Eurovision won’t change your life, but it’s bound to make you feel better about yourself

What do ABBA, Cliff Richard, Celine Dion, Katrina and the Waves, Gina G., and t.A.T.u all have in common? Each one owes a debt of gratitude to those who voted them winners of  the euro trash contest that helped further (or launch) their career, EUROVISION!


That’s right people, it’s that time of year again and I couldn’t resist writing about it. Every year since 1955 Europe broadcasts to hundreds of millions around the globe a combination of kitsch pop, questionable fashion and the worlds worst television hosting.  Some of the acts are… well… just plain embarrassing. Yet it is still one of the most watched and influential music contests in the world.

Eurovision always delivers – exactly what it delivers is debatable, but you can be sure that 2013 will be no different. What can we expect to see you might ask? Of the many things I love about Eurovision the main things I look forward to are:

Interesting fashion… I obviously use the word ‘fashion’ loosely. Eurovision usually resembles a fancy dress party with a hybrid eighties/futurama/horror/formal-wear theme. If you think I’m joking, just think back to 2006 and Finland’s Lordi performing Rock Hallelujah dressed as creatures from another world.


Next we all enjoy the entry featuring a goat herder of sorts playing a wind instrument we have never seen or heard of before. Generally speaking I think world-music is sensational, but, where on earth do they find these people? Oh wait, that’s right… they find them in Europe.

Then of course there are the hostsThe formula is simple – pick two very attractive people, tell them to speak english (even though it is clearly their second language), read the tele-prompter, show your teeth, and get more crowd cheers than your co-host. Every year they look and sound more awkward reminding me of Victor and Sveta of Fast Forward fame rather than the celebrity clad models they apparently are.


All that said this thing is BIG. Very few events on the planet gather as much attention and media coverage as Eurovision. The question is, umm, why? What is it about this contest that makes it so popular? Who can say, but this is an opinion piece so for what it’s worth here’s my thoughts. People love Eurovision because:

1.   It’s so very bad. Western culture is bombarded with ‘perfection’. We are frequently exposed to slick presentations, perfectly edited commercial quality viewing that is full of attractive people looking and dressing like we probably never will, selling us products promising we will look like them if we make a purchase, and we generally don’t feel very good about ourselves as a result. Enter something like Eurovision… some of the performers are not what we would expect, the hosts frequently fumble through, some of the outfits look a little on the odd side, some of the performers don’t quite nail it… It is any wonder people enjoy watching this! It is easy to feel good about oneself when watching Eurovision. One can be less than perfect and still be liked – popular even!

2.   Another reason people like Eurovision is because it is a little bit hipster. Take European art, bizarre fashion, and performers not known in the mainstream, and you have a new fad waiting to occur. Of course the minute we all cotton on to this brilliant new-thing it becomes ‘so last minute’.

3.   Finally, the power of ‘shared experience’ (on peptides in the case of Eurovision) leaves people feeling connected to a bigger story. It matters not what the context and content of the gathering is, if people come together around a common focus they feel connected to others and part of something bigger than themselves, which is incredibly important for one’s sense of belonging. Seems we are a lonely bunch and something as simple (and strange) as Eurovision can bring people together in ways they otherwise would not.

So… should we watch it? absolutely! It helps us to feel better about ourselves, we are drawn into the world of ‘weird and now’, and we get to experience something of global proportions along with so many others. When you think about it the characteristics of Eurovision resemble that of most major historical culture-shaping phenomenons – it does not make sense to me but it sure is entertaining. A friend of mine said it like this,

What’s not to love – bad music, dodgy dance moves, cringe worthy conversation between the hosts, a rigged vote count where allied countries ‘surprise surprise’ vote for each other??? It all equals one heck of a night of amusing entertainment ;-)”

And I agree with her! So get with your friends, dress like a goat herder, and watch it on SBS this weekend. To put you in the mood check out Ireland’s 2008 entry below, three cheers for Dustin the Turkey!


The counsel of the wise…

As a child my grandfather educated me in the ways of the track. His advice was clear, simple, and straight to the point “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. He was a bookmaker. His wealth (or lack of it) depended on the highs and lows of a day at the track. It was either an exhilarating day of triumph and conquest or an anxiety pit driven by the hope of a win that would put things right. That said, as a bookmaker he usually came out on top.

I can’t help but wonder just what my grandfathers earnings (my future inheritance) represents. I wonder how many families suffered because of the addict that bet on great-odds with my grandfather? I wonder how many groceries weren’t bought, how many relationships dissolved, how many jobs were lost, how many drinks were drunk, and how many people took their lives because of the pain of searing loss? Whilst I have no control over this, I am a little more aware of what occurs in the world of the gambler. This is mostly because my grandfather who made a living from an industry that is set up to cost the consumer more than their money, used to say to me with complete conviction “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”.

If only he understood the wisdom of his counsel. When I think of the gambling industry in Australia, and especially the five hundred million dollars Aussies will spend at the track today, I wonder just what is it we are gambling? Study after study tells us that the effects of such an event are just not positive. Crime rates increase, alcohol related violence increases, sexual assault rates increase, drink driving charges increase, hospital and emergency admissions increase, and all for what? The opportunity for a day at the races and the possibility of making a quick buck? Again… the prophetic words of my grandfather ring in my ears “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”.

Whilst the juxtaposition of a bookmaker telling a child not to gamble is somewhat confusing, it does make a very bold statement.

“At his core, my grandfather knew the evils of the gambling industry well. He was taunted by them and yet at the same time strangely dependent upon them”.

He wanted his grandson to know better and to not live in the same struggle. He was an elder advising a student in the school of life and the more I think about it that little piece of advice I am convinced it is just as relevant to every sphere of society. To the individual, to the family, to the local community, to the state and the nation, “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”. The costs associated with this day and the gambling industry at large are big, probably far bigger than we care to admit.

Friends, we’ve heard it said that the counsel of the wise brings life, so please heed my grandfathers warning. He lived with the tension as one entrenched in a system that he knew was ultimately damaging. Families… please listen to his counsel… Communities, please understand the breadth of the impact… Australia, please consider the story we are writing and the huge cultural implications that ensue.

We call it the race that stops a nation. It is frightening just how true that is, on so many levels.


My big little secret

It might shock you, but I have been foolish enough to carry a big little secret (or two) in my life.

  • There was the time that I accidentally vacuumed up part of a deceased persons ashes and then proceeded to do my best to cover it up.
  • Then there was the time I stole a friends watch and pretended that someone gave me one just like it.
  • Then there was the time that I hurt someone dear to me through a dishonest and deceitful act.
  • Then there was the time I had lied to others around me regarding a significant personal character issue.

All. Embarrassingly. True.

It would be easy for me to write this post and focus on all the public figures that have been caught out living a lie in recent times. Who would blame me? Celebrities are often very easy prey. Their lives are out there for the world to see feeding our insatiable appetite for peering into the private lives of others, and indeed we feast when they appear to be failing.

This need to see others at their most broken has always intrigued me. I mean, if I want to look deep into a life that has a history of wrong doing, deception, and foolishness I need look no further than my own life. I suspect many of us could say the same. Why look to others? The answer to this is rather simple,

focussing on the foolishness of others takes the focus away from my own failings and insecurities, and for that moment I am deceived into thinking that I am somehow better, especially better than the likes of (insert latest celebrity failure here…).

A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

It is amazing though how secrets seem to make a way out, even after a VERY long time in hiding. And the ramifications are usually dire. It would seem the longer one prolongs the inevitable uncovering of the truth, the greater the impact and long term effect. Little secrets have big consequences. One thing we can be sure of however, is that everyone has a secret. Whether it is a secret the size of a giant squid lurking beneath the surface of our lie ladened ocean with consequences stretching like tentacles into multiple areas of our life, OR, whether a simple personal and private faux-pa, it is fair to say that most people have a skeleton or two in the closet.

‘Big deal’ you might say…

‘So people have a few skeletons in the closet, what business is it of mine? If someone is stupid enough to take performance enhancing drugs, lie about it, and then get caught, they deserve everything that’s coming… why waste time on this? why does this matter?’

If only it were that simple. Whether we like it or not our actions have far reaching consequences – good or bad. They have a direct effect on ourselves, on those closest to us, on that which we represent, and also on the culture we form.

1.  Every culture is formed by the collective stories of the people that make up that culture.

Think about it… when your life and experiences combine with the lives and experiences of others, a bigger experience (or story) is formed. Whilst it is possible to live a totally isolated and disconnected life, when we do participate in life with others we develop common threads and common points of connection. For example, in the early days of Australian settlement convicts would support each other as they faced mistreatment and discipline by the authorities. the Aussie spirit of supporting the underdog began and today we still take great pride in supporting the ‘Aussie-battler’, those who are fighting against the odds. How we understand and experience each other (and ultimately ourselves) completely informs the culture we develop. So it stands to reason that;

When the stories of the individuals don’t represent the truth of their existence, our collective story becomes distorted. This means that (culturally speaking) we become influenced by things that just aren’t real.The result of this is that cultures develop patterns of operating, systems, expectations, and social norms that inevitably encourage others to become distorted images of their true selves as well.

Think about the effects of this on our families, our society, our organisations, our businesses, our churches and our communities. In the case of Lance Armstrong people the world over celebrated a man who had ‘achieved the impossible’, who had overcome great odds and who then earned millions of dollars telling that story. And many aspired to do the same. Of course this actually was impossible – even for the one who had supposedly done these things!

2.  It’s never just the wrong-doer that is affected by their poor behaviour, the action becomes another reason to not trust what it is they represent.

Many have said they can never trust another champion cyclist – in their mind the sport of cycling has been forever tarnished as a result of Armstrong’s dishonesty. The same can be said for anyone that has knowingly misrepresented themselves.

  • For the politicians who do a backflip on policy promises – yet again it proves that politicians and political systems can’t be trusted…
  • the minister that is stood down for moral failings – another reason for people to never trust the church…
  • the CEO that didn’t pay their taxes – another name on the list of greedy business owners…
  • the wife that cheats on her husband – further proof that the institution of marriage is doomed. You get my point.

On the other hand, people and cultures that practice honesty and truthfulness, are freed of the shame of their failings and can cultivate a future based on possibility. Their personal (and collective) story is usually one of humility, openness, grace, acceptance and healing. Such cultures have a more accepting view of people and society, and therefore they’re better equipped and better placed to develop forward (rather than simply trying to maintain that which is not real). Consider for a moment the incredible healing that has begun for Australia as a nation and our indigenous people after the Prime Ministers ‘sorry speech’. On this particular issue there is a long way to go, but that moment which acknowledged all that was wrong, covered up, and misrepresented marked the beginning of restoration for many individuals (some would say a whole country) affected through the events of the stolen generation.

3.  It may be cliche but I still believe that ‘honesty is the best policy’

Admitting we have done the wrong thing and then living as though we mean it is not only better for individuals, it is better for relationships, families, communities, cultures and humanity at large! In old school terms we call it confession and repentance – not simply a discipline for the Christian, it is just good plain and simple common sense. There is healing in the sharing of secrets. That shame, that embarrassment, that pain… it can be dealt with – I’m living proof of that. The writer of James put it this way…

“…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16 (TNIV)

I happen to believe that God wants us to be free of our secrets, what ever it is. This is not a free pass form the consequences of our actions, but it is a promise of freedom from a God that is first and foremost about grace. There is healing in sharing our secrets. So… before we jump to pointing the finger at the likes of Lance Armstrong, Peter Slipper, Arnold Schwarzenegger or whoever else you might like to add, we would do well to pause and remember the time we made a mess of things. It is for times such as these that these words were penned…

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (TNIV)

So… What’s your big little secret? Might I suggest that now is the time to fess up and begin the work of healing? If you’re brave enough, start right now. Tell someone. If you’re really brave, you can tell us right here, right now and comment below.


What I learned from Ron Burgundy, Fashion Week and the Bible

As a naïve young punk (which was many years ago now) I visited a designer label store on Southbank. I spotted some fantastic looking clothes in a shop window and decided that they were worth a closer look. I could see the shop assistants inside the store and therefore figured the shop was open. I went to the shop door and then realised it was locked. I managed to catch the shop assistants eye and she came to the door looking a little jaded. She hesitantly opened the door, looked down her immaculately manicured nose and spoke to me in the most pretentious tone, ‘Do you have an appointment?’ she said. I looked back at her completely confused and asked ‘Why? Do the clothes have somewhere to go?’ Needless to say, she was NOT impressed.

It is fair to say that I have since developed in my appreciation of fashion (at least a little bit). Let me be clear… I am not a model, I am not a fashionista, I’m not wealthy enough to buy designer labels, and I am not someone who follows closely the glamorous world of catwalks and haute couture. I do however believe that everybody can and should shout the immortal words uttered by Will Ferrell’s narcissistic fictional character Ron Burgundy,

“I look goooood… I mean really good… Hey everyone, come and see how good I look!”

Let me explain. The fashion industry gets a pretty bad wrap, and to be fair, at times it probably deserves it. It isn’t always respectful of social conventions and has unhelpfully perpetuated significant social issues. But, like many significant cultural phenomena that has been distorted over time, it actually has positive and humble beginnings.

1) Fashion as art

The first recorded fashionista was Englishman Charles Frederick Worth, who lived and worked out of Paris. Revolutionizing how dressmaking had been previously perceived, Worth made it so the dressmaker became the artist of garnishment: or as we have come to know them – a fashion designer.

While he created one-of-a-kind designs to please some of his titled wealthy customers (including royalty), he is best known for preparing a portfolio of designs that were shown on live models. Invited guests would inspect his handiwork, make their selection, specify colours and fabrics, and have a duplicate garment tailor-made in his workshop.

Worth moved fashion from simple dressmaking to art-design. For Worth, fashion became an expression of creativity intended to enhance ones beauty. As a result, consumers began to look to him to decide what was worthy of purchase.

2) Fashion as confidence builder

The first Fashion Week event took place in 1943 in New York City. In the midst of World War II the fashion industry was unable to travel to France and invest in the current trends of Paris. Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert created “Press Week” to direct attention to affordable American innovations and fashions in New York. Whilst it was an opportune time to distract buyers away from the dominant Parisian fashion industry, it was also an attempt to build confidence into people (during a time of war and economic challenge) by showcasing affordable and attractive clothing.

People felt good about themselves, they could still demonstrate something of their unique beauty. They weren’t just victims of circumstance, they were ‘people’, and their clothes helped them communicate this.

Needless to say the success of the week spread like wildfire, and since then many have followed suit.

It would seem that what people wear has the potential to build them up and enhance their spirit. It also has the potential to confuse ones perspective of self-worth and personal value. The difference? We must keep our attitudes toward clothing and our understanding of self in their right place. Fashion should seek to serve the self, and not the other way around.

So how can we avoid this common pitfall? It may seem obvious but I’d suggest we need to remember…

1)    Beauty is never just skin deep

It was Mark Twain who said

“Clothes make the man, naked people have little to contribute to society.”

Not sure that I totally agree with that. Metaphorically speaking, a ‘naked person’ i.e. one who does not hide behind garments – is transparent, honest, truthful, open, and real. In short their personal character is more important than their clothes. A person who lives like this will probably make anything they wear look good! You don’t simply wear these things, you are these things. Clothes can’t replace or alter ones personal integrity or true nature.

2)    What you wear does not determine who you are

The fashion industry can be guilty of dictating our clothing preferences, and in extreme cases it dictates the shape of the body that wears them.

Clothes were once designed and made to fit people. The unfortunate tale of today is that our culture is sometimes guilty of trying to make people to fit clothes.

Beauty, colour, light and life exists in every person, regardless of shape and size. We ought to dress in a way that allows these inherent attributes shine and never believe that we are somehow unable to do so. By allowing the fashion industry to dictate your shape, decisions and value you begin to distort the truth of the beauty that is you. I happen to believe…

You are enough.

You are valuable beyond measure.

You are known.

You are loved.

The universe was clothed in colour, beauty and wonder at the beginning of time, and the Creator’s refrain was ‘it is good… it is good… it is good…’ Then, speaking of humanity created in God’s own image it was said ‘it is very good!’ If you like, God looked at His creation and in a moment of delight shouted ‘Hey everybody… come and see how good I look!’ By all means dress well and take pride in your appearance, but more importantly understand who you are and whose you are.

The Creator’s delight in creation has not changed, and when we are able to look deep into our being and see the beauty wonder and presence of God our appearance takes on a very different meaning… few things trump the beauty of a person who is seen through the eyes of the Creator. It is possible to see ourselves and others in this way and I imagine the world might be a very different place if we were intentional about this.

So… whether you are known to be a fashionista, for your fashion-faux-pas, or anywhere in between, may you embrace the truth of the Creators refrain and give rise to the beauty that is you.


White Noise – four steps toward peace

Ok… so it’s been a little while since my last post. Thanks to those who have waited patiently. And thanks more to those that even noticed that I was absent from the blogosphere. One could say that I have been a little too busy for my own good, or as this post suggests, maybe even a little distracted from what I initially set out to do this year.

It seems ironic that I sit with the intention of writing an article on the subject of distraction and within the first hour I am interrupted six times, and every interruption via modern technology. Phone calls, SMS, emails, social media… relentless! Indeed it could be said that our culture’s convenient modes of communication have become the grand platform for distraction and indeed I count myself one of the worst offenders.

Of course the constant contact isn’t limited to personal communication devices. For some time now, advertising analysts estimate that we are exposed to approximately ten thousand advertisements every week. Through digital media, magazines, billboards, product placement (the list goes on) we are bombarded with constant messages demanding of us a choice. The implication is, whether realized or not, we literally make thousands of decisions every week.  It’s exhausting! It is any wonder we are distracted, fatigued, and disconnected.

step7b_white_noiseThis constant clamoring for prime real estate in our minds and lives is having a significant negative effect on individuals and therefore shaping the culture they form. Indeed decision fatigue and personal distraction has become the norm for those living in western civilization. Australian’s are avid tech lovers and BIG smart phone users, but the bad news is that the constant stimulation generated by smart-phones is possibly hurting our brains in ways we don’t really understand.

A study from the University of California in San Francisco has linked lower productivity and lower learning outcomes to lot’s of use of smart phones.

“People think that they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves” says Marc Berman, a University of Michigan Neuroscientist.

It’s a simple hypothesis – downtime lets our brain process and apply learning to our experiences, and when the brain is in constant stimulation it is unable to process the information, therefore we learn less! It seems the constant contact and knowledge accumulation offers little to no personal benefit. Smart phones are not making us any smarter, if anything the distraction they offer is stunting our growth. The constant phone fiddling, usually intended as personal recreation and refreshment, is leaving users more distracted and more fatigued than ever before.

Add to this the personal pressures from our working worlds, the emotional demands of relationships, and rarely are we free to sit with the luxury of one thought at a time. The implications for family, friends or those we love most are also significant. I recently noticed that my daughter started repeating my name three times every time she wanted to talk to me – ‘Dad, Dad, DAD!!!’ Such was her effort to get my attention away from the distractions in my mind and become present to her needs. I had forgotten what it meant to fully offer myself – thoughts and all – to those who matter most.

Whilst living in a constant state of distraction leaves us personally ineffective and relationally disadvantaged, it also seems to affect the quality of our decisions.

A recent article in the New York Times reported the decision-making patterns of a parole board. They discovered that approx 80% of cases heard in the morning resulted in parole being granted to the applicants, with only 30% of cases being granted parole through decisions made in the afternoon. It was noted that as the day progressed decision fatigue set in for individuals and an affirmative decision for applicants was less likely, for fear of making a ‘wrong’ decision. In short, the overload of numerous decisions inhibits our ability to focus well and make good decisions. The effects of this phenomenon are far-reaching for a culture that is already preoccupied beyond reason. Consider the implications for personal spending habits, work life balance, relationship priorities not to mention the pursuit of God.

Retailers and marketers are astutely aware of this, and in fact they bank on it. In a regular viewing day the evening prime-time slot is the most expensive airtime advertisers can purchase. Why? It yields the best return for their advertising dollar. More people are watching, people are more fatigued and therefore more vulnerable to be influenced toward foolish purchasing decisions. It would seem that late night store sales, particularly around peak seasonal times are not purely based on consumer convenience either. The consumer enters the retail temple tired, fatigued and distracted, faced with more choices at a time when they will inevitably struggle to choose well. The result, retailers make more money, consumers experience buyers remorse.So how do we counter this? Is it possible to flee from the inescapable state of distraction and fatigue perpetuated throughout our high-tech methods and insatiable appetite for information? How do we jump off the distraction carousel in order to redeem our fatigued lives? In my humble opinion it is possible, especially if we are committed to the pursuit of peace, by learning to become ‘intentionally present’. Scripture reminds us that it is good to pursue peace (Psalm 34:14) and as we are active in this pursuit we are more likely to notice the alternative and reject it.

To do this well takes a considerable effort and long-term commitment. But we need to start. Here’s a couple of things that I find help me to remain present and pursue peace…

1)    Switch off – I do something that marks my decision to be attentive to myself and others. A physical marker can be really helpful with this. For example, I touch an imaginary switch, turn off my phone, shut down the laptop (don’t just close it)… basically anything out of the ordinary that communicates ‘I am now switching off the white noise and becoming present to the moment.’

2)    Become mindful of my current environment – PAUSE… BREATHE… PRAY… I take time to notice the detail in my surroundings and really look at it. People, places, objects, everything. I feel my heart beat, I thank God for my life, I take it all in and enjoy it!

3)    Give people and circumstances my full attention – I look people in the eye and treat them as if they are the only thing that matters THEN and THERE… I look for the ‘light and life’ within those I’m with. When I notice something of this I try to tell them. Occasionally I am tempted to think about what it is I need to do next. But If my mind wanders, I resist this by admitting it to the person I’m with, apologising, and refocusing my attention to them. Interestingly, I’ve discovered that the future can wait, as can my face-book friends.

4)    Do this regularly – It takes commitment and discipline to turn this into a natural habit, but after a while the benefits follow. This should come as no surprise when we consider that people of faith have followed the ancient discipline of Sabbath keeping for centuries. This regular practice is not only an obedient response to God’s command, it is just plain good for us and an excellent way to develop the behaviour as a priority.

Our culture perpetuates busyness beyond reason, distraction as a default position, and constant fatigue as a result. I am choosing to live differently this year, call it a purging of the soul if you like. That said I could do with some help. This is why I find comfort in the words of Jesus,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives…” – John 14:27 (TNIV)

Are you fatigued? Distracted? Then you are possibly living out of that which ‘the world gives’. May you switch off. May you become present. May you know peace.

Over to you… how is ‘distraction’ an issue for you? How do you feel the effects of ‘fatigue’? How do you become ‘intentionally present’ and find ‘peace’ amongst white noise?


PS – for more great articles, resources and practical responses to distraction check out this quarters edition of YV.Q (it’s the one wit the blue cover).

my favourite four-letter word…

When was the last time you did something different? I mean truly different? I’m not talking about a tweak on the status quo or a slight adjustment on a pre-existing thing, I mean a brand new idea that you dreamed up and then committed time to implement it.

I often ask leaders and teams that exact question, and you might be surprised to know that most of the time the answer to that question is ‘never’. Even more interesting is that many don’t actually see this as a problem. I hear leaders regularly tout the words of Solomon ‘there is nothing new under the sun…’ as if to find some kind of comfort or solace in the realisation they are void of the responsibility to dream the impossible and initiate a unique and alternative response to the myriad of issues people face today. It would appear that our culture’s ‘cookie cutter’ approach to living has informed the way we do ministry, that we have forgotten the place of innovation and creativity in our work. Personally I find this really disconcerting.

It leaves me pondering ‘what happened?’ When I consider the early church and the creativity and innovation they had to employ (for the sake of the gospel and the survival of the church), I can only wonder why we are so reticent to do the same. As I read through the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles I am constantly confronted with the incredible risks people were prepared to take in response to the Creator, His work through Jesus and those who would be brave enough to follow. There are countless stories in scripture of people pursuing the impossible, displaying incredible innovation and creativity for their time, and seeing extraordinary outcomes as a result. So again I ask… what has happened?

It would seem that our image conscious age has impacted our ability to innovate and take creative risks. For many people in today’s context and culture, RISK has simply become another four-letter word! The worth of an idea is measured by the maxim ‘will it work?’. An important question, granted. However such a question does not allow for the possibility that the dreams and desires that well up within us (on the rare occasion we allow them to) could actually have something more to offer than that which simply ‘works’. Unfortunately,

we have replaced our creative yearning with market research, popular opinion, and projections of estimated outcomes. Innovation is deemed too risky if this holy-trinity of marketing is not in alignment therefore willing us to continue.

Furthermore, feeding this image conscious psyche is our incessant pursuit of perfection. Creativity and innovation on the other hand are usually far from perfect. It can be a messy and sometimes un-measurable process. As a result the average person finds it very difficult to put themselves out-there and attempt something that might come off as less than perfect. And who can blame them? After all, we are constantly bombarded by high quality creativity. Think about it… The music aired on commercial radio has been designed rehearsed recorded edited produced market-tested and refined… TO PERFECTION. Only then is it shared with others. And so it goes for most creative endeavours in our society. The art on display, the fashion we buy, the movies on show, the technology we use – it is all manufactured to perfection long before it becomes available to the public.

The effects of this is that we have come to believe that something with humble, less than perfect beginnings, is simply not worth pursuing. Of course the flow on effect for those of us in leadership is obvious. We pick and choose from the seemingly perfect range of products and apply them to our situation at will. Do we consider the possibility that there might be a better way? An original response? One that serves the need and inspires others by its own merit?

The influence of the must-fit-in culture of our age demands we take on a persona that is tried, tested and current.  We may well desire the creative but in actual fact we have settled for conformity. This is a shame, because very few things in life begin as ‘perfect’. But who is to say that perfect is the goal anyway?

If we are looking for perfection in creativity (by the worlds standards) we are missing the point. Creativity is meant to be experienced first hand as much as it is observed. We are meant to create because within this process the creator is offering something truly original, and this is a reflection of the beauty and imagination of The Creator. This unique expression of the true self is in essence innovative. No one has done it before, it is inspired and it cannot be replicated as it is first experienced.

The ministry we are entrusted with invites us to enter the creative mind of God and partner to see The Kingdom come. It is important to learn to think this way because all ministries will be faced with future challenges that current forms of thinking are simply inadequate to address. The core values and ministry priorities may not change, but the method will change in response to our rapidly changing context and culture. Indeed one cannot solve a problem with the same mode of thinking that helped to create the problem in the first place! It will require a new set of eyes, a new way of thinking, and a different approach altogether.

One of the best ways to begin the process of creative expression is to spend time with fellow imagineers. As the adage goes ‘when the elements are right, a spark ignites into a flame’. It’s vitally important to have people who will dream with you and encourage you to take risks for His sake. There are many places this can happen. I am particularly thankful for the support and encouragement I receive through the Youth Vision network, and the inspiration shared as I spend time with like-minded people at events like The Road, AND festival, and The National Youth Ministry Convention. These are great places to connect with others on similar journeys and be inspired with creative thinking and innovative practice.

So… when was the last time you did something new? Maybe it is time you for you to put aside time and energy to explore some new possibilities? Maybe it’s time you tapped your creative well? Maybe it’s time you inserted this four-letter word into your vocabulary? Maybe it’s time to put your good (albeit risky) ideas into practice? It’s time to get started… This short clip might help you.

**This is a rework of an article I wrote for YV.Q published October 2011

St. Valentine was probably a virgin

Valentine’s day is upon us, and I for one am looking forward to it! Like many, I always enjoy the chance to celebrate love shared with my wife. But Valentine’s Day seems to give us permission to celebrate this in a way that other days do not. I have to ask why? What is it about Feb 14 that it demands attention of lovers the world over? Why does this day hold such special significance? And what exactly are we celebrating anyway?

It is significant for me NOT because I spoil my wife with the obligatory roses and Lindt dark chocolate. Nor do we see it as a reason to find an overpriced hotel room and make love late into the night – as if we need an excuse for that anyway (pretty sure many of you are wishing I had not said that… over share?). It is significant because I see it as an opportunity to remember the KIND of love that makes our relationship. Let me explain.

A lot of the hoohaa surrounding valentines day is based on the hope of individuals who desire to be swept off their feet and showered with gifts. This supposed act of romance and love is basically an expression of worship at the altar of ME. That is –

“I, the demigod deserving of ALL attention and affection, will be celebrated, honoured and ravished beyond reason, because I simply DESERVE this sort of treatment. I need not do anything to earn it, I simply have a right to be treated this way, because I AM the most important person in the world.”

This is a reflection of some of the most common motivations observed in our culture – the individuals desire to be known, revered and adored… basically, to be treated like a god. In old-school terms we call it idolatry.

Furthermore, the measure of success relating to such attention is viewed through the lens of sexual power. On Valentines Day many a person will seek out a Valentine’s date with a view to being ravished at the altar of desire. Whilst many don’t think twice about such an encounter, for some it is the ultimate sign of a successful Valentine’s Day. For some, they even feel loved for a moment (or two… if they’re lucky). Who can blame them? Such an encounter only resembles the attitude and inference of the numerous trashy rom-coms beamed into our homes 24/7. And what of it you say? Well, when a quickie and a one night stand is portrayed as either comical or the pinnacle of personal ecstasy, humans are devalued and love is cheapened. It’s a bit like bingeing on a bag of Snakes Alive but convincing yourself you’re dining on fine Belgian truffles.

This is far from the original significance associated with Valentine’s Day. February 14 has an origin and a history, and like most things its truth and significance are found there. The legend of St. Valentine extends far beyond the often ascribed commercial value of roses, chocolates and meaningless sex. It is a powerful reminder of the essential nature of love and what love really looks like.

St. Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught aiding and marrying young Christian couples who were under persecution by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. It is said that Claudius took a liking to this prisoner, and understandably so. After all, Valentinus was attributed with healing a prison guard’s blind daughter. However Valentinus made one fatal mistake. He tried to convert the Emperor and as a consequence on February 14, 269 CE he was sentenced to death, beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him he was then beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. Valentinus was later made the patron Saint of love, young people and happy marriages.

St. Valentine is mostly remembered for his willingness to help those who were being persecuted – the outcast, marginalised and disadvantaged. He was known for his commitment to serve those with need. He was known for his willingness to live for the sake of others, even at the cost of his own life. Indeed his desire to see young love set free in marriage when the present authorities would not recognise their union was in itself an act of love. It could be said that his willingness to share his faith in God with the Emperor, who ultimately ordered his death, was motivated by love. And indeed his willingness to do these things, knowing it could well cost him his life, demonstrates love in the highest order. It seems that personal gain, adoration and pleasure were not at all part of the equation for St. Valentine.

The life and love expressed by St. Valentine was nothing like an episode of Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Two and a Half Men or Two Broke Girls. The life of St. Valentine displays something far more meaningful.

A love that seeks to serve the other, not the self.

An active love, demonstrated by personal cost.

A love that fights for human rights and personal freedom.

A love that celebrates the sanctity of marriage and elevates the beauty of that.

Perhaps Jesus said it best –

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 (TNIV)

So… long after the chocolates are eaten, the roses are dead and the physical pleasure is gone, what kind of love will you celebrate on Valentine’s Day? St. Valentine stood for the kind of love that deserves our full attention. It was tough, gritty, sacrificial and real. He offered the greatest possible human expression of love – his life. That’s the kind of love that will sustain a relationship for the long haul. It’s the kind of love that anyone can outwork regardless of their relationship status. And that is the kind of love that I choose to celebrate on Valentine’s Day.

Over to you… How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? What action demonstrates this kind of love to someone special in your life? How can you express these attributes of love in the everyday?


So… I’m going to blog.

So… I’m going to blog.

Mainly because I have a huge number things running through my mind at any given time and for my own sanity I need to do something with these thoughts, but also because I think some things ought to be said. You might find some of these thoughts interesting (Lord knows they amuse me!), and I’m sure you will find some of it just plain boring. Either way I’d welcome your conversation and reflections, so feel free to stop by from time to time and say hi. I promise to do my best to give you a reason to keep coming back 😉