Measuring Religious Experiences

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Religious experiences have long been mysterious events that only the mystics have understood. However, whether you are a mystic or not, how do you explain a religious experience? How do you account for life-altering religious conversions, near death experiences, or simply worship and prayer? And, can these experiences even be measured or explained in any way?

Richard Gunderman addressed some of these questions in his recent article on The Atlantic entitled “Sensing God and the Limits of Neuroscience.” In the article, Gunderman responds to an article posted by neurologist Oliver Sacks on why religious or “other-worldly” experiences can be explained in material or “this-worldly” terms. Sacks argues that any religious experience is merely a neurologic abnormality or a misfiring of electrical activity in the brain, meaning that anyone who has a religious experience is simply mistaking abnormal neurologic events to be spiritual or transcendent occurrences.

Gunderman, in response, seeks to debunk this understanding of religious experiences. Gunderman argues that associating religious experiences with misfirings in the brain really doesn’t tell us anything new or unique about the nature of any sort of transcendent reality. Gunderman asks,

What if the transcendent is no different from any other aspect of human experience, in at least one crucial respect? Namely, that there are both false and true experiences of the transcendent, just as there are false and true experiences associated with the senses, with reason, and with feeling.

In other words, the fact that electrochemical activity in the brain takes place does nothing to help us distinguish between right and wrong, or non-religious and religious experiences. Sure, some individuals seem to have a greater propensity for certain religious experiences, but this does not mean that such experiences are necessarily abnormal or “wrong.” All experiences, whether religious or not, are associated with patterns or changes in the electrochemical activity in the brain. Even ethereal experiences such as love, beauty, and goodness are associated with changes in brain activity. Therefore, to explain an experience on the basis of neurochemical activity in the brain is neither to affirm nor discount that experience, it is simply to describe the experience. If one wants to affirm or discount a religious experience based on neurochemical activity in the brain, it would require a proper definition of that experience, which is more difficult than it sometimes appears.

Gunderman uses music as an example of something that is, like religious experiences, difficult to define because it is a material reality that can invoke a sense of the transcendent. In describing music, Gunderman says:

A physicist might come along and say that what I call music is merely the scraping of horse’s hairs across cat gut, a mechanical vibration in a particular frequency range. A neurologist might come along and explain that I am merely experiencing the transduction of kinetic energy into electrical energy as processed by neurons in the auditory and higher associative cortices of the brain. And yet, there is something about the music that is hard to reckon in such terms. It would be like saying that a passionate embrace is merely the pressing of flesh on flesh.

Therefore, even though things such as religious experiences, music, love, beauty, and goodness can be described to a certain degree in scientific terms, they cannot be fully understood in those terms alone. Many of the greatest scientists, including Newton and Einstein, knew this. They understood that humans only know in part what the divine knows in full. Science is extremely helpful and necessary in showing us the part that we can know, but we should not begin to think that science can show us the whole of what can be known.

Why Churches Need to Embrace Technology

Churches unable to adapt to technology and the way people communicate today may be in trouble. We often hear about churches across Canada losing young people and closing their doors. I believe that a few low-cost, practical tips can help churches connect with their community, increase their reach, and ultimately turn this trend around.

I appreciate what the popular blog Church Marketing Sucks says about our ability to tell our story: “We’ve got the greatest story ever told, but we don’t know how to tell it. The church has a problem communicating, and it’s time to change.” Let’s face it, historically the church has been slow to move when it comes to embracing new technology. In some cases this is due to philosophical concerns, but nowadays my experience shows that it is more commonly tied to budgetary concerns.

I argue that we are nearing a tipping point, where over the next 5 to 10 years, a church’s ability to adapt to evolving technology will be the difference between their growth and their demise. With the rapid development of mobile devices, social networking, and the internet altogether, churches are at risk of being left behind when it comes to communication, particularly with anyone under the age of 40.

While there are many facets to a problem like this, it’s been interesting to observe a common trend for congregations that are actually growing during this season. Churches that make the effort to use technology, as well as put effort into the design and branding of their communication, will experience substantial and sustained growth.

A 2011 study by the Hartford Institute appears to confirm this. The study found that between 2005 and 2010, 31% of churches with high levels of technology usage grew their attendance over 10%. What is clear is that new technology is only beneficial for those communities who are open to change. As the author of the study, Scott Thumma, writes, “When technology is combined with a willingness to change…the growth potential of a faith community increases dramatically.”

An Opportunity to Tell Our Story

What I don’t want churches to miss out on is the amazing opportunity that technology presents for spreading the message of the gospel. We have such good news to share, so let’s continue to improve the media we use to tell it. Access to so many people has never been so easy and so instantaneous. One tweet can be seen by thousands within an hour and a YouTube video can be viewed by millions the day it was posted. That type of exposure to a message was unheard of even 15 years ago.

We need to grab hold of these technologies and use them to tell a better story. In fact, we need to use them to tell the greatest story.

Getting Past the Budget Concerns

As I mentioned, my experience tells me that cost is often a reason that churches hesitate to engage with technology, but thankfully the cost of the high-tech and online world is coming down every day. To help your church get the ball rolling, I will suggest three low-cost solutions that you may want to consider.

1) Set Up (and Use) Your Church Facebook Page

With over 1 billion active users and the average user spending 15 minutes on the site per day, there’s no denying that many eyes are on Facebook. And no matter how nice your website is, my guess is you don’t have quite that same level of visitor traffic.

When you have something exciting to communicate, while it makes perfect sense to post it on your website, it can be a wait-and-see game before people visit to see the news. However, if you create a post on Facebook you’re in luck, because the people in your community are likely already on the site and will know about the update almost instantly. So simple.

So, if you don’t have a Facebook page, this is a no-brainer. The cost to set up a Facebook page for your church is $0. And the cost to regularly update your page and keep people in the loop for your church events and news? Yup, $0.

It will take approximately 30 minutes to create your page and maybe 10-15 minutes per day to update it and engage others.

2) Create an Email Bulletin

In an era of eco-friendliness and social networks, an email bulletin has multiple benefits. Everyone has email and is comfortable with the idea of receiving updates in their inbox. Up to this point, the common solution for community updates has been to hand out a fresh piece of paper each week. But let’s be honest when we estimate how many of these hand-outs end up left in the pew or in the garbage bin on the way out.

Taking this a step further, think of how much more an email bulletin can do. Rather then just one sentence about your men’s retreat this week, an email bulletin can contain a link to an online registration form, allowing someone to sign up the moment they hear about the event. Or if you’re wanting to let everyone know what a success VBS was last week, you could link directly to a slideshow of photos. This is a much more engaging approach.

In other words, you can communicate much more than a single piece of paper can allow. In addition to the environmental and strategic benefits, I would be remiss not to mention the savings in the weekly cost of paper and ink.

3) Enable Wi-Fi at the Church

The heart behind each step here is to try and work with the trends of the culture, rather than fighting against them. I know to some it may seem crazy to encourage your community members to use their mobile devices during a service, but to many in your congregation, this process will actually help them engage. With so many people owning smartphones and tablets, wi-fi will be a huge help to Sunday morning attendees. Allowing visitors to tweet sermon notes or follow along in their Bible app, a wi-fi friendly church will encourage people to engage more with your message.

In an interview for a local newspaper, Norm Funk, the pastor of Westside Church in Vancouver, said, “If I’m dealing with predominantly 25 to 35 year-olds, most of them don’t open Bibles today, they go into their iPhone and they open up their Bible app,” Funk says. “If I don’t provide [wi-fi] . . . they’re going to look at me like, ‘You don’t understand my life right now.’”

A Responsibility to Change

As long as the gospel has been around, the technology used to communicate it has been changing. It just so happens that it’s now evolving at an exponential rate. I like the approach that pastor Todd Hahn took when asked about engaging social media. His response was, “It’s a huge responsibility of a church to leverage whatever’s going on in the broader culture, to connect people to God and to each other.”

Your church’s ability to communicate in a digital age will achieve many things: it will prove your credibility, create loyalty within your church, and connect people relationally. At the end of the day, there are some great new ways to reach more people for Jesus. If we’re going to reverse the national trend of a decline in church attendance, I’d strongly recommend that every church consider embracing new technologies.

Matt Morrison is a co-founder and developer at Church OS, a church website company based out of Vancouver, BC. You can see what Matt and his team at Church OS are up to by visiting www.ChurchOS.ca or following them on Twitter at @ChurchOS. In this article Matt discussed three easy things you could start implementing at your church this week. If you would like more tips, make sure you sign up for the Church OS monthly newsletter.

Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove Launch Common Prayer App

Praying together—separately—has never been easier thanks to Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new Common Prayer app.

Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove are co-authors of the 2010 book Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, which has sold 56,000 copies. The year of morning, midday, and evening prayers are now in a convenient daily app format, complete with an optional “call-to-prayer” alarm that can be customized to fit your schedule.

“We hope you don’t just see it as you, your phone, and God; but that you are joining an ancient and wonderful, mysterious and beautiful movement of Christians praying together around the world,” says Claiborne in a video about the app.

In addition to the three daily prayers that all users will say each day, there are also devotions, monthly actions, a songbook complete with audio files of hymns being sung by faith communities (to remind you you’re not the only one praying), and a full-text, multi-translation Bible when you’re connected to the internet.

A press release about the launch of the app states that “in a world where social classes are extremely divided and cultures remain separate rather than unified, the Common Prayer app may just be the common prayer that a socially, racially and politically segregated world needs to be transformed.”

This vision may be limited to the extent that the “socially, racially and politically segregated world” enjoys access to the iPhone 3Gs, 4, 4s, 5 and iPod Touch (an iPad version is coming soon), but as a more convenient liturgical option to carrying the paperback around for a year, it might be worth the $9.99 price tag.

Minding the gap: understanding the inequality of consumerism and sex trafficking

My husband Jay and I are currently in Europe making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to human trafficking, and preventative models that reduce sexual exploitation. Last week we were on the subway in Vienna. At every stop they would announce the location, along with other information in German. One brief English announcement was uttered at the very end as passengers prepared to debark:

“Mind the gap.”

This of course referred to the gap between the subway car and the platform, a looming dark abyss I was horrified by as a child. If I am to be honest, it still sends a slight chill down my spine. What if I trip and my foot gets caught? What if I drop something important? What if I get hurt?  Or left behind?

Mind the gap.

Here in Europe, as everywhere else, there is gross income inequality between regions. Borders become virtually non-existent as countries join the European Union. We have travelled between many countries and have never been checked at a border. Commerce and travel can happen more easily. So can the trafficking of humans, a flow from poor to wealthy areas. The bigger the gap between the rich and the poor, the more opportunities there are for exploitation.

One night we visited the Prater, an area of Vienna where many sex trafficking victims end up. The women are scattered along the street, categorized by country. The Hungarian girls have one section, the Romanians another, followed by the Nigerians. Their pimps can be seen on the other side of the street, sitting in warm cars to keep an eye on their “property.” We arrived quite early in the night and saw streams of girls being dropped off by their pimps and walking to their spot on the road. There was a parking garage in the middle of the area, where men pull into once an agreement has been made. One block over there was a line of guys at an ATM machine. Business increases when conferences come to town, as the big convention centre is right next to this area. It’s sickening.

As Brian McConaghy from Ratanak International once told us, when you have money, de facto you have power. This principle rings true in Canada just as it does in Europe. Most of the time, the way we spend our money speaks louder than our words. The trafficking industry would not be lucrative if men were not spending their money to rent human flesh.

But the rest of us are not off the hook either. We all contribute to the vulnerability or empowerment of others. The way we live our lives either promotes or undermines income equality, which has implications for those around us. For example, in some circles in Canada it is normal for one person to own several houses. This raises the cost of houses left on the market, making it more difficult for other families to afford a house. This also puts less people in control of the rental market, making it more difficult for lower income families to afford rent. Do you own more than one house? If so, is your primary motive profit, or are you using it to intentionally bless others?  In countries where individualism trumps all, we seldom think about how our seemingly insignificant actions affect society as a whole.

Here we’ve learned that exported consumerism can be lethal.  Marketing firms and companies are masters at manufacturing need, making people feel that something lacks in their life if they do not purchase a certain product. The message of consumerism is reaching the televisions and newspapers of small remote towns in impoverished countries, where young people fall for it in a similar fashion as the rest of us do. In those rare cases where life happens to be manageable in these rural areas, the lure of “more stuff” entices young women to take opportunities that are risky, dangerous, and potentially fatal. Yet in the West we celebrate consumerism, worship it even. As Christ-followers, we must consider the impact our consumer habits have on others. I often ask myself whether someone would consider me “salt” and “light” if they could only look at what I had spent my money on that month.

Do our actions promote equality, or suppress it? Are we increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, or are we taking steps to provide more opportunities to others? Our answer to these questions is a litmus test of how serious we are about ending exploitation.

At the subway station, it is extremely rare for someone to get stuck in the gap between the metro and the platform. My fear of falling in is quite silly, really. But outside the station, real lives hang in the balance of both the individual and collective decisions we make. Let’s get proactive about thinking about the well-being of others.

Let’s mind the gap.

Michelle and her husband Jay run a not-for-profit organization called Hope for the Sold that aims to educate and fight against sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. They are currently traveling in Europe to shoot their second documentary on the subject, and you can watch their first documentary ENSLAVED AND EXPLOITED: The Story of Sex Trafficking in Canada here.

“When Helping Hurts” author to speak at Canadian Conference

Have you ever made a donation based on guilt? Or given because you “should”? Or have you ever felt powerless to ease the world’s problems, and done nothing at all? It’s uncomfortable to evaluate the motivations behind our charitable actions, but it’s vitally important.

A one-day conference called Helping Without Hurting will challenge participants to do just that. Based on the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, the conference will spend the morning going through the key concepts of the book — everything from “asset-based development” to “doing short term missions without doing long-term harm.” The afternoon will shift from theory to action with a breakout session on practical ways to respond, both locally and globally.

Hosted by Food for the Hungry (FH) Canada, the conference features Brian Fikkert as the main speaker. Both Fikkert and co-author Corbett work with the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, a research and training organization that helps local churches transform the lives of low-income people without creating dependency. FH Canada training manager Melissa Giles believes the conference will be relevant to church members, pastors, mission leaders, short-term team members, university students, non-profit staff members, and anyone concerned with social justice and the biblical mandate to care for the poor.

Fikkert is optimistic about the church’s interest in caring for the poor and oppressed, but wants to help people develop a healthier, more thought-out response to the complexities of poverty and injustice.

“One could argue that the interest in the North American church in serving the poor is at the highest level it’s been in the entire post-World-War-II era,” he says. “But good intentions are not enough.”

The conference will break down the principles of relief and development, equipping participants to respond in appropriate, life-giving ways that empower the poor instead of undermining their dignity. Fikkert and Corbett are first to admit they’ve done a lot wrong over their years in development, so they speak from a place of grace as they caution against handouts, donor-driven aid, and the temptation to treat poverty as merely material.

But it’s not a conference about guilt or shame about mistakes of the past. It’s meant to inspire, educate and enable individuals, churches, volunteers, and non-profits to make smart choices as they engage with issues of poverty—not only for their own good, but for the good of those they aim to help.

The Helping Without Hurting conference with Dr. Brian Fikkert is December 1 at Sherwood Park Alliance Church in Edmonton, AB. Visit www.fhcanada.org/HWH for more information and to register. For those not in the Edmonton area, visit www.fhcanada.org/bootcamp to learn about FH Canada’s Poverty Revolution Boot Camps offered in several cities across Canada each year.

 

Making the Kingdom of God Tangible

A few years back I read a book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, entitled The Tangible Kingdom. As I read it my heart burned. When I shut the book I said out loud: “That is what I want to do with my life.” And I have. At least I have tried. And I am doing my best to drag others along with me.

Halter writes that discipleship is “doing the kinds of things Jesus did, with the kinds of people he did them with.” That means hanging out with the hungry, the disenfranchised, the displaced. It means engaging deeply with my existing relational network – my hockey buddies, my neighbours and co-workers. It means leaving my comfort zone to pray for and with the spiritually disoriented; attempting to bring hope and healing in Jesus name; seeing the tangible goodness of God flow into every nook and cranny of the city. When Jesus and his disciples came to your town, that was good news, really good news. That should still be true. Where followers of Jesus go, good news should flow.

A New Vision for Discipleship

It is no secret how Jesus did discipleship – that is, how he developed his disciples. He shared his life with them and together they lived on mission. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus, if we want to develop disciples of Jesus today then it will happen as we do the same – share our lives and live on mission together. We can’t become a disciple on our own by reading and memorizing scripture indoors. We have to get out, serving others and building friendships.

One of our greatest challenges to becoming a true disciple of Christ is the unwritten, but well understood, Canadian social code.

The extreme version goes something like this: I get up in the morning, exit invisibly into my garage.  Drive to work, make small talk at work, and come home from work. Press the garage door opener. Return to my cocoon. Don’t call me. Don’t ring my doorbell. Don’t bug me, unless you are friend or family; or I have won the lottery.

There is a terrible cost when we collectively live by this code. This code is safe but it renders us lonely, disconnected and cold. It turns our neighbourhoods into ghost towns. Sure, people have their country clubs, their hobbies and their churches. But these are all like little ghettos, sometimes-pretty little ghettos, but ghettos all the same. And this might be fine for the intended purposes of say a private club, but for a church it is unacceptable.

A New Vision for the Church

The church is the people of Jesus, who are becoming more and more like him. His greatest command was for people to love God and love their neighbour.

The code of Jesus for the church trumps the Canadian code. The code of Jesus forces us to ask some disturbing questions: What if one of my most important jobs as a follower of Jesus is to warm up my neighbourhood? What if Jesus really meant it when he told me to love my neighbour? What if this is a massive and missing part of my discipleship?

Since I first read The Tangible Kingdom a few years ago, I have discovered that nobody wants to be preached at, nobody wants canned answers, nobody wants to be solicited, and nobody wants to be evangelized. As Bruce Cockburn, Canadian artist, sings: “Wave a flag, wave a bible, wave your sex or your business degree, whatever you want but don’t wave that thing at me.”

Yet, almost everyone yearns for community, almost everyone wants to make positive difference, almost everyone wants to be befriended, and almost everyone is searching for answers to ultimate questions. I have discovered that if you hang around long enough and in a safe enough way the conversation always turns to God at some moment.

So I pray and I hang out and I expect the Spirit to stir something up. When my hockey buddies go out, I am there with them. When they go golfing, I grab my clubs. If they invite me camping, I pitch a tent.

I now regularly expect deep spiritual conversations with seekers. I seldom bring up the topic, but I am often invited into another’s search for God. I serve the poor and bring along seekers who are eager to serve with me. I do all this with faith filled friends who are doing the same.

The faith-filled friends that have joined me in this journey are more than just a fellowship group. We see ourselves as a missional community – living on mission together. We have adopted a monthly 3-step rhythm.

We meet once for study and prayer together. We meet again to offer generous hospitality – neighbourhood Christmas parties, curling, beach outings, Oktoberfest. And lastly, we meet to serve the poor together. At each of these gatherings we invite along friends, neighbours and co-workers depending on their interest and spiritual openness. We live the rhythm as individuals and we practice it as a group.

Extending Generous Hospitality

As a result, my life has never been so filled with spiritual conversations with un-churched or ex-churched. My heart has been changed as I have made friends with street people. Our neighbourhood is vibrant and social and our homes are warm places to invite in fellow church members, neighbours, co-workers, friends, and teammates.

Jesus tells us to love our neighbour. I think the best way to show that love and to make the Kingdom of God more tangible is by learning the names of our neighbors and sharing food and hospitality with them. Generous hospitality changes the DNA of our neighbourhoods, our places of work, and our relational networks.

So, I have made the Kingdom of God more tangible in my life and there is no going back. I invite you to do the same.

Intact Families are different

Children raised in an intact biological family are more likely to do well on a range of issues, according to a study called “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships?” The study was done by Mark Regnerus of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas. Regnerus screened over 15,000 Americans age 18-39, of whom 1.7% had a parent who had a same-sex relationship (175 were raised by a lesbian and 73 by a gay father).

The study showed that 12% of those with a lesbian mother and 24% of those with a gay father but only 5% of those raised by an intact biological family had recently contemplated suicide. As well, 28% of those with a lesbian mother, 20% of those with a gay father but only 8% of those raised by an intact biological family were unemployed. Those raised by their biological parents were also less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, watch TV or have a criminal record.

The study also showed that 23% of those with a lesbian mother, 6% of those with a gay father, 10% of those raised by a single parent, but only 2% of those raised in an intact biological family reported having been touched sexually by a parent or adult.  As well, 31% of those with a lesbian mother, 25% of those with a gay father, but only 8% of those raised by biological parents reported being forced to have sex against their will. In addition, 61% of those with a lesbian mother, 71% of those with a gay father and 90% of those raised by an intact biological family reported they were “entirely heterosexual.”

The full study, which will be published in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research, is available online. It has been commented on by Lifesite News and Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

 

Becoming Soul Mates

Les and Leslie ParrottNationally known relationship experts host local events to build stronger relationships and marriages

Couples are invited to gather for a fun event filled with humor, fresh insight, and new strategies for lifelong love.  The Becoming Soul Mates seminar is for everyone—newlyweds, “oldyweds,” seriously dating, engaged couples—those wanting to make a bad relationship better or a good relationship great.

Here’s some of what attendees will learn:

  • The Three Most Important Misbeliefs of Marriage
  • The Single Sentence That Can Revolutionize Your Relationship
  • The Three Essential Ingredients of Lasting Love
  • The Immeasurable Value of Laughter
  • Discover Your Unique Love Style
  • The Two Steps to Communicate with Instant Understanding
  • How to Reduce and Resolve Inevitable Conflict
  • Marriage Mentoring and the “Boomerang Effect”

A date with the Parrotts will not only equip you with tools to strengthen your relationship, but will also be fun and entertaining.  Their charisma, humor, practical advice and vulnerability about their own marital struggles have placed them in high demand as conference speakers.

Becoming Soul Mates is a comprehensive relationship-strengthening seminar designed by nationally known relationship experts Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  The Parrotts co-direct the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, a ground-breaking program dedicated to teaching the basics of good relationships.

Collectively, Les and Leslie have written more than two dozen books that have sold over one million copies in more than two dozen languages including best-selling and Gold-medallion winner Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.  Other popular titles include Love Talk, Your Time-Starved Marriage, The Love List, Becoming Soul Mates, Questions Couples Ask, Shoulda Woulda Coulda, The Control Freak and High-Maintenance Relationships.  They have appeared on many shows such as Oprah, CBS This Morning, The View, The 700 Club, Focus on the Family and NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.  Their work has been written about in USA Today, New York Times, Family Circle, Redbook, Men’s Health, Glamour, Modern Bride etc.

The Parrotts were recently proclaimed New York Times #1 Best Selling Authors with their new release book – “The Hour that Matters Most – the surprising power of the family meal”.

Don’t miss this dynamic couple with their insightful and inspirational teaching when they come into your region!

For more information about the Parrott’s, visit their website at www.LesandLeslie.com

For more information about the Becoming Soul Mates seminars in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver, BC regions, visit www.worshipvancouver.com

Event Dates:  Friday, June 22nd (Langley) and Saturday, June 23rd, 2012 (Vancouver)          

Time:   7:00 pm – 10:00 pm (Langley) / 10:00 am – 1:00 pm (Vancouver)

Location:  Langley Events Centre, Langley and Tenth Church, Vancouver                     

For more information contact:  Beracah Productions, worship@telus.net or 604-879-1124

 

About Les & Lisa Parrott:

Les, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and Leslie, Ed.D., is a marriage and family therapist. Together they founded and co-direct the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, a ground-breaking program dedicated to teaching the basics of good relationships.  Their newest venture is the launch of nationwide campaign, building up an army of Marriage Mentors to reduce the divorce rate.

The Parrotts speak in over 40 cities annually at churches, corporations, universities and community events. Their international speaking tours have included Asia, Australia and Eastern and Western Europe.  Les and Leslie were appointed as the first ever state-wide Marriage Ambassadors by the Governor of Oklahoma. They have been called upon to provide on-site support in the aftermath of worldwide disasters such as Ground Zero and Chernobyl.  They have also served our military, assisting soldiers with re-entry into family life upon returning from duty and helping families cope with the unique pressures of long term separation.

The Parrotts have written dozen of books which have sold millions of copies and have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Some of their titles include Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Becoming Soul Mates, Your Time-Starved Marriage, Crazy Good Sex,and L.O.V.E.  Their newest release, The Hour That Matters Most reached #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list.

 

Les and Leslie have appeared on many national TV and radio shows such as “Oprah”, “Good Morning America Sunday” “CBS This Morning”, “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw”, “The View”, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Network. They hosted a weekly Relationships segment on Fox TV Seattle and their own radio show “Love Talk”.  They have authored and contributed to many articles published in such magazines as Women’s Day, Family Circle, Brides, Redbook, Men’s Health, Glamour, Marriage Partnership and Focus on the Family.  Their work has also appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the county such as USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Newsday.

Their website, LesandLeslie.com features more than 1,000 free video on demand pieces answering relationship questions. Les and Leslie live in Seattle, Washington, with their two sons.

Two worlds and a pole carving

Totem Pole Carving“Hey Don, I don’t think I can come. My car won’t start.”

My friend Isadore’s voice was strained with frustration. After phone calls to the dealership, and various failed attempts to dislodge the seized ignition tumbler, he was giving up. The fact that he had also just lost his full-time job days earlier did not help his mood.

“I can’t afford to fix it. I might as well just give it back”, he moaned.

We agreed that it was worth one more trip to the dealership. Driving from the pot-holed gravel road of the First Nations reserve to the fresh blacktop by the gleaming new powder-coated aluminum and glass auto dealership was like passing from one world to another.

“It is the big building,” he said quietly.

We parked in a customer service slot, and he mustered up enough courage to enter through the full-length glass door directly ahead of us. He seemed even shorter in the high-ceilinged reception area adjacent to the vast, spotless service centre. Did he realize he was now in a temple of auto technology and he would need just the right approach? It took conscious effort for me to be quiet and let him start.

The young attendant said, “How can I help you, sir?” and then quickly pecked at his keyboard behind the high counter, entering all the pertinent information while squinting into the hidden computer screen.

“My car won’t start,” Isadore said meekly. “I bought it here, and you have maintained it. I even bought an expensive warranty, but I don’t know if that will help. I thought that since we have a relationship, maybe you could do something for me.”

I could hardly contain my composure. Relationship? What was he thinking? That approach would not get him anywhere in this place!

The manager of the department arrived. She started pecking at her keyboard. She did not sound promising. The car would have to be towed at the hapless customer’s expense, and warranty coverage was not assured. He was given an 800 number to call and register his complaint. Isadore started to head for the door, conceding defeat.

I could not stand it any longer. “Wait a minute,” I blurted out, confident anger rising in my chest. “Does my friend not have an extended warranty that is still good for another 40,000 kilometres and one more year?”

“Yes, it looks that way,” came the meek response from the service manager.

“Then who should pay for the towing and the repair?”

“Well, I think we will,” came the equally meek response.

We burst out through the glass door and breathed in the fresh air.

“Wow, this is a really good day!” Isadore said, his face gleaming with optimism and renewed confidence. He called the tow truck driver and insisted that his car be towed to the dealership that day.

“Just follow me,” Isadore said.

I drove behind him as he guided his newly repaired, warranty-covered import to the longhouse on the reserve. He entered the longhouse with sure steps, leading me through the cluttered kitchen, along a long hall and down a ramp onto a dirt floor. The chill and dampness of a B.C. winter day were held in check by two huge iron barrel stoves at either end of the low, open-raftered structure. At a rectangular table in the middle of the room sat 15 or so individuals of all ages, reporting on the activities of the previous month.

I was offered a seat at the table, and I awkwardly sat down. After more reports, a simple meal was served. I hung back and waited till the end of the line before serving myself, not wanting to break some protocol that might be lurking in the shadows.

After eating, the elders, including Isadore, were seated at the table, and the real meeting began. He was recognized by name and looked so at home. I sat on the outskirts on the lowest level of the rough plank bleachers that surrounded the building and stared at the black, earthen floor. That earth must have witnessed many ceremonies that would seem very strange to me. Being in this centre of Indigenous culture, tradition and religion made me uneasy.

As the meeting progressed, I was amazed. Age was respected, first names were used, participants deferred to one another, and decisions were made based on consensus. Congregational churches could learn a thing or two from this!

During one of the intermissions, when participants were serenaded by drums and chanting, I ducked out into the cold drizzle outside. I slid past a group of grinning youth in the parking lot and climbed into my familiar minivan, resisting the temptation to lock the doors.

Isadore stayed behind to present his idea of carving a residential school healing pole, with indigenous and non-indigenous people working together. The concept now seemed more relevant than ever.

How can my world and Isadore’s world ever intersect in such a way that meaningful trust and relationship can be built? We had seen it start to happen at Missions Fest Vancouver the previous month, where the pole carving was featured in the main exhibition hall. Hundreds of people saw indigenous and non-indigenous carvers working together on a yellow cedar pole that will tell the story of how pain and separation are giving way to truth, healing and trust. Just the process of shaping this tree that grew strong during the residential school era is powerful. Many stopped to help and to listen to stories of redemption.

The pole will now travel to churches and communities in British Columbia and perhaps beyond. Isadore and I will tell our stories of our journey and our faith in Christ and how our lives are being enriched by one another. We hope many more will join us on this path of reconciliation. The pole is only a small token, but it can become a rallying point and a beacon of hope. That is our prayer.

Don Klaassen is a church mission coach with Outreach Canada (outreach.ca).

Justin Bieber gets tattoo of Jesus

Justin Bieber show his Jesus Tattoo on the beach17-year-old Justin Bieber recently got a tattoo of Jesus on his calf. He is known around the world for having a golden voice as well as for being vocal about his faith. He told the Associated Press in 2010, “I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins… I believe that I have a relationship and I’m able to talk to him and really, he’s the reason I’m here, so I definitely have to remember that. As soon as I start forgetting, I’ve got to click back and be like, you know, this is why I’m here.”