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Kinnon on things he is rather tired of

I don’t post a lot on theology and the church anymore but if you are wondering what I am thinking on any topic, head to Bill Kinnon’s blog.  Bill just posted on things he is rather tired of and he has posted what I have been thinking of but have been too disgusted to write about.

I just spent the last hour working on a post called Power, Authority and Control. And I just don’t have the energy to finish it. As you might imagine, it references the recent nonsense from John Piper on Christianity being masculine, more Mark Driscoll than I care to think about and the latest missive from 9Marks on church discipline — as if it’s a line from Hotel California, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

The post references the upcoming T4G conference where the recently reinstated CJ Mahaney, he of blackmailing-his-church-cofounder-fame, will share the platform with men who will teach young males about the importance of exerting proper control of their sheep. If there was truth in advertising, or a at least Christian advertising, the conference would be called Men Together for the Patriarchal Gospel.

So here are some of the things that I’m tired of:

1) People who deny that they believe that patriarchy is a first-order issue, but then do everything in their power to make it such.

2) The people who insist that they have the answers for the church simply because of the size of their audience. Would they please spend some time in 20th century history. Assuming they are literate, that study should defeat the argument for them.

3) The supposedly Christian publishers who promote anything as long as they think there’s a market for it — I’m getting more convinced every day that I should only read Christian writings from authors who’d been dead for at least 40 years.

4) Celebrity-Driven Conferences that could fill almost every waking moment, if one were so inclined, but in the end have limited to no impact – other than on the bank accounts of attendees.

I like his fourth point because he is both right and I think church leaders actually use conferences as an escape from their own problems.   Like I have said before, I have never understood why one profession (which really isn’t that difficult) needs to go to so many conferences.

The Death and Life of Prairie Bible College

Jeremy Klazus has a great article on the trials and tribulations of Prairie Bible College.

Prairie Bible College Opinionated alumni and donors have long scolded PBI leaders for deviating even slightly from the status quo. Even L.E. got flak. After spending 19 years as a missionary in Japan, a Prairie grad named Marvin L. Fieldhouse returned to PBI, disliked what he saw and wrote a fiery undated pamphlet titled “Whither Bound” (described on its stark black cover as “a shocking analysis of current trends at Prairie Bible Institute”). Inside, he recalled seeing Ernest Manning, then Alberta’s premier, on the platform at PBI’s 40th anniversary in 1962, a scene that would have been incomprehensible in the institute’s early days. L.E. had warmed to politics over the years and especially liked Manning, admiring that he kept his radio broadcasts free from politics (“a wiser man than Aberhart,” he once wrote). Fieldhouse was nevertheless incensed. “I honestly wanted to vomit right where I sat in the tabernacle,” he wrote.

L.E. got sheaves of letters from similarly disgruntled American fundamentalists. A Minneapolis woman who’d heard that her niece was using hair rollers at Prairie wrote in 1966, “No wonder that in the picture which she sent home that she looked so worldly—much more so than when she left home. What is happening to your standards up there anyway??” Other letters carried a more menacing tone. After a PBI quartet visited his church in 1977, Pastor George C. Bergland of Le Roy, Minnesota wrote saying he was distressed by the singers’ appearance. “For example, last night, some of the young fellows badly needed a haircut. One of them had a moustache.” Bergland was further offended by “pictures of girls in slacks playing tennis” in a PBI publication. Then came his threat: “I am writing to say that if the trend towards worldly dress and haircuts continues I am sure that it won’t be long before our support will be discontinued. I am sure that the same will be true of many fundamental churches.”

L.E. responded generously even to the kooks. To Bergland, he wrote, “we appreciate folk who hold standards in this day—when the whole world has pretty well gone down the drain.” Yet he reminded his correspondent that “there are greater things that unite us” than moustaches and hairstyles. Still, change came slowly at PBI. L.E. himself resisted faculty efforts to relax rules forbidding male-female interaction, and TVs were forbidden in staff homes until the mid-’80s, after L.E. had died.

Other by Kester Brewin

Other by Kester BrewinKester Brewin released his latest book Other.  It’s only available in the U.K. right now but if you want to pay the Canadian government a lot of fees, you can get it shipped here (I paid more in taxes and fees for The Complex Christ than I did for the book but it was worth it).

I am pretty excited about this book because The Complex Christ forced me to rethink much of how I saw the world, looked at history, and read the Scriptures.  While Brewin writes theology, his writing extends my thinking beyond where it has gone before.  I rate him up with Thomas Homer-Dixon, Jared Diamond, Malcolm Gladwell, and Steven Johnson as people that have helped constantly reinvent my world view.  I can’t wait until my copy gets here (the fees alone should erase Canada’s deficit).

The NASCAR version of the Bible


You know, for when the Word of God isn’t exciting enough for the NASCAR fan in your life, this version brings testimonies and photographs of the popular race personalities with whom they work on a daily basis: the drivers, the pit crews, the media spokespeople, and others associated with the world of racing.

Seminary 2.0

Bill Kinnon talks about a video he shot a couple of years ago with Eddie Gibbs

In an interview I shot with Eddie Gibbs a couple of years ago (no longer available online, I’m afraid), Eddie talked about the present seminary model that leads to students incurring huge debts in pursuit of their Masters Degrees. He commented that his banker, financial advisor and a real estate agent he knew were all M.Div’s who couldn’t afford to work full time at a church – they wouldn’t be able to service their seminary education debt.

Eddie was bold enough to suggest that seminaries needed to learn how to give their education away for free – like MIT and Stanford are doing. (Not that I expect to see that any time soon.) He also suggested that churches needed to be the ones sending folk to seminaries, paying for that education and expecting the seminarians to return to their sending community to work there or to be sent out from that community to plant new churches.

This is where the Disseminary makes so much sense to me.

Tall Skinny Bailout

Andrew Jones is blogging on the debt dependent church.  Here are some of the gems from the post

I have seen a number of Seminary graduates come overseas to hang with us and to potentially find work in the "emerging church". After a short time, they have gone back to USA disappointed that there are no paid positions. Huge and wonderful opportunities . . . puny financial benefit. What did they teach those students about the emerging church? My guess is they pointed to a few cool mega-churches and said these were emerging. Wrong!

Of course what do they find in the United States?

And what about traditional church ministry and its dependence on buildings? I heard a Desiring God podcast last week where one pastor claimed some of his churches in Texas were worth $150 million and $250 million. How is it possible to reproduce this model without incurring incredible levels of debt? And has anyone stopped to ask if buying a huge building is the best way to spend God’s money?

How much does it cost to start a traditional church with a building and paid pastor? A million? Two million? A million dollars on the mission field could help launch a huge sprinkling of house churches that would saturate an area with small vibrant communities of faith where every believer is a minister. This is happening today and it is wonderful.

Suddenly Seminary at Habbo Hotel with Andrew Jones I think Andrew has some good things to say here but he is missing the point that a privately funded (this means paid for by massive tuition bills and student loans) theological education creates a system where all by the wealthiest have to find full time ministry jobs just to service the student loan debt.  Right from the time we start to seriously educate church leaders, we ask them to embrace a worldview of debt and unless your parents are rich and want to help out, there are few alternatives paths to explore.  I wish Andrew had kept pushing the idea of Suddenly Seminary.  I am not sure if it the alternative but it was a way of creatively addressing the issue and it is one that keeps needing to be explored.

10 Years of Next-Wave

issuecoverStephen Shields has an excellent look back at the emerging church in the current edition of Next-Wave.  Some of the interviews that made up the article can be found here and here.

A Year Under the Perfect Sun

A Year Under the Perfect SunI posted a couple of weeks ago that I had ordered A Year Under the Perfect sun from the Ecclesia Collective. It’s a zine put together by Jason and Brooke Evans and within minutes of submitting my order, I got an e-mail from Jason saying it had been sent.  A couple days after Christmas it arrived and Wendy and I sat down to read it.

I haven’t bought a zine in years (which along with the fact that I am bald and now own a Honda Accord may mean that I am not the hipster I think thought I was) and I almost forgot what to expect.  What I got a well written, beautifully designed piece that actually inspired me and reminded me what living as a Christian is about and has made me think that if I was going to move, moving to be a part of what the Ecclesia Collective is doing in San Diego would be a good idea (although that may be the -47 degrees celcius weather talking as well).

If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, head on over and get your order in.  While I am sure the black and white version looks good, you will want to get the color copy, it’s worth the extra money.  After reading the zine through, I found myself (and Mark) going through it a couple of times just to enjoy the design and the graphics.

I was going to take some photos of it but I saw these on the Collective website and they give you an idea of how it looks and the time that was put into it.

A Year Under the Perfect Son A Year Under the Perfect Sun

Not only does it give a great overview of what the Ecclesia Collective did in 2008, it’s a great conversation starter for what your community can do in 2009.

Soularize in a Box II

This came via Spencer Burke today.  I got my copy and it is well worth the full asking price and is an incredible deal at 50% off.

Soularize in a Box

This holiday season, give an entire conference in a box!  Use the code, “HOLIDAY08″ at checkout and receive
50% OFF Soularize in a Box Vol 2!

Featured in this 2 disc set:

  • N.T. Wright
  • Richard Rohr
  • Brennan Manning
  • Rita Brock
  • Frank Viola
  • Michael Dowd

and many others!

You get 40 hours of both Audio AND Video combined!

Life in the Margins

Jason Evans was one of the first bloggers I read way back when Blogger was independent and less reliable than an investment in General Motors.  I was surfing the web the other day and writing a blog post that will never see the light of day.

The story of the Ecclesia Collective and the Hawthorn House is a story of a commitment to those marginalized places.

We live in a unique region. San Diego–a city of beauty, affluence and distraction-borders Tijuana, a city rife with crime, poverty and pollution. Few places in the world have the extremes we do in one region. Truly, we are “Siamese twins” as author Mike Davis has written; dependent upon each other, for the good and bad we each reciprocate. But these labels are not limited to each of these cities. In the shadows of San Diego, are the invisible poor and Tijuana has a beauty all to it’s own. We are a region almost completely without the change of seasons. We are the endless summer. It breeds transients and a non-committal posture in those of us that call this place “home”. The high cost of living here causes selfish lifestyles, always looking out for ourselves, rather than our community. As if there is never enough.

But amidst all of the challenges that exist in San Diego and Tijuana there are those that are choosing to live differently, that are working together for a different kind of region. In a transient culture we seek to lay deep roots within our neighborhoods. In a shallow, externally-based culture we desire to learn how to value what is inside each of us. In a fast-paced, non-stop culture we are looking for rhythms that balance our lives, giving us a livable pace. In a city committed to holding up what divides, we will stand for what unites us. In a culture that functions on scarcity we desire to function on abundance. In a region with an unsatiable appetite for sprawl and the negligence of the natural world, we desire to reconnect with the created world and work for it’s healing. In a culture where the market effects all, we seek to create spaces outside of the market where truth, humanity, beauty and creativity are celebrated without being commodified. We are a group of people that are desirous of a more equitable, sustainable and peaceful San Diego.

Why San Diego? Because, as Earl Pomery said, “San Diego hoped more, or longer, than the others.” San Diego is the gateway of El Norte: the land of hopeful future for the poor from the South. We are a land of possibility. That is why we are here. Hope.

Not a lot of church mission or statements make me consider packing up and moving to a different country but this one does.  If you are going to exist, exist for a reason that matters.


Collapse by Jared Diamond It was a couple of years ago that I read Collapse by Jared Diamond and the book had a profound influence on my thinking.  Hearing him a couple of weeks ago started caused me to revisit my thought process on societal collapse some more.  For me the most interesting part of the book is the difference between cultures that allowed themselves to collapse and those that did not.  The main difference was the isolation of the leadership.  If you were an isolated leader whose fate was not related to the well being of the people, you tended not to care.  If your fate in life was dependent on the ebbs and tides of those following your rule, you cared a lot.  A modern day example would be why New Orleans did not spend the millions to fix the dykes.  While Ward 9 was below sea level, the wealthy and the ruling class lived on much higher ground.  Another example of this is PM Harper’s comments that the economic collapse is a good buying opportunity for stocks.  He may be right (If I find a couple more dollars in the couch, I can afford to buy all of the Ford Motor Company [which has a market cap of only 4.3 billion today]) but his viewpoint comes from being a long way removed from where many people are living.  His pension is secure and he doesn’t have to worry about retirement.

I wonder the same thing can be said about church pastors.  For many, they come from outside the community, have no long term ties to the community or the church and if going  gets rough, have escape routes to take to another church, back to school, or another religious institution.  Constant church transitions means that entire years are lost (researchers say it takes a pastor 7 years to build the relationships necessary to be effective in a local church… of course since most senior pastor tenures are under 2 years in the United States, that is just theory). In addition to this, there is a clergy class in almost every denomination which in a variety of historical settings has chosen to protect itself and it’s members rather than the institution it serves.

Lyle Schaller has written about this extensively but I wonder if until we can get our minds around a different idea what leadership looks like and then figure out new ways to teach and  educate them for pastoral ministry, the current system is just going to make the problems worse.

Training for today

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend who is in leadership in his local seminary.  While some seminaries are theologically focus, this one is a pastor factory whose primary mission is to produce pastors.  Years ago if you remember, I talked about a Personal MDiv and I was asked for some feedback.  I didn’t have that much to add to the conversation but I offered this up.

  • An understanding of how communities work:  The church can be a prophetic voice in a neighborhood or city but unless it is a big box mega church outside of town, it is often a neighbor and therefore has an impact on how that neighborhood interacts with it and each other.   Some churches are amazing neighbors while others can be jerks.   Each neighborhood has a different vibe and feel to it.  I walk the 15 blocks to work quite a bit and just by walking through Mayfair, Caswell Hill, and Riversdale and I can feel the differences.  Jane Jacobs may be the best pick to start with if you are talking about an urban context but there needs to be a framework for understanding the ebb and flow of a local neighborhood and community.  I am not sure how we missed this but I imagine that for long the church was the centre of the neighborhood that we haven’t adjusted to being ignored or looked down on by the neighborhood.  As Darryl Dash wrote in Christian Week, at one time being near a church meant a higher property value.  That isn’t the case today.
  • How to start something: After reading Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, you realize that many of the missional examples are not churches but are businesses, NGO’s, or non-profits.  Believe me, nothing I learned in school taught me how to deal with funders, investors, or banks.  How to write a decent business plan, bootstrap, when to go for angel investment or a loan, when to hire.  Those are skills that need to be learned somewhere.  I can imagine AKMA disagreeing that this should be a part of any seminary’s curriculum and he may be right.  If it isn’t a part of a formal education, make it readily available to those that do need those skills.  Guy Kawasaki and Garage used to do a Bootcamp for Startups.  Perhaps something like that offered occasionally from a denominational perspective would be helpful.
  • Ethics: A lot of church leaders I know of have odd ethics.  Maybe it is just me that finds it odd but hiding money from the taxman, lying to avoid conflict or accountability, a love of money, or just going through the motions is considered okay.  When I worked at Lakeview Church, we posted the full script transcripts of sermons there.  Friday the site was busy but on Saturday it was even busier.  Most of the traffic was from outside Saskatoon and it was all browsing and downloading sermons.  A friend of mine used to joke that if you wanted him to preach better sermons, Max Lucado had to preach better sermons.  It isn’t just out of the way pulpits where this happens.  I listened to one speaker who has written on leadership and integrity steal a litany from Len Sweet without credit.  Although to his defense, he probably never wrote the talk himself or his books.  My point is that ethics seems to have been lost along the way.  Either that or we are doing a horrible job of vetting clergy.
  • Cost: At what point do we have to find a new way of training clergy or accept the fact that only the wealthy or the heavily indebted will be able to enter pastoral ministry.  Tom Sine has talked about this for years and he is right.   The impact will be that only affluent congregations will be able to hire seminary educated clergy and smaller rural, inner city, missionary organizations will be priced out of the market.
  • Common Sense: A friend of mine wanted to plant an inner city church yet decided to move into a middle upper class neighborhood.  Does this strike anyone else as idiotic.  He wanted to be their pastor but not live around them.  (yeah, I just realize that I offended some of you)   I hesitate to add this because

I am oversimplifying the issues quite a bit and these were real simple off the top of my head answers but I thought some of you may find them interesting.

I am sure you have your own opinions.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

What’s New Around Here?

A couple of weeks ago I posted about The Blind Side which generated some good discussion in the comments.  What caught me off guard were a couple of e-mails that were sent about the post and the hypocrisy in me posting it and advocating the position that I did.  Apparently because I haven’t raised any NFL prospects in my house, I ought not speak of such things.  Even if that made sense, it is ignorant of the fact that Wendy and I have had someone living in our home for a couple of years after a particularly brutal time in their life.  While I never did get a NFL tryout for him or even a scholarship to a major U.S. college, it has been a big change for all of us.  It also suggests that perhaps a blog doesn’t tell everything about a person or maybe a search of the archives may be helpful.

The accusations also got to me because one of the things that I have been working on/obsessed with is setting up a safe house for 10 or so teen boys in Saskatoon who need a place to figure out life.  We have some emergency facilities at work for keeping youth on an emergency basis.  While we are doubling that capacity, it isn’t enough and there are youth who are either on the street or in really awful home situations. It is a complicated and long process which is a ways away an official start let alone finish but I think it is the right thing to do.

While speaking of work, I have some interesting stuff going on right now that will help guys with the transition out of the shelter and into their own place.  Saskatoon has a tighter housing market than New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary at 0.4% and if you aren’t making much money, are illiterate, or just feeling overwhelmed, guys tend to end up at flophouses which are called, “shooting galleries” for a reason.  I have been in some of them and I almost threw up.  My first apartment was a small studio apartment but it was a charming shoe box sized studio and was safe to roam the hallways.  The goal is to help guys find safe places they can afford to live on.  Having a little extra money in the bank makes a world of difference.  I was reading an article from the New Year with the mayor who pointed out that people making $40,000 can’t afford a home in the city which is true.  I can’t fix that but I hope to help those making around $20,000 a year a decent apartment.

Outside of work, a group of us is taking some small steps toward create an alternative seminary in Saskatoon.  We met Monday and those there had some excellent ideas.  It was good.  For those of you who have no idea what is so alternative about theological education, check out the Disseminary which was the inspiration for the idea as was the Invisible College in Kingston. 

So now you know.

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis

theblindsiidecover One of the books I received for Christmas was The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis, a book where one of my favorite authors tackles my favorite sport. In the 1980s rushing linebackers, specifically Lawrence Taylor, became a bigger part of the defensive scheme (at about the same time Bill Walsh was reinventing offensives to make the quarterback more important) This created a problem for the offensive line: protect the valuable & fragile quarterback from the huge, fast outside linebackers like Lawrence Taylor, who you may have seen snap Joe Theismann’s leg before. To stop the unstoppable, you need giant-handed men the size of houses who move like ballerinas to protect the blind side of the quarterback. Thus has the left tackle position become the second-highest paid position in the league behind the quarterbacks themselves.

The book is the story of Michael Oher, a kid from the ghettos of Memphis who somehow ends up at a private Christian school and is taken under the wings of a wealthy family and almost accidentally discovers football (his passion is basketball) and whose combination of strength, size, agility, and speed makes him the kind of left tackle that colleges and the NFL fantasize about. As a confessed NFL-aholic, I have to admit that I loved the X and O’s in the book but in many ways the book is a story of living out the faith.

A big part of the story is about the Tuohy’s. Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy were wealthy white evangelical Christians from the south. They were Republicans and had a daughter in a prestigious private Christian school not known for having a lot of blacks. After Sean initially made sure Michael’s lunches were paid for (lunch isn’t free at private schools), the got more and more involved until on Lee Anne’s initiative they took a 16 year old kid who would not speak, had no social skills and in many ways had no hope into their home. There are a couple of memorable lines from this transition.

The next day in the afternoon, Leigh Anne left her business — she had her own interior-decorating firm — turned up at Briarcrest, picked up Michael and took off with him. A few hours later, Sean’s cellphone rang. His wife was on the other end.

“Do you know how big a 58-long jacket is?” she asked.

“How big?”

“Not big enough.”

theblindside2 Leigh Anne Tuohy grew up with a firm set of beliefs about black people but shed them for another — and could not tell you exactly how it happened, except to say, “I married a man who doesn’t know his own color.” Her father, a United States marshal based in Memphis, raised her to fear and loathe blacks as much as he did. The moment the courts ordered the Memphis City Schools integrated in 1973, he pulled her out of public school and put her into the newly founded Briarcrest Christian School, where she became a student in its first year. “I was raised in a very racist household,” she says. Yet by the time Michael Oher arrived at Briarcrest, Leigh Anne Tuohy didn’t see anything odd or even awkward in taking him in hand. This child was new; he had no clothes; he had no warm place to stay over Thanksgiving. For Lord’s sake, he was walking to school in the snow in shorts, when school was out of session, on the off chance he could get into the gym and keep warm. Of course she took him out and bought him some clothes. It struck others as perhaps a bit aggressively philanthropic; for Leigh Anne, clothing a child was just what you did if you had the resources. She had done this sort of thing before and would do it again. “God gives people money to see how you’re going to handle it,” she says. And she intended to prove she knew how to handle it.

After the Tuohy’s decided that Michael would be moving in with them, there was one big problem where do you put a guy who a fifty-eight long is too small for.

As she organized his clothing, Leigh Anne stewed on where to put this huge human being. The sofa clearly would not do–“it was ruining my ten-thousand-dollar couch”–but she was worried that no ordinary bed would hold him, or, if it did, it might collapse during the middle of the night and he and it would come hurtling through the ceiling. Sean had mentioned that he recalled some of the larger football players at Ole Miss sleeping on futons. That day Leigh Anne went out and bought a futon and a dresser. The day the futon arrived,s he showed it to Michael and said, “That’s your bed.” And he said, “That’s my bed?” And she said, “That’s your bed.” And he just stared at it a bit and said, “This is the first time I ever had my own bed.”

This line kind of blew me away.

From the moment Michael moved in with them, Sean began to stew on his future. (“Because I figured I was going to have to pay for it.”) Michael was approaching the end of his junior year in high school, and while they hadn’t seen his transcripts, they knew his grades were poor. Since Myrtle Beach he’d been good enough of the basketball team that Sean thought he might be able to play at a small college. “And if I figured if he wasn’t, I could make him good enough,” said Sean.

Of course the next year he discovered football and became dominant but his marks were too poor to get into college. That didn’t stop Sean or Lee Anne.

To get into the N.F.L., Michael Oher needed to first get into college. And to get into college, he needed to meet the academic standards prescribed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The N.C.A.A. had a sliding scale of ACT scores and grade-point averages; the higher the ACT, the lower the required G.P.A. Given Michael’s best ACT score, to play college football he would need a 2.65 overall G.P.A. He had finished his sophomore year with a 0.9. A better performance at the back end of his junior year, when he moved into the Tuohy home, raised his cumulative average to 1.564. That’s when Leigh Anne took over more completely. Before Michael’s senior year, she called all his teachers at Briarcrest and asked them to tell her exactly what Michael had to do to earn at least a B in their classes. She didn’t expect them to just hand Michael a grade — though she wouldn’t have complained if they did. But to her way of thinking, a B was the fair minimum to give any normal person willing to take the simple steps. She would hound Michael until he took those steps. Just give me the list of things he needs to do, she told the teachers, and he will do them.

Two days into his senior year, he came home, dropped his massive backpack onto the kitchen table and said, “I can’t do this.” Leigh Anne thought he was about to cry. The next morning, she told him to suck it up and pushed him right back out the door. But that’s when Leigh Anne brought in Sue Mitchell, whom she met at a sorority function.

As a tool for overhauling the grade-point average of Michael Oher, as well as for broadening his experience of white people, Sue Mitchell had a number of things to recommend her. In her 35-year career she taught at several Memphis-area public schools. At Bartlett High School, just outside Memphis, she took over the cheerleading squad and whipped it into five-time national champions. She applied to work at the Briarcrest Christian School, but Briarcrest rejected her out of hand because though Mitchell said she believed in God, she had trouble proving it. (“The application did not have one question about education,” Mitchell says. “It was all about religion and what I thought about homosexuality and drinking and smoking.”) She wasn’t born again, and she didn’t often go to church. She also advertised herself as a liberal. When Sean heard that, he hooted at her, “We had a black son before we had a Democrat friend!”

Still, in spite of these presumed defects, Mitchell was relentless and effusive — the sort of woman who wants everything to be just great between her and the rest of the world but, if it isn’t, can adjust and go to war. And that’s what she did. She worked five nights a week, four hours each night, free, to help get Michael Oher into Ole Miss, her alma mater. The Tuohy family looked on with interest. “There were days when he was just overwhelmed,” says Collins, who saw the academic drama unfold both at school and at home. “He’d just close his book and say, ‘I’m done.”’ When he did this, Mitchell opened the book for him. She didn’t care much about football, but she fairly quickly became attached to Michael. There was just something about him that made you want to help him. He tried so hard and for so little return. “One night it wasn’t going so well, and I got frustrated,” Mitchell says, “and he said to me, ‘Miss Sue, you have to remember I’ve only been going to school for two years.”’

His senior year he made all A’s and B’s. It nearly killed him, but he did it. The Briarcrest academic marathon, in which Michael started out a distant last and had instantly fallen farther behind, came to a surprising end: in a class of 157 students, he finished 154th. He had caught up to and passed three of his classmates. When Sean saw the final report card, he turned to Michael with a straight face and said, “You didn’t lose; you just ran out of time.”

A lot of people would have given up at that point.

Now it was Sean’s turn to intervene.

From a friend, Sean learned about the Internet courses offered by Brigham Young University. The B.Y.U. courses had magical properties: a grade took a mere 10 days to obtain and could be used to replace a grade from an entire semester on a high-school transcript. Pick the courses shrewdly and work quickly, and the most tawdry academic record could be renovated in a single summer. Sean scanned the B.Y.U. catalog and found a promising series. It was called “Character Education.” All you had to do in such a “character course” was to read a few brief passages from famous works — a speech by Lou Gehrig here, a letter by Abraham Lincoln there — and then answer five questions about it. How hard could it be? The A’s earned from character courses could be used to replace F’s earned in high-school English classes. And Michael never needed to leave the house!

The book is about football but it is also a story on what the Christian faith looks like in practice. I think many people would look at a Michael Oher when he was 16 and think twice about talking to him let alone adopting him. As Lewis writes the story, it isn’t just his salvation that Tuohy’s were interested in, it was about helping a person for the sake of doing the right thing (something they had a history of doing according to book).

A combination of work, the holiday season, and the book has had me thinking about how to tackle bigger societal problems. I understand what Sojourners is trying to do and I am a liberal and believe that the government has a role in the solution (and helps create problems as well) but I am under no illusions that by fixing the system, one can solve societal problems.

I grew up going to good schools and while there were many idiots there, everyone knew how to read and write. They had learned to learn over the years and while some chose not to, it was their choice. Working at the shelter, I found myself amongst many people who are not in the rat race but are simply struggling to eat and stay warm. That’s it. The system keeps them going one day more at a time and for many that is it for their entire life. Poverty has become a life sentence. Maybe it was caused by fetal alcohol syndrome, untreated mental health issues, abuse, or generations of indifferent parenting but it is going to take a long term effort to work itself out.

For FAS victims alone, they many experience secondary disabilities on top of the FAS.

  • Mental health problems — Diagnosed with ADHD, Clinical Depression, or other mental illness, experienced by over 90% of the subjects
  • Disrupted school experience — Suspended or expelled from school or dropped out of school, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older)
  • Trouble with the law — Charged or convicted with a crime, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older)
  • Confinement — For inpatient psychiatric care, inpatient chemical dependency care, or incarcerated for a crime, experienced by about 50% of the subjects (age 12 and older)
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior — Sexual advances, sexual touching, or promiscuity, experienced by about 50% of the subjects (age 12 and older)
  • Alcohol and drug problems — Abuse or dependency, experienced by 35% of the subjects (age 12 and older)

All of these make it extremely function within society which is combined with a relatively low income earning potential. So whose responsibility are those that can not function well in society? Canadians tend to default to the government (our social safety nets) but that only helps a certain percentage. Social workers tend to be overwhelmed since the budget cuts in social services in the mid-90s. Several churches I know have really tried to make a difference but many efforts are programs where the end result is the distribution of goods on a limited scale which can be a good thing but as David Fitch argues effectively in his book, The Great Giveaway it isn’t justice we are performing. We aren’t changing lives (although it is important to help a person continue on until help can be had). The solution isn’t to not help but rather go further and get more involved and work towards something better in community. Of course that sounds a lot easier than what it is to do which explains why it doesn’t happen more.

The church does get bashed unfairly at times because in many ways the inner city ministries and churches that are the most closely situated to the problem often have the fewest resources for dealing with this. Those that have the resources are often a long way removed intellectually and world view from those that have the need. That may make what happened in the book all the more remarkable, someone moved out of their comfort zone and at risk to their family and themselves and became intimately involved in that person’s life. Churches are often hindered by a classroom/lecture style of discipleship (the sermon and class) that is ineffective with people who have never been taught that style of learning (Saskatoon has around 1500 truant school kids according to several reports and when they grow up, I would imagine they would be very similar to Michael Oher and very hard to teach).

I don’t know in the end what to make that part of the book. It is an issue I wrestle with and wonder what I need to be doing to make a bigger difference in more lives. I see an awful lot of pain and suffering and my prayer every morning is that I make some positive difference in the lives I cross at the shelter and at home.

What If?

Cultivate Missional Living [CML] is a six month training course for people who want to learn how to engage in mission in an urban community.

[CML] takes place in the Beasley neighbourhood in downtown Hamilton, Ontario – one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada – and is hosted by The Freeway.
[CML] is supported by Allelon, Resonate, and The Salvation Army.

For more information about [CML] or to receive an application form, please contact the [CML] director, Jordan Donald, by e-mail [] or by phone: 905-929-0890.