my 2¢ about $1000 Satan Shoes

If you haven’t been privy to one or both sides of the shouting match about a music video that dropped a few days ago, and the sale of the shoes that go with them, here’s the update.

Rapper LilNasX made a music video with graphic imagery sexualizing satan (?) In the video, he wears custom shoes – which he made available for sale (but only 666 pairs…see what he did there?…so clever) for over $1000. They sold out in minutes. They are strangely modified Nikes -which Nike is now suing over. Among other things they have a Bible reference (“I saw an angel fall from heaven”) and supposedly – a drop of human blood injected inside.

To the right is a screen shot of some of the HUNDREDS of ‘news’ articles currently being published about him, the song, the video, and almost every time -the shoes.

Like many of these events – on one side is those who identify as ‘conservatives’ or ‘moral’ and are outraged over everything to do with this. On the other are ‘liberals’ or ‘free-thinkers’ or ‘progressives’ who mostly mock how upset the first group are. As always, online postings and comment sections are about the worst place possible to have a discussion about something people feel strongly and deeply about.

While I don’t condone or support pretty much anything that he is trying to say (with the music, video, or shoes) I do think before anyone identifying as a Christian comes out swinging, we should perhaps just reflect for a minute.

I’m not saying don’t disagree with what he says, or how he says it, or whatever. Just think about how you are coming across in what you are saying, and perhaps even more – how you are saying it.

Here are 5 points to think about:

  1. If you disagree with LilNasX and what he’s trying to say, yet you’re talking about him, reposting articles about him, you are giving him publicity. That’s what he wanted. He wanted you to get publicly upset and talk about how upset you are with him. If you did, he succeeded. (Yes – this pot is calling out the kettle)
  2. This is not new. For as long as ‘teenager’ has been a category with a unique socio-cultural identity and buying power (that is: the late 1950’s) there has been a market to sell products in this way. Since adolescence is a time of finding identity which is different than ‘child’ and since children do what their parents instruct them to, there is a fairly easy sell of “your parents don’t approve of this – so consume it.” Popular music has utilized this from the very beginning: from non-conformant hair-styles in the late ’50s; the allusion to drug use in 60’s rock, political protest in the 70’s folk, satanic imagery in 80’s heavy metal, explicit language in 90’s rap, to sexualized/pornographic imagery in the ’00s. This is not new, this is the latest chapter. Sure it’s pushing a boundary, but you have to if you want people to notice, and make a scene (see #1 above)
  3. It appears LilNasX is at least partially speaking out of the hurt that he has suffered at the hands of Christians and the church throughout his life. There are ways to disagree with people that don’t target them, belittle them, degrade them. He does not seem to have received that treatment. If we shun, scorn, and insult people- we probably shouldn’t be surprised if they come back with their hurt turned into anger.
  4. Saying non-Christians should abide by Christian moral principles is not as easy nor obvious of an argument as some would like it to be. If you think what he’s doing or saying should be illegal/banned/censored – just be aware of where this argument can take you. Should we have some standards in society regarding morals? If yes, who decides them? How are they set? Do they ever get changed? These are not flippant questions. Unless you don’t believe in religious freedom (relegated to extreme fringe voices of the Christian world) and would like to institute a theocracy that dictates all moral decision-making through legislation, then we will have to have these difficult conversations.
  5. If you are bothered by the thought of having a single drop of human blood voluntarily put into the manufacture of a shoe – but having blood, sweat, and tears forcibly shed in sweatshops for basically every other pair of shoes means nothing, then….perhaps rethink your position.

Maundy Thursday – A Reflection on Betrayal

Today is the day before Good Friday, just over half-way from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. A strange day referred to in the traditional Christan calendar as “Maundy Thursday.” Or, as most kids who grew up in church think it’s called: “Monday-Thursday”

It coincides with the traditional celebration of the Seder Supper – the marking of the beginning of the Jewish Passover. The Passover, of course, is the Jewish feast that remembers their people being saved from the plagues which ravaged Egypt when the Jewish people were slaves.

The Christian celebration of the Seder Meal is an observation of a very specific occurrence of the meal that took place with Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago.

Like all observant Jews, Jesus and his apprentices found a place where they could celebrate this meal together. The image that comes to most minds when we hear “The Last Supper” is the iconic Davinci painting, which depicts this setting, immediately after Jesus has told his close friends, that one of them will betray him.

The tradition of washing feet at a Maundy Thursday service also originates from this Last Supper. It’s taken to be a real and tangible way of expressing that kind of serving love. Jesus washed his disciple’s feet that evening at the Seder Supper, and that’s the kind of attitude and behaviour he wants from those who claim to follow him.

Washing Feet – He Qi

Which I suppose circles back to the origin of the name “Maundy”. It’s a shortened form of the Latin ‘mandatum ‘ or ‘command’ – in reference to a command that Jesus gave to his followers that week. Many hold a view of God as a rule-enforcing party-pooper, and his commands as lists of “thou shalt not’s” for things that we enjoy. (this is not unexpected considering the anger and arrogant self-righteousness that over the centuries has been touted as “Christianity.” This command, however, is quite telling of what the followers of Jesus should actually look like.

The Latin translation of the command is: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34)

Working sketch by DaVinci – imagining Judas on the other side of the table

It’s that kind of love that is so juxtaposed against the betrayal that is seen on that evening of The Last Supper. Jesus, right there in the middle of the Seder meal, tells his 12 closes apprentices that one of them is going to betray him that very night.

“It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot”

Peter, knife in hand, leaning past Judas to speak to John. Judas already has his small purse of money in hand.

Judas, a name we now associate with treason/deceit/treachery was, of course, the one who betrayed him. Judas, who spent several years with Jesus, travelling with him, eating with him, listening to him, working with him, and helping to manage their collective money. Judas heard the words of kindness and forgiveness, saw Jesus give to those who were unkind to him, heal those who didn’t even ask for it, and defend the vulnerable. Jesus who stood up for women, children, widows, orphans, outsiders, foreigners – was now double crossed by someone from inside his inner circle.

Preliminary sketch of Judas for Last Supper

Which is where I feel the sting of betrayal becomes a bit more real this year.

When we found out a couple of days after the attack at our house that a person we thought we could trust, was involved….it stung. Someone who had been with our family since we arrived in Burundi over five years ago, who helped our family, who worked in our house every day, who I practiced my bad Kirundi with, and he tried out rudimentary French & sometimes English. Someone who we tried to help provide for his wife and 4 kids. Someone I had given the benefit of a doubt on several occasions, we had shown grace to, and someone we felt we were generous, kind, and loving to. He was working with the criminals as their inside man and betrayed our family for money. He tipped them off, told them to come while he was in our house, and said he’d make sure the door was unlocked.

That is a lot to take in. Especially when you add it on top of dealing with the physical repercussions, the feeling of lost safety and security, the emotional trauma, the confusion and everything else that goes along with an attack like that. To know that it was, at least in some way, aided by someone inside our house. Someone who knows our family, that sends greetings when I go to visit the kids in Kenya. Someone who knew Susan and the kids would be home at that time. That person intentionally chose to turn on us and at the very least allow that kind of evil to enter our house and cause that kind of damage to us.

To be perfectly honest, i feel like it is the one piece of the whole ordeal that I still haven’t been able to process.

Which of course circles back to the Last Supper.

an early study drawing by DaVinci for what would become The Last Supper

Jesus was very clear that we are to love our enemies – that his command to love others applies not just to those I find easy to get along with, but everyone. That I should love my family members, but also those who betrayed my family and endangered the very lives of my family. Of course, this does not mean there are no consequences for action. This man would never work in our house again. It would take years to regain any semblance of trust – if ever. Forgiveness and love don’t’ mean we blindly ignore reality, and endanger people for the sake of ‘being nice.’

Sorry, but this post does not wrap up in a neat way, with my experiences serving as a clear illustration for a life lesson. I’m sure it does…I”m just not there yet. But here are three thoughts:

  1. I can’t judge people’s motives by their actions. Did he do what he did because of pure, evil malice, or did the criminals search him out and threaten his family if he didn’t help them? Did he come up with the plan, or was he forced to go along and promised no one would get hurt? Those feel like two very different things, and I will never know. It’s way easier to jump to judgement of a person than to accept how nuanced we all are.
  2. I am guilty of betraying Jesus in so many ways over the years of my life that it’s probably helpful for me to have some small sense of what it feels like to be on the other side. Susan suggested I put up a blog post on this as she pointed out this is really the first time we’ve felt this kind of direct, intentional betrayal.
  3. The Seder Supper leads directly into ‘Good Friday’ – the day we remember Jesus’ death. Jesus’ compassion and concern for people like Judas are essentially what got him killed. His claim to be the Son of God was directly tied to the way he treated those around him. He washed Judas’ feet, served him supper, and offered him friendship that very night. That mandatum novum he gave was to love others in the very same way. That’s not fluffy, feel-good ‘love’ – that’s the kind of action that can and will cause you pain. If we put ourselves out there – if we offer kindness, and grace, and forgiveness to others – there are times it will hurt. I don’t think that means we’re doing it wrong – I think sometimes loving others will hurt us – and that’s just the way it is. That’s not masochistic, or self-punishment, it’s simply the reality of the world we live in. This world has pain and sorrow, it has brokenness, sadness and sickness. If we engage fully, we will shoulder some of that, some of that will get wiped on us, and some will be thrown at us. The only way to try to avoid getting hurt by others is to never engage with others. That’s not a price worth paying.

top image: The Last Supper – Andy Warhol 1986


{this post originally appeared on our team blog}

My brother and his wife and their four kids were here over Christmas and we had a fantastic 3-weeks together. It’s the second time we’ve seen them since 2014, the third time since 2010. Yet we feel so close to them.  The same day they left our two older kids flew back to Kenya for their second term of school at Rift Valley Academy. Our house suddenly got a lot quieter as we dropped from 12 people to 4. (and to understand fully you would have to know some of those 8 who left)
Once again we have a shift in our family, these bonds that tie us to those closest to us. Two of our kids won’t be home for three months, and I won’t see my brother for who knows how long. 
Family relations are an odd thing at the best of times, but being on the other side of the world from parents and siblings, and cousins and everyone else makes these bonds more peculiar.
A few months ago in our team bible study, we were discussing how true community has the same characteristics of a family, including non-selectivity. You don’t choose what family to be born into, you don’t choose what children to have, and even though you chose your spouse, the family that you will end up becoming is not the direct result of precise decisions along the way.

What does it mean to have non-selective compassion, concern, empathy for those around you? 
It’s is hard.
It is hard in Kibuye, it’s hard in urban Chicago, it’s hard in rural Texas, and suburban Edmonton. While it may look very different, there is nothing unique about God’s call to all who could claim to be his people to love those around them. 

There have been many times in my life where I just feel like walking away from someone, or some situation entirely because it seems like the easiest thing to do. 
And yes, while it is possible to walk away from family, most everyone has a stronger sense of tie to family than any other relations. Even as a child, you know that you don’t really have a choice. No matter how much your siblings aggravate you, there’s really nothing you can do about it. That’s why as a child the almost mythological option of running away is so huge. How many of us didn’t at least once in our childhood think / dream /threaten/attempt to run away? ( If you say ‘no’ – you probably either don’t remember well, had no siblings, or are some kind of freakishly forgiving person)

I guess that’s why there’s a saying “you don’t get to choose your family” (at least I think that’s a saying, if not…it should be)
This is probably why in such independent and individualist societies, we’ve reduced the entire concept of ‘family’ down to it’s smallest possible division. Only your immediate, nuclear family, which have statistically become smaller and smaller.  Fine, I’ll love my ‘family’ – but let’s make that word include as few people as possible. 
The divorce rates we are all impacted by must be a sign of our refusal to accept this non-selectivity, this non-negotiable set of relationships.  If a marriage turns south or gets too hard, we leave because “it’s not what I signed up for”.  But isn’t that the whole idea of non-selectivity, that we may get something we didn’t choose? Our kids will turn out the way they do – and for many parents, that will bring heartache, even disappointment at decisions made.  But does that mean you ask them to leave the family? That you decide what they’ve done makes them no longer worthy of being a part of the family? 

Non-selectively loving others is hard. It’s hard in extended family, it’s hard in your neighbourhood, it’s hard in all of our jobs, and it’s hard on this team. (Except you Greg – clearly)

Having kids travel two countries away to attend 9th grade seems strange to me, even though we’ve now done it two times. Does that make our family weaker?  A few years ago I would have replied with an unqualified ‘yes.’  Now that we’ve experienced it, however,   I have a very different viewpoint. 

There are (by my count) 21 kids here in Kibuye who call me ‘Uncle George’ on an essentially daily basis – yet some of the children of my biological family really don’t know me that well, some I’ve never met. 
I think the problem is made worse by my pathetic communication. There are many people who I care about, and think about often, but never get around to calling or writing.
Family is vitally important. The kind that we immediately think of when we say ‘family’ – our siblings, our parents, our kids. So is extended family.  So is community.  So is everyone else.

I guess what I’ve come to realize even more clearly regarding these kind of tight communal relations is that they go both ways.
We have to be open to seeing how we can show grace, compassion, kindness to those around us.  Reducing ‘family’ down to the smallest possible definition is exactly what the bible scholar who was questioning Jesus was trying to do when Jesus responded with the story we call the Good Samaritan.
“Fine,” the man seemed to be saying, “I should love ‘my neighbour’ – but let’s be clear who exactly is in and who is out when we say that.  I need a clear line in the sand of how many people I need to be kind to – because it’s hard and I sure to want to show grace to too many people.”
The other thing is that not only do these bonds need to extend out, but we need them to come back towards us.

What is clear is that you can’t thrive without a group of people around you. This life does not work out so well as a solo gig.  There are plenty of people who can accomplish certain things without a strong support network (accumulating financial security, personal goals, etc.) -but to really have a full, engaged, rich life like I believe God designed us to have you simply must have people around you who are more than just co-workers, neighbours, or people you spend holidays with because you share some biological bond. 
We need each other. The other needs us.
If being part of this team has taught me anything (and it has taught me A LOT – especially Greg) is that doing life with others in an almost completely integrated way (friends=neighbors=colleagues=church=school=etc) is that it’s hard – but it is such a full, rich way to live. 

It is probably the most obvious when there is some acute problem, an emergency of some kind.  Someone suddenly finds out a family member has died, someone needs a medical evacuation, someone gets very sick. As a team we’ve gone through a lot of really hard things over the last few years – deaths of parents, sickness, and many other really, really hard things. However, that is only the most obvious.  When you look closer you see that through all the mundane, the small hurts, the kind words, the grace, the tension, the loss of personal freedom, the gain of communal joy -that this is how God has made us.

To live – in some way – in communion with others. 

To be part of a family, no matter what that looks like.

Divine Love

{this was originally a post Susan wrote on our Team Blog}

What i’m about to tell you is a love story.  This is one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever experienced.  It involves unconditional love, costly sacrifice, incredible patience and perseverance.  But this is not your usual love story.  This is the love story between a young a very  sick little girl and her older brother, and I have been deeply blessed to have seen this love story up close.

5 year old Divine came to our hospital at the end of December and was admitted for severe malnutrition. Really, really severe malnutrition. For weeks, she lay in bed, barely conscious and barely alive. Her mother was unable to stay at the hospital, and since our hospital requires each patient to always have a caregiver, her brother was given the job of caring for little Divine. From that point on, her 12 year old brother, Moise, was always at the side of her bed.

 He did jobs that I have never seen any 12 year old boy do before; change his sister, clean up diarrhea, wash and clean his sister, feed her, give medication, and sleep next to her (in the same bed, often with other patients) in a very crowded room filled with lots of fussy, malnourished babies and toddlers and their care-givers. 

Weeks after she had been admitted,  I walked into the room one day and found her sitting up in bed.  I was shocked.  She still had a feeding tube in and was still on oxygen…but for the first time, I felt like she was going to make it.  For the first time she was interested in playing, and even though she was extremely weak, she was determined to pick up blocks and try to throw a toy at me.

Divine had a type of malnutrition that is a bit deceiving to those of us that don’t have a medical background.  She actually looked a bit chubby.  Her body was puffy and swollen, due to a lack of protein.  As she was fed a high protein formula through her feeding tube over the next few days, her swollen body dramatically changed. She suddenly had a tiny little body that looked like pictures that I have only seen in my high school textbooks of holocaust victims.  Just looking at her tiny little skeletal frame, my throat would tighten and would get choked up.

 Divine is special.  She has some developmental delays, that mean that although she is 5 years old, she has never walked and has never clearly spoken.  I feel certain that if Divine had the help that we offer in Western countries;  therapy, special education, healthy food etc. that she could thrive.  However, there’s not much aid for special kids like Divine here in Burundi, so I can only imagine that most days Divine sits on a mat in their mud hut, neglected, while her single mother is out working in fields, fighting to get enough food to feed her hungry kids. 

Almost every day for 4 months, I visited Divine and played with her.  Moise was never far from her bed.  Boys his age should be in school and outside playing soccer with their friends, but Moise patiently sat by her bed, tenderly caring for his weak sister. 
He was never embarrassed of his sister, but would clap and cheer and rejoice in her progress.  During those 4 months, we saw some amazing changes in Divine.  She grew stronger, was eating more, was more talkative, was working with our hospital’s physiotherapist, and was actually able to start walking with the aid of a walker.

Of course, she had some setbacks, like coming down with malaria and another infection.  In spite of the tough times, it was exciting and rewarding to see her gain weight, strength, and see her play and smile every day. Moise became a strong voice and an advocate for his sister, pushing for his little sister to get more physiotherapy time, and be able to borrow a walker.   

On April 12th, after so many months in our malnutrition service, Divine was discharged and Moise carried her home…we would later learn just how far he had to carry her!  Both Dr. Alyssa (our paediatrician) and I never had the chance to say goodbye to them before they left, so the  following weekend, the two of us along with my 10 year old son Micah, set off to try to find Moise, Divine and their home.

 It took about an hour of driving, a few wrong turns, and then about another hour of hiking on little dirt trails following an old man with a machete before we found them. 

They were a little shocked – and honestly a bit scared – that a group of 3 bazungus (white people) just showed up at their home,  but after offering gifts of beans, rice, Busoma cereal and a soccer ball, they were much more receptive to us!

This family lives in unbelievably extreme poverty. Their house is made of home-made mud bricks, a grass roof, dirt floor, and that’s about it. To a person walking by, you would say that they have nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I would have totally thought this had I not gotten to know Moise and Divine.  What I learned is that while they are the poorest people I have ever met, they are rich in other things.

If I’m honest, it’s hard to imagine anything for Divine other than a dismal life filled with a lot of suffering, pain and hunger.  However, I have to remind myself that our Father loves Divine so much more than Moise or anyone else does or ever could.  That pain, sickness, and poverty don’t get the last word. That the sacrificial love that Moise showed for his sister, is merely a poor reflection of the divine love God has for little Divine, and for every single person on this earth.

   This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers {and little sisters} 1 John 3:16


Our family has spent 8 of the past 16 years in France – and if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed is that they take a decidedly different approach when it comes to teaching kids to do certain things. Yes, our kids had four-course meals subsidized by the state at the cafeteria at the public school as part of their exposure to and appreciations for gastronomie, as it’s expected that learning about good food and developing an appreciation for taste is an endeavor worth investment. But there were other things that I noticed French parents and teachers tended to do with kids that were different. Two examples really stuck out to me at the time, and reflecting on them, it seems they may be telling examples of how north-American desires to protect our children at all cost may be affecting their ability to mature – even in matters of faith.

The two that I found almost jarring at the time were:

  1. When a young child in France is not yet old enough to ride a bike on their own, they get a draisienne, a small bike with no pedals. {Which strangely – now seem to be a trend among cool parents all over north america} Starting very young (2-3 years old), French children learn to balance on two-wheels, pushing along with their feet. Then – once they have mastered the balance, coordination, and skills required to manoeuvre and stay upright – it is actually a rather simple step to adjust from locomotion by pushing your feet on the ground to stepping on pedals.
  2. When our youngest son was about 4 his class here in France had swimming lessons. He really couldn’t swim at all, so he was in the group of beginners. I was the parent helper one day, and I stood alongside the pool watching the instructor take these small, somewhat scared, floundering kids – and very quickly has them in the 2m deep pool. They’re hanging on the edge, but quickly let go. Then by the second lesson or so, they swim out to the lane-divider and back. And many of them go under – at least for a split second. And he let them.

These two different got me thinking about how (at least from my experience) these times of training tend to go down in north america.

It seems to me that in North America we tend to move from tricycles, to bikes with training wheels as our path of developing the skills of cycling. The training wheels in some ways are helpful – but in many ways just give a false sense of confidence. They give you a belief that you are actually doing something you’re not. It seems like you can ride a two-wheeler – but you can’t. The training wheels are always there. If you start to even lose your balance at all – “CLIP” – the training wheel skips on the sidewalk, sending you back upright. The problem with this approach can be that kids can get left like this for years.

I also remember swimming classes with our oldest back in Canada. The way I recall it, the kids basically weren’t even on the pool deck before they had life jackets on, and we spent who-knows-how-many weeks allowing them to ‘get comfortable with the water.’ Blowing bubbles was actually a skill that was checked off on the evaluation at the end of the course.

We don’t want our kids to get hurt, and this is understandable. We don’t want them to be scared, which seems normal. However, you can’t learn to balance a bicycle unless you know what it feels like to have to balance it for yourself, and you simply cannot learn that without falling.

I do want my kids to have a healthy fear of water, I don’t want them to be ‘comfortable’ about the dangers of a pool, I want them to understand that it can be fantastic fun, but also deadly.

How many kids are raised in Christian homes – where the parents don’t want their children to get hurt, so they are surrounded by safety, precaution, and protection. We don’t want them exposed to anything potentially harmful, so we screen everything they see, hear & read, make sure we know who their friends are, and ensure that no ‘worldly’ influence will bring them down. We want them to stay “safe” – but we remove any opportunity for them to develop the skills (discernment, judgement, wisdom) that will be required for them to actually do so.

But like the inevitable fall from the bike – it will eventually happen. Your child will at some point be exposed to pornography. They will have to deal with racism. They will be tempted with lying, cheating, stealing. They will have kids they know who smoke, drink, take drugs, and whose parents are fine with it. Just like they will eventually be faced with riding a bike on their own, or swimming all alone – the day will come when they realize that they are indeed doing it on their own. The parents/training wheels/life jackets are suddenly noticeably absent.

The question becomes – will that moment be the first time they have ever had to do it on their own? Or worse, will it be the time they realize they can’t actually swim, that they can’t balance a bike? Have they been pulled along on a tag-along bike behind their parents, without the need to steer, or brake, or even pay attention to what’s going on around them. Heck, they don’t even have to peddle that hard, and maybe Dad won’t notice. But then they get sent off on their own – and we are shocked at the bloodied mess they become. We don’t expect, or perhaps even want them to learn to ride a bike by themselves before they start school, and then are shocked when that same attitude backfires on their spiritual development.

I’m sure all of us can think of people we grew up with (or maybe it’s us) who’s parents were so concerned about protecting, sheltering, and keeping form harm – that when they finally left home – and the life jacket came off – and none of those abilities that the parents thought were developed were actually there. They couldn’t make good judgments on who to hang out with, they didn’t have any discernment on the limits of their own self-restraint – they realized that for the first time they were in deep water well over their head – and they had never had any experience with anything like that before.

Of course, I’m not saying just let your kids figure out things on their own – to me that is no more responsible than throwing a child in the water and hoping they will learn to swim. But perhaps we need to back off just far enough for kids to see the results of their own decisions – in order for them to actually develop the strengths that we want them to have.

Yes, watching your 6-year old’s head momentarily dip under the water is a bit scary. Seeing your 4-year-old girl fall from their bike and hearing the smack of her helmet against the concrete is not pleasant. So is watching your 11-year-old struggle with making wise decisions about friends, and not making the right choice. So is seeing an 8-year-old have to deal with hard issues. But in my mind, its better than the alternative – having to wait for them to realize much farther into their lives, that they have not been doing it on their own all along.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying this is easy – or that I do this well. This observation is as much for me as it is for anyone else. Simply consider it a reminder that if we over-protect our kids in any area of their development – we are not likely doing them any long-term favour.

It may be more painful – for us even more than for the kid with the skinned knee, or the poor choice in friends – but probably better in the long-term.