Here is PART 1 of this interview.
3. This movie has definitely started a firestorm of debate and conversation. Was this your hope? Was this about what you expect would happen?
I think it's more accurate to say that when I embarked on this film, I rather unwittingly walked into a firestorm of debate and conversation, a long smouldering debate that was sparked into flame by the publication of Rob Bell's book "Love Wins." Hellbound? was merely another log on the fire. It became clear to me early on that for many people, an individual's theology of hell is one of those litmus test or boundary marker issues separating conservatives from progressives and liberals. I admit to being rather naive starting out. I was simply excited about sharing some of the things I had been learning and thinking about. But almost immediately I realized how political this debate is and how much is riding on it for so many people. That said, right from the beginning, I intended for this film to provoke informed discussion on the issue. Having been involved in documentaries on a lot of controversial issues in the past, I had witnessed a lot of uninformed, emotionally charged arguments but very little in the way of reasoned dialogue. In fact, one of my pet theories argues that there is an inverse relationship between how emotionally attached someone is to a particular belief and how informed they are about that particular belief. At any rate, provoking informed discussion and debate was my intention starting out, and we sought to do that through the production of our trailers and other marketing materials. To be honest though, I actually expected a lot more vocal criticism than we have received.
4. Why is this conversation so important in your mind?
What someone believes about hell is far from an abstract theological discussion. The reason being, what we believe about hell is a direct reflection of who we believe God to be. And as A. W. Tozer says, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." This is true, because we tend to become like the God we believe in--valuing what God values, condemning what God condemns, and so on. Therefore, if we believe God hates certain types of people, we will hate those people. If we believe God's ultimate way of bringing about his purposes is separation, incarceration and (in some people's view) perpetual torment of individuals who refuse to bow to God's authority, we will set up similar systems "on earth as it is in heaven." However, if we believe that God's ultimate way of bringing about his purposes is forgiveness, enlightenment, transformation and reconciliation, we will seek to build such structures here on earth. So what starts out as seemingly abstract and possibly pointless speculation about what happens after we die has very real world consequences. This is why we begin and end Hellbound? at Ground Zero. The people who flew the planes into those buildings were seeking to conform the world into the image of their God. Thankfully, few people go to such extremes in the service of their beliefs, but no matter what our particular belief system, we are all striving to recreate the world in the image of our god or whatever we deem to be the greatest good. Therefore, I think it's important to have discussions not only about what we believe to be true but also about which interpretations of various theological issues promote the well being of conscious creatures and which tend to diminish it.
5. Some would argue that this topic is already settled and to venture into this conversation only muddies the water on the topic and even the Gospel. How would you answer that?
My response is simple: Such a statement can only come from someone who is entirely ignorant of Church history and current theological discussions. I'll defer here to the late Michael Crichton who once said, "Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled." Crichton was referring to science, particularly climatology. But I think the point applies here as well. Anyone even slightly conversant in the history of theology knows that contrary views re: hell and virtually every other theological issue have always been present within the various strains of what we call orthodoxy. So rather than muddy the water, I think discussions of this nature can actually help to strain out some of the silt and debris that obstructs our view. That being said, I think this conversation does threaten or muddy some interpretations of hell or the gospel as a whole. But I see that as a good thing, because we can all point to rather toxic interpretations of these things that all of us would be better off without.
6. If someone has not seen your film and is about to watch it, what would you want them to take out of it and what things would you want them to know before going into it?
Going in, I suppose I'd like them to know that the film will probably provoke and challenge their thinking about hell, violence and a number of other issues, so be prepared for that. In terms of what I'd like them to take away, I break the film down into three acts: Certainty, Ambiguity, and Humility. So I hope that no matter what people believe about hell going in that they realize a strong sense of certainty on these sorts of issues is unmerited and, in fact, can be highly problematic and destructive. Rather, whenever we encounter a number of well informed, well intentioned people who disagree on such an important issue, it should give us pause. What are my opponents seeing that I'm missing? How did I arrive at my current view? Based on what evidence and arguments? How are my own personal biases and preferences playing into my need to defend my view? Why am I so emotionally attached to a particular way of seeing the world? Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. I would say the same thing about our beliefs. The unexamined faith is not worth sharing. Whether or not people like "Hellbound?", I hope it will provoke them to reexamine their own beliefs about hell and spur them to learn more about the issue.
7. Thank you Kevin for your time and your thoughts, it is always a pleasure. before we close our time together, do you have anything else you would like to share in a closing thought perhaps.
Just a word of thanks for your interest in the film. Making this movie has been one of the great joys of my life, so I'm always excited for an opportunity to share it with a new audience.
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There has been a firestorm of conversation, debate and controversy surrounding the topic of Hell in the past few years & though this topic has been hashed out over and over with books like 'Love Wins' by Rob Bell and others like 'Erasing Hell' by Francis Chan, this conversation is far from done, I suspect.
One of the players in this ongoing conversation is Kevin Miller (Director) with his documentary 'Hellbound?', where he interviews different voices with differing perspectives and attempts to wrestle with the topic of Hell trough the medium of film. If you have not seen the film yet, you are able to watch it on netflix, video on demand or get more info at their website.
'Hellbound?' has not been without its controversy and has definitely created conversation and debate. One of the dangers that can happen when we look at a film like this (or a sermon or book for that matter) is we can begin to read between the lines, take statements out of context, misunderstand points being made and assume motives behind the creators of these works.
So, instead of giving my opinion of the film itself or the differing messages and perspectives that the film highlights, I thought it would be better to reach out to Kevin Miller directly and let him speak for himself and give some insight into his own journey, his thoughts on the topic, his motives behind the movie and thoughts on the film itself. So... love it, hate it, still asking questions or somewhere in between, here is Part 1 of a conversation I had with Kevin Miller (Director and Producer of Hellbound?) .
1. Kevin, can you tell us a bit about yourself for those who don't know you?
Perhaps the most important thing you should know about me is that I grew up on a grain farm outside of Foam Lake, Saskatchewan (pop. 1200). Even though I loved living "on the frontier," farming was the least of my interests. I was more intrigued by films, comics, science fiction and the like, all of which my dad put under the catch-all term "garbage." So I never really felt affirmed in my interests or abilities, and I never quite fit in on the farm. I'm also adopted, and that created its own set of struggles, although I wasn't consciously aware of it at the time. I battled low self-esteem and had a terrible time figuring out how to fit in growing up. So in many ways, I'm the least likely person to be doing what I do today--writing, speaking, making films and generally sharing my ideas with the world. Growing up, I felt a lot like Ethan Hawke's character in "The Dead Poet's Society," that I had nothing inside me worth sharing. I dreamed of being a writer or a filmmaker, but I tended to keep those dreams a secret, and I kept disqualifying myself before I'd had a chance to see if I was any good. It's a horrible thing to be imprisoned by such a self-deprecating mindset.
These days when I teach character in my screenwriting classes, I talk about how the identity a protagonist has adopted when we first meet him or her is often a false identity, a coping mechanism carefully crafted to prevent the protagonist from facing his or her greatest fear. The job of the story is to strip away this false identity and force the protagonist to face his or her greatest fear so that the character can finally break free from it and embrace his or her true self.
I went through that process in my mid-twenties. It was an excruciating experience, but had it not happened, who knows where I'd be today. So you could say every day when I wake up in the morning and write a blog post, go off to a shoot, edit a film, etc., I'm constantly facing my greatest fears of inadequacy and being a non-person. I'm trying to silence those voices. So who knows, maybe all I've done is adopt another coping mechanism. But even if that's true, I think my current identity is a much healthier way of dealing with life.
These days I split my time between making films (primarily documentaries), teaching and speaking, writing and editing. I've been self-employed for the past 14 years, which was one of my life's ambitions. Now if I can only become independently wealthy, I'll have it made. Apart from work, I'm married and I have four kids, so they keep me busy--and young (at heart at least). I'm still recovering from a thumb I broke skateboarding last September, if that's any indication.
2. Can you give a little bit of what Hellbound? is as a film and what drew you to make it and be a part of this project?
"Hellbound?" grew out of a long process of reexamining the evangelical Christian faith I unwittingly adopted when I became a Christian at age 9. I didn't grow up in a Christian home. In fact, for a large part of my childhood, my parents were somewhat antagonistic towards evangelicals. So I was what you call a "closet" Christian. However, right from the get-go, I was in the grip of fear that unless the rest of my family came to believe what I had learned, they were all going to hell. The problem was, I was too afraid to tell them about the decision I made for fear of being ridiculed.
That changed in my teens when my mom and then my dad became Christians. I could finally come out into the open. I even went off to Bible college, with the idea that going there would help straighten me out. It didn't though. While I learned a lot, it merely showed me how to be more secretive in my sins. And that only caused my fear of going to hell to magnify itself, because I didn't share those fears with anyone.
Things reached a breaking point for me in my early twenties when I essentially walked away from Christianity for a few years. That was the beginning of the deconstruction process I mentioned earlier. I emerged from it with a strong sense that God loved me despite the way I had lived my life. I truly felt like the prodigal son who had finally come home. But what did that mean for the rest of my theology, for other prodigal sons and daughters out there? If I couldn't figure out a way to sin myself beyond redemption, could anyone else manage to do it?
These are the sorts of thoughts that percolated under the surface for the next few years. It wasn't until I moved to Abbotsford and reignited my friendship with author/speaker Brad Jersak and a few other folks that I began to put some language around what I was feeling.
I formed a publishing company with Brad and became his official editor. We also published other authors, such as Wayne Northey, who forced me to challenge the relationship between God and violence. Wayne's book "Chrysalis Crucible," which I edited, was pivotal in this regard. So was "Stricken by God?", a collection of essays by Brad Jersak, Michael Hardin and others who questioned theories of the atonement that attributed violence to God.
The final nail in the coffin for me was Brad's book "Her Gates Will Never Be Shut," which I also edited. The book makes a simple argument: If we're going to be biblical about hell, let's be biblical. That is, let's listen to everything the Bible has to say about hell not just the parts that affirm what we already believe. Brad proceeded to look at the biblical terms for hell, the various symbols and metaphors used by Christ and others, and the various streams of interpretation throughout the history of the Church. From that emerges a far more nuanced understanding of the topic. Furthermore, it showed me that throughout the history of the Church, all sorts of views fell under the term "orthodoxy," including everything from eternal torment for sinners to ultimate reconciliation for all people.
I found this discussion so exciting and freeing that I knew I had to make a film about it. That was in the fall of 2008. I wasn't in a position to begin thinking seriously about making the film until January 2011. Right around the time I was finishing our poster art in order to issue a press release about the film (and wondering how on earth I was going to convince investors that people would want to see a documentary about hell), Rob Bell came out with his book "Love Wins." Within a month, Bell and hell were on the cover of Time magazine, and all sorts of people came out of the woodwork for and against his views. The timing couldn't have been better for my film. A month after that, we had all of our financing and began shooting.
I know I'm giving a long answer here, but I'll say this about the production: I did a ton of research going in, and I continued to research it throughout the shooting and editing phase, traveling everywhere with a suitcase full of books (in my pre-iPad days). So I thought I was pretty knowledgeable on the topic. But nothing prepared me for the seismic shift in my thinking that making this film and then touring it across North America would bring about. As Reformed pastor Kevin DeYoung said in my interview with him, if you pull at the thread of hell, everything else comes with it. That's certainly been true in my case. You can't examine any theological idea in isolation. Reexamine hell, and that leads automatically to questions about the atonement, the character of God, the nature of biblical authority, and on it goes. It can be a scary process, but for me, it's been liberating. I'm still in the thick of it, so I don't know where or if it will end, but I'm certainly enjoying the ride.
Check Out Part 2 as we dig deeper into this debate and Kevin's Thoughts on it all.
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.
"My daddy could totally beat up your daddy!" Exclaims one small boy to another. "Nuh uh! My daddy could totally beat up your daddy!" Shoots back the second boy. The exchange continues back and forth all while outside the doors of the principle office over a fight on the playground for who had the rights to the monkey bars.
Sound familiar? Maybe you yourself said the very exact words as a kid. I mean our dads could do anything, right? They were superheroes. And as funny as this situation looks when played out by two kindergarden kids flexing their muscles vicariously through their father's, it becomes a much sadder and, truthfully, destructive thing when we do it as adults.
Be it a debate about Apple vs Windows, my favourite hockey team is better then yours, to Vaccinates or not to Vaccinate, Calvinism vs Arminianism, Atheism vs a belief in God or a God, and the list goes on.
Sometimes it is blatant and sometimes it is subtle--we see it all the time. We draw battle lines where groups of people who are like minded gather in exclusive clusters only to wage war against those they disagree with. We flex our muscles vicariously through the worldview we hold, as though the battle has already been one. Not only does the topic of disagreement become a hot button, but the line of decency and human dignity becomes blurred, if not lost all together, in some cases, and the ability for conversation is all but lost.
The moment we forget that all people are born with human dignity, because they are image bearers of God, we have lost before we have even started (James 3:9). The sad reality is, it seems that no one is immune to this reality. Even in a movement of people that should be marked by grace and unity, above our differences, we see it much to often. Words of death being spewed as we 'eat our own'. This should truly bring us concern towards this divisive, hateful and destructive attitude & posture.
You know what really grinds my gears???
DISAGREEMENT ISN'T BAD
Now don't get me wrong. I am not talking about us all sitting around in a circle, holding hands and singing kumbaya (though if that is what you enjoy doing, all the power to you). It seems that much to often we find the pull to either extreme--standing against everything to make our point and offend everyone or standing for nothing in fear of offending anyone.
In the end, neither side seems to accomplishes the unity, grace and change they seek to accomplish. We create tribes inside our own movements, building bigger and bigger walls, throwing hand grenades over to each other, when we should be instead tearing down walls, or at least building doors in hopes to bring healing, understanding and conversations to a situation that seems has none (or better: not enough).
So, often, the wars that ensue start with simple misunderstandings that are blown out of proportion or we create caricatures of beliefs and positions that the other side don't even hold. Some topics, differences and debates are much more serious then others and some can even be a matter of life or death. The degree of the passion involved the conversation only heightens the tension and chance of attack.
So often, the real issue isn't disagreement, but how we choose to talk to each other and about each other. It is the unwillingness for real conversation and worse, the loss of human dignity and tearing each other down.
This all becomes divisive where it doesn't need to be. All to often we quickly jump to where we disagree instead of seeing our common ground and having that as a starting point, wrestling together through the disagreements we have.
"It’s embarrassing to belong to a faith that attracts a group of people who always have to be right, and when something pushes them just a bit, they want to shut it down or keep people away." // Craig Gross
UNITY & UNIFORMITY
Unity and uniformity are not the same thing. Having a diversity of people making the mosaic of humanity can a beautiful thing with many mutual benefits, even in our differences. Debating hot topics and challenging each other to think deeper about why we hold what we do, isn't a bad thing. We should all have deep convictions and have confidence in those convictions. But, it is when we create ultimatums and all or nothing standpoints that we become a resounding gong and loss our voice in this ongoing conversation.
What would happen if we were to see our commonality and the things that unite us together, even if only to recognize that we are all human and image bearers of God and wrestle with our diversity and the challenges those bring inside that framework. For those who share my own context: what would happen if the Church saw itself first and foremost as the body of Christ unified in one Spirit, one Baptism and one Christ? (Eph 4:4-6; cf. 1 Cor 3:4) What kind of world could we build with unity, grace and love at the forefront? Putting our rights and needing to be right aside for the greater good and purpose of our brothers and sisters, and have Christ as our example of this (Phil 2)?
It's really nice to get outside your own theological tradition and worship together with other brothers and sisters who like you, love God and want to worship Him according to our best understanding of what the Scriptures teach. The world sometimes brings up the fact that there are thousands of denominations as if it means we're not unified. Well, being part of a different denomination does not mean you cannot worship together, love one another and serve together. It just means (in most cases) you understand the Scriptures differently on issues that are important, but non-essential. We are one in Christ and we can learn from one another (as I did today).
DIFFERENCES DON'T NEED TO MEAN DISUNITY
Our differences even inside our own camps and traditions don't need to be a bad thing and in many ways allow us to meet the needs of a variety of people. Furthermore, we should have deep convictions that mutually challenge each other to think deep and hard about why we believe what we believe and what difference it makes. Our differences don't need to mean disunity, but let us look at our commonality for our unity, especially on the essentials and work out the rest on the way home.
Now let me be clear: Lines do exist, we will disagree on many things and there are some arguments that do really matter and should be fought for. To try an ignore that is putting our head in the sand. Arguments in themselves don't need to be bad. But it could be said that much of what becomes strife and division don't need to become that if come at it in the right manor and state of mind and in many cases could what we see as division simply be personal convictions and differing expressions of complex beings interacting with an infinitely complex and divine being.
When our voice becomes a position of attack, when we have gotten to the point that 'everyone else' is wrong and you are always right and division is always coming left and right, this should bring you deep concern and should ask the question: maybe it is me. Let us make sure we know what is what and what we are truly communicating with our actions and words.
If you ever find yourself involved in a Christian group that leads you to separate yourself from the rest of the Body of Christ, know that you are on a path of deception. Deception by definition means that you do not know it, so watch for the warning sign
So, what would happen if we put our arms down and actually started to talk?
The doctor came to the home where I was staying to examine me. That morning I had gone from bad to worse. “You must go to the hospital now!” My heart sank. This was not good news. I knew I was sick, but – hospital? That was something I never expected.
It was a Sunday night, only a week after my arrival in Dnepropetrovsk, a Russian-speaking city of 1.7 million in eastern Ukraine. I had come alone from Canada with two huge suitcases bulging with donated medical equipment and supplies, plus their beloved peanut butter. I had never heard of Dnepropetrovsk until I decided to go on a volunteer mission experience during my vacation. I had heard stories of Ukrainian hospitals before I left but they were only jokes, weren’t they? Apparently not. The family I was staying with immediately started scurrying around the house collecting bedding, towels, water, and food. “What are they doing?” I wondered.
“When you go to the hospital, you have to bring your own things,” was the reply. I knew you brought your bed clothes and slippers, toiletries, and that sort of thing, but bedding? Food and water? I had no time to absorb this because before I knew it, I was packed and ready to go.
Pastor Roland Syens, Lutheran missionary and my contact in Ukraine, his interpreter Sergei Nikolenko, Sergei’s fiancée Olga, Sergei’s mother Dr. Larisa, and I made our way to car waiting outside. All too soon we were in the “office” at the hospital. A single light bulb hung from the high ceiling. A very young man who spoke some English was waiting for me. Surely this couldn’t be the doctor! But he was. He examined me in a makeshift examination room (and I use that term very loosely). “You must go on intravenous immediately.” He also used the word “critical”. Dr. Larisa seemed to concur.
My mind raced. I was here to help. I was to help teach English, work in an orphanage, and help with the mission that Pastor Syens headed at the Alpha and Omega Christian Youth Association. Nothing was right. This was not turning out as planned!
A nurse led me up the stairs by flashlight to an empty room. She motioned to me that I could choose my bed. I took a quick look around and picked one by the window because it seemed to have the least number of stains on its thin, button-filled mattress. I spread my sheet on it and tried not to look at the dirty pillow I stuffed into the pillowcase. Then the nurse took me down the hall to show me the bathroom. In a small outer room was a sink, and behind the door, a toilet bowl – no seat, no lid. The room smelled worse than any outhouse I had ever been in, and this was in a hospital! I think that’s when I got scared.
We came back to my room and the nurse started the intravenous. I silently prayed that they knew what they were doing and whatever they were putting my veins was not harmful. I was at their mercy and felt helpless. Thank the Lord for Olga! In her broken English, she told me she would stay overnight and sleep in the bed next to mine. I don’t know how I would have managed without her. She was like a guardian angel, one of many who would minister to me during my stay in Ukraine. And I had come to minister to them!
In the morning as I walked to the bathroom, several men stood in the hallway – patients on the same floor. In a few rooms I looked in, beds filled every possible space (mine only had five). I went to the end of the hall for a blood test. The nurse had her microscope slides in a little, ragged shoe box. She was friendly and had a sympathetic look on her face. I prayed that the needle was clean. When I returned to my room, two new patients were there.
Olga had to leave for work but another “angel of mercy” appeared. Ira Shumchuk, a young secretary at the mission centre, had just started her summer vacation and had come to spend it with me in the hospital. I felt so bad. I didn’t know this lady, yet she was cheerfully planning to spend her holiday as my interpreter and “medication runner”.
Hospital patients must buy their own medicines and supplies. Since these are scarce at State Hospital No. 7, one must go to pharmacies for supplies if none are available. Out of their meagre salaries, doctors will buy medicines for those who can’t afford them. Every day, Ira filled eight prescriptions for me, travelling to three or four different places to find the intravenous kit, antibiotics, and whatever else they were putting in me. I couldn’t have managed without Ira to do this for me.
The allergy specialist, Yevgeniya Dityatkovskaya (“Dr. Jenya”) came around mid-morning to examine me. She too, spoke some English. She listened to my chest. “Bronchitis.” That, I understood. But what were these big, itchy blisters all over my arms and legs? Were they horribly infected mosquito bites? Why was my foot swollen and dark red? What was this ugly thing on my ankle that looked and felt like rubbery hide? Why were all these bruises appearing on my body? She answered Ira in Russian, but Ira had no English words for me. The best I could make out was that these were “toxins coming out of my body.”
The intravenous was flushing out the toxins. Was it steroids they were giving me? That word seemed to confuse the doctor. “Steroids”, I repeated. Then she shook her head, and said very emphatically, “Nyet. Horrr-mone trrreat-mendt.” I said another prayer.
In the following eight days, the doctors allowed me to be an outpatient. Ira and I would go to the hospital with our food and water and whatever medical supplies she could find. We would arrive around 8:00 AM and leave about 4:00 PM after the treatments and a daily exam. This regimen cancelled all the plans for mission work. I was very disappointed, but my spirit was positive, buoyed, I am sure, by the prayers in Ukraine and at home. The doctor said I suffered a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic I had brought with me.
Every day in the hospital, I would, in my broken Ukrainian and through Ira as an interpreter, talk to my fellow hospital mates and listen to their stories. Many patients would come from other parts of the hospital to see “the Canadian lady”. Some were recent converts to Christianity and were eager to talk about Jesus. I was struck by these mostly older ladies who had found hope even though they told me that in Ukraine, you only come to the hospital to die.
My body was responding to the intravenous medications, but I continued to experience strange symptoms. Lumps would grow on my face, forehead, and temples. One day, one eyelid started swelling and by evening a lump hung down over my eye. The lumps would last about twenty-four hours and then disappear. The explanation? More “toxins” leaving my body.
I developed frightening reactions to food I had eaten all my life. My throat and lymph nodes would swell and my chest constrict. The doctor placed me on a “green” diet (could only drink or eat white or green food and liquids), saying that my body was in a “hyper-allergized state” and anything could set off a reaction. On top of all of this, I also contracted a kidney infection.
It was hot in Dnepro, too – 35 degrees and muggy. The factories billowed out their smoke and I coughed constantly. It wasn’t helping my bronchitis. I was worn out by the daily trek to the hospital and back, in addition to the five flights of stairs to the apartment. But still, I felt blessed. The loving-kindness and concern of my hosts and various members of the Student Centre were overwhelming at times. God was watching over me.
Despite the old and run-down conditions at the hospital, I received good medical care. The nurses and Dr. Jenya were caring and kind. When I saw my doctors in Canada, I discovered that the Ukrainian doctors had given me steroids and that was the right course of treatment. The eruptions on my body were hives – a severe reaction to something of which nobody is sure. One specialist says it was to the antibiotic, another to a virus. Whatever it was, only God knows. And only He knows why it was part of His plan that I should spend so much of my time in Ukraine sick and in hospital. I trust that somehow He used me to His Glory. After my hospital stay, I completed one of my planned activities – presenting a six hour seminar to Christian secretaries. It was very well received.
During my twenty-four days in Ukraine, I met many brothers and sisters in Christ and saw first-hand the mission work of Rev. Roland Syens. Even though I was sick, I was determined to attend Christian rallies and visit the Alpha and Omega Centre, and go to church twice every Sunday. The people who have come to faith in Christ have a passion for Him that is wonderful to see! For a short time I lived as an average Ukrainian. I admire their spirit of gratitude for any small comfort and their willingness to share what little they have. Moreover, I experienced Christian love and compassion as a stranger in their land. It would take a much longer story to list all the blessings I received. I will forever be indebted to my hospital companion, Ira Shumchuk, and to all the other “guardian angels” like Dr. Larisa and Ira Chaban who helped me. I know I have made some friends for life. Some of my friends in Ukraine accused me jokingly of taking the “Ukrainian experience thing” too far. “Not even a Ukrainian wants to experience a Ukrainian hospital, Connie!” Now I know why.
My kids picked me up at the airport when I arrived in Edmonton. When they saw me, they looked horrified. I was down to skin and bone and looked very emaciated. I saw specialists to find out what had happened to me, and because I continued to break out in bad hives and have strong allergic reactions to foods. They put me on medication that made me very drowsy and I was unable to go back to work for several months. I literally slept my days away.
When I was better, I contacted Pastor Syens in Ukraine and asked him to help me make sense of what happened in Ukraine. He told me he had been thinking about it as well, and did have some thoughts. Pastor Syens said, “You know, Connie, people from Canada and the United States come to us in Ukraine many times a year. They bring the young adults at the Centre gifts, clothing, financial aid, and help them in all their projects. They support and encourage them, and the youth are blessed over and over again. This was the first time that they had to give. They prayed for you, tended to your physical needs, helped you, and comforted you as they had been comforted themselves. They grew spiritually through that experience in a way they had never before. They were called to be a blessing to you and God used them and grew them in a profound way.”
Now all these years later, I think again about what he said and I do believe he’s got something there. Like we’ve always heard, God works in mysterious ways.
As I sit here and write this, it is the first day of spring and it is snowing outside. For our international, non-Canadian readers, this is actually not an uncommon occurrence. The roads are slick, the wind is blowing and visibility isn't great. Truthfully, it is a normal day in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
What is funny is that I knew it had snowed before I even stepped outside... before I even looked out the window. Confession time: I have a morning routine, as I slowly wake up I check my news feeds. I know, I know. Well, my news feed was inundated with comments about the weather outside. Some witty, some funny, but most with a tone of negativity.
Now, don't get me wrong, living in the far north and the sheer length of our winter, we have a right to some complaining. So this post is not really about that. I am not really writing a post about complaining about people who complain about the weather. But it did make me think: Our words have power and what we speak can either bring life or death. Both negative thoughts/words and positive thoughts/words can snowball--a riot effect if you will.
Take this morning for example: As one person after another posted negative comments about the weather and I read each comment, my attitude towards the conditions outside (that I have no control over) begin to affect my attitude of the situation, before I have even witnessed it myself. It becomes increasingly harder not to give into the negative words being read and as well adopt the negative outlook of the weather and then post a negative comment myself and the cycle goes on.
I think this morning simply brought to light a greater issue at hand. We live in a world that so easily speaks death and words that kill: hatred, fear, tearing people down, adding to the negative in the world and speaking death into this existence. Our words have power and what we do with them can either speak death or life.
"The simple moral fact is that words kill." - Jesus (Matt 5:22b)
Imagine what would happen if we spoke life instead of death. That we developed a habit of building people up instead of tearing people down, seeing the positive instead of the negative, and become a people of healing and hope instead of destruction and hopelessness.
So as I write this short post, I hope we can be encouraged to think with a greater purpose, that could bring real and eternal change. Let us be a people who speak life into the world that so desperately needs it.
A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech, we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues, we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
"My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?" //James 3:3-12
DRAKE CURRENTLY SERVES AS THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF BOLDCUPOFCOFFEE.COM & EXECUTIVE PASTOR AT WWW.GATEWAY.AC
DRAKE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT SEEING PEOPLE THRIVE AND COME ALIVE--TO BELONG, WRESTLED WITH WHAT THEY BELIEVE AND BECOME PEOPLE FULL OF LOVE, FUELLED BY FAITH & ADDICTED TO HOPE. DRAKE IS ALSO A LIFE LEARNER AND LOVES BEING CHALLENGED TO GROW FURTHER. ONE OF HIS FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IS SPEND A GOOD AMOUNT OF TIME AT A GOOD CAFÉ OR COFFEE SHOP WITH A GOOD BOOK OR ENGAGING CONVERSATION WITH OLD AND NEW FRIENDS. TO BE ABLE TO SHARE IN SOMEONE ELSE'S JOURNEY AND EXPERIENCE IS ALWAYS A PLEASURE AND HONOR.
So I went to the mall yesterday.
"Wow, Cole, that’s fascinating. I’m so glad you made a blog post about it."
Hey, it was a big day.
Anyway, I went to the mall with a friend of mine where she quickly learned that I very easily get sucked in to any kiosk around. I’ve had my hands cleaned with sea salt one too many times…
Yesterday I got pulled into the World Vision desk. The worker gave me her spiel and I politely listened, but I felt compelled to ask her something when she finished. I was curious about what it was like to constantly get ignored by almost every single person that walked by. To just have people purposely avert their eye contact to literally anything else around. Did she take it personally? How does a person deal with that? She gave an encouraging answer about how she knows that she’s doing a good work so she can put up with it. But after that encounter, I couldn’t stop thinking about how we treat each other often times as human beings.
My friend and colleague, Ashley-Elizabeth, recently posted on a similar topic, and I think it’s an important issue to consider.
The word that came to mind for me was “dehumanization”. I think that’s a pretty heavy word because it insinuates taking away from another person exactly what makes them that person: being human. How easy is it for us to dehumanize each other just so we can feel better about ourselves and justify our actions? How often do we treat those people at the kiosks in the mall as less than human by simply pretending that they barely exist and don’t deserve even a few minutes of our time?
But it doesn’t stop with the World Vision girl, or the sea-salt hand cream guy, but continues into literally almost every part of our lives.
I think it’s most prominent today online. It’s easy to treat a person like less than a human when you’re merely interacting with a profile picture or online account. You don’t have the ability to see the feelings that you might be creating in that person on the other end of the technology. So, our actions seem to have no real consequences in the spirit of the other person. Unfortunately, they do.
I see this all the time just in everyday interactions as well. We might see a person and establish an immediate impression of them that is most likely unfair. But we don’t care to actually take the time to realize that that person is a human being, and treat them as such. We’re willing to form opinions of people and actions without really knowing it so that we can just put them in a box that we can comfortably judge from afar. As soon as we treat that person as a person though, we have to reconsider that box. We have to realize that they are worth more than the initial judgements that we cast.
For example, when we watch people on TV, whether they’re celebrities or reality show stars, we criticize every action despite how awful the criticism might be just because we don’t know that person. It’s super easy for me to watch a show like Big Brother and condemn every action done by every one of the participants, “just because I don’t like him/her.” I don’t know Brad Pitt either so it’s simple for me to treat him more as an idea, or a punching bag of insults, rather than an actual person who bears the image of God, and judge any action he might perform that I don’t approve of (even though we all know Brad Pitt is an angel).
That grumpy, unhelpful cashier at the grocery store? “What a jerk. Doesn’t he know that I’m giving him my business?” That may be so, but do we know what happened to him that day? Maybe he just got kicked out of his apartment. Maybe his girlfriend just broke up with him. Maybe he just recently found out that he lost someone close to him. Maybe he was diagnosed with cancer that morning. We can’t know any of that, so I think we should be cautious about how we may scrutinize a person. We don’t know his life, but what we DO know is that he is created in the image of God, just like you and me. Because that’s where this issue stems from: as soon as we treat someone as anything less than the image-bearing child of God that they are, their life loses worth in our eyes.
Now, you don’t have to agree with me and say that he or she is a person made by God with God-given purpose. But you do have to consider what it means to be a human being. It’s when we treat people as worthless, randomly-gathered protoplasm that we lose the one thing that makes us different from the chimpanzee at the zoo. We’re more than that, and I believe that is one thing you can’t disagree with.
We can’t know everything that everyone else is going through in their lives. But we can know that we all have our own struggles that we deal with on a daily basis. So the next time you have an unpleasant interaction with a fellow human being on your adventures, or merely cast an immediate judgment on a person, remember what they are: a person. Just like you. Just like me. They woke up this morning with dreams and desires, as well as troubles and trials. I only ask that we strive to re-humanize our brothers and sisters on this planet by encouraging the dreams and treating them like the human being they are.
Because we all get our fair share of being treated like the sea-salt hand cream guy at the mall.
BY CHARLOTTE O
Friendship is a funny thing.
For those (like me) living overseas or even just far from family in whatever respect, it’s common for friends to become family. These are the people we live with, grow with, cry with; those we choose to surround ourselves with, or find thrown together with in circumstances – our loved ones.
I’ve been extremely privileged to call some incredible people my friends.
But what happens when idealism meets reality?
When you’re in a friendship that tears down or exhausts instead of building up?
When you only talk to your friends once a year?
When you realize you have nothing to talk about anymore?
When you people move on – to different geographical locations, phases in life, faiths, priorities, people?
What do you do when you see friends making choices that are not the choices you would make for them?
When your friends say horrible things about themselves they would never say to another human being?
When your friends experience pain and loss that passes beyond words?
How do you remain a good friend to someone?
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are some things I’ve been thinking about:
1. You can’t be God to someone
As much as you want to help and be there for your friends, it’s more important to encourage them to seek God. You can’t make decisions for people, change their hearts, or become their salvation. But you can remind them that God sees and hears them, testify to his work in your life, and pray with them. Some of my most blessed moments with good friends have been when we stopped rehashing problems, situations, or frustrations over and over again and just prayed.
2. You can’t live in the past
As the rhyme goes: Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver, the other gold.
But the truth is, people change, friends drift apart, and keeping in touch is HARD. It’s ok to let people go, and it doesn’t invalidate the time you had together. It’s a truly wonderful thing to have those friends with whom you can just ‘pick things up where you left off’ which for me is a necessity since I only return to Canada about once a year. But I’ve also had to come to understand that life is happening during those in between times, and I may or may not be a part of that. I believe that God brings people into our lives at different times, and we should do everything we can to build up those around us and learn from them while we have the fortune of being part of their stories.
3. You will need to be honest
Friendship requires vulnerability. Truly connecting with someone means letting them see both your good and bad, and trusting them not to judge you. Will you get hurt? Probably. Does that mean you should give up on people? Probably not. I’m starting to wonder if people-pleasing is, at its root, an honesty problem. We want people to see some made up, ideal of ourselves so that they will like and accept us. But a true friend will see your potential, and be willing to help you get there.
4. You will mess up
Friendships can become a place where we are very selfish; whether that means expecting another person to fulfill our needs, or whether we surround ourselves with people who make us feel good and avoid those who are harder to love. I know it’s been said many times, but people, even the best of friends, will always let you down. We really need to stop keeping score in our relationships. If we started applying a measure of forgiveness to others, we might remember that we have already been forgiven much.
5. Life-giving friendship is a taste of heaven
Part of being image-bearers of God means that we were made for relationship. We were not made to live in isolation, and friendships at their best can truly reflect God. When life-giving, God-glorifying community happens, healing occurs, people get saved, and memories are made. I don’t know about you, but for me, coming to a relationship with God didn’t involve an intellectual decision as much as a community of believers who came alongside me and showed me what life could be like.
Maybe one of the most well known Bible verses about friendship is this one:
We need the light, warmth, acuity, and simply the spark from others to pass through the flames and become a more useful instrument in the hands of our Maker.
BY Renée Sporer
As a theme has begun to arise in the last few articles posted here, I asked Renée Sporer if she would be willing to share a post she wrote that I felt spoke quite well to the topic at hand and add to the conversation. Thank you Renée for your thoughts.
Drake De Long-Farmer
Being empathetic never occurred to me to be a challenging state of the heart. I always pretty much assumed that everyone understood it, even though that probably just was because I always understood it. Empathy, in my understanding is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes- or see things from their perspective. Trying to grasp why they feel, act, or what it would be like to be them in their situation. I’ve always gotten this. For some reason, I’ve always cared about other people. I try to put myself into their spot and see how I would feel in such a situation. Sometimes it’s rough. I feel what other people feel, even if I don’t want to. And at the end of the day, I’m glad I do.
I’m writing this, because it worries me that a lot of people miss the boat on this one. Let me illustrate an example. So I know someone has an illness and maybe it makes them look off one day. And then people question that individual why they look so ‘funny’ or what is wrong with their face? Or something along those lines. Such comments hurt me. Right to the core. Why? Because I put myself in that person’s shoes and I can imagine how embarrassed they probably would feel hearing those comments and not wanting to give an answer. The other problem of this, is that the most common answer to the reasoning behind such behavior is “I was only joking” (and yes, I have at times been guilty of this as well). Maybe it was a joke to you, and the intent wasn’t to harm, but I think what it most important, is that you become AWARE of other people’s feelings. Be aware of the fact that maybe a “joking comment” isn’t going to be appropriate towards a particular person. Let’s spread love people.
It’s one of those things where you might not always know what is going on behind the scenes in someone’s life.
On the flip side of this, I know that maybe people would say, well, technically you CHOOSE what you let affect you, or upset you. You choose to let someone’s words get to you. Okay, fair enough. Yes I am in charge of what I let bother me, but that isn’t a free pass for everyone to say what they want, act how they want, and say that it’s not their fault if someone takes offense to it. To me, this is one of the BIGGEST cop outs ever.
You know what I would like to see? More and more people becoming increasingly aware of the feelings of others. You might not know what a person is going through, emotionally, physically, etc. So maybe hold back comments that are unnecessary. I’m not always perfect in this department by any means, but I try to make a conscious effort to try and understand people. I know what it’s like to be put down all the time. And you know what? I do my best to not let comments or actions have any hold over me. But it’s not always easy when I’m dealing with things in my life. I’ve had emotional struggles, physical struggles, self esteem struggles, I’ve had people pass away in my life, and I don’t always tell people about the things going on (because I really don’t have to expose everything I’m dealing with). And I am quite confident that everyone deals with things like this at one time or another in their life. So recall a time you were dealing with something and I imagine it would have made the situation better if you had people supporting you, and not putting you down.
Ultimately, I sincerely wish that more people would become aware of this. Build people up! Encourage! Speak words of life and power into people’s lives. Especially your friends and family. Become more aware of the things you express to others because you might not ever know what they are going through. Choose to be empathetic. To me it is one of the greatest character traits one can have. We should all be on each other’s teams. We should always cheering on the people in our lives to overcome, to be raised up, to feel loved and motivated through whatever it is we are working through. We should learn to be cheerleaders, true friends, and sidekicks with others. Spread the love people!
"If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.” -Marvin J. Ashton
I wrote an Article last week, a response to a woman who had written in to our 'Ask Anything' section, asking me to write about self confidence in younger girls. I wrote a response that has gotten a good amount of views and I have had some good talks with some of the girls in my life. This blog today is the flip side to my first one. We cannot put so much time and effort into how we feel about our minds, bodies and souls to have another woman come behind us and pull us back down into a state of worry. Let me tell you what happened to me this week.
I am a 24 year old girl who has always struggled with unruly, crazy, curly hair. I have spent insane amounts of money on things to straighten it. Serums, sprays, cremes, very expensive flat irons, etc. It is a daily struggle for me to learn to love my curls. 2 weeks ago I saw a picture of a woman with beautiful curls in the most trendy, short bob I have ever seen. I immediately thought that I could cut my hair that short and feel good about rocking out a trendy curly hair do. I thought about it for a week and asked some friends opinions and then last Saturday I walked into the salon and talked to my hair dresser. We agreed that this was a cut I could wear with the texture of my hair and we let the cutting begin. Almost 7 inches of my hair fell to the floor and I was left with a really cool cut that was the shortest my hair had ever been and I left the salon with my head feeling 5 pounds lighter and feeling amazing.
My blog went up on Thursday, this blog that I had cultivated for over a week to tell the women of my life, young and old that they were beautiful, smart and enough. The day after my blog came out, a woman told me that fat girls should not cut their hair short. I was shocked at how brazen this middle aged woman was as she told me that I didn't have the hair cut she thought I should. The best response I could muster up was "Well, I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion."
We cannot put so much time and effort into
how we feel about our minds, bodies and
souls to have another woman come behind us
and pull us back down into a state of worry.
Now let me say, I am a size 14 in jeans so I am considered to be plus size. I am not ashamed of my body and I am working on losing more weight, as at this time last year I was in a size 18 pant. But still, none of this should concern this woman. I know she can't look at me and know that it was really hard for me to cut my hair and rock out my curls everyday, or that I am on a weight loss journey. Now, I am a fairly self confident person so this one horrible interaction did not break me as a person, but what if this woman had said this to a girl who wasn't as sure about herself?
My last entry was on self confidence, so now this is me telling you, to think about what you say to other people, as you are on a journey of working on yourself. Why would you ever want to say something to another person that is going to tear them down and make them feel unworthy? Why do you want to walk around knowing your words are hurting others? Especially things that are intentional. Intentionally mean, Intentionally hurtful. Things that will make someone walk around for the rest of the day, week, month, feeling terrible about themselves?
There were two ways I could take this entry and I was struggling with it today: I could share some verses with you all about how words can hurt, and even kill. Or I could explain to you that you are made in the image and likeness of God and you are meant to be a part of God's Kingdom on Earth.
Surely you must know that hurting others is not something that God would want you to be involved with. I was sitting today at church and as our Pastor was explaining the message for this morning, he was telling us that often when a person prays they think they are praying up to the heavens' and then God is sending blessings back down to us. While instead, that God is everywhere all the time, so when you pray, your prayers are most often answered by the people around you and that God works miracles through the people in his Kingdom on Earth for you.
It is my hope that when a person wakes up in
the morning it is their intent to help the world.
And if it isn't, it is my hope that their intention
WAS NOT to break down others self worth.
If that is who you are, a member of God's great Kingdom, why would you ever want to be purposefully harmful to another person? My first blog was directed at girls, but this is for everyone girls, boys, women and men alike. You should want to go out into the world and spread love and hope and joy. Mathew 5:14-16 says, "You are the light of the world-like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father." If you are the light of the world, how horrible that you would want to go through life blowing out others flames?
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. (Mathew 7:1-2)
It is my hope that when a person wakes up in the morning it is their intent to help the world. And if it isn't, it is my hope that their intention WAS NOT to break down others self worth.
I don't know how many other ways I can state that I was dissapointed by this woman and her comment, and all the other people who go through their days speaking unkind words.
This weekend also held international woman's day. It is a day to celebrate the incredible women in both past and present, and who are known to us as well as unknown. I want women to take a stand and start being the support each other needs as well as the light the world so desperately seeks. This is not an easy thing to speak about as it affects all of us at one time or another, some more often than others, but once again I would like you to know that you are who you are for a reason, and for that you are special.
You are a child of God, and no hair colour, glasses, faded jeans or extra 5 pounds will ever be able to change that. You get back what you put in to the world, so make sure it is love and hope, instead of poison and darkness.
You don't need to look very hard to see that there is something serious broken with the world: the unrest and global tension in Ukraine, climate change, genocide, children being sold into the sex trade, 1/9 of the world still not having access to clean drinking water and the list goes on. It can be easy to look at all this and see a grim hopeless situation. Often it can be a natural response to ask the question 'why?' Why does this happen? Why would people resort to such evil? Why would God let such evil happen?
Sometimes I want to ask God, why do you allow famine, poverty and injustice in the world when He could do something about it... But I'm afraid He might just ask me the same question...
So often in life, I find that we can ask the wrong questions. See, instead of always asking the question: 'why?', we should be asking the question: 'what now?'. It can be easy to wonder why such things happen, or even wonder why nobody else has done anything about it. But at some point, we need to KEEP CALM, SUIT UP & BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION.
Though the topic at hand is a complex one, I have two thoughts that have been rambling around in my brain for a little bit now that I would like to get out.
First, the situation is not as hopeless as we might think it is. It can be easy to see how terrible things are, with no quantified movement towards the good we wish to see, and we can become discouraged and do nothing. We start to say things like: "What can I do? I am only one person." or "The problem is to big." But the reality is that we are already seeing a change for the better. Take this video as one example:
Now of course this is only one facet of the entire gambit of things going on and we still have a lot of work ahead of us. But, what I hope you can take away from this is just that... HOPE. With the right emphases, attitude, tools and people, we can actually make a real difference. The question that will always remain is this: 'Do you actually believe this?'. Can we see that we have the great opportunity and privilege to be a part of the change and the change can start today. It is amazing what the human race can accomplish when we work together.
Is this the world you want?
Second, our beliefs about ourselves, this world and God shapes how we choose to react to the reality around us.
Let me give an example: If you have a low view of the human race and it's worth, you will view God as one who has no issues with discarding it and in turn will see no need to see it become better. But if you see intrinsic value in humanity and the world around us (because God bestowed it), you will view God as one who sees worth in His creation and wishes to redeem it and in turn join that mission of redemption
I see two driving forces in this world: one of hope and one of hopelessness. One that drives towards change and a better world and one that sees no reason to do so. One that sees this world worth redeeming and one that sees this world as something to escape.
I hold a belief that God is on a cosmic rescue mission of redemption and we get to be a part of the healing process that God wishes to see in all His creation. Furthermore, what we do today not only has a temporal effect on this existence, but will also carry into and effect the eternal. In other words, what God redeems today can and will carry forward into the next age.
It can be easy to wonder why such things happen, or even wonder why nobody else has done anything about it. But at some point, we need to KEEP CALM, SUIT UP & BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION.
When we have a perspective of hopelessness, we start to believe the idea that the world is only getting worse and will only get worse until Christ returns to lay a final judgement. That it doesn't matter what we do today, the only thing we can hope for is to be rescued from this world and beamed up to a better place.
When this takes root, people are more concerned about making a point, then making a change; about trying to be right, then trying to understand; about separation instead of redemption.
We see this with much of western Christianity focusing on 'speaking truth' and 'converting' sinners because we believe that this all that is worth redeeming. No point in being a part of the global change, because in the end it doesn't matter.
But what if it does matter? What if what we do today, in the here and now, in the temporal and yes... even in the physical actually effects and makes a difference in the spiritual, eternal and ultimately has a cosmic redemptive purpose. What if it was God's plan to redeem all His creation and we can be a part of that now? That we are not just waiting around for it all to hit the fan, but we are actually being called to make a change today. To be agents of change, healing and redemption today. That God is saying: SUIT UP AND BE THE CHANGE!
What would happen if we shifted our focus away from fear driven, hopeless living and instead towards hope filled, God ordained, redemptive thinking & living. That Christ not only came to save our souls, but reclaim the lost authority given to humanity by God to have dominion over this world and actually make it right.
What would happen if we lived in that... today?
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