Saturday, September 26, 2009


I live in Victoria, BC. Don't tell too many people, but this is really paradise.
For that reason, we are one of the stops on many Alaskan cruises during the season. This year (2009) there are supposed to be at least 215 cruise ships docked for a day, unloading something like 400,000 passengers.
Now I expect most of those passengers haven't been here before, and many won't come again. Their entire experience of the city, its people, architecture, food, culture, and tourist sites will have to occur over a period of a few brief hours.
Of course, our tourist agency will make sure these lovely people are exposed to the things we want them to see. We bill ourselves as being "more British than the British", so we will make sure they have the opportunity to ride our double-decker buses.

As well, they need to see our wonderful provincial government building. We are quite proud of this building (but perhaps not so proud of some of the decisions made therein).

As tourists, they need to visit our outdoor market on the inner harbor, where a wide variety of First Nations and other crafts are available, as well as street musicians. One of my favorite artists make some pretty awesome surreal stuff with paint spray cans, and a few small props. This is an example.

But enough of the travel ad, and back to the premise. Lots of people visit our fair city, and have a few short hours to get a feel for the place. My bet is that they get to buy a few souvenirs, eat some food, walk a few blocks around our touristy downtown core, and then leave--without ever really getting to know who we really are. And our chance is over, they are back on their cruise ship, and may never visit Victoria again.

Do you see where I am going with this? Although I expect you are getting an idea, let me spell it out for you. Lots of people have the unique and special opportunity of meeting us every day. Who knows, we might be the only Christ follower they see today. Maybe for many days.
Do they get a true picture of what a follower of Christ is? Or do they just see a facade, an act, or worse, a bad example of Jesus? We have the opportunity to live and love like Jesus, but is that what they will see? Or will they see someone mouthing off about something in the name of Jesus?
Will they see a loving reflection of this God we say we serve, or something less admirable?
We might only have that one chance to let someone know what God is like. Next time they might already be so turned off that they will only hear or see the negative expression they are expecting.

So, let the true Jesus out.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Out of the ghetto

Ghettos are locales where people of a similar culture, social, or economic group live or hang out.
Sometimes this is enforced by an authoritarian government: Jews in various nations during WWII, Israelites in Eqypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Keep them together behind a fence so we can keep track of them, and so they can't bother us.
Sometimes it is completely voluntary. Hutterite, Amish or Mennonite communities, 'Little Italy' or other ethnic neighborhoods. Let's keep our uniqueness intact, so everyone else won't influence us.

I see a lot of the second, voluntary kind of ghettoization in the church.
There can be so many activities/meetings/programs that there is no time left to get to know anyone from outside 'the group'. Business connections so you can get your car, teeth, hair or house fixed by a fellow Christian. Christian sports leagues. Christian media. Some get so paranoid that they won't even associate with someone from the church across the street.

And still we think we are being a worthwhile influence in society. Just how do we think we are accomplishing this worthwhile influence?
When we march against some particular 'ill of society'?
When we gather in our bunkers to pray or pontificate about these 'ills'?
When we get together and bemoan how bad the world is getting?

I dare you!
--Don't look in the Shepherd's Guide the next time you need a professional.
--Quit your 'Christian' hockey team and join a 'normal' one.
--Drop one or two of your regular church activities and start hanging out with buddies from work. Or just start hanging out at your neighborhood purveyor of your favorite beverage.
--Don't sign up for yet another seminar about how to be a better Christian. Just get out there and do it.

Assuming that the presence of God's Spirit in your life is making you a better citizen, start being yourself.
--Join a political party that appears to promote better treatment of the little guy.
--Join a civic organization or service club or interest group.
--Find some worthwhile endeavor and help.

(As I was writing this, I received a message from someone who had been planning on joining the particular street outreach group I work with. She had to bow out until next Spring because she is planning on taking a weekly one of those "Better Yourself and Your Life" seminars that have the purpose of "teaching people To Live Their Lives Much More Better & Much More Fulfilled (In Every Area!) In A Spiritually & Physically & Mentally & Emotionally & Financially Way"!!
I kid you not.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Lots of people like to be able to sort things into categories. The universe seems to have obliged by giving us some apparently obvious dichotomies:
male & female
plants and animals
vertebrates and invertebrates
visible and invisible
black and white
Of course, you can often find some “other” categories that don't quite fit into either/or.

Such is the case with the desire for people over the past centuries to divide things (activities, objects, or ideas) into sacred or secular.
The hope is, of course, that everything can fit smoothly into one or the other, and never the twain shall meet.
The assumption is that God is completely in favor of some things (sacred things) and totally against other things (secular things). Or at least some things are really good at helping us get closer to God, and other things are really good at drawing us away from Him. Or maybe just that some things are kinda good and godly, and other things don't matter.
If we believe that some things are sacred, and other things are secular, then:
--there must be places where God is not. After all, wherever He is should be considered sacred, right? But if He is everywhere, then everything is sacred.
--there must be a source of creativity other than God. Otherwise, if God is the only wellspring of creativity, then the resulting art/machinery/philosophy must be sacred since it sprang from the heart and mind of God.
--some jobs/careers must have greater value and ultimate reward than others, and supporting people in these endeavors (or choosing that path for yourself) is more worthy than something less exalted. But where would you draw that line? What vocations are sacred? Preaching or any other church-related ministry (even including the church janitor)? Raising/supporting your family (spouse, kids, parents)? Helping the poor? Each of these are encouraged in scripture, along with things like fighting for justice, running an honest business, politics—things that usually would be considered secular. Not much is left that wouldn't fit the 'sacred' tag.
--some aspect of at least one part of music must be inherently 'not godly'. Some melodic pattern, harmonic chord or chord progression or rhythm must be alien to God's creative genius. (I know, over the years people have preached that minor chords, or 'the rock beat' or syncopation or whatever are of the devil, but nothing biblical or otherwise validates those claims.) Once again, who gets to make the rules as to what is 'heavenly' and what is 'earthly'? If you happen to like Beethoven and Billy Ray, does that make classical and country music OK, and everything else not OK? What if your favorites are a litle more eclectic like zydeco or Gregorian chant? That would really narrow down the repertoire! Perhaps anything that is played on a harp is the closest to heaven-like? The Bible doesn't give us much guidance on this.

Well, then, if some of the more common sacred/secular divisions don't work, lets look for some other possibilities.
Maybe there are sacred foods (fruits and vegetables) and secular ones (meat). Don't think that has much biblical basis, other than OT dietary laws.
Maybe buildings are sacred (churches) or secular (schools, businesses, homes). What happens if your particular church meets in a school or a home, or your church building is used for a school, or you live in the back of the church? That messes that one up a bit.
Maybe one day of the week is more sacred than the rest. If so, we could make them all sacred by not working, living at church, and eating out every day after church.
Maybe the language we use can be categorized into sacred or secular. Here is where sacred or profane might be the better categories to use. But what happens when some of the most flowery speech often includes one of the divine attributes (holy, good) and one of His names or titles (Lord, God, Jesus)? That makes it difficult to use vocabulary alone to define sacred language.
How about character qualities? Maybe things like praying lots, reading the Bible lots, hanging out with other Christians lots might be considered sacred attributes. And we should probably add being honest, truthful and loyal. While you're at it, don't forget being generous to the needy, fighting against injustice, loving your neighbor, being gracious and merciful, and a whole bunch of other positive traits enjoined in scripture. Even being a good employee or boss would be sacred, as well as being fair to your customers. Not really anything left for 'secular' character qualities.

So, does the Bible give us any reason to believe in the concept of sacred/secular?
Yes, but not in the ways we have already looked at.
The concept of 'holiness' is mentioned different times in the Bible. “Be holy, for I am holy.”
Holiness means set apart for a particular use. Yes, it probably would include being clean for that use, but it is the purpose that makes it holy, not the cleanliness.
The Old Testament temple had bowls set apart for the rituals of worship. These bowls might well be identical to ones used for feeding your family. What made them sacred or 'holy' wasn't that they looked any different, or were any cleaner than what you used at home. What made them 'holy' or set apart was that they were set apart. They were always used in the temple to serve God. It was their use that set them apart. In fact, a dirty bowl intended for temple use would still be holy—holier than the clean one at home in your kitchen.
In the same way, a person's job might be to wash these bowls. His job would be 'holy' if he was cleaning the temple bowls, but not if he was doing the dishes after dinner at home.

So, what is God's purpose for us that makes us 'holy'? What purpose sets us apart?
Is it just 'church work'?
No, I believe God's purpose for all of us is to reflect the love and mercy of Christ wherever and however, to uphold the cause of the little guy, to be the hands and feet of God in our world, to be incarnational—the visible, tangible presence of God on this earth. To love God, and to love our neighbor.

We are holy, set apart. Not by what we do, but by why we do it.

Some people might see what you do as being very 'secular'.
--selling cars.
--making cars.
--fixing cars.
--driving cars.

--painting pictures.
--painting houses.
--painting fingernails.
--painting cars.

--playing drums at Glad Tidings Church.
--playing timpani for the Victoria Symphony.
--playing percussion for Nelly Furtado.
--playing pots and pans with your kids.

If 'you' are holy (set apart to express Christ in your world), then pretty much anything you do might help fulfill that directive. And if you are missing the point of expressing the love of God in your world, then whatever you do is only a banging drum or a clanging gong (even if it appears to be so 'sacred').

Sacred or secular? It really is up to you to decide who you choose to be. Choose to be holy. Choose to be set apart to express Christ in your world. And it won't hurt to be clean too.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Every once in awhile I read or hear the phrase “God's scandalous grace” or “God's scandalous love”. (Like, about 10 minutes ago.)
So, I Googled the phrase “God's scandalous” and also found mercy, generosity, acceptance, and others.

Scandalous means: disgraceful; shameful or shocking; improper—words you wouldn't think fit in the same sentence as “God”.
But think about it. Remember some of the stories of Jesus' dealings with people.
Tax collectors.

The way He dealt with them! Treating them as nicely as you would treat the queen.
Caring about their situation.
Forgiving them.
Affirming them.
Healing them.

It's scandalous, I tell you! Disgraceful, shameful, shocking, improper.

Why, we know better. We wouldn't do that. We know how to read people, we can tell those who deserve to be shunned, ignored, berated.
Those who aren't worth our time of day.
Those who are only fit to burn in hell.

But Jesus, now.
Why, He acted like He didn't know they were bad people, like they were normal.
He treated them like He treats me.
He loved them.

So where do we get off treating some people the way we do and saying we are followers of Christ?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I've been reading some commentary about the place of scripture within our theology, and my mind has meandered down some interesting paths.
I think it is very telling and interesting to see what is the center of attention in a church sanctuary.
If you were to visit a wide variety of Christian churches, from a wide variety of 'flavors' of faith, you would notice a few things.
Old cathedrals (and even new ones) tend to be tall and awe-inspiring—pointing to the awesomeness and grandness of our God.
They are often built in the shape of a cross, with the altar being raised, front and center. Various activities (sermons, readings, music, etc.) happen from various locations other than the altar, but the center of attention, and the center of the service is the mass/communion/eucharist.
To me this says that for centuries, the center of worship was remembering the death of Christ. It happened every week (as happened in the early church), and was the prime reason of gathering together (again as was the practice of the early church).
An interesting sidenote: all of the scripture readings are read from the pulpit or lectern, except the Gospel reading which is delivered in the center of the congregation. This points to the value given to the words of Christ, and the centrality of his teaching to the life of the congregation, beyond any other parts of scripture.
As the Reformation began to affect theology as well as church government and style of worship, the pulpit (place where the sermon is delivered from) was moved from the side to the center. Evangelical churches tend to have the pulpit on a raised platform, with the altar usually directly in front and at floor level.
This points to the importance given to scripture being read and taught. Have you ever noticed that Paul tends to be preached more than Jesus? Or is that just my own observation?
In effect, scripture has taken precedence over the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ.
Another sidenote: Roman Catholic and Anglican churches still have the celebration of the mass/eucharist as a central part of each weekly service. Evangelicals tend to 'add it on' to one service a month.
Most of the previous probably isn't new news to most of you, although you may not have recognized the underlying significance of the shift.
Now for something new!
Look at today's charismatic/evangelical/contemporary church sanctuary design and order of service.
The pulpit may well be something more portable, and the center of the stage (not really considered the altar any more) is the worship band and the projection screen.
The first (and often longest) part of the service is the music/worship. Various aspects of prayer and personal ministry are made available during this time.
To me, this says the most important part of the gathering together is worship. In my particular fellowship, we went months without having a communion service. In recent months, a 'self-serve' communion table has been re-instated, available for anyone at any time during the service.

So, what's my point?
I'm not sure. For one thing, there has obviously been a shift over the past few centuries. Fortunately, all the 'flavors' are still available, but the unspoken message seems to be that our priorities have changed.
I might have come to the conclusion that this is a good thing that came about as people became more aware of the importance of scripture, and then worship/personal ministry.
However, perhaps it is as some are saying—it is more an adaptation of the church to the prevailing worldview and philosophy of the day.
For centuries, God was a mystery, dispensed in weekly doses by the clergy. This suited the era preceding the middle ages.
By the time of the Reformation, science was also coming into its own, and people were beginning to experiment and research, looking for answers to every question. It became reasonable to assume that there was an answer to every dilemma, every problem could be solved. Both the Bible and the clergy became expected to be part of this search for answers. Instead of enjoying the mystery, people needed to understand everything, solve everything, find absolute truth.
Perhaps the Bible was promoted from 'the Word of God' to 'the answer to all of man's questions'. Not only is it a record of historical events, poetry, and commentary on how to live out ones faith in the culture of the day, but now it is expected to have something to say on everything from terrorism to technology (and don't forget how the world will end!).
This may well have not been noticed by all of us who have had several centuries of modernism to come to expect such answers—until post-modernism started stirring up the pot.
Now there is a generation of people who have lost faith in absolutes—whether in science or faith. When one day oat flakes are supposed to be the cure for high cholesterol, and the next day they are nothing more than another breakfast food, people are losing their faith in 'scientific breakthroughs'. At the same time, they see one church promoting one method of baptism, and another church advocating another. Or one church saying supernatural gifts are for today, and another saying they are of the devil. All of these seem to have some scriptural basis to back up the particular belief.
So, the average unchurched guy figures no one knows what they are talking about, and the Bible can be made to say just about anything you want it to. Oh, I know advocates of whatever point of view can claim to be more 'scriptural' than the other guys, but it often boils down to trying to truly understand what the original text meant to the original hearers, and if it was cultural or not, and on it goes.

The end result is that post-modernism is replacing modernism, and much of the church hasn't noticed. We're still trying to figure out if hymn books are more spiritual than song projection, or at what point during the tribulation the rapture will take place.

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