Sunday, November 29, 2009


I've just started reading a book about Black Metal. I understand that it has a fair amount to say about Satanism, paganism, church burnings, and the part the Christian church played in the rise of Metal. I haven't got past the introduction and already I'm thinking along those lines. To my non-Christian friends who read this post (and I hope you do), please recognize that this rant is double-barreled—at western society as a whole, and the church in particular.

Every year more young, maturing, thinking adults enter society.
Long enough observers of the status quo, they have ideas ranging from improbable to impossible—what's wrong, how to fix it, how to force change.
At any point, this group of newly-minted citizens are in the minority. The majority have lived long enough to realize the benefits of leaving well enough alone, even though they were young once.
Yesterday's hippies are today's CEOs. The revolutionary has morphed into a republican. The anarchist is now a capitalist. The placard-waving, solidarity-singing protester now waves his nation's flag and sings about the value of his RRSPs (after parking his BMW in his 3 car garage).
But his kids have taken up the torch he allowed to drop.
Their ideas may be improbable (get rid of carbon-based vehicles) or impossible (reverse global warming), but they aren't wrong. In fact, they are often the only source of anything new or hopeful.
At best, society lags behind.
The church is often even worse. Instead of leading the way being current with present-day thought and philosophy, it seems we have to work hard to only be one generation behind.
We have solidified our emphasis on capitalism and personal wealth when the rest of the world is preaching sustainability and our responsibilities within the global community.
New adults value fair-trade, renewable energy and open dialogue. They abhor racism, sexism and other age-old stereotypes. They like the color green and recycling. They have given up on politics and religion.
Meanwhile, where are we? Our churches or filled ( or more likely only partly filled) with comfortable seniors and suburbanites. Well-fed and well-dressed, safe in the security of their gated communities and pension plans.
It's time we as not-so-young adults gave more than a passing glance at our young prophets. They are more observant and astute than we might expect or admit. Even if some of their potential solutions aren't viable, their perception of the problems is accurate. If we listen to them, we will probably hear the voice of God calling us to justice and community, reminding us of the importance of people over things.

(The preceding paragraphs contain a lot of generalizations. They are not true in every case, BUT THEY ARE TRUER THAN YOU THINK!)


Growing up as I did in a non-liturgical church, I pretty much missed any significance to Advent. December was upon us? Christmas is coming! Full-on preparation for a kids Christmas program, signing of Christmas carols, buying presents, etc.
No contemplation of the emotions and yearning for the coming of Christ. No recognition of the hunger and anticipation of the Jewish people for the Messiah to come. No thoughts about how we look for the kingdom of God to come to us today.
Nope, just, 'Yippee, here comes Christmas!'
I think the contemplation of Advent is one of the reasons I am growing to appreciate the liturgical calendar more.
I want to meditate some this year on the coming of the kingdom in our world.
It always is a good time for Jesus to come.
The world is always in need of the peace, love, justice, and relationship that Jesus came to bring.
Whether it was the centuries of build-up before His birth, or the daily grind we find ourselves in today, the world can use a lot more of the presence of Christ's kingdom.
One of the big themes of Advent is Hope.
Pain and injustice without the possibility of deliverance induce misery.
Darkness and death without the promise of light and life promote despair.
Evil and hate and inhumanity are demoralizing unless there is the hope for things to change.
That's why the prophets' promise of the coming Messiah kept the Jews alive duirng years of agony.
A similar hope helps us survive the emotional drain of living. We see wars and disasters, sickness and poverty, hunger and thirst, and yearn for deliverance.
For some Christians, the hope is focused on the Second Coming of Christ at the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. Their hope is based on escaping, leaving it all behind to be destroyed.
But I think we have a much more imminent hope.
Jesus arrived on the scene 2000 years ago, inaugurating his kingdom. That kindgom carries on today in us, we who choose to allow his rule in our lives and actions.
We don't wait for his kingdom to start, we pray and act for it to expand in power and influence. We don't look forward to a moment in the future when we get to escape and leave it behind, we get to be an active part in seeing its influence grow today. Our salt is permeating, our lights are shining, the kingdom is advancing.
So this hope doesn't take our attention away from the misery around us, it helps us see that we can and are making a difference now.
That anticipation and yearning is just as aware of the need, it just is more immediate. It sees ways of effecting change, of fighting for justice, of feeding the hungry.
That hope still sees that it is the coming of Jesus that brings change. It just recognizes that he makes a difference as he comes through us.

Come thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a Child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us for ever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all-sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Charles Wesley

“ 'I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.'
Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me--you did it to me.' ”(Matthew 25:35, 36, 40 The Message)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

-ing vs. -ed

Verbs are words of action. Talk, eat, drive.
Verbs have tenses which indicate when the action occurs. I talked to John yesterday. I am eating my lunch now. Tomorrow I will drive to work.
Some verbs end in ing. They are used in a tense called present progressive or present continuous. These words indicate action that is ongoing. It has been occurring, it is occurring, and it will continue to occur (for at least a while).
Other verbs end in ed. This is the past tense. Action that has occurred. It is done.
As you can see, there is quite a difference between these two tenses. One indicates life, advancement, progress. The other indicates completion, rest, consummation, maybe even perfection.
One says: “I'm not there yet, I am still learning.” The other says: “That's all there is. I have attained.”
One says: “There is still more to figure out, more to investigate, more discussion is necessary.” The other says: “Ahhh, now I've got it. I know the answer. Listen and become wise.”
One can be teachable, open to new ideas, ready to change and adjust. The other can be arrogant, headstrong, unhearing.
One has room for adaptation, new knowledge, further study. The other is satisfied, immovable, rigid.
I have a feeling you are already getting my point.
Is our faith, our theology, our expression of Christ's kingdom a journey or a fait accompli?
Is our understanding of truth something that has room for further understanding, or already set in concrete?
I find the arrogance of 'I'm right and that's all there is to it' a very poor representation of God's kingdom. Yes, I expect that He knows everything, but we don't.
And won't.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Some of my friends are pacifists. Some of my friends are activists. Some of my friends are in the military or have been in the military.

It's not a simple question with simple solutions.
Not resisting might mean you end up under the control of someone or something that radically limits your freedom. Not fighting back could mean death or imprisonment for you or your family.
But fighting back tends to escalate. What might have started out small ends up huge. What starts out with one side killing a few people ends up with the other side killing hundreds of thousands. What starts out as one specific issue ends up being a whole cloud of issues.

I come from a nation who's military involvement in the last half century has been in peacekeeping. We haven't started any wars, and no one has declared war on us. We just help other nations try to maintain the peace that has (supposedly) been negotiated. It's a pretty lofty calling, I imagine. Also pretty difficult. Kind of like standing between two siblings fighting over a toy. Both sides usually figure they have right on their side. And even though peace has been negotiated ('Stop fighting, or you will be grounded for a week.'), that doesn't mean peace is at the top of either person's priorities. So, the peacekeeper might end up getting it from both sides.

And then there's 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Peacemaker—cultivator of peace, one who works for peace. It seems to involve action, not just observation. It might even involve actively engaging someone for it.
Perhaps pacifists are OK with peacekeeping and/or peacemaking. Perhaps not. Both could involve violence, even if it isn't directly intended.
Perhaps activists are OK with peacekeeping and/or peacemaking. Perhaps not. Either one might not be active enough to right a wrong, to enforce justice.

Today we remember.
What is it we are remembering?
--That people have died in various times and places of armed conflict?
--That some people felt strongly enough about freedom to put their lives at risk to uphold it?
--That what we take for granted today (liberty, human rights, standard of living, safety) has had a cost?

Lest we forget.
--that believing something is important may well call for involvement on our part.
--that even our democratic process can easily erode the freedoms we have enjoyed.
--that sometimes only a minority of people recognize a potential danger, and do something about it.

I don't know how you normally spend November 11.
I don't know if it reminds you to look around you today, as well as remembering the past decades.
I don't know if your life tomorrow will be more thoughtful than yesterday.
I don't know if you can think of anything worthwhile that needs your help in supporting it, fighting for it, sacrificing for it.

So today, don't just remember.
Remember and do something about it yourself.
Take up the torch passed on by those now gone.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

In Flanders Fields was first published in England's Punch magazine in December 1915. Within months, this poem came to symbolize the sacrifices of all who were fighting in the First World War. Today, the poem continues to be a part of Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada and other countries throughout the world.
The poem was written by a Canadian—John McCrae, a doctor and teacher, who served in both the South African War and the First World War.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Certain physical symptoms point to a specific diagnosis, and a precise treatment. Now if the observation of the symptoms isn't deep enough, doesn't probe sufficiently, or ignores things that seem irrelevant, then the diagnosis may well be off, and the antidote ineffective.
Let's cut to the chase with an example:
What if you notice that a generation or two is missing from your church? Here are some possible solutions:
--more 'youthful' music.
--better use of technology.
--more relevant sermons.

Deeper observation might see a widespread disconnect in the country between these generations and the church as a whole—partly caused by too much connection between religion and politics.
So, the prescription might go a little deeper:
--have some conversations with university students.
--find some 'spiritual' topics for your sermons, served up in a post-modern style service.

But what if the patient has a deeper problem than a common cold, the seasonal flu (or H1N1)? What if the patient is terminal, actually suffering from a life-threatening disease?
--Is an anti-histamine enough?
--a couple aspirins?
--lots of fluids and a bowl of chicken noodle soup?

Is rethinking our style of music really going to matter?
How about retooling the order of service?
More technology and lights (maybe even candles)?
More relevant preaching?

What if it's rethinking Jesus that we need? Reconnecting with his love and compassion?
What if 'getting back to the fundamentals' means a trip of two thousand years, not just a few decades?
What if we need more than a trendy paint job, but a radically different looking building?
What if our reading the Bible means more than just a different font or contemporary language—but really needs us to have new eyes?

Let's look deep enough at the patient to see the depth and breadth of the symptoms. Then maybe we will discover what we really need to rethink.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wanted: some reformers

I have noticed for quite awhile that several large and innovative Christian organizations had their genesis at about the same time. The organization I serve with (Youth With A Mission) celebrates 50 years next year, and Operation Mobilization had their 50th a couple years ago. Teen Challenge began 51 years ago. All were started by men with unique visions that have continued to this day. There may well be other organizations that fit the same template, but those are the three that I often think about.
I started checking on the age of the founders and started seeing something that is almost creepy, it is so peculiar.
I guess it makes sense that an organization that is now 50 was started by someone in their young twenties, but in about 10 minutes I thought of 11 men that are incredibly active (two have passed away) in the conservative evangelical church. They all have had a very strong media presence, and all began large ministries.
Now for the almost creepy part—Of these 11, 9 were born between 1930 and 1940.
As I said before, it stands to reason that people who are now 70 to 80 years old have had a life time to have a profound influence on the church. However, I doubt if you could find very many a decade or two younger who have had a similar influence.
Here are the men and their dates of birth (according to Wikipedia).
Billy Graham (1918) Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Bill Bright (1921) Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote The Four Spiritual Laws (passed away in 2003)
Pat Robertson (1930) 700 Club, and many other Christian/political organizations
David Wilkerson (1931) Teen Challenge
Jerry Falwell (1933) Liberty University, Moral majority and Thomas Road Baptist Church TV presence (passed away 2007)
Jimmy Swaggart (1935) Jimmy Swaggart Ministries
Loren Cunningham (1936) Youth With A Mission
James Dobson (1936) Focus on the Family
David Mainse (1936) 100 Huntley Street (Crossroads Christian Communications)
George Verwer (1938) Operation Mobilization
Jim Bakker (1940) The PTL Club
Yes, some of these guys have been in the center of some spectacular scandals, but most are still faithfully serving God. Yes, some of them are best known for what they are against, but again, most have a pretty positive reputation. Perhaps most of them are cut from fundamental/conservative cloth, but they are a product of that era, after all—they come by that foundation honestly enough.
I just find it very interesting that that particular generation has had such an impact on the world, and on the church.
How about the rest of us?
Are we as visionary?
Are we willing to leave our comfortable denominational security as some of them did in order to follow the path they felt compelled to travel?
Are we pushing the envelope of our surrounding church milieu the way most of them have had to?
Are we seeing the potential in today's culture and technology the way they did?
As we look at the church today, we may be crying out for a new Reformation, we need a Luther, Zwingli or Calvin to stir up a complacent church.
Every generation needs someone to take what they have been given (in our case, 2000 years of Christian history) and make it appropriate and alive for that generation.
The 11 men I mentioned (with probably even more women!) poked and prodded the church of their day. Some of them left the security of a sending church and went out on faith and vision, and made a difference. Most of them adapted to new media technology and have used it widely. Most of them saw a hole that they could fill.
I think it's time for another gang to make a difference. Are you up for it?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thinking about thinking

My last post ended with the sentence: “I think it's time we started searching and thinking for ourselves, and not just repeating the things we have heard others say.”
I have no well thought-out conclusions about thinking, but here's some of what I think so far.
We have a brain. It is capable of independent thought. In fact, I would say that is what it is intended for. Whether you believe God created humans in the exact form we now take, or that some form of evolution has occured, the fact remains that most people are capable of making decisions based on an internal process called thought. Basing all of your decisions on the thoughts of someone else is not maturity or independence. At best, this circumstance is necessary for people with incomplete brain development, at worst it is what happens to people who have been brain-washed.
If you are of the group who believes that you were put here on earth by God and designed by him, then you likely recognize the place 'free will' has in your life. You have made the choice to believe what your place and purpose in life is. If you are a part of the group that believes God either doesn't exist or doesn't have much involvement in what goes on around here, you also likely recognize the place of 'free will' in your choices.
I think all of us tend to put ourselves under the influence of people who we admire, who we think are good role models, who we will take advice from. And many of us have done so to the detriment of independent thought. Whether it is a system (religious, political, psychological), or a person (parent, minister, teacher, wise friend, musician), we let someone else translate life for us and tell us what is good for us.
Stop and think about how this has been good in your life—as a child, trusting your parents to feed you well, protect you from outside harm, help you understand weighty concepts. There is definitely a place for this. There is a place for that kind of influence throughout life.
Now think about how intentionally choosing to listen to others has stifled your ability to think for yourself. Learning that 2 + 2 = 4 limits your math skills (but in a good way). Learning that sticking your finger in a light socket adds spark to your life limits your ability to die early. Learning that capitalism provides food for your table limits your understanding of helping the less fortunate guy survive. Learning that your future existence is hiding just behind that approaching comet limits your ability to plan for your retirement. Learning that a certain passage in the Bible means this (and only this), limits your ability to see other nuances and ideas in that particular passage.
All of this is, of course, dependent on choosing to continue to believe what you learned, and not contemplate other possibilities.
I think that is the whole point I am making. There is a place for accepting what we are taught. There is a place for continuing to accept what we were taught long ago. But there is also a place for being open to re-thinking things. Probably more things than you might think.
Part of the criteria for re-thinking is recognizing who taught us, why they taught us what they did, and the benefits of accepting a new viewpoint.
The things we consider as 'truth' vary in their possibility of error or change. There are lots of things that we can consider as absolute. Certain math truths will never change ( 2 + 2 for example). Other truths develop as we mature and gain more knowledge (an electrician knows when he can put his finger in a light socket safely, for example). Other truths are principles that are best taken in conjuction with other principles (a blend of capitalism and socialism instead of either one alone, for example.) Still other truths are adequate for a certain time and place, but not necessarily for a future time or a different place. There were cultures where slavery was considered a normal part of society, and even the slaves didn't understand things differently. Today, of course, we have a more lofty view of human rights, the equality of all. (We still have a long ways to go to see this really put into practice, but that involves a personal willingness to 'adjust' our present concept of 'truth' to include a broader view of humankind.) Science continues to discover new and more complete explanations for things—the earth is no longer considered the center of the universe, and neither is the sun. And doctor's don't prescribe leeches any more.

My point in this monologue about truth is that we need to be open to consider new answers to old questions, to be willing to add new truth to old truth and reorganize our thinking accordingly. We need to recognize that even our understanding about God (gasp!!) has lots of room for growth.
You have a brain.
Use it.

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