Dave Carrol

Writer, Church leader, Eccentric Nut, Marketer

I'm Church Leader, Writer, Speaker, Marketer, Kindness Project Founder, Broadcaster and Superhero. But most important I'm a Husband, Father and a worshiper of Jesus.

22 July 2015

Baptism In The Square ~ August 16th

August 16th you’ll have a chance to witness or participate in one of the more … let’s say unique events that happens annually in Brantford.  Freedom House joins together with a number of other churches to present the annual “Baptism in the Square.”  You know why it’s called that?  It’s because it’s baptisms; in Harmony Square.  Clever name eh?

This will be the 4th summer of hosting this experience publicly with the open invitation for all to come.  In the three years, roughly 300 people have come and participated in this 2000 year old tradition and we expect to see another hundred or more this summer as well.   It’s a safe statement to say that “Baptism in the Square” has created a lot of “chatter” around town.

First of all, you’ll notice that the ad for this event includes a coupon for One Free Baptism.   That’s certainly not the everyday approach to this process.  But it’s simply a tool to garner a further dialog in for individuals internally or externally between on-another.

“Aren’t Baptisms ALWAYS free?” people often ask.  “Of course they are” is the response, “and it’s free for you too.”  The truth is that many in their teens, 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s have grown up without church attendance being the default setting in the cultural outplaying of their lives.  They’ve heard about baptisms, or even attended the baptism of a friend’s child in a traditional church setting once, but they don’t know what it means to their lives. It’s a new way of engaging thought and action on an ancient, yet relevant right of passage.  And as we’ve discovered, many want to know more.

Some of the debate around “Baptism in the Square” has revolved around whether it is appropriate or not to host such a thing in the public arena. There are no hard and fast ways that Baptism “should” be.  Ages, theologies and the practical bits and pieces vary from denomination to denomination. But the nature of Baptism is that it’s an outward public declaration of an inward choice. There was one Biblical instance where a traveler intersected paths with the equivalent of a Minister of Finance in public.  The Finance Minister flagged him down and said, “Hey can you explain these scriptures to me because how I am supposed to understand them if no one explains them to me!” So the traveler did just that.  The Minister of Finance said, “Oh.  OK cool.  There’s some water right over there. Can I be baptized right there?”  So that’s exactly what they did… dripping wet on the side of the road.  It was an outward, in-public expression of something that was going on inwardly.  

For 2000 years it’s meant people of all kinds… getting dunked in rivers, tanks, lakes, tubs, oceans, and even inflatable swimming pools.  Baptism is not an “outskirts of the faith” thing propagated by those on the fringes of Christianity.  In one form or another, it’s an accepted part of the faith, across the spectrum.  It’s a spectrum that, according to the most recent census, includes around 60% of Brantford’s population that identifies with some level of traditional or active Christianity.  Baptism is also now a part of the Christian faith that now some aren’t able to access because they are not attending a regular church service.  There’s nothing wrong with Church services in Church buildings.  I highly encourage them!  We’ve got them, the number of people in them are growing, and we’re expanding Freedom House to accommodate more.  

But Baptism in the Square has facilitated many in a process that they, either rightfully or not, felt disqualified for.  We’ve seen shopkeepers close up their store, run across the road to be baptized and return soaking wet.  We’ve see families reconcile with God and one another around it.  Last year we saw a family drive an hour and a half to Brantford to be baptized together.  A documentary crew actually flew to Brantford from South Africa to capture this phenomenon because of its public nature.

It’s an incredible thing to behold, but it’s even more incredible to participate in. You are welcome to do either… or both.  It’s simply an on-the-ground-in-Brantford version of a long-standing tradition, consisting of regular folks publicly expressing their faith. Be it new or be it not-so-new.  I hope to see you August 16th at 3pm in Harmony Square.

7 May 2015

I Believe

I believe in guttural rock n' roll love songs, sung full-on from the midsection.
I believe you should be suspicious of men who shave everyday.
I believe that we shouldn't depend the government to take care of people.
I believe that cream and sugar cheapen God's gift of the coffee bean in scalding water.
I believe that baseball is the most perfect pastime that humans have come up with.
I believe in staring silently into space.
I believe in musty rooms with old leather chairs.
I believe in sucking it up.
I believe in thinking about your wife during business meetings with an unseen ferociousness.
I believe in men who sacrifice themselves, wishing it didn't have to be so, but knowing it must be done.
I believe in leaving some blood and that strip of fat on your steak.
I believe in putting others above yourself.
I believe that shoes don't make the man.
I believe that being kind is like a superpower.
I believe that flowers are beautiful.
I believe that it's worth paying to see a great concert.
I believe in keeping that mischievous glint in your eyes.
I believe in a maintaining a certain degree of contempt for broken systems while engrossing yourself mending their holes.
I believe that fishing ruins a good sit by a lake.
I believe in open-air grass ballparks even in the rain.
I believe in getting up and taking your family to Church on Sunday.
I believe in saying and showing "I love you" to your kids as many times as a day allows.
I believe in being ridiculous.
I believe in being serious.
I believe sex was designed for marriage and then to be had often as possible.
I believe in harsh drinks that make you wince ... and learning not to.
I believe listening to at least one Springsteen song a day helps a man's sanity.
I believe in God; maker of heaven and earth.

22 April 2015

Everything is (at first glance is not always) Awesome.... BUT

I spend a lot of time talking about and working towards seeing the continued transformation of my city... and specifically our Downtown. They even did a our documentary about it we talk so much! I live just outside the downtown, I work there, I worship there.  I give OODLES of my personal 3T's towards it.  That's time, talent, and treasure for the acronyminally and alliteratory challenged.

But, full disclosure, some days it just doesn't FEEL all that awesome.  The walk to my car leads me on a path through a daily pack of what must be some of the most unhappy humans you'd ever meet.  A walk to the burger joint for lunch includes a regular meet-up with a gentleman who years ago began a journey to freedom ... only to choose old, destructive habits.  A decade of decay has taken it's toll on his life. As for our relationship, it bottomed out when he came trick-or-treating in a Nixon mask to my house as a grown man and then I caught him lying about cancer-walk sponsorship for money.  It's heartbreaking.  I see these things every day. 

This week I found and shared a clip of me at 19, doing a comedy segment for my old "Dave Carrol Show" in the Eatons Market Square Mall during a bustling Christmas shopping season.

It sure looks different today.  In fact today the church I help Pastor is in this very mall, and while there are the re-beginnings of life-sparks around, it's also the home to many who just come in to sit for most of the day because....  well .... they need to sit somewhere for most of the day.   Even as I write this... my team who run "The Kindness Centre" is upstairs in our mall distributing clothing and food, free of charge to those struggling to make ends meet.  Last year we were able to meet the basic, practical needs of Brantford family's over 700 times representing about 2200 people. Many of these families are those who fall into the growing “working poor” demographic who work at low paying jobs but cannot make ends meet.

And if I chose to.... that's all I'd see TODAY on a dim, unusually chilly April day. 


That's not the full story!  Because 3 weeks ago during school season, there were thousands of University students in the downtown.  In the coming years, the mall will see more retail and campus life.  There are new festivals popping up each year.  Our Church and Ministry Centre is growing to the point where we're going to do renovations this summer to expand our space.  New businesses are establishing themselves Downtown at the time.  Initiatives like our Kindness Project continues to find creative ways to spark renewal!

And this is just the stuff that we CAN see.  As for the doom and gloom at the beginning... each Sunday we bring 200 people here to gather together. These people actively feel the hope rising inside them that the transformation is continuing.  It's not done by any stretch of the imagination.... but it's moving forward!  And where it's not yet happened, we have hope that it will and are willing to work hard to make it so.

The funny thing about hope is that you have to have hope to have hope.

1 Peter 3 says:

"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

Those of us to have hope in Christ CAN have a true, undying hope for tangible transformation. But I honestly believe I wouldn't have hope... without hope. 

2 Corinthians 4 says:

"You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken."

There are times when Everything is, at first glance not always, awesome.  But look closer.  Activate the hope you have inside you and see your surroundings through the patient, hopeful, creative eyes of God.

Then worship and work until it changes.

"THY Kingdom come"

20 April 2015

I hope you dance

The girl on the right... is my wife Kristina at a "Worship Rave" that Freedom House hosted a couple of years back. 15 years ago, Lee Ann Womak wrote a lovely little country ditty that included this wish for others freedom,

"When you get the choice to sit it out or dance.... I hope you dance"

Krissy took it to heart and started cutting loose in the areas of life she'd always wished she could cut loose in.  The truth is that, in many ways, she left me sitting on the sidelines while she dove into new areas of life that we'd both rejected for many years.  And I love her for it.  My wife is a strong, bold, free, passionate, warrior-princess of the Kingdom of God.   But she didn't get there by just sitting back and watching others be free.

I'm not "dancey."  But do you know what?  It doesn't matter much how I self-identify myself when it comes to worship. Psalm 149:3 says,

"Let them praise his name with dancing"

The book of Samuel says this about David, the King of God's people, who has become known throughout modern history for his genuine worship:

"David danced before the Lord with all his might"

The truth is that when it comes to God... it's our job to learn what he digs on; and do that.  And God loves freedom nearly as our flesh loves to self-identify and "sit it out."   I'm a thinker.  And for a lot of years I couldn't find a good rationale to dance in my worship.

There used to be a song that we'd sing at church that offended me.  More on a literary basis than anything.  It was called, "Jesus we celebrate your victory." There were the much-maligned "worship actions" that went along with this song in my church.  People would actually REVOLVE when they sang the word REVEL.  I was offended.  "Revolving is NOT reveling.   That is a TOTALLY different thing!" I'd object and stand still, arms crossed, in my own rightness while others whooped it up in lingual ignorance. The truth is that God couldn't have cased less about my cause.  He just loved the reveling in his victory!

In 2 Samuel, the lauded prophet says this:

"I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes." 

Undignified is a tough word. "Appearing foolish and unseemly" is what it means.  That's what the Man of God says that he will become... even more than he already is! 

Eventually I've come to realize what most in the world has already come to realize.  Dance is freeing and liberating.  I spent my day today digging through old video footage from fifteen years ago when my wife and I were young missionaries in Ghana.  This clip is from a conference in the city of Sunyani and is at the end of TWO HOURS of what might sound like technically-unproficient worship. But it was one tribe after another bringing traditional songs and dances for us all to join in on.... as onto Jesus.  This clip ends with a young, awkward, me dancing a totally uncomfortable dance in a very foreign context... and changing my arrogant mind about what "dance" was all about forever.

We can be very content where we are in life and our worship.  But my question to you tonight is... Do you want to go deeper?  When you get the choice to sit it out or dance.... I hope you dance!

1 April 2015

Randy Bachman comes to Brantford

Somehow, without knowing exactly how it happened, I got into the classic rock business. In the last two years we’ve been able to put together two sold out Rock n’ Roll shows featuring Canadian Music legends Lighthouse and Bruce Cockburn. And this June we’re well on our way to selling out the Sanderson Centre once again, as we have the good fortune of bringing Mr. Randy Bachman to town.

 I’m not a fan of the word surreal, but there certainly are elements of running these shows that are surreal. I grew up in the Classic Rock Revival era. Y95.3 in Hamilton was my daily radio home and they made it seem like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Bachman Turner Overdrive were the hot up-and-comers of my generation. And for me… they kinda were.

I remember being 16 when one of my big Rock n’ Roll guys, Randy Bachman, released the hit song “Prairie Town” with Neil Young. The video on MuchMusic was the best. It was nothing fancy … but that’s what I liked about it. It was these two old, cool, guys in cut off jean jackets were just lettener’ rip. Full on, no holds barred rock. He was singing about Canadian lore like the frigid intersection of Portage and Main Winnipeg being “50 below” and rocking out about learning to drive in the snow. I ate up every second.

And this summer I get to bring him to Brantford so we can all enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime talent. I’ll get to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen…. Randy Bachman.” And from what I hear, I’ll get to hear some of his rock road stories. In fact so will you.

How did this happen? To be honest, it’s simply because of the great people of Brantford coming together to serve one another. Maybe that’s what makes it so special. This concert series was the brainchild of Phil Gillies. In the summer of 2011 Phil, along with then political candidate Michael St Amant, began to join our Freedom House team on the street Friday Nights for our free street barbeques. We do it to both take care of needs, and to be an instigator of culture shift from 10pm until 2am… a time when the corner of Market and Dalhousie can sometimes use little kindness infusion.

Phil and Michael got hooked. They selflessly came back again and again to serve others, often those in the most vulnerable demographic of our community. We talked about everything from social development to Rock n’ Roll. One night Phil was telling us of how in the 70’s he lived out his music fantasies and, as a high school student, brought Lighthouse to Brantford. Then a lightbulb came on in his mind. “Let’s do it again! You in?” And that’s how a series of incredible concerts were born. It couldn’t happen without community sponsors and partners like some of you who I know are B-Scene readers. It’s been hard work for a whole committee of people passionate about Brantford... but it’s been the fun kinda work.

Show’s like June 10th’s Randy Bachman Concert are win, win, win, win endeavours. As for me, I will never forget driving in my parents big honkin Ford Econoline van with “Hey You” cranked on my BTO mixtape. But peeking out from backstage of our show while he sings it to full house … might be just a little bit more awesome. Tickets can be purchased at www.sandersoncentre.ca, at the box office, or by calling 519-758-8090.

23 March 2015

The Big Bloated Idiot

I'd like to sit by a lake and ... do not much else; for that matter it could be a cornfield for all I care.
It's motionless, wordless and still that are at the heart of the matter; but the big bloated idiot wants to brand it's own peace and solitude.
Can you believe that?
He's an idiot. 
The big bloated idiot prepares a dinner for one.
"Bring me flesh and bring me wine" he hollers at no one in particular; his belly laughing callously.
He is a brute, but he's big and easy to get along with.
People say, "You've gotta love that big bloated idiot" ... and they do.
I'd like to say that I don't like the big bloated idiot... but I do.
I really do.
Shoot do I like him.
Sometimes I even give that big bloated idiot a hug... hoping that his sweaty, grubby embrace will do.
But man is it greasy in there.
It's all over my shirt and those new pants I bought for the board meeting.
So back to the lake I go; or to the cornfield for all I care.
I know there's always motionless, wordless and still there.
It's there where I can choose to ditch the big bloated idiot in me.
I'm taking a different road back to town. 

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Romans 7:15

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Psalm 23:3

24 February 2015

The Story of the Coldest Frosty Fest Ever

When you run large events, you can get lost inside “The Numbers.” You refresh web pages 5 times a day to see where ticket numbers are. You buy food based on white-knuckled estimates of the numbers you’re expecting. You crunch the numbers at the end of each day to see if you’ll still have enough “numbers” to carry on. Those inside the event-planning world know that “the number” of people at your event can mean everything… if you lose perspective.

 On average, 15,000 people come to Frosty Fest. It’s become one of the largest winter carnivals in Ontario. This year’s Frosty Fest was the most successful festival we’ve ever run in NEARLY every way. It had the most volunteers. It had the most sponsorship. It was the most activity and entertainment filled. It was successful in every way… except “the numbers.” One it particular. -40 degrees. That’s what it felt like outside for much of the Family Day Weekend. In fact all three days were the coldest 3 days Frosty Fest has ever had. On the Sunday, the midway rides froze in place and the ice carvers said that the weather was too cold… for ice. If it’s too cold for ice, it’s too cold for humans. And “the numbers” turned on us. The only people to be found on Dalhousie Street Sunday were our shivering volunteers tagging each other off every 10 minutes. 15,000 people did NOT come to Frosty Fest this year.

Thankfully “the numbers” do not tell the whole story of an event. Frosty Fest has never been about creating a massive winter carnival. It’s always been about serving the city, inspiring others to serve, bringing families together, facilitating personal growth and seeing city transformation. And it did just that again.

 Frosty Fest preparation is a year-round process with 6 months of full attention, 2 months of intense focus, culminating in 100 volunteers giving 2000 volunteer-hours over 3 days. All 2000 of those hours were done with smiles, laughter and the assurance that what was being done, was being done to show love to real people. Frosty Fest is about something more. This year featured the inspiring participation of Gerry Byrne’s team at Thorpe Brothers Funeral Home. Along with other sponsors like Campbell Amusements (whose valiant workers braved the cold along with the team), and Ferraro (who made sure there were Kinder Eggs in every hand), Thorpe Brothers not only sponsored the annual snow slide… but they brought their staff along to help families down the hill!

The best story was undoubtedly the Princess Party that almost wasn’t. We had advertised a Sunday Morning Princess Party to every school kid in Brantford. But in the bitter weather, our Princess who dwells in the magical land of Sarnia got stuck behind a closed Highway 402. The thought of 200 crying little princesses was too crushing to not act; and act quickly since the party began in an hour in a half. As luck (if you believe in that type of thing) would have it, a costume-maker named Sina Ahmadi was a vendor in our winter bazaar. He just “happened” to have full Beauty and the Beast costumes right there for us to use. “Lucky” eh? But the kids were expecting Princess Elsa from Frozen. Well as “luck” would have it, his connection at Amy and friends Entertainment had us a full Elsa costume in 20 minutes that “luckily” fit a Freedom House music teacher who “luckily” knew every Frozen song off by heart. As “luck” would have it, it was her childhood dream to one day be a Princess. And what a Princess she was. You’d have never known that we pulled it all together in a hour. I teared up seeing our team in action, partnering with something that was WAY bigger than luck.

There is one young man whom I refer to as Frosty Fest’s biggest fan. His name is Alex Magee and he’s 6 years old. Since he was a wee little guy, his Dad Kevin has been bringing him and he quite literally looks forward to this all year round. Their family was sick over the Family Day Weekend and it would have been easy for Kevin to say, “I just can’t do it son.” But they didn’t. They braved the wilds and forged into the wintery downtown. After Frosty Fest was over, Kevin wrote this inspirational statement that fueled the fires for the brave 100 soldiers of kindness who pressed on.

 "Years ago we went to see HMS Pinafore at the Sanderson Centre. The sets and props didn't make it but the actors did. The theatre offered anyone's money back who wanted it, but the actors decided the show must go on and improvised everything including the Admiral who wore an Admiral Sub hat throughout the entire show. I've probably seen hundreds of plays but this one will always stand out for me because of how much effort, skill and class they put into that single show. That's exactly how I'll remember this Frosty Fest. Well done to everyone who played a part in Frosty Fest this year and for ensuring that the show went on for all of the families (like mine) that enjoy it so much!" 

Rabbi Kotzker Rebbe once said,

“When it is gets cold outside one has two options, put on a coat or build a fire. Put on a coat and you will be warm, build a fire and you will warm many others along with you." 

That’s what happened at Frosty Fest 2015. It was the oddest one we’ve ever done, but I believe to those involved, it will always hold a special place in our hearts. Numbers truly are not everything. We’ll see you next year. It’s gotta be warmer right?

23 January 2015

Frosty Fest 2015 ~ SOMETHING came from something

As a way to motivate me, my Mom used to quote Jiminy Cricket in saying, “David… ‘nothing comes from nothing.’” As it turns out, Jiminy Cricket ripped it off of Parmenides in the 5th century whose statement became a rallying cry for frightening Nihilists.  Darn Cricket didn’t know what he was doing!  In fact, this concept popped up again (Pre-Cricket) in a different context in Shakespeare’s King Lear.  King Lear decided to retire and divide his kingdom among his three daughters. They are required to come forward and flatter him… for money.  Seems healthy.  His two older daughters Regan and Goneril, flatter and deceive their Dad, and receive their rewards. The youngest, Cordelia, who loves him most, cannot find the words to articulate this love. He asks her to speak up and praise him more than her sisters. When asked 'what do you have to say?' Cordelia responds "Nothing." Lear goes nuts yelling, "nothing will come of nothing," and banishes her without money, title, or any part of his kingdom.

Lear was wrong, the Nihilists are a freaky bunch, and you should never trust a Cricket… but the truth is that nothing comes from nothing. Even in Cordelia’s case, she felt love, but said nothing. We can’t just stare at blank canvass and hope it paints itself. We can’t just wish city transformation to happen.  We must DO SOMETHING for there to BE SOMETHING.

There didn’t used to be a Frosty Fest that drew 15,000 people together celebrate the Family Day Weekend in Harmony Square. In fact there didn’t used to be an ice carving’s chance in hell that 15,000 would ever gather together downtown period!  The story of Frosty Fest is the story how nothing can become something… and how something can become something amazing.  

When Harmony Square opened to the public in we at Freedom House simply approached them and asked, “How can we help serve the city and make this square awesome?” Lori Dawn Cavin of Parks of Rec replied “I wish we could have something that’s big like the Jazz Festival… only in the winter. Do you think that you guys could do a winter carnival?”  Freedom House’s Brian Beattie with idyllic (yet petrified) eyes said, "OF COURSE WE CAN!"  That afternoon he emailed me saying, “We’d better start Googling, ‘How to run a winter carnival’ because we’re about to run one!”  

If you’ve never been to Frosty Fest; it’s delightful. If you catch just the right moment, you’ll find yourself in a Normal Rockwell painting… lost in the mesmerizing art of ice carving, having long-buried memories unearthed from eating snow taffy like your great grandfather used to make while children ice skate in the gentle snow.  This place in time exists in Brantford.  It enriches your soul, revives your appreciation for winter and tastes like a warm Canadian tonic right at the moment of winter that it’s most needed. This February 14-16 will mark the 6th anniversary of this experience of Frosty Fest.  

3 years ago during the annual Family Day apple cider toast in hand-carved ice goblets, Mayor Chris Friel looked out over the largest collection of people that I’ve ever seen downtown at a single moment.  He said words that I’ll never forget. He said, “This is the watershed moment in the transformation of our downtown.” Something came from something.  

When Jesus was asked what the most important rules were, He gave his followers two.  Rule #1 is Love God.  Rule #2 is Love Others.  The rest is gravy.  When you see lanyards around the necks of some of our volunteers during at Frosty Fest saying, “Rule #2,” it’s our way of reminding ourselves that whether we’re cooking up funnel cakes, running The Wrecking Ball inflatable, or feelin’ the chill in the bones from helping kids down the snowslide… it’s about loving others.  And so it MEANS something more.

A city is what a city does.  It is the sum of it’s parts.  Each part came from an idea.  But nothing comes from nothing.  An aloof thought in the shower of what could be or should be doesn’t just happen. All it takes is saying, “Sure I’ll do that!” Saying yes and being actively kind is a powerful, counter-cultural overthrow of the self-centeredness our society is plagued with. The cure of kindness is something ordinary people like you and I possess. Those who will have the courage to stand up and say, "Here you go. This is for you. I see value in you." will shape our future.  

We made Frosty Fest... for you.  We made it because we love you. I can’t wait to share Family Day Weekend together with you.  For all the details, follow Frosty Fest on Facebook or Twitter @FrostyFest


24 November 2014

Inside The Living Nativity

Believe it or not, this December will mark the 5th anniversary of “The Living Nativity” in Harmony Square.  In an era where North American cities squabble over whether or not there should be a faded plastic nativity displayed in parks, our city embraces a living one… including wise-crackin’, dancin’ shepherds.  To paraphrase Katy Perry, in Brantford, this is how we do.  

December 12th, 13th, and 14th there will be a 7pm show and an 8pm show as in previous years.  With good weather, there will again be thousands from all walks of life that will bring their families, dates, or pets downtown to see this story one more time.  Christmas has a disproportionately hypnotic attribute to it.

We sometimes objectively try to analyze why this is. We chalk it up to our Pavlovian reactions to familiar stimuli or even habitual commercialistic instinct. There's no doubt that these do exist, even inside the strongest of wills.

The power of tradition in itself is a factor in play.  This last week I tweeted:

This year when we opened our box of decorations, without any discussion, the kids instinctively put everything “where it goes.”  Tacky Santa X and wacky snowman Y theoretically don’t “go” anywhere.  But try to move them to a different place than they’ve traditionally been and Christmas will be all cattywampus somehow.  

The Christmas story is kind of like that, but the hypnotic factor stems from something deeper. One of the groups of people we created The Living Nativity for, were the generation who haven’t made regular church attendance a cultural and familial absolute. We wanted to give an opportunity for people to reconnect with the Christmas they remember as a child in a broader community, engaging… and even entertaining context. It has become an opportunity for thousands to create a tangible Christmas tradition for their own kids or grandkids surrounding the “something deeper” of Christmas.

The line you’ll read on the Harmony Square banner and all of the Living Nativity posters is, “One family, one journey, one child that would change the world.”  Whatever your belief about the deity of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, you’d be hard-pressed to argue the impact his life has made on our planet.  Each year during the Living Nativity, Freedom House’s Brian Beattie will tell the story of growing up hearing Johnny Cash sing a song called “Here was a Man.” It says,

“I think I'm well within the mark when I say that all of the armies that ever marched, all of the navies that ever sailed the seas, all of the legislative bodies that ever sat and all of the kings that ever reigned; all of them put together have not affected the life of man on this earth so powerfully as that one solitary life”  

In fact it doesn’t take much in the “step back and look from 10,000ft” department to see that the seemingly ordinary, obscure and innocuous event of a birth into poverty that took place 2000 years ago in the Middle East; became the fulcrum of subsequent history.  History has shown it to be a miraculous thing and we’re drawn into this powerful narrative at Christmas time.

For the estimated 2.8 billion Christians on our planet, it’s even more than just historically miraculous.  It’s MIRACULOUS miraculous.  CS Lewis challenged us to not only engage in this miraculous story but purposely decide how we are to react to it saying, 

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”  

I personally subscribe to it’s infinite importance, and thus we once again share The Living Nativity with the city.  But wherever you are on the journey of faith, Christmas can’t really be Christmas without engaging ourselves in the “something deeper” of the season.  And let none of us be fooled about where that “something deeper” we all sense emanates from.   Let’s engage in it together as a city Dec 12th-14th in Harmony Square. I hope to see you at the 5th annual Living Nativity.  

18 September 2014

The Hill of Crosses

"The rage of love turns inward to become prayers of devotion.  These prayers are the constant road across the wilderness. These prayers are the memory of God"
Paul Simon ~ The Cool River 

"The cross is in the ballpark"
Paul Simon ~ Obvious Child

12 km north of the Lithuanian city of Šiauliai, kind of in the middle of nowhere, there is hill covered with an estimated half million crosses.  During the sunny Saturday afternoon of the Brantford International Jazz Festival, one of them unexpectedly made it's way into my hands... hand delivered by a member of our Canadian Armed Forces.  Why? Because he just felt like he needed to.

The Hill of Crosses is a bit of mysterious phenomenon.  Nobody manages it.  It just sort of... IS.  In the mid-1800's during a time of conflict between the Russians and the Polish, local people began to climb to the top the hill to pray.  They simply started doing ... something.  Putting crosses in the ground was that something.  Over the years of strife, they've been removed, replaced, removed again and replaced again. 

Lithuanian professor Viatanis Rimkis was one of the quarter million Lithuanians killed or exiled by Joseph Stalin. He says,

"In the Soviet time, the hill became a symbol of resistance. Through the cross, through religion, it was a struggle against occupation, against outside ideology - a struggle for freedom. It was like the cross became a weapon that was invincible."

Local sculptor Aleksas Stepanovicus says of the crosses that adorn this hill,

"If trees have roots, they are firm in the ground but the branches stretch to the sky. So the cross has the same form as a tree. I understand that the cross is like a link between earth and heaven."

Corporal Ken Galbraith grew up around the corner from me in the Brantford neighborhood of Brier Park.  Before he became an honorable member of our military... he  used to just be, "Kenny."  We've connected again in recent years and I was fortunate enough to spend part of last Remembrance Day with him.  As he was serving in Eastern Europe, he came across this hill.  "I couldn't get you out of my head" he said.  "I just knew I needed to bring you a cross from this place."

Corporal Galbraith selected a cross with the Lithuanian words, "dieve, saugok ir globok musu seima" written on it.  It means "God keep and care for our family."  We shared a very special afternoon reconnecting in Harmony Square as humans searching after truth, men, and friends.  

As fascinating as the Lithuanian cross and it's hill of origin is, the object or location itself hold no extra power.  God is just as alive right there in our Harmony Square interaction of love, prayer, friendship and faith as he is on that hill.  The souvenir cross and the hill itself are simply a visual depiction of the outcry of the human soul to God that happens on hills in our own neighborhoods.

Some evangelicals may be tempted decry the hill as people merely attempting to substantiate prayer... in lieu of faith.  But these crosses are not a penny in a fountain.  They aren't whims, fleeting hopes or casual wishes.  They are a powerful representation of a group of people, over generations, doing what we still do today.  We try to find... someway... anyway... to connect heaven to earth.  We all have that longing.  That's faith.

"Without faith it's impossible to please God"
Hebrews 11:6 

 President Theodore Rosevelt's hero was his father who had died many years prior.  His first night in the White House, taking over for the recently deceased William Mckinley, was the day after his father's birthday.   "What would I not give for him to see me here in the White House" he said upon entering. Then he noticed that the flowers on the dinner table were the same variety of roses that his father had worn every day in his button hole. He, as he began on his way to becoming one of America's most storied leaders, stated to his dinner guests,

"I feel as if my father's hand were on my shoulder.  As if there were a special blessing over the life I am to lead here."  

Sometimes God uses roses.  Sometimes God uses a hill of crosses.  Sometimes God uses a childhood friend coming half way across the earth.   I'm almost 40 and I don't totally understand it, but I do know...  that God is trying to get our attention, talk with us, and bring a little bit of heaven to earth.

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