Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Jordan Peterson, Rule Two: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.


"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it. 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-38).
         Do you remember Earl Silverman? His story is about five-years old. It was told, back then, in Macleans Magazine.
         Earl Silverman, of Calgary, died by suicide after going bankrupt trying to make a go of Canada’s only shelter for abused men. He opened the shelter, he said, because after twenty years of physical and emotional abuse by his wife, when he sought shelter in a Domestic Violence safe-house, he was refused entry because he was a man. 
Jordan Peterson
         Silverman’s death became an Internet sensation. Typical was the Reddit user who wrote, “This is what happens when we throw men on the garbage heap.” Harry Crouch, president of the National Coalition for Men wrote, “He was a victim of feminism,” and “murdered by suicide by the feminized state of Canada.” Blogger Dean Esmay warned that men’s rights activists would now be “coming for” feminists.

         Today, there is growing impatience among some men, and especially among some young white men, impatience about a world they see as tilting against them. The traditional privileged throne that men sat on, so well captured on the TV show Mad Men,is under attack. Not only do women now compete with men for the best jobs, but more women complete University than men, and they do it, on average, with higher grades. Meanwhile, it isn’t only women, but Asian and African students who are perceived as winning too many scholarships and also making it tougher on young white men to get ahead at work, at school, and in the marketplace.
 
Jesus.
         The privileges that go with being male are disappearing, and a growing number of young white men are angry about it. Great-paying life-long union jobs that needed little education at places like “The Motors” in Oshawa or the steel mills of Hamilton are gone. Now, you need a College or University degree just to get your foot in the door, and you need life-long learning to stay relevant in today’s gig economy. 

         Today, there is growing impatience among men, and especially young white men, about a world they see as stacked against them. For example, it used to be cool to be macho, but now macho is out, too. The #MeToo movement is just the latest reminder that sexual mores are changing. If you are a young white male, like Prime Minister Trudeau, you must come to grips with the fact that what was once seen as flirting is now considered assault. 

         Nearly as difficult, today’s men are also supposed to be able to share their feelings and fears. Strong and silent is so twentieth century. Today’s men are expected to empathize, put their kids to bed, and do the dishes. They must be emotionally present. As a result, a segment of today’s young white men feel as if they’ve become—as Arnold Schwarzenegger famously put it—“girlie men.” 

         It frustrates a certain segment of today’s men. It is as if they are at a lovely banquet, a table loaded with a sumptuous feast. But they cannot eat, because they have long four-foot arms without elbows. Asa result, they can neither bend their arms to lift food from their plates, nor bend them again to bring the feast to their mouths. They are trapped and hungry. It is all there right before them: the wealth, the jobs, the girls, the Molson Golden BBQs—but because they came into the world with long arms but without elbows, as individual men, they are unable to partake. 

         This is the scene Jordan Peterson wants to help fix. So, he tells these frustrated young white men, “Listen, I understand. I get it. We’re for order but women give us chaos. It’s undermining the hierarchy.” 

         Jordan Peterson doesn’t devote all of Chapter Two to the plight of men. But elsewhere he is all over it. In his videos he actually breaks down in tears talking about how young men are lost in today’s society, how they are not encouraged, how identity politics and political correctness works against them, how they cannot feed themselves what they want when they want.

         What Peterson does say in this chapter is that while men represent the yang of order, women represent yin of chaos. “For the men,” says Peterson, “[women are a] direct encounter with chaos, and it occurs with devastating force every time they are turned down for a date”—language that tragically echoes the complaints of the Toronto Yonge St. murderer, incel Alek Minassian. In case we didn’t understand him the first time, Peterson adds of women and their chaos potential: Each is like “the mother grizzly, all compassion to her cubs, who marks you [Mr.] as potential predator and tears you to pieces.”

         And so, what is the solution, according to Peterson? Everyone—but especially young men—needs to buck up. They need to fight back. They need to take back control and privilege. They must order their own lives to fight the chaos. Along the way, Peterson tells men to stop playing victim, he denies that there is such a thing as white-male privilege, and he refuses to call gay or trans people by the pronouns they prefer—insisting that all this gender stuff is really a plot by left-wing politicians who are Marxists.

         Peterson is finding a ready audience for his message. For example, on Instagram, thirty-year-old @DominantLobster – a male data analyst from the Netherlands – writes: “We hear too much about rights and how much we need more of that. I feel Peterson's talking about responsibilities, not being a victim.”

         Buck up, men. Peterson says, “If I am someone’s friend, family member, or lover, then I am morally obliged to bargain as hard on my own behalf as they are on theirs. If I fail to do so, I will end up a slave.” Or, in the words of Rule 2, “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.”

         So, just as the Earl Silverman suicide hit a nerve with a certain kind of disillusioned man, Peterson has struck a nerve with the same constituency. And I can understand why, at least in part. 

         We do live in a time of profound change. Our country, our schools, our economy, our ideas about what is right and wrong—everything is changing. Good jobs dodemand top notch skills and life-long learning. The gig economy doesmean there is no relaxing. New people from near and far dofill the workplace and university. They challenge us with different ideas and priorities and cultures. The middle class is shrinking, and people who fall out of the middle class are angry. We hear a lot about the injustices done to women and First Nations and Gays, but it often feels, to young white men especially, that they get all the blame while everyone else gets the love.

         And again, Jordan Peterson’s response to this angst, this anger at the way the world is turning for the young white male knocked off his pedestal, is the second rule: “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.”

         I don’t like it.

         Neither would Jesus, nor just any other religious tradition in the world. We counter with words that sound similar but have a very different sense. Jesus suggests that what we need to do, both on good days and when the world is in crisis, as his world was, is this: We must love our neighbour as ourselves.

         The Bible is full of this kind of language: “What does the Lord require of us, but that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with the Lord.” Nothing about how I should look after myself, first, there. The Old Testament prophet adds that, God, “lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.” It’s God’s way. Jesus praises those who love their neighbors. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” And, in an Old Testament verse about refugesthat Jesus actually quotes Matthew 22:9, the great commandment and the second one like it. In this passage Jesus says, “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites and love them as you love yourself.”

         Look, of course, Jesus knows that you will help yourself in whatever way you can. You are supposed to love your neighbour as yourself after all. Jesus is not saying we should be pansies or pushovers.

         The thing is, in his life, Jesus’ strength was most visible in how, against all social convention he surrounded himself with and loved: tax collectors, Roman soldiers, prostitutes, fishermen, foreigners, the sick and lame.

         This is Christianity. We do not live in fear of the other, or even of change. But we do live for our neighbour. 

         So sure, today, there is growing impatience among men, and especially young white men, impatience rooted in a world that doesn’t privilege them like it used to. That seems tough and even unfair. It frustrates some young men. 

         But think back to that illustration I half-told you, earlier, based on a story Saint Augustine once told. There is a group of frustrated men, sitting around a table, a table loaded with a sumptuous feast made up of every delicious delicacy imaginable.

         These men are very average, except for one feature. Each has arms without elbows, arms four-feet long. As a result, even though each man had a fork in hand, his long, straight arms could neither bend to lift food from the plate set before him, nor bend to bring the food to his mouth. 

         But what if instead of trying to feed himself first, each of these long-armed men took food from plate four feet away and then reached across the table to feed a friend? What if instead of privileging himself, each fed a neighbour? Then everyone around the table would be satisfied, and the sumptuous feast would be a feast indeed. In Christianity, it is our neighbors who give us life as we give it to them. It is our neighbors who make us human together rather than I, me and myself against the world alone.

         So, do not merely “Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.” Down that path, the person you are responsible for helping is eventually going to seem, to you, like a very personal problem. Instead, as with Jesus, love your neighbour as yourself.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Jordan Peterson Rule One: Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back



I'm beginning a series of talks, to be completed over two summers, on Jordan Peterson's Twelve Rules: An Antidote to Chaos. Given the wide interest in Peterson, I'll post them here too. JS


"See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; 
so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

          The truth about humans, says Jordan Peterson, is that we are like lobsters.

            Lobsters live in the sea of green beneath the waves. There, they hide under rocks and eat whatever edible garbage sinks to the ocean bottom. Not a life of ease. I wouldn’t like to be a lobster.

            Now, some bits of seascape are more lobster friendly than others. These ocean plots have a great shelter and get more than their fair share of food floating to the bottom. Lobsters know this and they compete with each other for the best property. It’s a lobster-eat-lobster world down there.


            Lobsters compete by waving their antennae threateningly; they swing their legs here and there; and they spray each other with chemicals that say, “out of the way, or else.” They thrust and parry with their claws and exoskeletons, and—if none of this works—fight until one knocks the other upside-down.

            After the fight, the winner takes the real estate, and the loser skulks away. Soon after, the most desirable lady lobsters throw themselves at the champion, for mating. The rest of the lobsters grovel. The big lobster has status. He is dominant, top dog—or crustacean—and gets whatever he wants from all the other shrimps.  

            There is more. Lobsters don’t actually have brains, but they do have a few tightly packed neurotransmitter nodes—an early evolutionary step towards a brain. When a lobster wins one of these property wars, this micro- sort-of brain makes a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin does many things, from aiding digestion to helping brain cells communicate. In lobsters, producing lots of serotonin makes you—drugs you—into acting like a confident and aggressive lobster of high status. Less serotonin in lobsters is associated with the meek and mild behavior of a loser.

            Lobsters also have a sixth sense about who has more or less serotonin. They honor and obey the lobsters with the “mostest.” They treat the winning serotonin-sotted lobster as big man on campus. At least until infirmity or age leads to a lost fight. I wouldn’t like to be a lobster.

            What interests Jordan Peterson about this deep-sea drama is that he thinks it is a pretty good picture for how humans behave, too. He notes that we humans have serotonin in our brains, too, because humans and lobsters share a common evolutionary ancestor. Then, he argues that this brain structure means we too are forever chained to the whims and drives serotonin still produces in us. For that reason, whether we like it or not, he believes that human life, like lobster life, is essentially “my” personal battle against all others for status and dominance. He argues that we are hierarchal beings driven to climb the ladder, even if it means pushing other people down. He thinks it is normal for men to want as many women as possible and for women to exercise their power through refusal, if they are able.

            What is more, just as lobsters with lots of serotonin have swagger, Peterson argues that humans with lots of serotonin have swagger too. So, if we want to be top lobster, dominant at home or work or on the street, we need to increase our serotonin levels. We do this by adopting the posture of a winner. 

            That’s why, says Peterson, even losers should stand up straight with their shoulders back. This will impress other people, and if they are impressed, your brain will unconsciously respond by making more serotonin which will make you more powerful and stronger which will make you walk with your shoulders further back, and so on, a positive feedback loop that will soon make you into a Neptune of the ocean deeps, or maybe King on Bay St.

            What are we to make of all this? A few things. First, it deserves to be said that apart from all the biological and spiritual objections I have to Peterson’s ideas, standing up straight with your shoulders back is, on the whole, good practical advice in many, if not all, situations.

            Proverbial advice is like that of course. Such advice is always context specific, and never a general rule that always applies. Proverbs are “sometimes yes, sometimes no,” sort of things. That’s why there are so many contradictory proverbs. For example, which should it be: The pen is mightier than the sword, or actions speak louder than words? Which should it be: Good things come in small packages or the bigger the better? Which should it be, “stand up straight with your shoulders back” or, "if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

            I mean, standing up straight with our shoulders back usually looks good on us. Refusing to stand up straight with shoulders back may lead to adopting the iPhone slouch, which in turn causes myopia and middle-aged back problems. Standing up straight may send positive middle-class, white-privilege vibes out there into the business world or the gym or the Yorkdale customer you’re serving. This is social convention, like a firm handshake or dressing for success. And people do notice, and even if they don’t bow, they are usually suitably impressed. In fact, as many of the youth in this church who have spoken from this pulpit can tell you, I usually tell them, before they read scripture, to “Stop. Stand up straight, shoulders back. Look out at the audience. Smile. Read slowly.”

            So, second, it is when you dig a bit deeper that what Peterson says—or rather, why Peterson says this—that his advice becomes problematic for me. You see, what Peterson describes is a modern human world where, we are told, an ancient biological instinct, the drive for individual dominance—is nevertheless inescapably normative or right, for now. That is, Peterson writes as if the fact that lobsters want to dominate each other by climbing the social hierarchy is a universal animal law built into our genes in such a way that the good life can only be one where we struggle to dominate others in order to become top dogs. This is called biological determinism.

            The trouble with this view is that humans have undergone a whole lot of evolution since we shared an ancestor with the brainless lobster. We’ve added cranial capacity, including a frontal cortex and a cerebellum, and other odd bits of brain, so that we are no longer driven merely by instinct rooted in the most ancient part of our brain, the tiny amygdalaIn a way, Peterson wants to hitch the whole of human meaning and happiness onto how successfully individuals succeed at satisfying urges and instincts rooted in the most ancient echo chamber of our pre-brain evolutionary selves from billions of years ago.

            Now, I would never deny that there is an ancient animal amygdala that still whispers (or even sometimes shouts) at us in the present and that it gives us things like fight-or-flight reflexes and that some humans are very competitive and want to dominate others. But the truth is our brains also now get to make rational choices and community choices about what matters. We are not prisoners to the lobster part of our brains. Humans have much more grey matter to work with than lobsters. For example, we can use empathy rather than brawn to solve some problems. We can rely on family or committed communities we voluntarily join to give us a rich emotional life even if we walk with a slouch or are differently abled so that we can’t stand up straight. We can choose to sacrifice resources like cash or time in order to live a quiet retirement or volunteer at an inner city shelter or donate to a great museum instead of investing in domination. Unlike lobsters, we can make moral choices about which values and goods are the most important to us and which we will therefore strive for.

            Third, one of those moral choices most of us have made is this: while the individual is important to us, the community and its needs are too. And communities work best when they are tied together not by dominance but when they are tied together by deference rooted in chosen values and ideals like love and kindness and long-suffering and compassion and justice. Sure—the individual in us wants to personally succeed, but all of us also want to belong, to be attached to others in emotionally rich and satisfying ways that the lobster can know nothing of. Dominating others may be an instinct built into some of our genetic heritage but our big brains mean that getting along cooperatively is a possibility too. We can choose communal ideals and soulful action. 

            In fact, instead of being led by the nose of our most ancient animal instincts, Jesus uses quite a different animal analogy to describe how we should live. He said we should be as wise as serpents (who were, in the ancient pre-scientific world, considered to be very wise indeed), and as harmless or gentle as doves.

            Jesus is all about our rising above basest instincts and using our entire brain to accomplish not merely personal dominance, but to build a community of mutual care, of shared flourishing. Such flourishing takes more than individual animal drive and serotonin; it requires using the wisdom of the whole brain, and the brains of others, to determine the wisest path forward. And the twist that Jesus—who knows that those who live by the sword die by the sword—the twist that Jesus adds, is that besides being wise we should be gentle. We should be humble, patient, kind, looking to the welfare of others rather than to their defeat or submission. We choose to love our neighbours as the first priority.

            So sure, in your day to day activities, head up, shoulders back, stand up straight. That is a short-term strategy that is sometimes useful, especially for the lobster in us. On the other hand, be as wise as serpents—use all your brain, not just your base instincts—be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, choosing love rather than war, peace rather than strife to achieve your aims in life. This is the sort of human flourishing that Jesus preached and lived.

            And so, while I would not like to be a lobster, I do want to be like Jesus.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Wish I Could Be Afraid




            I wish I could be afraid. Like Peter was afraid, once.

It happened this way. One day, after a fruitless night of fishing, Jesus told Peter to throw the nets out on the other side of the boat. Peter thought, "No way. Wrong place; wrong time." But to humor Jesus — who had, after all, just healed his mother-in-law — Peter did as he was told. And according to the story Luke tells, Peter caught a huge load of fish. It seemed a miracle.

The next thing Peter knew, he was stepping out of the boat and falling on his knees before Jesus. Something about what had just happened — something about Jesus — terrified him. So, Peter said, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man."

Jacoba Bassano's The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1545)
I wish I could be afraid like that. Even if only once, for a minute, I wish I could feel the breath sucked out of me like Peter’s must have been, when he guessed, before he had words to say it, that Jesus was the Messiah, of God (Luke 9:20).

            This is why: my life is all about Jesus. I have gone to church all my life. I spent twenty years going to Christian schools, including seminary. I now preach about Jesus weekly. I pray to him daily. He is rarely far from my thoughts.

            Yet I have never held his hand. I have never laid eyes on his face. I have not put my hands in his wounds. I have not heard him preach. I can't get him to slap me on the back or pass the wine or even to tell me where to fish. He seems distant — almost unreal. Just once, just for a moment, I'd like to taste that mysterious, awful, painful, fear that seized Peter when he guessed who Jesus really was.

I don't know how exactly to say it. I think this would be a good fear, even if I could only hold onto it for a minute or two. A good fear — maybe like the longing fear a virginal bride and a virginal groom have at the foot of their wedding night bed as a whole new world of intimacy and trust opens up to them. 

I think Peter's fear must be something like that of a teacher facing her first classroom alone. She trusts her training and doesn't doubt her skills, but she is terrified by the enormity of her job and all the kids she'll help shape. She's just one, all alone, at the beginning of the rest of her life. 

I think this fear is something like the fear that those who love extreme sports look for. They want a rush, a brush with death, the exhilaration of being on the verge of losing it even as they know they will make it to the other side. 

Such fear is deeply spiritual. It is rooted in wanting more life than a body can stand, in wanting to look around the corner, at death, maybe even touch it — without having to embrace it.

Some Christians claim to have encountered Jesus in this way — to have tangibly felt his immanence and the holy fear that it inspires. I can’t speak, of course, about the truth or falsehood of anyone else’s claim to have experienced this kind of fear. All I know is that I’ve never felt it. Not the way Luke suggests Peter did.


            But as I carry on in faith, which for me includes this persistent struggle with doubt and uncertainty, I wish I could know — even for a moment — what Peter felt that day, and what Jesus' words cured.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Yonge Street and the Weakness of God


         I have been miserable for weeks. Too much tragedy striking close to home. First there was the Humboldt Broncos bus accident that killed sixteen people connected to that team. Then, barely two weeks later, the murder of ten people on Yonge St. 

         Why does God, if God is in control, allow such tragedies? Why do some Christians believe that no matter how bad things seem, God is nevertheless in control, and if only we pray, God might fix it? Or bless me? Or heal my aunt? Or get me that job I want? Or snap his fingers and bring peace to the Middle East? I mean, there is no shortage of prayers going up asking for exactly this—and the Middle East is God’s own backyard, too. Why not clean up your own backyard? What gives? 

         Is God really in control?

         No.

         God is not in control, and one of the great tasks of modern Christianity is to come to grips with this truth. The God of control is dead, long crucified on Golgotha.

Toronto gathers to mourn the Yonge St. murders. This is Mel
Lastman Square, Sunday, April 30.
         The bus accident and the Yonge Street murders—and the riots and killings on Gaza and Israel’s border this week, none of it is God’s plan. This stuff is not God’s idea and not something God has control over. God is not omnipotent, not a puppet master, pulling us and our neighbours' strings, making things work according to some good and inscrutable plan that we have to trust in spite of all appearances. 

         Nor are we humans, in turn, puppet masters who can make God dance, if only we pray with enough conviction, or enough times, or with enough people in what is sometimes now called a “concert of prayer.” (It’s all in the technique, apparently, so long as the technique is not to use a closet!)

         No. God is not omnipotent. God does not cause or allow bus accidents or murders or global warming or poverty or crime. God is not an eerie undivided substance in three persons who sometimes answers prayers but usually not. Thinking so is just a fancy religious way of getting us off the hook for these things. 

         The truth is we humans are mostly responsible for the tragedies that get reported on the nightly news, as well as the good things that usually go unreported. 

         So, what does God do, if God doesn’t snap his or her fingers to make things come out peachy keen for us? Well, taking a hint from John Caputo, I like to think that God that comes to us not in fire or earthquakes and implausible answers to impossible prayers, but as with Elijah on Mount Horeb—read it in 1 Kings 19—God comes to us in a gentle but insistent whisper. As Jesus says of his own words, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” 

         God is not a monarch in the mold of a King David or a Pharaoh Thutmose, only divine. God is not a grotesque projection of our own worst rulers. God is, rather, in a strand of scripture that speaks to my experience, a gentle persuader, a mysterious cosmic susurration for shalom. God invites us to find him (or her) in the good we do rather than in the impossible things we ask for. God is the main event in all good, washing over us, inspiring us, calling us to be good. 

         God whispers. God’s haunts us with dreams of peace in wartime, with hunger for shalom where there is chaos, and with the desire to embrace and love where there is grief. God whispers that it is the least and the last, those unable to advocate for themselves that ought to be our number one concern. 

         Responding to this whispered plea, to this event both as grand and as silent as the cosmos, is called “following Jesus.”
         
         When things are at their worst, God whispers to us, in scripture, encouraging us to love our neighbours as Jesus loved his, and to imitate people like Terry Fox or Martin Luther King or Malala Yousafzai. We will, perhaps, never achieve their kind of world-changing stature, but we can imitate them in a way that makes a difference for the ones we are with.

         After Humboldt, I remembered that hope in the face of tragedy is a discipline we embrace so that whatever we touch becomes more of what it is supposed to be.

         And this week, in response to the murders Alek Minassian is charged with, Toronto’s citizens did did exactly that, embraced the discipline of hope, and in so doing made our city, province, and nation more of what we are supposed to be. 

         Last Monday bystanders who escaped death held the hands of the injured and dying. First responders on the scene saved lives. There was no panic. Hospital nurses and doctors did their job. Not only did people of all races suffer the tragedy, but together, people of all races and religions helped us deal with it. The police force has operated in this city, since its use of excessive force at the G-20 meetings in Sammy Yatin’s murder, under a cloud, for good reason. But the police officer who arrested the suspect acted in a most exemplary manner, and that gives me great hope that we can resolve some of the systemic issues we’re facing on the police front. 

         The American press was incredulous. According to CNN, “Politicians of all stripes were calm. The media was careful. The police were disciplined. And the people were unfazed. Instead of hysteria, accusation and anger, there were sorrow and sympathy. No xenophobic calls for vigilantism or limits on freedom. It was an extraordinary exercise in restraint -- a particularly Canadian response.”

        We are building something very special in this country—a multiethnic, caring, just society. Canada is no utopia, of course. This country is not perfect. Canada is also not—as some Americans believe about themselves—God’s one special nation. No, here in Canada we continue to struggle with things both profound—environment and racism; and mundane—infrastructure and traffic congestion, among a host of other issues. We have not arrived.

         But Canada’s response to tragedy gives me hope that we can tackle such issues not merely for personal or political or corporate gain, but for the good of all Canadians. Just as we took on the tragedy without asking questions about religion or party affiliation or rank or wealth, we need to take on our every neighbours’ needs and injustices, struggles and dreams, as if they were ours. 


         This is human faith taking responsibility for itself rather than waiting for God to pull strings. This is hope embracing discipline. This is the Canada I love and want, and the Canada this world both needs—and already has.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Entrepreneurial Wisdom for Churches


            I was invited to speak to a seminary class at Emmanuel College at the UofT a few weeks ago, on the theme, “Entrepreneurship in Ministry.” It was fun. The students asked good questions. Just before I was ready to go, I shared this list of “ten true statements” that ministers need to keep in mind, these days—and parishioners, too, if they have any interest in the future health of their congregations. So, here goes:

            One: Being a minister, here and now, is perhaps not harder than ever before. We are not being persecuted for our faith, after all. And we’re not laying it all on the line like the Reformers did.     
            Still, being a minister now is really, really challenging, because the playing field is changing incredibly swiftly. The listening skills audiences bring to preaching, the secrets people live with, the values of our society, the time constraints everyone struggles to undo, the wealth we take for granted—it is all fascinating, but it is also a minefield for both minister and parishioner.
            Meanwhile there is only one person in any congregation with the stated, paid responsibility to lead in this situation. The minister.


            Two: Ministers (or someone they can work very closely with) must be entrepreneurial. By entrepreneurial, I mean that church leadership must be dedicated to growth along with all the other goals healthy churches have, from social justice to relevant preaching. This is Biblical (if that matters a lot to you—I’m thinking the Great Commission here, and the example of Paul’s preaching). This is also practical. Refusing to prioritize or take smart risks for growth is to volunteer your congregation for a short lifespan. Why do that? Toronto needs the United Church’s witness and example!
            I have some more ideas about entrepreneurial wisdom. It is a spiritual thing, a refusal to bury your or your congregation’s talents in the sand. Entrepreneurial wisdom does not mean that you have chosen to fall for a “health and wealth” gospel sort of faux Christianity that pervades the airwaves—and it better not mean that. If ministers are not entrepreneurial themselves, they must nurture that sort of leadership in others, and support it like crazy-which isn’t so different from the minister who can’t play an instrument or hold a tune but who supports the Music Director 100 percent.

            Three: Faith in entrepreneurial wisdom adds up to a refusal to be a church “decline theorist.” Decline theorists are those who say things like, “well, of course, if we stand up for what we believe in, we’re not going to be popular and of course we might die.” Even if this was true, wouldn’t you look for ways to work a little resurrection into that equation?

            Four: Many churches have hidden resources. Some churches can mortgage their property,  for example, to make an investment in ministry geared to church growth. Why not? If you don’t invest, you won’t change, and your slow decline will accelerate, and you will close. Once you are closed, the church's resources cannot be used by that congregation anymore. Why not access those resources, if possible, before you close?  Some city churches might be able to sell their buildings and relaunch in rental space, or some other kind of shared arrangement. If your program succeeds, great! 
            A mortgage isn’t the only alternative resource. Not all these resources are available to everyone, but spend some time doing research. The United Church has grant programs. Volunteers may do work that is often paid--from janitorial to accounting to pastoral to youth to babysitting. Some people in your congregation may have deep pockets. The government offers grants for summer job programs. Rent your facilities. Consider amalgamation. Seminary students may do great work for less  cost. Don't presume that everyone has considered every option till you've called a meeting of the congregation with the express purpose of thinking outside of the box.

            Five: A church made up almost entirely of elderly people (let’s call them “Boomers,”) can survive indefinitely if it brings in a steady stream of new elderly people to replace the ones who die. I’m not being facetious. A sixty-year-old person can easily contribute twenty or more years of his or her life to church community. Church community is great for elderly people. They key is to grasp this as an opportunity if it is the one that works for your church, and then intentionally pursue it.

            Six: One of the largest costs of doing “business,” in the UCC in Toronto and other large Canadian cities is ministerial wages. Many Evangelical groups don’t have these high costs because they pay less. That means they need fewer resources to launch new churches in promising city neighbourhoods, or they can divert more resources to outreach. Many Evangelical ministers are happy to engage in tent-making ministries, to earn lower wages because of spousal support, even to work for nothing until a church grows to the point that it can support them. They do so because they believe in what they are doing. I’m not sure what to make of this. Should we pay less? Is a fair wage worth a church’s dying for? Can we promote tent-making as an option? Or, are we just to old, to set in our ways, too tight with our privilege to respond to innovations happening elsewhere in Christianity?

            Seven: If you are going through a mid-life crisis and want to (and can afford to) find yourself spiritually by going to seminary, great. But the ministry is not a place for people looking to find themselves; it is a place for growing, nurturing churches that can make a difference in the city and country by offering those churches leadership, vision, encouragement, and wisdom. It is for building Christ-like communities so compelling that people see God in them, even from a distance. This is hard work for people who know who they are and what they want, not for people who see their primary goal in life as remaining a pilgrim.

            Eight: Beware of guilting. We love social justice. We live for the least, the last, the marginalized. But if we get into the pulpit and make it a steady stream of “you must,” “do this,” “get on with it!” you will drive your parishioners to spiritual depression. Don’t forget to speak of other things from the pulpit, of gratitude, and grace. Don’t just crack the whip, but offer perspective, teach the story, laugh, and poke fun at yourself. Guilt is what we as Christians are supposed to get rid of, not cultivate.

            Nine: Do not, for a moment, underestimate the value, importance, absolute necessity of great preaching. It is harder than ever to hold an audience’s attention. To do so, one must become a student of narrative, an astute observer of how contemporary media works (and doesn’t), and one must be willing to spend a lot of time crafting something that will surprise and delight—at least on a regular basis! Boring people is a sin.

            Ten: Minsters must have sincere and enduring affection for everyone who comes to worship. That affection needs to be worn on the shirt-sleeve. If, on the other hand, you suggest, as a minister (or even as a parishioner) that “I’m not really that interested in you,” or, “I don’t like you,” or, “you are not making the grade,” they will leave. It is by our love for one another that people see Jesus—but it is also a huge motivation to belong. And the congregation will always look to the minister to see how it is done. That also means, by the way, that in the church the minister—and the rest of the leadership—needs to be the first to say, “I’m sorry.” Such powerful words, those. But entrepreneurial too, because they advertise a community that is not only relevant and interesting and engaged—but a community that is safe.