Story-Making as Shalom-Making

(On October 24, 2015, I delivered this keynote address at the Christian Courier Story-maker’s Symposium, celebrating that Christian newspaper’s 70th anniversary. Give and take some spur of the moment revisions and minus introductory remarks and the power point slides, this is the presentation I gave.)

I am going to show a music video as part of my talk today. But before I do that, I am going to read three passages from the Bible. There are well known Bible passages. And then, I will give some background info so that you can appreciate the video better, then show the video. And after that, I will try and tie them all together in my talk, somehow.

Read Genesis 11:1-9; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Proverbs 14:12.

I am going to show you a music video by Sinead O’Connor. Sinead O’Connor, if you don’t know, is an Irish singer, raised Roman Catholic.

Sinead O'Connor By Pymouss (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Sinead O’Connor
By Pymouss (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
There are a couple of things you need to know about her in order to fully appreciate the music video I am about to show you. First is that Sinead became an international music star in 1990 when her hit song Nothing Compares to You hit No. 1 in several countries including the UK and the USA. Nothing Compares to You, which I think is still the song that most people remember Sinead for, is basically a song about a woman lamenting the departure of her lover, as nothing is the same without him in her life because, well, nothing compares to him. Its accompanying music video also became iconic, where the video comprised almost entirely of a close up of Sinead’s face as she sings the song. Remember this iconic close up shot (for the video).

A note about Sinead’s shaven head – she originally shaved it as a protest against traditional views of women, it became her trademark but also became part of her identity. She once said, “I don’t feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I’m an old lady, I’m going to have it.” [Barkham, Patrick (20 February 2007). “The Bald Truth”.The Guardian (London).]

One other thing that Sinead O’Connor is (in)famous for is her appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, where during her performance, she presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera and ripped the photo to pieces and said, “Fight the real enemy.” Sinead, throughout her career, has, shall we say, a testy relationship with the church? She has often criticized organised religion although she has said before in interviews that she still considers herself a Christian. She is an outspoken feminist and had spoken against child abuse in the church.

That’s what you need to know to more fully appreciate the music video (embedded below). Continue reading “Story-Making as Shalom-Making”

Consumerism and the Church

Black Friday shoppers in Seattle, 2010. Photo by John Anderson via Flickr, Creative Commons
Black Friday shoppers in Seattle, 2010. Photo by John Henderson via Flickr, Creative Commons

(This post was originally published as “Have It Your Way? When the Church Embraces Consumerism” in The Banner, April 22, 2002, pp. 28-30.)

A new church recently opened in my neighborhood. How did I know? Well, it was hard not to notice when you were bombarded with letters, postcards and phone calls. I am happy that another church has opened its doors. What bothered me were the marketing techniques used. Besides the intrusive telemarketing approach, the postcards I received pushed a very clear message: we give you what you want. Anything from famous TV personalities and energetic music to fresh hot Starbuck’s coffee waiting for you at the front door! And I am not kidding. The Starbuck’s coffee was one of the church’s “selling points.”

I am not against good coffee or TV personalities. I am concerned that well-meaning Christians and churches are buying into consumerism, which says, “anything you want (not what you need), you got it.” Theologian David Wells, in his book God in the Wasteland (IVP, 1994), argues that North American evangelicals have allowed consumerism to turn the God of mercy into a god at our mercy, satisfying our wants (p. 114).

I want to take a closer look at consumerism. What is it? And how has it affected North American Christianity? Can the church use consumer and marketing models without compromising its faith? Continue reading “Consumerism and the Church”

Helping Teens Keep the Faith

Jakarta Church photo from Wikipedia
Jakarta Church photo from Wikipedia

Today’s blog post is by a York student, David Ekere. David has been involved in my ministry since the 2013-14 academic year. By his own admission, he wrote a seven page paper on “Why Teens Leave the Church” one night when he was “bored from studying”! We might be seeing a future youth pastor in the making! And he sent it to me for my feedback. Part of my ministry’s mission is to develop the leadership potential in students. Hence, I choose to empower David’s voice and passion by posting a revised version of his paper on my blog. I have to edit the paper down to a more blog-friendly length, and also changed his paper’s tone. So, here is the David-approved edited version with my brief responsive remarks after the paper.

Continue reading “Helping Teens Keep the Faith”

Counterfeit Faith – Dogmatism

Beware of Dogma sign
By Twinsday (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One of my problems is that I am a slow reader, which was no help to me at all during my years as an English Literature major! I can skim read, of course, but when I come across good books packed full of excellent wisdom, I end up taking forever to digest them. Add in my A.D.D. issues, and I end up with tons of books that I never finish, or have only read bits and pieces in, or have never even started!

So, recently I picked up off my shelf a book I bought years ago – David G. Benner’s Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human (Brazos Press, 2011) – and realized again why I wanted to read it. Benner, psychologist and author, writes with great wisdom and grace. Very early in the book already it made me pause to meditate and reflect. Here is a long excerpt: Continue reading “Counterfeit Faith – Dogmatism”

God’s Gift of Church Membership

Open Church Guest Book Image
© Lisa F. Young | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I was generously given a nice little book that I would highly recommend to church pastors as an excellent resource for educating church members of what it means to be a member of a local church. Thom S. Rainer’s I am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference (B&H Publishing, 2013) is short (only 79 pages), straightforward and simple (accessible, not academic) and yet, covers very good ground.

In a market that is increasingly saturated with books targeted at pastors on how to be the ideal church leader, it is important and refreshing that someone wrote a book aimed at the followers. The book is organized into six chapters, each ending with a membership pledge. Continue reading “God’s Gift of Church Membership”

Five Marks of an Ideal Church?

9631777_sI have recently been thinking about what an ideal church, for me, might look like. So, I have come up with five marks of my ideal church. Of course, no one congregation will be able to embody these five marks perfectly. I have no delusions of finding or creating an actual ideal church. But I think these five marks can help guide us towards improvements and in what direction we should go. And I am curious as to how others would imagine their ideal church, so please leave comments.

Continue reading “Five Marks of an Ideal Church?”

Church and Culture

Back in 2007, I was asked to write a paper for a South East Asian Christian Reformed Church (CRC) Pastors’ Conference. I wrote a paper titled, “Challenges Facing Asian Churches in North America”. Some recent discussions made me pulled out this paper again and I find that it still has relevance, both to Asian churches and non-Asian ones. Besides being a challenge to immigrant Asian churches, it also serves as an introduction to issues of culture and mission for the church. It sets up for a mini-series of posts on the “missional” church (Probably 2 or 3 posts on it.) So, here’s my revised 2007 paper: Continue reading “Church and Culture”