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Many years ago now a friend of a friend helped me get a job doing contract work for an exciting company doing training and team building programs. Many of my fellow employees were active in churches which made for some fairly profound conversations driving to and from programs.I loved the work and corporate culture, I was consistently affirmed as being a valued member of the teams I worked with, and I was imagining the possibilities of moving into more steady and significant roles. Then I asked the wrong question. After a particularly challenging event one day a bunch of us were traveling together back to the office and one colleague was sharing with m some of the important aspects of her life story. At one point she used the phrase “God told me…” to explain a decision she had made that some people might find somewhat controversial. Perhaps assuming to much, I interrupted her and asked her to tell me how God had communicated to her. What was the experience like? How did she know it was God? It was clear she didn’t appreciate the question at the time, and became even more clear the next time I was in the office when I was called in to meet with a senior person in the company who informed me in no uncertain manner that I had greatly offended this coworker, who also happened to be his spouse. I tried to explain that I wasn’t challenging her experience, just sincerely wanting to understand what was behind the seemingly simple, but truly powerful claim the “God told me…” I didn’t get fired or have any direct problems as a result, but it did seem that some of the behind the scenes support I had been receiving dried up. It’s been many years and I don’t regret that things didn’t work out with that company. I still have good relationships with many former colleagues and would encourage anyone to consider them for a program. But I still think back to the conversation that day in the van and wonder what really happened. It frustrates me that those of us who identify ourselves as Christians have developed a language to explain our faith that is inaccessible to others. More than that, it bugs me that we aren’t willing or able to give a simple explanation or description to those wonderful moments when we truly believe God has communicated with us. It’s not criticism to ask how we know that God told us, it’s an opportunity to share one of the most profound and powerful things any human being could ever claim to experience. And yet we react defensively. Recent blogs by Rachel Held Evans and Fred Smith add more to this conversation than I can. Read them. And please, if you ever believe God has guided your life, remember 1 Peter 3:15 and be ready to explain what happened.  

Two weeks ago I spent a few hours in a garbage dump outside the city of Sosua in the Dominican Republic helping illegal Haitian immigrants scavenge for recyclables, and food. I was there leading a group of young people who have been recipients of the Catalyst Award. Having been chosen for their demonstrated commitment to a dream of spending their lives in the service of others, we invited eight remarkable leaders between the ages of 17-20 to spend a challenging week exploring a variety of charity works in the Dominican Republic on a trip managed as a private Hero Holiday by our friends at Absolute. Frankly, the dump was disturbing. I was glad for my shoes, gloves, and jeans as we literally waded through every kind of trash you can imagine; used toilet paper, rotting food, even medical waste. Many of the Haitians we were helping for those few hours were wearing flip flops if they had shoes at all. When we loaded into our air conditioned van to head back to our beach resort for buffet meals and showers we were a very quiet group, and we smelled terrible. After a fairly intense debriefing discussion I was glad to shed those clothes, get cleaned up, and put on something clean. One week later I was wearing those jeans again, in a very different environment. My wife and I joined six other friends among 50 000 screaming fans at Toronto’s Rogers Centre to see U2 in a concert that had been postponed since last summer. It was an amazing show with the stadium open, the lights on the CN Tower seemingly synchronised with the music, link ups to the International Space Station, and everyone singing along with one of the greatest bands of all time performing many of their most powerful songs. My ticket for the show cost more than the average dump scavenger will earn in six months, maybe a year. Same jeans, totally different experiences. The thing is, I don’t feel terribly guilty about the concert. I don’t think I’m heartless and I know that it’s nothing I’ve done that allowed me to be born in a time and place where I have more wealth and opportunity than almost anyone who has ever lived (which is true of almost all my North American peers). The fact is, I choose to live in the kind of tension where I can be moved by both the injustice and suffering of people living in generational poverty and the wonder of a massive crowd sharing a night of phenomenal entertainment. I accept the tension of both realities. I have to. One of the continual topics of discussion for the Award group was the challenge of living in tension. We saw good motives resulting in poor projects. We met people we didn’t entirely like or agree with who were doing significant good. We admitted that coming home was going to be difficult. We tried to prepare for the process of taking real meaning from everything we saw and progressively integrating it into our lives in Canada. We recognised that it won’t be easy. And so, we returned home, washed our jeans, tried to share our experiences with loved ones who can’t be expected to fully understand, and got on with our lives; hopefully lives that are now on slightly different paths than they were before we started wading through the trash in a dump in Sosua. Lives in tension.