Seven years ago I embarked on my first sabbatical.  I quit my job, moved to England, and spent the year resting, travelling and doing odd contract jobs.

A few hours ago I started my second one.

This video probably explains better than I could the benefits and power of intentionally taking so long away from work.

Unlike Stefan Sagmeister, I’m probably not going to be spending months in Bali, although I do intend to spend time alone in the wilderness.  I’m also hoping that this will be a time for me to finally get to grips with various creative projects I’ve had in mind for a while.  More than anything it’s going to be a chance to break free from the standard patterns of work, let my brain rest and let my body, soul and spirit be rejuvenated.

‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord.

 Leviticus 25.



Prisoners and the right to vote

image from The Guardian

The European court of human rights, just like Canada’s supreme court, ruled that member states should not ban prisoners from voting.  Unfortunately the UK government is dragging its feet in implementing the required reforms.

This is a legal decision that I’m proud to say Canada got absolutely right.  I’m convinced that denying prisoners the right to vote is very dangerous to democracy.  We should not be creating large classes of people who have no say and no stake in our political processes.

This might make some people uncomfortable, but that is kind of the point.  If prisoners were to actually form a political constituency, we would have to have an ongoing dialog about crime, punishment and rehabilitation.  Every time election season rolls around, politicians rush to hold public debates in nursing homes, at city hall, and in schools.  What would happen if they also held them in our prisons?

I believe it would help ensure that we as a society didn’t conveniently ignore the correctional system.  Politicians would have to be actively engaged in issues of prison conditions, recidivism, parole, prisoners’ families and rehabilitation.

The stated mission of Correctional Service Canada is ‘encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens.’  At it’s heart I believe that this can be a fundamentally redemptive process – recognizing social brokenness and taking active steps towards building a more healthy, whole society.

And ensuring that both victims and perpetrators of crime remain connected to our political conversations is one important step in helping this happen.

Learning a lesson from my Huaraches

One of my all-time favourite books is Chris McDougal’s Born to Run.  It’s a wonderful mix of character profiles, meditations on what makes us human, sport’s journalism, and ultra-running.

Like everyone else who read the book, I totally fell in love with the idea of minimalist or barefoot running.  Inspired by stories of Kenyan children covering miles to and from school every morning unshod, or the Tarahuma in Mexico travelling up and down mountains in their huarches, I decided that here was the solution to the knee problems that had been plaguing my running career.  This was the right way to run.  I could become one with the trails I ran on.  I could re-discover the joy of feet and road and freedom, without all the modern paraphernalia of motion control, air cushioning, torsion bars and who knows what else.


I’ve had mixed results.

As it happened, I still completely believe that this is the right way to run.  As a result of reading this book, and my painful experiences last year, I re-engineered my gait, and adopted the minimalist philosophy.  And it worked – this year I completed my first ever ultra-marathon wearing just a pair of sandals.

Tracing out my feet

But that wasn’t enough for me.  Oh no.  I decided to go one step further, and make myself a pair of huarches.  These are nothing more than a few millimetres of rubber sole tied on to your feet with a length of cord.

The soles after cutting

A kit from cost me a mere $26, the cheapest pair of shoes I’d ever bought.  And I had the fun of making them myself – tracing out my foot on a sheet of paper, cutting out the soles, and threading the cord.

The finished product


And then I discovered something that wasn’t mentioned in Born to Run.

These shoes will challenge your feet like nothing ever has. Thirty years of running in padding, supported running shoes with thick heels, or even in regular sandals, had in no way prepared me for the abuse my feet were about to take.

I’m quite capable of running a half-marathon before breakfast.  But my first run in these gave me huge blisters on my toes that took weeks to heal.

These huaraches bite!

Once the first set of blisters healed, I tried them again.  A little trail run down to the lake and back.  This gave me a completely new set of blisters, on my heels this time.

So, back to other shoes for a few more weeks.  Then, last Wednesday I went out for a little hill training with the folks at the Running Room.  I didn’t get blisters that time.  I got tendonitis in my heel, instead.

There’s a reason for this.  Modern running shoes have a big cushion in the heel that is designed to absorb energy on impact and return it on push-off.  But our bodies already have a mechanism to perform this action – it’s the muscles in our calves.  But if we don’t train it, and then suddenly ask it to support us as we run uphill on our toes, it’s not surprising that it complains.

So, here I am, sitting with an ice-pack strapped to my ankle and wondering how I can train for Ironman Muskoka when I can’t walk without limping.

But I’m not complaining.  I still believe that our bodies are designed to run, and that it’s worth working with our natural biomechanics rather than fighting against them.  But we must do this with a certain degree of humility!   Our bodies are amazing things that can adapt to incredible demands, but we must approach this kind of training with caution and patience.

I’m not done yet!  Just as soon as my ankle heels I’ll be running in huarches again.  But just around the block to start with!



Ridiculously Easy Javascript Experimentation

My current favourite online tool is jsfiddle. This is an incredibly well designed tool.

If you ever find yourself wanting to quickly try out some HTML, CSS or javascript, without any edit-save-publish-reload cycle, then jsfiddle is the tool for you.  It keeps surprising me how well put together it is.  Sharing snippets of work with friends and colleagues just requires cutting and pasting a simple URL.  Forking is literally a one-click process.  Versioning is built in so seamlessly you hardly notice it.  And although you can set up an account to manage your code snippets, you don’t need to login to start using it.

This is a lesson to me on user-centric design.  The barrier to entry is absurdly low, and there are a bunch of powerful features that are easily discoverable when you want to go beyond the basics.  You have the option of pre-loading any number of popular javascript libraries such as jQuery and Prototype, and even Coffeescript is supported.

So, go give it a try.  jsfiddle could quite easily be integrated into your development processes in the next ten minutes.

Breath Deep

I can’t really go on about embracing diversity and dialog and so on without linking to one of my favourite songs ever.  The Lost Dogs say it about as well as it can be said:

Church 34 – Mapleview Community Church

This Sunday I visited Mapleview Community Church.

I have less to say about this one than some others, not least because I didn’t really get the chance to talk to anybody.  Despite hanging around for 10 minutes after the service, no one introduced themselves to me, so unfortunately I have to score Mapleview a little low on the ‘friendliness’ scale.  I did see lots of other interactions between people though, so I expect it is a friendly community if you are an ‘insider’.

So, first impressions.  Mapleview meets in a large, new, purpose-built building near Essa and Mapleview.    The meeting room seems designed for warehouse concerts, and the service is well-attended, slickly organised, and loud.  Stylistically they are probably closest to Connexus out of the other churches in the city.

Mapleview is enthusiastically embracing modern technology.  The announcements were delivered in the form of a short video, and as the service started we were encouraged to ‘tweet’ our presence to our social networks.  This is also the first church I’ve been in that has a public WiFi network that I could connect to. The service I attended can in fact be viewed in full on Vimeo at

On reflection, I quite like this trend.   One of the main points of this church crawl is to encourage greater communication and dialog between the churches of the city.   If blogging, tweeting and facebook-ing encourage this conversation, then I’m all in favour.

Of course, these tools aren’t perfect.  One of the risks of social media is that we can, just like in meatspace, surround ourselves with voices that we agree with.  If I only ever listen to voices within my cultural, religious, and political tradition, I will mistakenly assume that the whole world agrees with me. I will only ask certain questions, and only consider certain answers.  History provides us with many painful examples of what happens when a culture collapses in on itself and refuses to see those outside as being fully human.

My hope is that we can have the courage to step beyond our comfort zones and engage in conversation with those who are different from us.   If you consider yourself politically left wing, try reading some articles from The Economist.  If you’re right wing, leaf through The Guardian occasionally.  If you mostly consume Canadian news, try Al Jazeera‘s  exceptional global reporting some time.  Read some religious blogs outside your church tradition.  Try Internet Monk, or Rachel Held Evans or Fred Clark.

And then engage in dialog.  In Barrie we’re lucky to have some quite fascinating discussion nights organised through David’s Temple.   Over the past few months we’ve had some wonderful opportunities for dialog across political, cultural and religious divides.

I hope to see this continue, and I’m glad that Mapleview is taking these opportunities to connect digitally to the broader community.

Church 33 – Barrie Victory Centre

I haven’t visited very many overtly charismatic churches in my church crawl yet, so I began to redress this imbalance on Thursday night with a visit to Barrie Victory Centre.  

I suppose it’s odd that we even have a distinction between charismatic/non charismatic.  Let’s face it, it’s an inescapable fact that the gospels are absolutely chock full of wild, crazy, supernatural stuff.

Think about the book of Mark.  We encounter the first miracle halfway into the first chapter.   In fact, a quick review reveals that every single one of the first eleven chapters of Mark describes at least one miracle.  Jesus heals people.  Jesus controls the forces of nature.  Jesus performs exorcisms, and even brings dead people back to life.

If all we had was the Gospel of Mark, we would have to assume that Christianity was about little else than healing, deliverance, and miracles.

Strangely, though, I haven’t actually heard much talk of this in most of the churches that I’ve visited so far.  One church even managed to preach an entire thirty minute sermon about Mark 1:29-34 without ever once mentioning the supernatural nature of the healings and exorcism that the passage talks about.

However, there are churches that talk about little else.  Barrie Victory Centre, for example.

Now, to be perfectly honest, there were a number of things that made me uncomfortable on Thursday night.   The sermon went on for 90 minutes and I have no idea what it was meant to be about.  I took pages of notes, and even after reviewing them now I still can’t figure out what the structure or intent of the talk was supposed to be.

What did stick in my mind ranged from the unfortunate (such as carrying around a whip for the entire sermon as a bizarre visual aid) to the downright dangerous (such as claiming that ‘Real Christians’ will never experience depression or burnout.)

The large and rather disconcerting banner at the front of the church portraying heavily armed soldiers and helicopters like something out of Apocalypse Now didn’t help either.

However, this is also a genuinely warm and friendly bunch of people.  Many folks greeted me before and after the service, and I had a pleasant chat with the pastor and other members of the the congregation.   And I’m actually very much in favour of the charismatic movement: some of my most formative Christian experiences have been in charismatic churches, and I find that they bring a dimension to our shared faith that is frequently missing in other churches.

On reflection, I suspect that the main problem here is dis-connectedness.  Other churches in Barrie could benefit from Victory’s expectation that the Holy Spirit is tangibly active in our community today.  Likewise, Victory could perhaps benefit from  a Christian Reformed approach to vigorous exegesis, or the Salvation Army’s practical approach to serving the local community.

By her own admission, Victory is not particularly connected to the other churches in the city, and this is unfortunate.  I’d love to see the mutual benefits that would happen if our charismatic churches engaged more fully with those whose emphasis is liturgy, social action, or theological reflection.


Church 32 – The Church at My Place

I love the idea of house church.   I expect that house churches tend to get less attention than they deserve.  By their very nature they tend to fly under our radars; they have no buildings, no staff, no marketing and no billboards.  But so far the house church experiences that I’ve had in Barrie have been very positive.

This Sunday at ‘The Church at My Place’ was no exception.  Just a handful of people meeting in a pleasant, upscale home to drink coffee, sing, discuss a passage from the bible, and take communion together.

I was warmly welcomed, and indeed my only real criticism would be the use of ‘iWorship‘ videos.  I’m not a big fan of these, whether in a mega-church or a living room, because they feel too much like a crutch.  I’m worried that we use multimedia technology because it is easier and safer than doing the work of liturgy ourselves.

Creating our own music might not sound so polished, and might take more work, and it might take time for us to become comfortable with it, but that’s kind of the point.

You see I believe that church,  just like childhood, should be about a process of growing and working towards maturity.

In fact, I have an interesting thought experiment to help you see how well your church might be doing in this area.

Imagine what would happen if one Sunday I walked into your church and pulled 20 people at random from the congregation.  No-one from the platform, just regular churchgoers.

And then imagine that I took them to a different city, and asked them to plant a church.

Could they do it?  Would they have the necessary ministry gifts?  Would they be able to learn, to pray, to grow?  What challenges would they face?  Would they be able to do it at all?

And if not, does that mean that our churches are not expecting people to reach maturity?

The Church at My Place has chosen to follow the lectionary for its readings, which I think is a nice touch.  It provides a sense of connection with the broader church, which could easily be a challenge for a very small group like this one.

Interestingly enough, the passage for this week was 1 Samuel 8, one I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.  This is a  passage about the failure of civic institutions, and the universal human tendency to look for strong leader-figures to follow.

Samuel warns the people of Israel who are demanding a strong ruler that a king will mistreat them, tax them, send them to war, and ultimately enslave them.  The people, however, reply “No! We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.

Most of us want to know that we belong to a tribe, and that we have a leader we can look up to who will ‘go out before us and fight our battles’.
It might be the country we live in, or the company we work for, or the church we belong to, but this human need for identity and safety within a group is very strong.

However, on Sunday we also read the words of St. Paul where he reminds us that there is ‘One body, one hope, one Lord‘.  That as Christians, we look ultimately to Christ for leadership, rather than human authority figures.

These are words that are very close to my heart.  As I visit the different expressions of the church in the city, I have to keep reminding myself that there is, indeed, ‘one body’.

What would this mean in practice?  What would it look like for the churches in Barrie to relate to each other as parts of the same body?  Will it ever be possible for a Catholic priest and a Baptist pastor and an Orthodox lay-person and a Gospel Hall member to break bread and pray together?

We might have to bend some rules.  And we might need to take some risks.  And we might need to step out of our comfort zone a bit.  But I am convinced that this is what we are called to do.

Economy, Ecology and Ecumenism

I learned today, (in this remarkable book), that the words economy, ecology and ecumenical all share the same Greek root, the word for ‘home’.

I find this fascinating.  Globally, it is clear that in many ways we have a fractured and broken economic system, a fragile ecology that is facing many challenges, and likewise a fracture ecumenism.

These are all related.  Economics is the way we choose to structure and order the world that we all share.  Ecology  is our effort to understand our shared environment: every life form, every eco-system, and the complex and beautiful relationships between them.  And ecumenism is our attempts to figure out how we as broken and divided members of the family of faith can live together, bless one another, and celebrate our diversity rather than cling to our divisions.

I  am convinced that as a society one of our biggest failings is our failure of imagination.  As we think about economics, the only question we seem capable of asking is ‘how can we make more stuff?‘   This is, after all, the definition of a growing economy.  The financial press is full of charts showing rates of GDP, and worrying about output and productivity and interest rates and bond defaults.   What if, instead, we chose to ask ourselves ‘how can we build a healthy and sustainable world, with freedom, peace and opportunity for all?’

Then we’d really have to start looking at our ecology, our economy, and our ecumenism.  Because we all share this oikos, this house, this world.