Friday, November 28, 2008

I am to be envied.

I'm glad I was born when I was. It's not like I had any choice, (kind of like predestination?!) but I can sure see the benefits.
If I was even just another decade older, I would probably be struggling to understand:
--computers, internet, blogging, bank machines, and all kinds of other technology
--'Kids these days.' I know all non-kids will always make that comment, but I dare say I have a bit more understanding than if I was even more ancient than I am.
--Environmentalism. People older than me either tend to recycle automatically because they learned the value of it by growing up during harder times, or not caring too much at all.
--postmodernism, and all of the attendant spiritual, practical, mental, philosophical etc. ramifications. Including the basic tenet that things are changing (have already changed a lot) and trying to go back to the 'good old days' isn't really possible—even if it was a good idea.

If I was a decade or two younger, I wouldn't have had:
--the opportunity to grow up during a time of relative world peace, where I didn't have to worry about the state of the world.
--the relatively peaceful home life that I and most of my peers had. Not much family breakdown happening, most kids lived with both parents and had less to need therapy for.
--the opportunity to do many things manually. Not as many machines to do it for you. More opportunity to get your hands dirty working.
--the chance to better understand modernism, since that was the prevailing mindset. Now that things are adjusting, I at least have experience in where we are coming from.

Now if only there was a market for people with my very valuable and unique skill set.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An alternative view of thanksgiving

One of the blogs I follow (jesusmanifesto) has a great post about Thanksgiving (since today is that illustrious holiday in the US).
In the interest of stirring up something, and because we as Canadians haven't been much different, I want to repeat some of it here. Feel free to read it in its entirety here.

"American Myth-Making

Thanksgiving Day conjures up a happy myth about pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down and sharing a roast turkey and a veritable cornucopia of tasty treats. It is a story of survival. The starving Europeans settled in an inhospitable land, and, on the brink of starvation, found hospitality from locals. Through honest work and tenacity, the colonists survived and were able to build a great nation, occupying this great Free Land that is a beacon of light to a dark world.

It is a day where we honor our founding principles of sharing, kinship, and hard work. It is a day when we give thanks for our blessings. The blessings granted to us by our benevolent God who has decided to lay upon our strong backs the mantle of abundance and affluence. These things, we all know, must not be taken lightly. We must receive them with gratitude. And, in times like these we must express our gratitude by sharing with those less fortunate. After all, we are beacons of light.

Or, stripped of all of the propaganda and hypocrisy, we can tell the story this way:

Pilgrims came to this nation looking for a place filled with opportunities. Some came for religious freedom. Some came to start over. But all came with the hopes of prosperity. Upon arriving, the pilgrims found an abandoned village which soon became their own settlement. It was hard work building a new life. Their Protestant work ethic wasn’t enough to carry them through. Thankfully, they made friends with a local who already spoke English (Squanto) because he had learned the language while serving as a slave to colonists elsewhere. Squanto helped these pilgrims survive.

As time passed, the settlers formed an uneasy peace with the Wampanoag nearby.
. At that time, the Wampanoag numbered at least 12,000–and were probably even more numerous in earlier days. But in the years that followed, they were almost wiped out. They, like many other peoples, suffered the genocide of white Christians who longed to fulfill their Manifest Destiny. As their numbers increased, the Native population decreased. Our “blessings” came at great price for those who previously occupied these lands.

In the words of the American folk classic:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

I’m not sure that everyone in the USA can sing these words with joy in their hearts. It isn’t just leftist rhetoric to say that our abundant blessings have grown up from stolen lands that were harvested, in large part, by stolen labor."

Well said, Mark, well said.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What do they think of us?

Yes, I guess it's us vs. them.
In this case, it's about 'us' (people of the Christian faith) and 'them' (people not of the Christian faith).
I have heard stories. Horror stories, some of them. Stories about kids and young adults who grew up in 'Christian homes'. You may wonder why I put that phrase in quotes. I suppose it's because I question how true to Christ those homes were, given the results. Oh, I know we aren't perfect--not even me!
But if our actions, attitudes and responses drive our kids 180 degrees away from God, I think something is fishy.
The Biblical concept of 'training up a child' can work either way.
It can reinforce faith.
Or it can so totally mangle it that the person runs away kicking and screaming abominable curses at God, family, church, and anything else that was supposed to be a good influence.

I've had someone tell me that if he had known I was a Christian before he got to know me, he wouldn't have gotten to know me. But I established a friendship based on friendship (what a concept!), not based on being preachy. Even now, I seldom even give him much advice, unless I think he might be open to it. Let alone tell him to repent.
Another guy told me I wasn't like most other Christians he had met. In the context of the rest of the conversation, I took that as a supreme compliment. I actually listened to him. I heard his views. Even his negative ones about Christianity. I tended to agree with lots of them. I am becoming a believer in what Jim (of 'Jim & Casper go to church') calls defending the space. Allowing people the room to think, to discuss, to be heard. In this era we are privileged to live in, that is more important than defending the faith.

And just a few minutes ago I ran into this paragraph in a local blog:

"Before I go any further I must be responsible to you. I should make a full disclosure of my own bias: I am pro-Christian. It is a noble creed, both as the root of Western Culture and as a route into spiritual self-development and community power. I even admire certain facets of Church life. I believe that if we strip away the liars, dogmatists, masochists, red-neck authoritarians, shameless theologians, and political opportunists, that the remaining half-a-dozen Christians will definitely be among the most sublime and vital human beings to have ever lived. So I am definitely biased in favor of a deeply organic & aesthetically profound Christianity."

So that is what some people think of us.
Some of them want to stone us.
Or ignore us.
But some want to be our friends (if we can truly be a friend).
Some would love to talk to us (if we shut up enough to listen).
Some actually want to help us clean up our act (get rid of the lies, dogmatism, masochism, red-neckism, etc.) and let the character of Christ be visible.

You might say you don't care what people think about you. That you aren't here to please people, put to please God.
Well, that sounds good, but in reality it usually becomes an excuse to be an (expletive deleted for those with sensitive eyes).
I figure we owe it to our neighbor to be neighborly. It's what Christ would do.
Look back at the things people seem to be willing to do with us, if we aren't being total jerks--be a friend, talk with us, help us become like Christ (sublime and vital).
Sounds like a good plan.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I have this friend named Sophie. Well, more like acquaintance growing into friend. You know how relationships take time to grow.
When I first met her, she tended to be kind of nervous around me. You could tell that she wanted to connect, but there are some things in her past that make it hard for her to trust people. I don't know the whole story, but my guess is she has suffered some abuse, and she seems to struggle with trusting men.
But she wants to.
She doesn't want to stay in that inner prison of fear.
Food and unconditional love seem to be what is overcoming the barriers. If I am giving away some kind of snack, she makes sure she isn't left out.
Often I wish it wasn't taking so long to grow this friendship. Sometimes I almost feel like giving up, that it isn't going to happen. But I persevere. Trying not to expect too much, and then happy when it looks like things are improving. Little by little, I can tell that she trusts me now. I am beginning to see signs that she isn't so nervous around me.
Now she comes close, laying her wet furry nose on my knee, enjoying being tickled behind her ears.
You see, Sophie is a dog. A real nice dog, but it has taken a couple years to get to this stage in our friendship. She doesn't bark at me nearly as much as she used to.
I'm sure you see the point I am making. Sophie isn't that different from many of the people I meet on the street.
Some pain in their past.
Nervous about trusting again.
But still wanting to be loved.
Food and unconditional love go a long way with people, just like they do with dogs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

End vs. means

I got to thinking about something after reading something about the Religious right in the US. (Also quoted in Peter J. Walker's blog emergingchristian.)
Here's the setup: Everything we do has some kind of reason for doing it. It can be an end it itself, or a means to a different end. I can read a book because I enjoy reading, or as part of my research for a specific project. I can eat an orange because I like oranges, or because I need the vitamin C. I can have a conversation with you because I like people, or because I want to turn the conversation into an opportunity to persuade you about something.
It is this third example that segues into my conundrum. As a Christian, why do I do good things for other people?
Do I have ulterior motives?
Assuming I do (we all do, more often than not, I think), are these motives legitimate?
Do I carry on a conversation with someone for the sheer pleasure of the interaction, or am I only looking for a way to turn that conversation into a chance to preach at them?
Do I give someone a cup of cold water because they are thirsty, or so they will have to listen to my sermon?
Do I toss a loonie at a panhandler because I care, or because it gives me an 'in' to find out if I should lecture them on the evils of whatever terrible habit I discover they are guilty of?

Is grace an end in itself, or just a means to ultimately be ungracious?

I think Cal Thomas raises a very important point, but I don't think his conclusion is necessarily Christ-like. Here is what he says on the subject:

"If results are what conservative Evangelicals want, they already have a model. It is contained in the life and commands of Jesus of Nazareth. Suppose millions of conservative Evangelicals engaged in an old and proven type of radical behavior. Suppose they followed the admonition of Jesus to "love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans," not as ends, as so many liberals do by using government, but as a means of demonstrating God's love for the whole person in order that people might seek Him?"

If I understand him correctly, he is saying:
1. Conservative Evangelicals don't follow Christ's admonition to love your enemies, etc. (I'm afraid that is way too true, but this isn't the time to discuss it!)
2. 'Liberals' do often follow that admonition, but only as an end in itself. In other words, doing kind, loving, forgiving things because it is the right thing to do. (I assume that he thinks that is just not a good enough reason.)
3. Because it could be good for the bottom line (number of people in church, people added to the kingdom) CE's should start following Jesus' example. As a means to an end, it would be a good time to start being nice to your enemies.

As I type those words, I feel a real inner pain. Mostly because I see that it is true. I come from a CE history. Feeding the hungry, loving ones enemies and all of the rest of that statement was considered the (gasp!) 'social gospel', usually spoken with an underlying kind of disdain--at least that's how I perceived it.
And now, as I talk with people terribly wounded by Christians at some point in their past (either in a specific encounter, or the general CE response to some aspect of their lifestyle), I see that the stereotypical CE isn't living up to the example and admonition of Christ. Either as an end, or a means to an end. I suppose that is why Thomas is encouraging at least some movement forward in this regard.

But is that the point?
And I see that that question is a big one. For me, let alone anyone else.
Is my sole purpose as a Christian to bring others into relationship with God? Of course that is good and worthwhile. Of course it is a goal.
But is just being loving for the sake of being loving not appropriate? If I don't see any hope of 'results', does that allow me to revert to being a jerk?
If my only purpose is to 'convert', my attitude will be different, my style will be different, and I will end up with my own trail of people totally turned off of God because of me.
I don't think that is what God has in mind.
I think being loving and compassionate may well draw someone closer to the One who really loves them
But it may not. They may never respond.
But I still can and should and must have compassion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Diversity and me

So, I believe in diversity (see last 2 posts). I believe God designed diversity. So, what's the problem?!
Well, for me I guess it is this.
1. I recognize how I perceive my personality, giftings, and bent.
2. I know other people are wired differently (hence, diversity)
3. I see that other people need to be affirmed in their unique take on life.
4. I want to be affirmed in my unique take on life.
5. But I still sometimes wish I was like other people. Some other people, at least.
You know, normal people. People like I was brought up to be (no need to go into any specifics, the point is we all have a past, and that past is probably morphing into our present). In, other words, sometimes I wish I wasn't different. I'd fit in better, go with the flow, just coast along.
6. Sometimes I wish other people were more like me. That they would see things my way, be focused on similar things to me. In other words, that they weren't so diverse from me. Then I would have people who would share my priorities. We would find the same things to be important, and also share the same list of things that aren't so important.

But that isn't diversity.
That isn't giving God the opportunity to emphasize different things for different people.
For one person to be the quintessential fire-and-brimstone, turn-or-burn evangelist.
For another person to be the Mother Teresa, going to the poorest of the poor.

For one someone to put their energy into study and learning, and then creatively, methodically pass that information along to others.
For another someone to spontaneously turn a conversation into an opportunity to impart grace into a searching heart.

So, I need to give in to God.
To accept His choices and design for me.
To move forward in my own journey, marching to the beat of a different drummer.
To let the charismatic be the charismatic.
To let the 'liberal' be the liberal.
To let the 'conservative' be the conservative.

Not to try to change them.
Not to let them try to change me.

To be a thumb when it seems everyone else is an eye.

Methinks there is need for a lot of grace. But truly, I am grateful for the way God made me, and the opportunities to live out my unique place in the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Diversity in ways we experience God

In light of my previous post on diversity, I want to pass along some insight from john Ortberg's “God is closer than you think”. It spoke to me of the value of our rich variety of church traditions and styles, and some of the holes in how we try to provide opportunities for people to encounter God in our traditional church settings.
Ortberg's book seeks to encourage us that God can be found in many places that we don't expect. One chapter that really speaks to diversity and learning to celebrate it is 'Spiritual Pathways'. He shares 7 different styles of how people might be wired to find intimacy with God. Some of them are easily recognizable as 'legitimate' church styles. Others seem to be off the radar for much of the church. Here are the 7 Ortberg lists:
1.Intellectual pathway. Those who draw close to God as they learn about Him. Studying is key.
2.Relational pathway. Significant relationships (small groups, for example) provide a perfect place to meet God. You love being with people.
3.Serving pathway. Helping others is the key way to love God.
4.Worship pathway. Music, praise and adoration provide the vehicle for intimate fellowship with God. Just gotta have music!
5.Activist pathway. They walk out their commitment to God by doing something. With great zeal.
6.Contemplative pathway. Private reflection, meditation, and time alone with God. People are just distractions.
7.Creation pathway. Being in God's creation provides the best place to connect with the Creator.
It would be easy to say one of these is better than the others, that it conforms better to the Bible, that it is more 'spiritual'.
However, it would not be true.
However, that's the delusion we seem to be laboring under. Most of our expressions of 'church' tend to major on styles 1 and 4, with the rest ignored or left for a few exceptional saints.
As God has wired us differently when it comes to spiritual gifts, so it is true in how He has wired us to connect with Him. Singing a 'worship song' isn't inherently more godly than taking a walk in the park or marching against injustice.
In these days of uncertainty about the validity of the church in our culture, it would be good for us to recognize the diversity of ways God created for people to connect with Him. Majestic cathedrals might do it for you, or maybe you need a quiet room or a good book. Maybe you have to stay home from 'church' once in awhile so you can really meet with God.
As we re-think what church is, why it exists, and what it could look like, we need to broaden our understanding to see the diverse ways people might be looking to experience the Divine. Giving them more of the same old cliched expressions won't attract them, or benefit them if they are enticed in.
The traditional church setting of stained glass windows and a Sunday morning service doesn't meet every need. Some people need a cause to fight for, a need to help with, or a place to meditate. We can bridge the gap if we embrace the diversity God has designed, and facilitate some different expressions of how to connect with God.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I think one of my 'life messages' is the conviction that we are created with different personalities, gifts and ways of doing things. The diversity is very much a part of God's plan, and we are intended to learn how to live out this diversity in unity.
Paul talks about each of us being different parts of the body. For me, that thought is very liberating. It allows me to be different than you, to notice different things, to respond in different ways, to have a different purpose on this earth.
That means I might fit in a different mold than you. I will be more comfortable with some people than others. I will align myself with a different group of people (church denomination, political party, or interest group) than you will.
We tend to see how this all works within the notion of spiritual gifts, but not necessarily in large areas like theology or politics, although the basis is the same. We see things differently, and make our decisions accordingly.
In the past, I might have looked down on (as 'less spiritual') those who voted for a different political party or attended a different church than me. I would have justified such judgmentalism on 'theology'--my understanding of God's truth. But more recently I have begun to realize that even our understanding of scripture is based on how we perceive the world. I might jump up and down and say my theology is 'Bible-based', but in reality it is based on how my upbringing and culture understand the Biblical text. Understanding the text based on the point of view of the original hearers is very important when forming our understanding of it today. It was written by people from a specific cultural setting, so it must be understood in the light of that culture. In the same way, I need to admit that my present understanding of scripture is colored by my culture. Even if I claim to take the Bible 'literally', in reality my history influences how I read it—what I put greater emphasis on, how I believe it speaks to me, what portions I read.
So, there is a wonderful diversity in the body of Christ. Now I realize, sometimes this is more division than diversity. But that is a result of thinking there is a final, complete, 'right' way of seeing everything, and we can attain that in this lifetime.
Division comes when I think I have the final word from God, and anything else is heresy. Diversity comes when I see that God has given me a piece of the whole pie, and you a different piece.
Division is when I fight for my perspective, and belittle yours. Diversity comes when I value you as much as I value me.
Division says I only want to hang out with people who think like me, look like me, act like me. Diversity says I can see the nature of God in someone who sees things differently than I do, and I celebrate that.
More on one of the practical expressions of diversity in my next post.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Random flotsam

I'm grateful for my friends
--the 'real' ones I see periodically, drink coffee with, shoot the bull, or even talk turkey. (Nice animal metaphors, no?).
--the 'virtual' ones that I read stuff from. Blogs, facebook, etc. Even though there are those that I probably won't ever get to sit and guzzle caffeine with, I am learning to appreciate their heart, their theology, their angst. I am finding myself more and more interested in those who aren't willing to take everything for granted, aren't accepting everything handed to them neatly pigeonholed and indisputable.

I'm grateful I am Canadian. I will never understand the US system of voting--to me it seems even worse than the Canadian system in so far as actually placing people in government that accurately represent the proportionate feeling of the population. To say nothing about the terrible weaknesses in a two-party system. So you have to elect someone who is the lesser of two evils? Of course, in Canada we have the unenviable possibility of having minority governments, and that doesn't seem much better.

I can really see the value of the Golden Rule. In my own words--"Live your life so that if everyone lived like you do, the world would be a better place." I continually notice people who appear to have no regard for others--no politeness, common courtesy, or even awareness of things around them. OK, I'll stop before this turns into a rant.

Final note in honour (note the non-US spelling!) of the US election tomorrow: God help America! Much as I am totally happy to live north of the border (the US-Canadian border, for those of you not aware of such things); I realize that the whole world ultimately is affected by the guy in the White House. The choice made tomorrow will affect the direction the world moves in the years ahead. Again I say, God help America!


I would guess that the song Amazing Grace is probably the most beloved of all Christian songs. It seems that almost everyone knows about the song, whether people of faith or not.
Why do we love it so much?
I suppose because we love to know that the God we may not even believe in is a gracious God. He is bigger than our sin. He loves us even when we sin. He finds us when we are lost.
You probably know the story of the song. That it was written by a former slave trader. That over a period of years his life was drastically changed.
It is a simple, powerful song. I heard it again last night, sung by a choir.
In itself, that is not too amazing. As I said earlier, many people love the song, because it tells us of God's love.
Although we may not have been slave traders, we all can identify with 'I once was lost, but now am found.'
The thing I found particularly poignant last night was the fact that this was being sung by a black choir. A black South African choir (the Soweto Gospel Choir).
It's one thing for a white converted slave trader to rejoice in the grace of God.
It's another thing for a black person to sing about it.
A black whose ancestry comes from a group of people who were slaves a few centuries ago.
A black from a nation still recovering from the oppressive rule of a white minority.

It's one thing to be forgiven of your sin.
It's another thing to be able to forgive someone for their sin against you.
It definitely takes the grace of God.
The Amazing Grace of God.

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