Sermon: The complicated life with an iPhone

The cell phone turned 40 years old this month.  40! 

How many cell phones have you owned?  Actually count them.  I’m at 5. 

How many of you have never owned a cell phone?  Just one?  Two?  Three?  Four?  Five?  Six?  Seven?  Anybody more than 10?

So, here’s a video that shows a pivotal moment in history of the cell phone.

The price of a phone in a bag in 1989 is the same price as an iPhone 5 today.  We’ve come a long ways.

So far, that we actually don’t even need paper anymore.  I can go to a meeting with simply my iPhone and take down all the notes I need. 

I was taking a course at CMU last year, and the guy in front of me was pumped that he didn’t have to use any paper the entire course.

In front of him was a MacBook Pro, an iPad, and his iPhone.  As the prof talked, he typed his notes, and if he needed to draw any pictures or graphs, he did it with his iPad and then imported the drawing to his computer, all the while accepting my friend request on Facebook.  During class. Remarkably efficient individual.  All while saving some trees.

Also in my class was a man named Shadrach from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He was studying Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies at CMU. 

During one of our breaks, I asked him some questions.

How long have you been in Winnipeg? 

2 years.

Are you here by yourself? 

No, between my wife, kids, siblings, there are 11 of us.

Eleven!  Wow.  That’s a lot.  What brought you to Winnipeg?

            We are refugees.


            Yes.  My family has lived in the same village for generations.  We had to flee because the militia would come one month and then the next month the other militia would come and they kept going back and forth.

Why would they do that?

            They want the control the mines.  They want the minerals underneath us.

I felt sick to my stomach.  I knew what he was talking about.  It was in my pocket.  I asked:  “How is it going now?  Are they still fighting?” 

            “Yes.  More people had to flee.  We are currently trying to call home to see who is alive and where they are.”

Here is a video giving a brief synopsis of conflict minerals in the DRC,

My iPhone.   You iPod touch.  You Samsung GS3.  You SLR camera.  That projector in church. All our computers.  Our church’s photocopier.

Now, this gets complicated, doesn’t it?

I’m going to venture to say that we need technology in our lives.  I love my iPhone.  I love our cameras.  I love my laptop, even though it’s only a Dell and not a Mac.  I love going for runs with a little iPod as opposed to a big walkman like they did 30 years ago.  I don’t really wish we still had phone-in-a-bags or Zack Morris cell phones.

And this isn’t even considering the effects of the over 100 million cell phones a year that end up in landfills and all the poisonous metals that leech into the ground water.

But what do we do?

It’s a good thing Jesus told a parable about the complicated life with an iPhone.

We read the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and how Lazarus was ignored on Earth by the rich man…. so ignored that even the dogs licked his wounds.  But then when they died the poor man ended up in heaven and the rich man in hell. 

There is so much going on in this parable, and all of what the Bible says and doesn’t say about hell is brewing in my head in the form of a 3 week sermon series, but I’ll start with a toe dipping into this with some blatant plagiarism from a great book that is banned from many churches, Love Wins.

Note what it is the man in hell wants:  he wants Lazarus to get him water. 

When you get someone water, you’re serving them. 

The rich man wants Lazarus to serve him.

In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man STILL sees himself as above Lazarus.   

It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed.  The chasm is the rich man’s heart!  It hasn’t changed, even in death and torment and agony.  He still thinks he’s better.

The gospel Jesus spreads in the book of Luke has as one of its main themes that Jesus brings a social revolution, in which the previous systems and hierarchies of clean and unclean,  sinner and saved, and up and sown don’t mean what they used to. God is doing a new work through Jesus, calling all people to human solidarity.  Everybody is a brother, a sister.  Equals, children of the God who shows no favouritism. 

To reject this new social order was to reject Jesus, the very movement of God in flesh and blood. 

Jesus teaches again and again that the gospel is about a death that leads to life.  It’s a pattern, a truth, a reality that comes from losing your life and then finding it.  This rich man Jesus tells us about hasn’t yet figured that out.  He’s still clinging to his ego, his status, his pride – he’s unable to let go of the world he’s constructed, which puts him on the top and Lazarus on the bottom, the world in which Lazarus is serving HIM.

He’s dead, but he hasn’t died.

He’s in Hades, but he still hasn’t died the kid of death that actually brings life.

He’s alive in death, but in profound torment, because he’s living with the realities of not properly dying the kind of death that actually leads a person to the only kind of life that’s worth living.

Or another way to look at it…

He fails to love his neighbour.

In fact, he ignores his neighbour, who spends each day outside his gate begging for food, of which the rich man has plenty. It’s a story about individual sin, but that individual sin leads directly to very real suffering at a societal level.  If enough rich men treated enough Lazaruses outside their gates like that, that could conceivably lead to a widening gap between the rich and the poor.


A widening gap between the rich and poor.  Where have we seen that before?  I can probably pull up a video on my iPhone 5 connecting my iPhone 5 to the hell that is the Democratic Republic of Congo.  If you’re on twitter, you’d write this:  #ironic.

My phone leads to hell.  On Earth.  As we speak.

Many people in our world have only ever heard hell talked about as the place reserved for those who are “out”, who don’t believe, who haven’t joined the church.  Christians talking about people who aren’t Christians going to hell when they die because they aren’t… Christians.  People who don’t believe the right things.

But in reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word “hell”, what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrongs things isn’t his point.  He’s often not talking about “beliefs” as we think of them – he’s talking about anger and lust and indifference.  He’s talking about the state of his listeners’ hearts, about how they conduct themselves, how they interact with their neighbours, about the kind of effect they will have on the world. 

So, do we care that our cell phones are creating hell in our world? 

So, it’s not a perfect solution, but here’s my response to the blood in my cell phone.

1)      I have written a letter to Apple.  And Dell.  And LG.  And Sharp.  And Canon.  And JVC.  And Sony.  And every other electronics company in my house.  I ask them to ensure that all the minerals they use are conflict free.  The bad news is that they still have a long ways to go. The good news is that they are getting better.

2)      I do my best to wait as long as possible before buying new stuff.  I was MC’ing a wedding a year ago and pulled out my old flip phone, and from the head table the bride said to me:  Hey Kyle.  1994 called.  They want their cell phone back.  Yes.  Yes they do.  And when the iPhone 6 or 7 or Google Glass come out, I will wait until my iPhone 5 doesn’t work anymore.

3)      Recycle your cell phone.  MTS connect will take them.

Now, you may be thinking that this was a long, waste of time sermon if in the end all you’re supposed to do is write a letter, buy less and recycle your phone.  

But this doesn’t apply only to cell phones.

When I living in Winnipeg a few years ago, I was talking with the former manager of the Ten Thousand Villages in North Kildonan, and we were talking about Fair Trade.  I made the comment “Well, at least there are enough Mennonites in North Kildonan to give you a good base of customers,” and she made this face like “What?” and her response was “Mennonites don’t shop here.  They are too cheap.  In Mennonite world, being thrifty is considered a virtue, a good thing.”  She even told me that at one point she had a Mennonite customer walk in and brag that she could find cheaper prices elsewhere. 

Do we care about the working conditions and education and environment sustainability of coffee farmers when we buy coffee?  Do we buy fair trade coffee?  Even if it’s more expensive?  Are Tim Hortons and Nabob creating hell in our world? 

Do we know where our oil comes from?  Do we know how Hydro dams affect the life of First Nations in Northern Manitoba?  Do we care that composting reduces methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 72% more powerful than carbon dioxide?  Do we care how far our food travels in the world?  Do we care that North America’s new found love for quinoa has led to an increase in the price of quinoa in South America, in some cases causing riots?

It’s complicated, isn’t it?

I’m sure the chasm between the rich man and Lazarus was complicated too.  That there were layers and layers of conflict and differing dynamics at play.  But, if we take Jesus seriously, we see where indifference can lead us.

As we wander through this complicated life, may we always strive for life.  With everyone and in everything.  May we pray for and work for equality.  For justice.  For safety.  For peace. 

May repent when we need to.  May we lament when we realize how complicit we are in all of this. 

And may we also learn to be gentle on ourselves, to give ourselves some grace as we work as co-creators with God in this beautiful world.


– With heavy, heavy plagiarism from Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell.


For Lent, I prayed.

As a spiritual discipline for Lent, I work up early to pray.  It was horrible.  It was beautiful.   It was comical.  And I think, somewhere deep inside, it changed me.

I started off each prayer time with centering prayer.  Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.  ( are supposed to pick a word of invitation for centering prayer, and for all of Lent I used the word Peace.

After centering prayer, I prayed through the Common Prayer Book:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  Common Prayer is a tapestry of daily prayers inviting faith communities from around the world to pray, sing, and act together.  The book celebrates the best of the Christian tradition and engage with the most pressing issues of our world today.  (

In the midst of the 40 days of Lent, I slept-in more than I care to admit, was frequently joined by my two year old daughter, my son was born, went mini-viral, accompanied friends through challenging times, went to a youth retreat, got sick, and came to a deep appreciation of the mystery of prayer and its effect on my life.

I also kept a journal.
Day 1 – Really good.  Peaceful.  Quiet.  Really tired by 4 o’clock, so I took a nap. It’s hard to be present to my family when I’m so tired…

Day 2 – My mind is going a mile a minute. “Peace” is my centering prayer word again.  Great youth last night, tons of walking with people through the harder parts of life.  Praying for them all takes a lot of time. Arianna came out of her bed early and blew out my candle. Twice.  So I ended by saying the Lord’s prayer together.

Day 3 – Checked my email beforehand.  More bad news from friends. I cried.  My heart is heavy.  But best centering prayer yet.  I was the least distracted and most at peace and present to in the moment.   Praying for a lot of people went well. I am getting used to waking up early.

Day4 – Sunday. Went to bed at 1am because I was playing some iPad game where I have to make a virus infect the entire world. Oops.  Took my cheat Sunday (Is that a thing?).  Back at it tomorrow.

Day 5 –  My brother and sister-in-law are in labour.  There is a blizzard.  I am a bit distracted. Arianna and Elmo joined me for centering prayer, which became Common Prayer quickly.  She woke up and ran to me excited and gave me a hug. I loved it. We said the Lord’s Prayer together. And then she put Elmo in her mouth and started chewing and shaking him like a dog toy.

Day 6 – Distracted. But a good distracted. At peace. But had to nap again  I love getting hugs in the morning from Arianna.  The pitter-patter of  her running to me is priceless.   At work, Mel encouraged me in my centering prayer.  He said to keep doing it and people will notice.

Day 7 – Epic fail. We went to see my new nephew last night and we all went to bed late. Arianna woke up early and I slept in. So when I went to pray, she came with me.
I gave her the iPad on mute so I could pray without distraction.  From the couch she yelled, “Daddy!  No sound”
Hmmm… What to do… I know!  Earbuds!  I showed her how they worked, and then proceeded to try to put them in her ears while she kicked and screamed and covered her ears screaming “I don’t want to!” Argh.  The rest of my centering prayer time had Cookie Monster in the back doing a science experiment seeing if underpants float. (In your best Cookie Monster voice) “Call national news! They do!”

Day 8 – Much better. No Arianna.  Peace filled distractions.

Day 9 – I hit snooze three times. Crap. “Arianna, do you want to go back to bed?”  “No!  I’m awake now!” Considering she was hovering around the candle again, prayer went remarkably well. Tired though.  A lot of people to pray for at the end. Good distractions.

Day 10 – Not much to report.  Arianna had her stuffed Elmo was clapping during prayer time. But I liked it. Arianna ran and hugged me. Not sure if I’m more present to anyone throughout the day, including God, but I am coming to treasure my mornings by myself.
Near the end Arianna wanted raisins. I got up from my prayer corner (the kitchen table) to go look for them.  I couldn’t find them, and when I turned to offer her goldfish crackers, she smiled as told me she had blown out the candle again. I am seeing a pattern here.

Day 11 –  Sunday. Technically a cheat day. But I still got up to pray.  I treasured it. Still not very centered at times. But I’m starting to care less about how successful my prayer times are.  Arianna came and played Play-Doh, and put the bucket on her head.  After, I read stories from Conspire Magazine on grace, gratitude and celebration.  I cried. 
Day 12 –   Arianna crawled into bed with Ash, so I got some good silence in.  Once again, my mind is busy.  There was a large community meeting about anti-bullying legislation and religious freedoms last night.  Peace. Peace. Peace.

Day 13 –  The little munchkin woke up before I did.  Ash kicked her out of our room so she could sleep. She was bashing her doll on the table while I tried to pray. Peace.

Day 14 – Ash is in labour. Just did a quick common prayer. There will be a whole lot more peace prayers shortly.

Day 15 –  Labour still. Two nights of no sleep. I’m glad God is graceful.

Day 16 – Zachary Micah Enns Penner was born today. I skipped centering prayer.  When I held him about 4 minutes after he was born, I said, “Zachary, may you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.” I wept.

Day 17 – I think.  My life is a blur. No sleep. I don’t even know what day it is. I will start praying again tomorrow.  But I love my kids!

Day 18 – Zach has taken over my bed. Arianna is playing iPad. So I am praying in Zach’s room.
I am so tired. So. So tired. Between the kids and getting a letter to the editor of the local newspaper published about the suicide rate of GLBTQ kids, my mind wanders…
I had a good common prayer… I prayed for a lot of people.

Day 19 – Good.  At 4:30 am, one kid was popping and peeing in the midst of a diaper change while the other one was crawling over me into bed. Waking up early to pray is hard.
Centering prayer was good. Short, but good.  During common prayer, I prayed for the people who are pissing me off.  It was hard. I have to do it again tomorrow.

Day 20 – Good. Tired. I Had to put Arianna’s new climbing harness on for her before she’d let me pray. I prayed for people who are making me mad. I prayed for myself that I’d not say anything stupid.  I prayed that I could love my enemies.
I prayed the following from the Common Prayer book:  As the morning casts off the darkness, Lord, help us to cast aside any feelings of ill will we might harbor against those who have hurt us. Soften our hearts to work toward their conversion and ours. Amen.
Am I willing to be converted?

Day 21 – Better. Peace. Prayed for the people who made me mad… Good. A couple of meetings today that I don’t want to go to.  Help.

Day 22 – Good. I prayed for the people who make me angry. And then I read the Free Press and the front page article about a local church’s sermon on the proposed anti-bullying legislation.  I spit out coffee.

Day 23 – Wow. What a whirlwind. Good centering prayer.   But my mind was going a mile a minute. I declined television interviews yesterday.  I’m glad I did. I prayed first for people who make me angry.  May we work to love everyone and bear fruit.
From my Common Prayer book:  Lord God, when the hungry are fed, the sick healed, the lonely made family, the outcast brought in, the sinner forgiven, the tyrant transformed, and the enemy reconciled, we know your work by the fruit it produces. May our lives bear fruit worthy of your name. Amen.
I am sharing with people that I have spent my mornings praying for the anti-bill 18 crowd.  They are calling me a saint. Ha.  I am not a saint. I just need Jesus to help me love my enemies.

Day 24 – Centering prayer got interrupted by Arianna making space for me in bed for a family “bed in”. What’s the point in centering prayer increasing my awareness if I miss out the beautiful things around me?  So I stopped praying and jumped into bed with my family.
I am finding that during my Common Prayer “pray for others“, my list is getting longer and longer. There is a lot of brokenness in this world. I’ve also told a lot more people this lent that I am praying for them.  I love praying. It centers me, saves me, and makes me more loving. I love praying. I could not have said this 24 days ago.

I officiated at a funeral today. I am aware of the gift he was.  I am more aware of a lot things. The world is on fire… Must walk humbly and be aware of God around me.

Day 25 – Cheat day. Daylight savings time.  I stayed up late finishing my blog post about Bill 18. Wow. Thousands of views. Thousands of shares.  Lord have mercy.
We had a beautiful church service this morning. We shared and cried and prayed.
From my Common Prayer book:  Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, said, “Let nothing disturb you, nothing dismay you. All things are passing, God never changes. Patient endurance attains all things. God alone suffices.”

Day 26 – I went mini-viral. May people find the hope they need.  Help me be more present to my family today…

Day 27 – Peace. May I not fear, but trust.

Day 28 – Peace. Tired. A lot of people to pray for.  I’m not sure I want to carry this burden. It’s a good one, but I’m finding it a harder to carry than I thought.

From my Common Prayer book:  Lord, you ask us not to fear but to trust. Help our unbelief and grant us faith to stand fast in our love for one another. Amen.

Day 29 – Note to self: Don’t check email before centering prayer.

Day 30 – I didn’t write anything down.

Day 31-32 – We prayed through Common Prayer at our senior youth retreat.  It’s much better with more people. We even did evening prayers and kneeled when we confessed. My life would be better if I did two prayer times a day and not just one.  Maybe next Lent…

Day 33 – Back to two kids and no sleep. I slept through centering prayer.  I started reading Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust.  Must trust.  Trust comes through prayer.

Day 34 – Centering prayer was interrupted by baby barf. Awesome.

Day 35 – Easter is 10 days away. How the heck do these 40 days of Lent work anyways?

Both kids up before me.  Zach is in the baby swing. Arianna is jumping on Zach in the baby swing.  And turning the music loud.  Ash is sleeping.  Now Zach is grunting. Now Arinna wants to watch Veggie Tales.  Now Arianna is crying because there’s no Veggie Tales.  Oh well. No prayer today.

Day 36 – I don’t think Sundays count toward the forty days. Oh well. My Lenten prayer discipline will be longer than 40 days.   I end with one word prayers for lots of people.

Day 37 – So tired. Baby.  And Arianna is watching Veggie Tales in the background. So distracted.  Busy day with lots of people… May I be more silent today than most days.

Day 38 – May I be light.  I said weird things to my friend today.  I said, “I need prayer. I like prayer. I’m at peace.”  I am learning to live in this deep Christian spirituality. I pray more. I talk about God and prayer more. It centers me. Weird.

Day 39 – Sick

Day 40-  Very sick.

Day 41 – Still sick. Did Common Prayer.  It felt good to be back on track.

Day 42 – No sleep.  Grunty baby all night. Skipped prayer. Felt it.  But I sang Come and fill my heart with your peace.   I love that song.

Day 43 – I swear I have the grunt-iest baby that ever did grunt. I’m trying to let Ash sleep, but it’s hard to pray when it sounds like there’s a warthog rooting around in your living room. Plus, I should have wiped the table from supper yesterday.  And, I think my morning prayer times need more confession.

And that’s it.  Easter weekend is upon us.  What a crazy Lent.  And I loved it.

My hope and my prayer is that I continue to carve out space to be present to God.  Because when I do, I truly believe that it makes a difference. Maybe both me and the world change for the better.  Or maybe it’s just me being more aware of the sacred spaces already around me.  Either way, I love it.


Lord have mercy.