourselves so bloody seriously sometimes.
  • You don’t need huge video screens, massive sound systems, professional praise bands, pyrotechnics, smoke machines, CGI, dramas, hip pastors with tattoos or light displays to feel closer to God.
  • You sometimes feel that those couple of hours on a Sunday morning are much better spent elsewhere or with other people.
  • You imagine that Jesus might be unwelcome in most Evangelical churches if he brought along his posse of secularists, prostitutes and ne’er-do-wells.
  • You hear someone tell you to “Take Back the City for Christ” and wonder how He lost it in the first place if He’s, y’know, God and all.
  • You fear that if Jesus was roaming around today, teaching and healing, his harshest words would be directed at us.
  • You have felt far more inspired and encouraged after a simple coffee shared with a friend than after a dozen church-related activities.
  • You wonder what all the fuss is about most of the time.

Did you find yourself anywhere on this list? If so, you may be struggling at this Evangelical Christian thing, too.

I want to follow Jesus. But after considering how badly I am doing at this, I think it’s time we had a new category for Christianity. Either that or it’s time to cast aside categories altogether and live and let live. Jesus was clear that it would be love that would be the defining characteristic of his followers. It sounds too simple but maybe we are guilty of making it too complicated. The first believers were called “followers of the Way”; Jesus has laid the path out and we’re to follow. It is we who’ve added the tons of baggage and trappings and rules and regulations and expectations and limitations to the deal. He put it so straightforward and unencumbered: “Follow me.”

I want to be able to do that free from labels, free from the shackles we put on others and on ourselves.

I just want to be known as someone who believes in, loves and follows Jesus. I might still be lousy at that but at least I’ll fumble along in joy instead of confusion.

Heart of Whiteness


The sight of the massive spider clinging to the roof of our tent, illuminated by a flashlight, made us all jump. By calling it “massive” maybe I’m exaggerating a tad. It was probably about as big as a Loonie… with legs. But in our eyes it was so big it deserved its own postal code. Our tent was pitched conveniently on the village football pitch but still near the webbed tangle of African jungle that surrounded the field. For all we knew, that adenoidal eight-legged freak could’ve crawled from the heart of darkness itself.

For a group of young, white college kids this foray into the depths of the Liberian forests had its moments that made Conrad’s boat-ride-from-hell seem very plausible: there was the inky black road into the village on the first night where occasionally the headlights of our car would dance on the ghostly-white, painted face of a tribal girl by the roadside, looking like a vengeful tree spirit; there was the thin black line on an undulating march over a walking path – a gigantic army in miniature – ants by the millions who would scale your pant leg if you stepped on them; there was the thick air that settled down on you like a musty wet blanket, making it hard to breathe and causing your skin to constantly bead up with sweat. At times it was easy to see how this place could make you go Kurtz all over. Or at least make you desperate for a hot shower.

The village seemed to us to be part of another world. But the reality was that real people lived here; people who loved and died and had babies and worked hard and laughed and danced and cried and played football. It was a land of children, children, children everywhere, some with just the tattered remnants of t-shirts hanging off their bony frames. Women here had broad shoulders and strong arms that would be the envy of any North American gym-rat, developed the hard way through years of pounding cassava and yams. Men gathered under the shade of the common hut, their faces uniquely carved with decorative scars. Their environment had produced a resilient version of humanity, to which we were both literally and figuratively pale in comparison. In their hearts we didn’t see darkness but light – inexhaustible, inextinguishable light. They were people who endured and would endure.

We were people who craved a shower. Our visit was only for a few days, following on the heels of our white-haired, rail-thin, eccentric professor who knew these people and this village very well. His heart was alit by this place and these people and he wanted us to experience that luminance for ourselves. To that end we mingled with the villagers; we attended a spirited football match between the village team and a nearby rival; we danced and sang into the late hours, making the children laugh at our bizarre approximation of their fluid movements; we rode to market on an overloaded truck, clinging to the roof beside dead porcupines for sale; we made a trek to the local chief’s village and ate food so hot it made our eyes, nose and sweat glands run. In just a few days we had many experiences that would cling to us for a lifetime. However, with a western sense of immediacy, it was the other stuff clinging to us that we were thinking about.

The insistent and nagging North American need for a good washing is hard to ignore, especially when you’re young and concerned about body odor, even in the middle of the Liberian jungle. To people of this village, where indoor plumbing is a tale from a distant land, washing took place in a little stream on a path that ran from their town to the next. We had seen the mothers dutifully take their young ones there to scrub off the dirt that seems to follow children the world over. So one morning, the men in our group, including our professor, made our way down to the stream. We each stripped down to the way God made us in all our pasty glory, the better to scrub each crack and crevice free of grime. The cool water felt heavenly and for a brief moment our longings for a shower stall were forgotten.

“Turn your backs, guys.”

It was a softly spoken command from our leader. Glancing down the path we could see a group of African women heading our way, from our village to the next, carrying their goods perched on their heads. Irresolutely marching and never faltering, the women came on. We tried in vain to hide our own goods as they passed by. The women blithely greeted us as they continued on to their destination.

There was a pause as they disappeared into the jungle. Then our professor lightly proclaimed, “I bet that’s more white skin than they’ve ever seen at one time.”

As for me, a young man exposed in an ancient continent, I could only mutter, “The horror! The horror!”

The World’s Game and Our World


Recently one of my co-workers, in explaining his zeal for the World Cup, said, “It’s the world’s game and I love the world!”

Football. Futbol. Soccer. Whatever you call it, there is no denying its international appeal. No other form of sport can claim such world-wide loyalty and support. In fact, on a scale of universal popularity, the “Big 3” of American sports – Baseball, Basketball and their version of Football – are the poor cousins to the Beautiful Game. It is played and loved with reckless abandon on every continent. A glance at the crowds at the World Cup will give you red and yellow, black and white;  cultures as disparate as dancing Ghana and stolid Germany; cries and chants and songs in Portuguese, Korean, Dutch and Arabic. In a world that seems to be more fractured than ever, this simple game unites. It is quite literally a level playing field that crosses boundaries, ethnicities, politics and languages. Every four years the nations gather together to kick, pass, tackle and flop their way through the Great Ballet de Ballon. Even if you are a Hater, you have to admit: It is the World’s Game!

That being the case, I began to wonder: What does the World’s Game tell us about our world? If so many billions can share a love for football, then what can football tell us about ourselves? I’d like to share with you some observations I have made while watching and cheering and groaning my way through the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

South Africa worldcup 2010 - fireball

First, after all these millennia, we remain very tribal.

My tribe, your tribe: Associated with the negative side of this perspective is the term tribalism, i.e., to view your group as being better than another; believing in the innate superiority of your tribe over other tribes. This in and of itself is a human tendency but left unchecked it can lead to oppression and violence. Certainly, our world history is full of examples of tribalism, whether based in an ethnic tribe, religious tribe, political tribe or national tribe, that have led to atrocities and horrors galore. Unfortunately, these events are not just part of our past but also part of our present. For some reason we persist in our tribalistic tendencies, needing a reason to elevate ourselves over others, to promote our tribe at the expense of another.

All the flag waving and face-painting and chanting at World Cup time can carry a chilling note. Football has its own ugly history of violence, xenophobia and racism; also a past but present reality that can’t be ignored. The Game has often been much more than a game: Its beauty has been marred by scars and has held a mirror up to our world. If it sometimes seems repulsive that is because we as a human race continue to deface ourselves with self-inflicted wounds.

Does loyalty and pride in your tribe necessarily bring you down to depravity? Does it inexorably lead to fractures and divisions? As the camera pans the crowd at the World Cup games, I’m struck by the peacefulness of the tribes often seated side-by-side, cheering for a different colour down on the pitch but all just a part of a great, vibrant mass of humanity. I often find myself smiling and laughing with joy as I see the displays of zeal for their home side. I can’t help but be swept up in this because it is infectious. The positive side of this is the fact that we find so much common ground in our common tribal mentality. Grown men weeping, children jumping up and down, people grabbing each other in spontaneous embraces: How can you not feel part of that, no matter what your tribe? It is so gloriously human.

The world is full of tribal people like you and me but that doesn’t have to lead down a path of self-destruction. It all comes down to either creating division or celebrating diversity. I hate my divided World but I love my diverse World. The World Cup and the World’s Game has the potential to help us all sing and dance in unified diversity.


Second, despite our increasingly complex world, the simple things remain true.

Technology sets the pace in the world and that pace sometimes feels like hyperspace. What was once cutting-edge is now outdated in a matter of months. Trying to keep up with this race means money, time and the margin in life to stay in step. This complexity points to the ever-growing disparity between the Haves and Have-Nots in our world today. Quite often, the poorer citizens of the earth do not have the resources to keep pace. Mostly they are just trying their best to survive, to support their families, to put the proverbial daily bread on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Those of us in the richer nations take our life margin for granted, believing this is the way everyone lives. However, this is not the case. I have the money to afford the laptop I type this on and the margin in life to have the time to do so. In other words, I have at my fingertips what billions of people in my world do not have the resources to grasp.

Where is the common ground in all of this? Is it even possible to find common ground between the wealthy few and the struggling many? Simplicity is where we find commonality. The simple things of life hold true for me, you and everyone else that shares this small planet spinning in space. Love, family, laughter, music, creativity, work, play – these things are true everywhere and with everyone. And included in that picture is the simplest game ever created. A game that needs only a patch of ground and something that resembles a ball. The Beautiful Game, the World’s Game, could easily be known as the Simple Game because it simply is so.

Twenty-five years ago I was struck by these thoughts as I spent time in a small village in the country of Liberia, West Africa. I was visiting with a professor of mine and a small group of college students from the U.S. and Canada. From Monrovia we were driven deep into the forested countryside, late at night in a place no electric light interfered. At times on the drive in through those ridiculously rugged roads I felt like I was entering Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Our first night we pitched our tents on a large open patch of ground. It wasn’t until dawn that I realized we had pitched on the pitch, that is, the football pitch that had been carved out of the forest for the use of the village. It was certainly not a level playing field; some stumps were left that were too stubborn to remove; out-of-bounds was the dense rainforest that surrounded the pitch. Yet a lot of hard work had gone into making room for the World’s Game in this remote corner of the world.

In that village I saw people living in abject poverty; living without so many of the things I thought were essential. Yet we found common ground in the simple things like sharing a joke, goofing around with the kids, attempting to dance, and even running around on that rough-but-ready soccer field, kicking a ball, playing a simple game together.

Boys play football, Senyah, Liberia, 1989

Boys play football, Senyah, Liberia, 1989

The World’s Game tells me that much of my world is poor because the game can thrive in the poorest of places. It is so simple and takes so little; that is where it finds its genius.

The World’s Game also tells me that my world can find common ground when we lean on the simple things. If we define ourselves in other ways, based on our wealth or power or influence, we create deep divides between ourselves and those who can never attain those jaded virtues. But if we define ourselves based on the simple things, we create bridges that bring us together, that make us realize that we hold much more in common than we realize.

Defining what it means to be human can always be boiled down to the simplest of things. The World’s Game, the Simple Game, has the potential to help us see each other as simply another human being, one with the same joys and fears as me.

It is, in the end, just another game. But also, in the end, I’m just another human being.

Ultimately, what do I take from my observations on the World Cup 2014? It is the World’s Game. And I love the World.




An American Ode on Canada Day

As an American celebrating his fourteenth Canada Day on Canadian soil, here is an ode to my adopted country. Inspired by Keats’ poem “Ode On a Grecian Urn”, this is my hymn of praise to the True North. Written on July 1, 2014.

Canadian Boy

Thou still unravished bride of whiteness,

Thou foster-child of Britain and of France,

Mowat and Atwood likely could express

A better ode than this American putz:

What maple leaf –fringed legend haunts thy shape

Of Gretzky and mortals or both

In Toronto or the dales of Burnaby?

What men or Mufferaws are these? What Acadians loth?

What Trivial Pursuit? What pass from tape-to-tape?

What fiddles and bagpipes ? What tepid Red Rose tea?


Shaped dough of Tim’s is sweet, but flowing syrup

Sweeter, therefore, trees tap on;

Not just for sensual tongue but, more endear’d,

Feed our spirits with thy rich tone.

Fair youth on outdoor rinks cannot yet go

Home though supper-time be called;

No winning shot has yet been tallied

Skate on despite wind and cold.

Warmth will flood when, arms upraised,

Is heard, “He shoots! He scores!”


What land is this that freezes and boils,

Where deep snow yet blistering sun is seen?

Toques, Mukluks and tanks of heating oils

Exist with swimming trunks, AC and sunscreen.

In span of but weeks the snowshoers tread

On waters now solid and still;

Only now calm from the cottagers play,

From Ski-dos, canoes, loons and kabooms.

From evergreen to seemingly dead,

A cycle no death can kill.


O Canuck land, fair and free, doth teem

Of men authentic, maidens fair overwrought,

With forests, lakes, rivers and trodden paths,

Your vast form dost tease us out of thought.

Cities rumble, roll and flow; highways stretch beyond

Imaginings; people red and white and black and tan

Make a tapestry draped in full humanity.

Sea to sea to sea and there and back again,

Draws from each soul a simple, “It’s a beauty, eh?”

And in truth beauty, beauty truth

C, A, N, A, D, and A