Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas lights

I’ve always liked Christmas lights. Especially many-colored lights. Particularly against a dark background. The twinkling effect of many small colored lights against a night sky, or on a dimly-lit street is quite striking.

I realized this again this past week as I was walking to the store. The street wasn’t well-lit, and the house was just lit by the colored lights. Each bulb was small, and not very powerful.

But taken together, against the darkness of the surroundings, they were very effective.

Of course, I started thinking deeper than the science of light and electricity. You may already have arrived at the same point I arrived at:
• White is a fine color, but the variety of different colors adds so much more flavor. So it is with each of us. Our style, our theology, our gifts. And you probably remember your elementary science—put all of these colors together, and you get white light. So it is in God’s Kingdom. It takes the combined force of all of our differences to begin to adequately reflect the white of God’s light. Individually, we are just a part—and each part is necessary to make a complete whole.
• Lights are most visible and useful against the darkness. You probably don’t have your outdoor Christmas lights on during the day, because no one would see them anyway. But at night, they shine brightly. So it is with us. Although we love to hang out in church with all of the other similar sources of light, we are most effective when we shine where things are dark.
• It doesn’t take a powerful wattage in order to make inroads against the darkness. Even if you think you aren’t very bright, get out there and shine!

Friday, October 1, 2010

For Tyler

A young man named Tyler committed suicide a few days ago. He left a note on his Facebook page: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

No matter how often something like this happens, it’s a tragedy.

This story is even sadder than sad.

It turns out that Tyler was a recent high school graduate who had just begun university. His roommate secretly set his webcam to spy on him having a sexual encounter in his dorm room, and then sent the video feed to some of his friends.

When Tyler discovered what his roommate had done, he was so humiliated that he posted the Facebook message, drove to the George Washington Bridge in New York, and jumped to his death.

Tyler was an accomplished violinist whose music touched everyone.

Although the roommate who posted the video isn’t known to be a bad guy, he had posted this on Twitter: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my Web cam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

Apparently, Tyler’s parents didn’t know he was gay.

So here we have an incredibly sad and tragic story. A young man is trying to cope with being gay. For whatever reasons, he wasn’t able to share this innermost secret with his family, so wasn’t able to get any support there.

Then, when it seems the whole world is about to find out his secret, the humiliation overwhelms him and he finds no solution but to end it all.

A wonderful life cut short.
A talented young man no longer able to move others with his music.
A student who isn’t able to live out his dreams.
Another young gay kid who hasn’t been able to find the support he needs to be able to stand against the tide of homophobia around him.

Nothing is said in the news reports I read about this (here and here) regarding matters of faith or church connections. But you can well imagine the lack of support he would have received in many church settings. I can just imagine the lack of sympathy this whole story generates, once the detail of his gayness becomes known. (As a point of interest, did your feelings about Tyler change once you discovered he was gay?)

And perhaps that is almost as big a tragedy as the death of Tyler Clementi.

Tyler, society failed you. We failed you. We didn’t stand with you, or let you know you were safe and loved and accepted.

Let’s take some steps to change things for the next Tyler.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Everybody needs a hero

I’m a sucker for an honest, great story. We have lots of stories of bad guys. Today we need a story of a great guy.
This weekend honors one of Canada’s greatest heroes.
No, he’s not a professional athlete. Or an actor or musician. He’s not a politician or businessman.
No, he’s a guy who died before he turned 23. But in his life and in his death he exhibited qualities that make him a legitimate world-class hero.

He is Terry Fox.
He lost his right leg to cancer before the age of 20. And then decided he was going to run across the country to raise money and awareness for cancer research. And not just a couple miles a day. He set out to run a marathon (42.195 kilometers, over 26 miles) every day.

Since he grew up in British Columbia (my side of the country), he decided to start on the other side, and run towards home. His goal was to raise $1 for every Canadian (at that time, 24,000,000). He dipped his right leg into the water off Newfoundland on April 12, 1980 and set out.

Of course it wasn’t easy.
Of course there was pain.
Early mornings.
Dodging traffic.

But there were the good times.
He got to meet some of his heroes.
To meet others who were struggling with cancer.
To receive the nickels and dimes and dollars of generous people.
To discover that he was winning the heart of the nation.
But the cancer came back and halted his run at 5373 km (3339 mi) at Thunder Bay, Ontario. Although he wanted to come back and complete the run, he passed away June 28, 1981—1 month before his 23rd birthday.

By this point his Marathon of Hope had indeed raised over $24,000,000.
But that isn’t the end of the story.
He had lit the fire under Canadians. By September of 1981, plans came together for a country-wide Terry Fox Run in communities large and small to continue to raise money.
So, every September on the 2nd Sunday after Labor Day the Terry Fox Run is held, now in dozens of countries. Over $500 million has been raised in Terry’s honor.

Sure, it’s easy to complain about the sorry state of the world.
But this weekend we remember Terry.
He makes me proud to be a Canadian.
I’m proud to be part of a country that gave rise to a man like Terry.

Now go and make a difference in your world.

(click to enlarge)

This plaque is located where Terry would have completed his Marathon of Hope, had he been able to make it here to Victoria.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What does loving your neighbor really mean?

I followed my friend the weary pilgrim to a blog called Hugh’s Views.

Here are Hugh’s notes from a presentation he made at Big Tent Christianity. To whet your appetite, here are a few excerpts, but you definitely need to read the whole thing for the full benefit.

According to Jesus, loving your neighbor is half of the greatest commandment. Pretty much everyone agrees that, if taken seriously, it’s a radical idea that could change the world. And yet it seems nearly impossible for American Christians, liberal or conservative, to agree on what it looks like.

Loving your neighbor presupposes a relationship. It means knowing your neighbor is going through a divorce, that the lady who cleans your office has a mother that is dying, that the man at the end of the street holding a cardboard sign has been outside for three years now, and his name is Brian. In the story we call the Good Samaritan, it meant getting in the ditch to bind the man’s wounds yourself.

When the average person in the pews can tell you the names of all the Judges on American Idol, or can name all the Glee cast members, but does not know a soul that makes 1/4th their income, I think it is fair to say we have lost our sense of mission as co-creators of the Kingdom of God.

Here in Wake County, the official statistics say there are approximately 1200 homeless people. And many hundreds of Christian congregations. You cannot tell me that out of the many thousands of Christian homes represented by those churches, there are not 1200 empty beds somewhere. Of course there are. But we save those beds for people we actually know.

Jesus expects us to storm down those gates [Matthew 16:18] and invade Hell itself. Jesus is telling us to go to Hell to be with the drug addict and the alcoholic. Go to Hell to be with the victims of abuse, and with the abusers. Go to hell and liberate the adulterer, the homeless man, the pornographer. In hell is where we will find the single mother and the embezzler, the pimps and the pimped, the hungry, the broken, the forgotten. We, you and I together, should be wading into hell itself and proclaiming that there is a new way to live and a new way to love, and that new way is bringing about the justice of God.

Read his full notes here. Thanks to the weary pilgrim, and especially to Hugh for a pretty straight-forward understanding of a pretty obvious principle—that most of us totally ignore.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sometimes life sucks

Sometimes my life is good, but since a friend is struggling with something, then life still sucks, just not my life.

And then, sometimes it seems that life is really quite OK. Things kinda fall into place. The things that matter to you also matter to other people, and together you can git er done.


CARTS Victoria is a local street outreach that I have been a part of for about 4 years. It’s been around for over 7. CARTS stands for Christian Actions Reflecting The Spirit. And it also stands for the green four-wheeled wagons that we pull around the streets of Victoria once a week bringing food, clothes, and love to our street family.

CARTS was started by two wonderful ladies. Sisters. As one person put it, ‘They aren’t nuns, but they are saints.’ For over 7 years most of what CARTS is has operated out of their home, their garage, a shed in their back yard, their kitchen, their car, their time, their energy. You get the picture. Sure, others of us help, but it was still them doing most of the work.

A few weeks ago we heard from the company that operates the downtown parking lot where we gathered every week (before heading out on the streets) that we were no longer welcome in their lot. They had their reasons, and that is fine, but it nudged us to a place where we had several decisions to make.

Today we had a meeting of many of our volunteers (about 25 or so). We needed, among other things, to relieve the load that these 2 dear ladies had carried for these 7+ years.

And together, we figured out a new scenario that looks like it is going to work well for everyone.

The two ladies still will have an opportunity for their passion and compassion to reach out to the streets, but more of us will share the load.

I knew we could figure it out, but I didn’t know if we had the people power to take up the slack. I really didn’t know if we would still be CARTS, or if things would need to be scaled back so much that we would kinda fizzle.

But, we were of a mind to git er done! New ideas, sorting out of who we really are, and a willingness to take responsibility.

We still have more decisions to be made, but we made some great strides today.
Sometimes life sucks.

But not today.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wheat and weeds

So, if we aren't supposed to be making enemies (For or against), what does Jesus tell us about dealing with things/people we may not think are correct?

Well, another of his stories comes to mind. And this one has always seemed a little strange to me as well.
Here it is: Matthew 13:24-30.
He told another story. "God's kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.
That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn.
When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.
"The farmhands came to the farmer and said, 'Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn't it? Where did these thistles come from?'
"He answered, 'Some enemy did this.' "The farmhands asked, 'Should we weed out the thistles?'
"He said, 'No, if you weed the thistles, you'll pull up the wheat, too.
Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I'll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.'" (The Message)

However you understand the weeds (ideas, sins, people), the fact remains. Jesus said we are to leave the weeding up to him.

But what about....?
I don't know. I just see here that Jesus is more worried about the life of the wheat than the death of the weeds.

By the way, I see a similarity with 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 where Paul talks about “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble”, where God will identify what is good and what isn't.

Yes, he definitely wants us to be of value, to be legitimate and 'rightly divide the word of truth'. But I've seen an awful lot of un-Christlike attitudes and actions masquerading as an obsession with truth.

And my hope that people learn to get along (last post) means that both you and I will have to be less concerned about fault finding, and more concerned about encouraging each other—even if we don't agree. That's easy for me to encourage you to do, but not nearly so easy to encourage myself to do.

Friday, August 6, 2010

For or against

I find it so easy to worry about someone else's orthodoxy. To see their theology as being wrong, their philosophy as wrong, their style as being wrong. If not wrong, then at least as less valuable or right than mine, and in need of being changed.

As I find my own understanding of things being adjusted, I want to see everyone else see things the same way I do. I have seen the light, so should you.

And if you don't (or won't), I shouldn't have anything to do with you. Since you aren't in complete agreement with me, I should consider you as an enemy, an outcast. How can my light have fellowship with your darkness?

I know this isn't the right way to look at such things, and I'm working on it. I really try to emphasize relationships over orthodoxy, friendships over 'truth'.

But somehow it still seems skewed and twisted. Shouldn't I be standing up for correct doctrine, making sure truth prevails? Isn't it my responsibility to keep the faith pure?

Well, no. At least not to that extent.

The church is already divided. Very divided. There are around 38,000 (or more) Christian denominations. Every one probably claiming to be more correct than everyone else. Every one probably claiming to have God and the Bible on their side.

But today I was reminded of Jesus' words in Luke 9: 49 and 50.
And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid [him] not: for he that is not against us is for us. (KJV)

John spoke up, "Master, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn't of our group." Jesus said, "Don't stop him. If he's not an enemy, he's an ally." (The Message)

The parallel passage in Mark 9:38-40 (The Message):
John spoke up, "Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn't in our group."
Jesus wasn't pleased. "Don't stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down.
If he's not an enemy, he's an ally.

I've wondered about these verses before. Is Jesus really telling us that we can be friends, even if we disagree? Yes.
Is he suggesting that it is more important to dialog than to debate? You betcha.
Is he encouraging us to look for similarities instead of differences? Absolutely.
Is he telling us that being right isn't the most important thing? That's the way it looks to me.

It's long past time to drop the arrogance, to stop crying “Foul” every time someone has a different take on something than we do.
It's time to get down off our soapboxes and start shaking hands.
It's time to look for friends instead of enemies, those who are with us, not against us.

Sure, God probably has a list of absolutes, those things that determine whether someone is 'in' or 'out', whether they are with us or not.
But I'm sure that list isn't based on the criteria that many Christians would like to use. It's not as nit-picky as we tend to be.

Our responsibility is to love each other. We can leave the sorting out up to God.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A milestone is reached!

I've been a bad blogger.
A rather unfaithful one, of late.
However, it is time to celebrate a milestone.
A milestone in my limited mind, at least.

I have reached 20 disciples followers!
In honor of this occasion, it might be interesting to find out how you found this particular piece of internet enlightenment. Some of you are longstanding friends. Others I have known for a shorter time, and others I know very little about. So I, at least, am interested in discovering how we made this cyber connection.
To spur your thoughts a bit, I have a couple trivia questions:
--which of my posts has generated the most hits?
--which of my posts has generated the most spam?

If you show any interest at all in those questions, I will be happy to tell you the answers.
Otherwise, you will forever be in the dark.

And now back to the idea of being a disciple, which brings up what I think is an important point.
A disciple is a follower.
And that implies movement.
For Jesus' disciples, it wasn't a static placement of ones' feet. It was putting one foot in front of the other, and going where the Master went.
And this wasn't just in a physical sense. It also meant spiritually and emotionally.

So why are we so anxious to make disciples for Jesus, but then pretty much demand that they reach a particular 'plateau' and then stay there?
Can't we realize that our Master is moving,
and so should we.

Stagnation isn't a pretty sight (or smell).

Discipleship isn't lining up with a predetermined list of qualifications.
And then relaxing.
Or proudly saying; “I've made it, I've arrived.”

But that is the example that is usually laid out for us.
We aren't encouraged to move on, to ask new questions, to challenge the status quo.
But what if that is exactly where the Master is going?

Why are we scared to think the Master may be moving on, just as He asks us to.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

So this is Canada Day, eh?

I'm wearing my nice red t-shirt with the Canadian flag on it. But no, I didn't join in Victoria's living flag, aiming for 2010 participants this year.

Pretty proud to be Canadian.
Most of the time.
And for some good reasons.

Except for things like what happened in the Toronto police state last weekend. I'm crying for my country when a few elected thugs decide what is good for the country and the world.
And don't like anyone to disagree with them.

Hundreds of protesters manhandled in various ways, detained for hours (or longer) and many released without being charged. Because they did nothing wrong, except stand up for values they believe in.

In my Canada, it didn't used to be wrong or illegal to have a different opinion than someone else.
Even if that someone else has the power to order police forces to shut you down by whatever force is necessary.

Lots of stuff went down at the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto. Thanks to technology and independent media, a 'politically incorrect' take on the proceedings can be heard and seen. Here are four stories/reports for your reading and viewing pleasure:
O Canada
Lacy MacAuley
Amy Miller (View video #4)
A comprehensive look at the week of protests in Toronto

It makes me sing even more fervently:
God keep our land,
Glorious and free

And pray for God's kingdom to come to this beautiful, wonderful land of Canada.
I think people like me have to take a stand.

So here I stand.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I have the impression that being a 'Christian' means being like Christ. A 'little Christ'. A follower and imitator of him.

Of course, I could be wrong. Being a Christian may only mean adhering to a particular set of dogma, signing up to a list of beliefs.

But I hope not. I hope its' meaning is more outwardly observable than what is going on someone's head.

Perhaps something Jesus said will help: “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:35)

Given that idea, I have a question.

Which of the following best fit the title of 'Christian'? Lots of people claim that title, others don't. But which ones (in your own estimation) actually seem to be living out the character of Christ? And why do you think so? What qualities in their lives point back to Jesus? Do you have other good examples? And why do we seem to have so many bad examples?

(My list is just to spur your imagination)

Billy Graham
Pat Robertson
Florence Nightingale
Jack Kevorkian
Oprah Winfrey
Benny Hinn
Any past or present Prime Ministers/Presidents or other leaders
Mother Teresa
Martin Luther King Jr.
the Buddha
Fred Phelps
Desmond Tutu
William and Catherine Booth
Albert Schweitzer
Adolf Hitler
Joyce Meyer
Che Guevara
Galileo Galilei
Sam Walton

And a final thought. Put your own name in that list. Do you think your life is headed in the right direction, or has it been sidetracked as it appears has happened in some of the people listed above?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A parable

Skye lived in a land where everyone liked the color blue. They wore blue clothes, drove blue cars, and lived in blue houses. Their favorite food was blueberry pie.
Across the water was a land where everyone liked the color red. This was where Rose lived. She lived in a red brick house, drove a red car, and wore red clothes. Her favorite food was tomatoes.
Skye often joined her friends down on the beach. Together they would look across the water to 'red'land, and loudly invite the red folk to come over and try out the blue life.
“Life over here is more peaceful”, they said. “Red is too passionate. We feel like we are so in tune with all of nature. And blueberries are very healthy.”
Meanwhile, Rose and her friends were often on their beach, proclaiming the power and passion of their red-hued land. And the relative nutrition of tomatoes.

But for all of their orating and proclaiming at each other, no one ever even attempted to cross the water and try the alternative life.

In another part of the world was Jock. In his land, hockey was king. Everyone lived and breathed hockey. They had everything they needed to play hockey 12 months a year.
Across the water from this land lived Art. He and all his friends were painters. The land was filled with studios, easels and paint brushes.
When they didn't have their skates on, Jock and his friends were down on their beach, extolling the virtues of physical exercise towards the land where Art lived.
And Art and his friends were on their beach promoting creativity over violence.
Again, even with all of the effort put into the proselytizing, no one changed their location.

One day Skye started thinking and wondering if there just might be a little bit of value and enjoyment in just checking out red land.
So, she ventured across. Of course, she stuck out like a sore thumb in her blue garb, but to her surprise, Rose and the others welcomed her with open arms. They showed her all the tones of red that were around them. Skye checked out the brick houses, and even tried a slice of tomato. She went to a designer who fashioned her a blue and red striped jacket.
After a wonderful exchange of ideas and experiences between Skye and Rose, Rose decided to travel back with Skye and try some blueberry pie. In a peacefully passionate way, both of them told the rest of Skye's friends that they all had a lot in common. Skye admitted that Rose was really very nice, and so were her friends.
Rose actually donned a completely blue pair of slacks which didn't clash with the rest of her red attire (and loved the piece of pie she tried).

Meanwhile, one day Art ventured across the water. He was very apprehensive of the noise of the hockey arena, but decided he should paint a picture of the game. When he finished it, he presented it to Jock, who proudly hung it in his home.
Jock returned with Art to check out this whole painting gig. He soon discovered that his stick-handling ability translated well to wielding a paint brush, and soon had finished his first effort—which Art promptly brought to the main art gallery on the island where it occupied a place of honor (although many of the locals needed help in interpreting all of the movement it contained).

Over time, the tentative overtures of Skye and Rose turned into a sturdy bridge where there is now a lot of traffic. Although blue land is still predominantly blue, there are many shades of purple, mauve and plum, and some plaids and stripes. There are even a couple brick houses. Similar scenes can be seen in red land, although red is still predominant.
Jock is teaching a few of his friends how to release their passion by painting, and Art has built a small rink for his friends to vent their frustrations (but in a creative and controlled way).

If we were to continue to explore this vast world, we would discover an island where people meet in ornate structures, listen to the heavenly sounds of an organ, and together chant melodic and rhythmic words of eternal wisdom, read from a holy book.
Just across the water is a group of people gathered in the open air under a large tree where they are happily singing and dancing to the accompaniment of some drums. It took a long time for their bridge to be built, and then for many years the movement seemed to be only going in one direction. Fortunately, the traffic is becoming more two-directional.

On a different side of the land of ornate structures is another island where people are always getting together to ask questions and consider ideas. They don't necessarily expect or receive answers, but they love to discuss. When the first visitor arrived, repeating his words of eternal truth from his holy book, he was listened to politely. However, the response was a barrage of questions: “How do you know this is true? What about....? Doesn't this make just as much sense?”
Many of these questions were logical. Some of the questions had no definite answer. Sometimes the words from the holy book that the visitor read in response could be taken in different ways. Soon other visitors from the land of the holy book came to orate on the street corners. Often the visitor would feel the need to retreat rather than engage in the spirited dialog. It was safer back in the land of ornate structures.
But a few started building a bridge. This bridge became a place of safety and discussion. Most of the people continued to live where they had always lived, but found this bridge to be a great place to meet and learn. Even the people with the holy book learned to ask questions, and not always get answers. And the people from the land of perpetual seeking have begun to really appreciate the heart of the people of the land of ornate structures.

So, what can we learn from this parable?
As Skye and Rose learned, we are more similar than we think.
Jock and Art have shown us that passion doesn't always express itself in the same way.
And the inhabitants of structure-ville, drummer-ton, and the city of perpetual questions have demonstrated that it is not wrong to ask questions, nor is it wrong to form different ways of expressing what you believe to be true.

But for me, the biggest lesson is bridge-building.
There will always be islands of people who think differently. We can't expect everyone to come to our point of view, we need to understand theirs. People are usually very willing to help us get to know them, if we are willing to listen.
Let us be incarnational, and like Christ, become flesh and blood and move into someone else's neighborhood.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ya gotta love good deeds done on the sly

I attended a conference with Brian McLaren on the weekend. Steve Bell was the musical complement for Brian's teaching sessions.

This story is about Steve.

I've got to start in the middle, because that's where it started, for me. After Saturday's morning session and lunch, I headed out to find a nice cup of coffee. Since my personal preference is anything but Starbucks (you know, big corporate giant, etc.), I looked for something different close by. A couple places were closed (must do most of their business with the office crowd Monday to Friday).
I remembered a place a block farther away, and headed over.
Nearly there, I come upon E, occupying a familiar doorway with her loaded grocery cart, and hat out for change. I stopped for a brief hello, telling her I needed to be on my way soon, to get back to my session. (Every time I find myself cutting a conversation short, I feel like one of the baddies in the Good Samaritan story--too busy to help the guy in need.)
Anyway, she says; "You mean the Steve Bell conference?" She had attended a concert of his several years ago, and is still a big fan.
I answered in the affirmative. (Actually, I guess it was a Brian McLaren conference, but why quibble?)
She got quite animated, and said; "He bought T and I coffee this morning! I didn't realize it was him at the time, but he looked familiar. I guess it's his new beard that kept me from recognizing him at first. I just realized a few minutes ago that that's who it was!"
Well, I figured that was quite something. She had talked to me previously about Steve, how she enjoyed him, how he was coming to town, how she wished she could go see him.
Now she added; "Can you tell him thanks again for the coffee, and maybe see if I can get a ticket for the concert?"
Well, I wasn't really too sure about hinting about free tickets, but I certainly thought it was cool that Steve had bought them coffee.

It was getting time for the afternoon session, so I headed back.
As luck (or whatever more spiritual word you might want to use) would have it, Steve was tuning his guitar or something, just kind of hanging out getting ready for the session. I approached him and asked him if he had bought a couple people coffee that morning. He was fairly shocked that I would know about that, but told me the story of how he and his manager had gone to Starbucks for breakfast, had seen these two people outside with their carts, and offered to buy them something.
When I told Steve that E had later figured out who he was, and that she really enjoyed his music, had seen him years before, and wondered if there was some way she could get to the concert, he immediately put down his guitar, headed back to his merch table, grabbed a couple tickets and a CD and asked if I could bring them to her. No questions, just another kind deed by a guy who obviously is used to doing kind things.
I hurried back the couple blocks, so that she wouldn't have disappeared, and I could get back for the session. When I waved the tickets in front of her, she lost it. She stood on the edge of the sidewalk and screamed in rapture. She's a pretty expressive person, but this was more than I have ever seen before. She was happy. She was extremely happy. I believe the word could even be ecstatic.
She was concerned about finding a spot at the church for her grocery cart during the concert, so I said I would try to find someone to be prepared for it.
Later on in the afternoon I was able to let Steve know how excited she was, and chatted with someone from the church about storing the cart during the concert. It seemed like things could be worked out for the cart somehow, and, as they say, the stage was set.

I ended up being a bit delayed coming back for the evening concert, so wasn't there when E showed up. Later she told me that the church staff had been very helpful, helping her squeeze everything through the doors, and finding a place for the cart. I saw her sitting near the back, and joined her for the evening. Even before the concert began, she told me that this was probably the best thing that had happened in 2010, maybe even 2009 and 2010 put together.

As the concert went on, she was very touched. Several of the songs moved her to tears. Obviously, there was a lot of emotional stuff going on, her heart was touched by his kindness, and by the presence of God through the music and stories. She lives a pretty hard life, but has a firm faith in God. This was one of those special moments when you know that God hasn't forgotten about you, that although life is hard, he is always there--and this time he brought a present!

Things didn't work out for her to chat with Steve after the concert, and she was a little disappointed about that. I suggested that perhaps he would be looking for her the next morning, to find out if she had made it.

When I got home after the concert and chat with E, I sent a message to Steve to let him know how the evening had gone regarding E and the tickets. Later Sunday afternoon he got back to me saying that they had driven around in the morning until they found her, and had a nice visit.

Now here's what I think is the coolest part of this story.
Steve didn't use this in anyway to blow his own horn. He could have mentioned it at the conference, or at the concert. He could have painted a pretty picture of how he had helped this lady. He is a great story teller, so I'm sure he could have found a cool place to just slide it in somehow.
But he didn't.
He just did what was the right thing to do, without planning on any pats on the back.

Now perhaps you might think that I am telling this story to somehow share in the glory. I hope not. I really had nothing to do with it.
But then again, Steve might say the same thing.
It was just being in the right place at the right time.
And being ready to do the right thing.

As I said, Steve is a great story teller. So, maybe sometime there will be a great place to tell this story. But somehow I have the idea that God will get the glory.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good words

Brian McLaren spoke at the 187 Commencement ceremony at Virginia Theological Seminary last week. Although delivered to a group of seminary grads, his words are encouraging for us all.

Here are his words...

Friday, May 21, 2010


What is the value of asking questions?
Is it only so we can find out the answers?
Or is there a benefit in moving from thinking we know the answer already to knowing that we will probably never know the answer?

Is it better to ask; “God, who are you, really?”, than to state; “This is what God is like.”?
Is it better to admit that we don't know everything than to organize all our knowledge into some wonderful system?
Do we really need to discover the answers?
Can we exist in a world where there are unknowns?

Does God promise to answer every question we ask?
Are we better off if we move from doubt to certainty?

Why do we seem to feel we need to have an answer when someone else asks us a question?
Why do we feel lessened by not being able to give an adequate answer?
Why are we tempted to give an inadequate or even wrong answer rather than admit we have no answer?

Why do we tend to jump into a conversation when someone asks a question?
Why don't we just sit and contemplate the depth and wonder of the question for a minute, and then perhaps admit that we aren't too sure either?

Is it inappropriate to ask questions if you don't expect an answer?
Is this one of the paradigm shifts in the world as modernity gives way to whatever post-modernity is?

Will the system break if we ask too many questions that society cannot answer?

Why do we expect 'FAQ's to always have answers?

Is “What is a rhetorical question?” a rhetorical question?

Are all of these questions making you nervous?
Are you worried about the state of my mental/spiritual health?
Do you think I am reverting to the young child who always asks; “Why?”?
Why might you think so?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It seems to me...

that it's the 'underdog' who really understands the inequity and injustice they are facing, and then responds passionately about it.

For example, doesn't it seem that more women than men talk about gender equality?

Or more gays than straights talk about the various levels of inequality faced by gays?

Or more ________(insert culture or color here) talk about racial equality than the predominant culture/color in the country?

In many ways, this makes total sense—how can I, a white male understand the depth of inequality that a non-white female has experienced.

BUT--and I think this is important--Why should it have to be the one being treated unfairly who has to stand up for his or her rights? Why should I be silent just because I'm in a pretty privileged position? Shouldn't I be willing to at least try to take the position of my brother or sister who has to deal with the unfairness of society? If indeed I have the 'privilege' of being in the position of power, shouldn't I use it for good?

But why is it that it seems (at least to me) that it is mostly women who are raising their voices about equality (and so on)? Is it that, no matter how hard he might try, a man will never really know the perspective of a woman? That a white Canadian will never understand the perspective of a First Nations Canadian? That a straight male will never understand the perspective of a gay male?

Is there, lurking somewhere below the surface, some kind of 'underdog mentality' that doesn't even want support from the 'upperdog'? A 'chip on the shoulder'?
Perhaps it feels condescending?
Perhaps it is?

But then again, perhaps the sense of condescension is only in the eye of the beholder.

I think we all need to stand against injustice, whether it is being perpetrated against us,
Or by us.

Monday, May 10, 2010

For Darcy

I'm enjoying Mother's Day sitting in Beacon Hill Park. The fountain in the middle of the pond is fountaining, the frisbeetarians are exercising the freedom of their religion, a baseball game is in full swing (as are the mini golfers), and some kids are getting a kick out of a soccer ball.
Families are enjoying the beautiful day. Mom pushes the empty stroller while Dad gives junior a bird's-eye view of things from atop his shoulders. Grandma gets a wheelchair tour, and the dogs are investigating every tree and rock.
A mallard is preening itself at the water's edge (until Grandpa and grandson come too close).
It's all quite idyllic, a perfect setting for a family values photo shoot.

But my heart is back at the memorial service for Darcy a couple days ago. Perhaps his liver gave out, but that was only a passing comment. If true, it would be a logical sign of the decades of street life and alcohol.
At the service in his memory, a number of people testified that he had been their best friend—and that would be no exaggeration. He was that kind of guy. He partied hard and often, but he also loved with the same intensity. Loyal, generous, experienced, protective.
The last time I saw him was 4 weeks ago at CARTS. I didn't realize then that his days were numbered. Looking back now, I am grateful for all the conversations. Love given, love received. By both of us. He cared, he cried, he loved. And over the years, we connected often through CARTS.

As I process my thoughts, a few things come together.
--Not everyone has the same idyllic life I can see happening around me here in the park. Many people have more painful memories of their childhood than happy ones. Physical, verbal, emotional and/or sexual abuse, missing fathers, stressed out mothers.
--A kid learns how to cope, how to bury the pain. But it is always there. So the cycles of self-medication begin. Something to deaden the ache. Alcohol or drugs become medicine, not just party or mood enhancers.
--Even though the troubled one recognizes the physical and mental effects of his substance use, what is he to do? When he isn't at least partly buzzed, it just hurts too much. So, even if he enters a rehab program, the pain probably remains when he comes back home.
--As Dr. Gabor Maté notes, every hardcore addict he has ever worked with has experienced some trauma/stress in their early years. In Dr. Maté's experience, it is the long-term, ongoing treatment of love, acceptance and affirmation that heals the inner pain. Sure, miracles can happen, but those are beyond our control. What we can do is play that loving and affirming part.

When it is easy,
when it is hard.

When our friend can articulate his feelings clearly,
and when he is so messed up you can only sit with him, hug him, love him.

--I don 't know if this was Darcy's story or not. Our conversations never really went to that depth. I only know that several times he and I did share some deep moments. Love given by both. Love received by both.

You are now at peace, Darcy. The pain is over. Rest in the arms of the one who has always loved you, always held you.
And I will go forward, endeavoring to be the arms and heart of Jesus to others whose hearts are crying for hope, and love, and peace.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Programs, projects, people

There are different ways of approaching the activities we pursue. This is true in the individual sense, and also true in the larger, corporate sense.

Churches and corporations (and even individuals) can engage in programs. Major, full-on, organized activities focused on a particular demographic (seniors, men, single moms, homeless teens), or goals (expansion/growth).
Programs tend to set goals and priorities based on tangible, observable statistics. “We now have three new locations, we raised a $million for the new building, 20 new moms are now part of our parenting class.” It's the numbers that count—the 3 B's of bucks, butts or buildings. Success is based on an adequate increase in the numbers. Churches may use the word 'ministries' instead of 'programs', but the idea is still the same.
So, how does it feel to be nothing more than a number? One of many others who have made some organization feel successful, even if no one knows who you are. What tends to be missing in the program paradigm is the personal aspect.
Instead of statistics or size, we begin to realize that we need to focus on people.

But often this turns into making someone our project. We focus on 'fixing' someone. They have a problem, and we decide to take them on like a contractor might take on a reno job.
Now success is gauged on just that that—success. It has been a successful project if the desired end has been reached. The individual has stopped using drugs, been re-united with their spouse, or found a job. Once the project is completed, the focus changes to someone new.
It is even worse if the project is deemed a failure (the individual is still using, finalizes the divorce, or never gets a job). Sooner or later the project is dropped like the proverbial hot potato.
So, how does it feel to be a project? It is still dehumanizing. You are only important until the particular 'job' is done. No lasting relationship has been formed. Note: 'conversions' usually fall into this category. Once the person has 'said the prayer' they are funneled into a program for new Christians.

That moves us to the third alternative—people. Meeting someone and making a friend. Not to fit them into your church's ________ program, not to make them your project, but just to get to know them. To find out things they like to do and have fun together. To affirm their existence. To hang out. To listen.
--even if they never come to your church.
--even if they don't stop any of their bad habits.
To be friends.
And that is how success is rated in this paradigm.

If the shoe was on the other foot, which would mean the most to you?
--being a statistic in a successful program somewhere?
--being taken on as someone's project?
--or being a friend?
I thought so.

And What Would Jesus Do?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amazing Grace

It can really get quite messy, this concept of grace. Once you realize that you are the recipient of it, you are responsible to extend it to others.

Think about it.
Is God gracious?
Does his grace include favor, affirmation, acceptance?
How gracious is he?
Not, somewhat, quite, very, infinitely?
What does God require or expect in order to give away his grace?
What do we do in order to deserve it?

We are taught that God is gracious and compassionate. We see it all over the life of Jesus. We hear him tell us to live the same way.
Then we use the Bible to clobber people who don't line up with our theology.

We are told that grace is free, that it cannot be earned. We see that demonstrated in Christ.
Then we preach that God only loves/accepts you if:
--you believe the 'right' way
--you live the 'right' way
--you follow a particular set of rules
--you sign on the dotted line.

Either God is gracious, loving and compassionate,
or he only loves those that we figure make the grade.

You can't have both.
Don't bother doing the 'Bible clobber' thing and also try to say that God is gracious. We've already turned off millions of people with that hypocrisy. Grace suffers every time you try to make the Bible say something that limits his love for absolutely everyone.
If it comes to a disagreement between God's unlimited graciousness and my understanding of the Bible, it's my biblical interpretation that needs to be reworked.

Speaking of hypocrisy, I'm continually having to face my own thoughts and actions. If I have received the benefits of God's unlimited grace, I need to reflect the same to all I meet.
--I have no right to choose who 'deserves' the food I hand out on the street, or who gets my spare change.
--Even though I figure that the kid on the bus should know enough to give up his seat to the lady with the walker, I still have to grant him grace.
--When I see the good church folk on their way to a Sunday service ignoring the hungry/cold/wet street campers, I need to be gracious, and not think evil of them.
--I even need to be gracious toward people who call themselves 'Christian', but are legalistic, arrogant, unloving or not gracious. (Although I'll still call them on their sad, limited, ungracious understanding of God.)

I know God still loves all of them, so I need to as well.
I know from experience that God loves me when I am a jerk, so I need to do the same.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

In praise of good friends

Who says technology is a bad thing? (OK, sometimes I do, but not this time.)

Ron (weary pilgrim) and I had the extreme pleasure of hanging out for a couple hours today with Ian (shallowfrozenwater).

That whole scenario wouldn't have happened a generation ago.

The three of us weren't blogging then (neither was anyone else, for that matter). So, we wouldn't have discovered that we are on similar journeys, and wouldn't have known we have lots in common.

And Ron & I wouldn't have had any reason to discover that Ian and his wife are here in Victoria for a couple weeks R & R.

And we wouldn't have got together for lunch.

It was a good time of getting to know the man behind the blog. I suppose Ian was doing the same with us.

It was only a few months ago that I first met Ron, and we embarked on our common search for the things of the Kingdom. That started out with coffee once a week. Now we also do CARTS together, and recently I joined the Monday dish crew at the Rainbow Kitchen that Ron has been part of for quite a while.

Sorry to say, I won't be able to do anything similar with Ian, since he heads back to Winnipeg in a few days. But I at least have a more up-to-date visual image of him than the avatar on his blog!

Oh yes, I also need to mention that Ian joined us for part of our CARTS jaunt last Friday. I tell you, there's nothing like seeing a guy get right into serving to show me that his heart is in the right place. (And he picked the most horrendous weather to be with us.)

Blessings, Ian. It has been an honor and a joy to meet you.

And I hope to meet more of my blogging bros sometime.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are you a New Testament Christian?

Is it your goal to live as close as possible to the way the early church lived?
Are you making sure you don't eat any food offered to idols, wearing a head covering (if you are a woman), or treating your slaves well (if you are their master), or obeying your master (if you are a slave)? Are you making sure that women are silent in your church and have no place of authority?
Or is that pretty much entirely missing the point?

It's easy to see the specific things the Bible talks about. Some things that may well have been really important to people two thousand years ago. But don't enter into life much today.
It's harder to get down into what is below the surface. It takes more energy, more thought, more heart. It takes being willing to find out what God is like.
Instead of finding a verse that might fit your favorite theory, it involves truly digging.
You might discover that the God you have created isn't at all like the one you discover. You might discover that God is much more loving than you figured. That he loves a much wider assortment of people than you want him to.
Take a look as Jesus. Tell me one group of people that he didn't love. That he didn't accept. That he had any harsh words for.
Well, yes, there is one group. But you might not want to look to close at them. You might recognize a bit of your self-righteous side.
But you won't find any kind of segregation, any 'insiders' and 'outsiders'.

Back to trying to live like a first century Christian.
The world doesn't need someone who is out of touch with their reality. If people are going to be attracted to Jesus, it will be through people who understand life today. Who have discovered that the message of Jesus has something to say in today's world.
That this Jesus who showed he loved everyone 2000 years ago still has that kind of inclusive love today.
That he still says; “Neither do I condemn you.”
And that his followers echo that sentiment.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Are we there yet?

It is the perennial childhood question:
--How long until we get to Grandma's house?
--When will it be Christmas?
--How long until I get to learn to ride a two-wheeler?
--Are we there yet?

Life has goals, and we live for their fulfillment.
But sometimes we miss the enjoyment of the trip because we are waiting for the destination.
We miss all the fun of shopping and baking and eating of December because we are waiting for Christmas morning.
We don't think of enjoying our tricycle because we can't wait to get a 'real' bike.

Since life is a journey, this problem doesn't stop at adolescence, or even adulthood.
Spring grows into summer, but we are already waiting for next year. We haven't even picked the tomatoes from our garden before we are planning next year's garden.
A major life transition moves us on from a particular job or location, but we are anxious to again have the security of that new job or new house. Instead of celebrating and enjoying the moment of freedom, taking the time to reflect and gain a new perspective on life, we rush to get back into the responsibilities that we just left.

I see this in some of the blogs I have been reading lately.
People are being drawn out of the traditional/institutional church. They are finding exciting new expressions for their heart of justice, relationship, community. Their lives are no longer filled with sermon or music preparation. No endless business meetings and decision-making. Now they are building relationships in their community, plugging into neighborhoods, serving their fellowman. Being the kingdom in perhaps a much greater way than they ever did while being involved in the organized church.

But some of them are bemoaning their (apparent) fruitlessness and lack of direction, hoping their new 'ministry' will start soon. Subconsciously they think there is supposed to be an arrival at a new destination that will look like the old one.....when God has intentionally booted them out of a nest that looks like that.

I know it's not easy to change the glasses we look at life with.
It's not easy to change the definition of goals, success, arrival.

But how long do you need to be on the plane moving from Vancouver before you realize that your goal isn't to land in Toronto and start over again
.... but to be the pilot.

Are we there yet?
Maybe we already are, and just need to settle in.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


According to Brian McLaren's latest book (see my review here and here), dualism is a product of our Greco-Roman history. I wasn't around then, so I guess I'll take his word on it.
Basically, dualism is the philosophy that things can be divided into two groups—not more, not less.
It reminds me of the quote: "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't" – Robert Benchley

...and most of us do.
--good and evil
--us and them
--the haves and the have nots
--the majority (culture, language, etc.) and everyone else.

(I've touched on this kind of thinking before.)

I guess we come by a dualistic/binary view of life honestly enough. The human body has two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears.
--left and right
--right and wrong
--my way or the highway.

But it really tends to segregate us.
We like to pigeon-hole, to categorize, to stereotype, and to separate.
The people who are like me—and those who aren't.
The unspoken idea is that, 'Me and my kind are OK. We're normal. We're right.' And anything else doesn't really matter because they aren't normal or right.

I'd like to propose two alternative ways of seeing people.
--as only one group. We are all human. Equally loved by God. Equally underserving. Equally wonderful.
--as an infinite number of groups. You are unique. So am I. The more characteristics you notice about yourself, the fewer people you find that are just like you. And don't just consider the externals like size, hair color, or handedness, but things like passions, abilities, character and personality.

If we stop looking at people in the dualistic like-us-or-different, and begin to celebrate both our oneness and our uniqueness, we will better see people as God does.
Paul had this figured out. Galatians 3:28 says: “In Christ's family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.”
Jesus tore down the wall that separated us into various groups.

It's not easy to lose this dualism. It's tied to our pride of place, nationality, status or whatever else.
But we have Christ's example—He set aside the things that made him different and became one of us. We will need to do the same.
Perhaps we need to radically change the song 'Give Thanks' so it says: 'Let the rich say I am poor, let the strong say I am weak.' Maybe then we won't tend to look down on people that are different than us.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I'm proud to be a Canadian,


Although I admit that has taken a beating the past few months as we (or those we elected to represent us) have sacrificed a few of the things we stand for in favor of a few things that (not surprisingly) are the opposite.
-We have sacrificed a social conscience that is aware of injustice for a blind eye to anything but the Olympics.
-We have sacrificed support for the little guy for corporate greed.
-We have sacrificed justice and a social safety net for the underprivileged for budget cuts to arts, education, health, and other programs.
-We have sacrificed a healthy multiculturalism and honor for cultural uniqueness for hijacking the parts of First Nations culture that look good (while continuing to dishonor the people themselves).
-We have sacrificed freedom of speech for the threat of free speech areas and billy clubs.

I realize this is a downer on the day Canada won a record number of Gold medals, and concludes a successful Olympic Winter Games. But it's what I observe.

I was walking around Victoria's inner harbor during the dying moments of the gold medal hockey game. Soon after the noise level began rising around me, the local carillon began playing 'If I were a rich man' from 'Fiddler on the roof'. Perhaps quite apropos, if the pessimism about the cost of the Olympics proves to be true.

A few minutes later, in the midst of whoops and hollers and honks, I saw a faithful group of young people again firing up their BBQ for the regular Sunday afternoon Tailgate Grill for hungry Victorians down by the 'whale wall'.
Not everyone has the wherewithal to watch a hockey game on the local pub's big screen, and then do victory laps, waving the flag. Some people are struggling just to be warm, dry, and fed.
I'm impressed with the Tailgate Grill crew for knowing which activity is most important.

I'm still proud to be a Canadian. But I hope we can regain the heart for people we are known for. Not just those with money and power, but for those with neither.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“A new kind of Christianity” Brian McLaren--part two

Book Two (Questions 6 – 10)

As Brian leaves his larges themes of Book One where he seeks to unlock and open the doors of the captivity we may be feeling, he moves into Book Two where we are invited to emerge and explore some specific concerns..
He continues to visit the first 5 framing questions as he illustrates how our long-held understandings affect our responses to these final 5 questions—and I am gaining a deeper understanding of Greco-Romanism, dualism, Plate, and Aristotle! It's making more sense every time it comes up.

Question 6, the Church question. What do we do about the church?
First up is the church. A valid question since the church as we know it is pretty much built on centuries of the patterns and systems Brian spent Book One analyzing and deconstructing. He correctly identifies the need to start over starting with “...this one goal of forming Christlike people, people who live in the way of love, the way of peacemaking, the way of the kingdom of God, the way of Jesus, the way of the Spirit.” “ create a new future of the church as a school of love—which means a school of listening, dialogue, appreciative inquiry, understanding, preemptive peacemaking, reconciliation, nonviolence, prophetic confrontation, advocacy, generosity, and personal and social transformation.”
This isn't particularly new to those of us who have been rethinking church for awhile. But it really fits with the paradigm shifts of the first 5 questions. And it really fits with me. It gives me a spark of hope that this could actually come to pass.

Question 7, the Sex question. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
As is usually the case, McLaren casts a broader net than might be expected in this question than just the question of homosexuality. When he approaches sexuality, he reasons solidly from his provisional five- (now six-) cornered foundation. (Keep in mind that although he has spent much time developing a new framework, he is open to discussion and modification.) Each of the preceding questions and responses has an important bearing on this one. He doesn't go as far as some have to re-exegete the Biblical references typically used against homosexuality, but then, he isn't feeling the need to use the Bible constitutionally as a weapon against any specific behavior. Instead, he re-tells the story of Philip and the eunuch from Acts 8 with commentary from Deuteronomy. We come to better understand the non-place the eunuch would have had in Old Testament temple worship, and the significance of Philip immediately extending Christ's kingdom to him—the open, accepting, affirming kingdom where all are welcome. His point is well made.

Question 8, the Future question. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
As I read this chapter, I realized how this is one of the three or so things that really triggered my own questions about the church as I had experienced it. For several years I have been wondering: “How can something as divisive and subject to personal interpretation as 'end-times prophecy' have become so time-consuming and predominant in many churches, while concerns related to the here-and-now like poverty, war, or ecology are mostly ignored (except as they might figure into yet another re-write of an end-times timetable)?”
(In case you are interested, a couple other triggers have been observing a major disregard for the teachings and example of Christ regarding poverty and injustice in favor of a rather inward focused 'bless me' mentality, and the presence of a rather distasteful and very unChrist-like persecution of people-who-are-not-like-us made even more unpalatable by the persistent lobbing of scripture verses which may or may not say what the hurlers fervently hope they do.)
Back to the future. We already can expect that McLaren is going to remind us that the kingdom of God is more a matter of here and now than there and then. So, it's not surprising that he is calling for a 'participatory eschatology' which means together we are to live out the principles of the kingdom instead of sitting and waiting for it to show up according to some time line. He warns that this participation walks a narrow line between ignoring God's leading and presence, and complacency in just watching it happen.

Question 9, the Pluralism question.
How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
The initial, first-part answer to this question is pretty unanimous among the post-church crowd—the church needs to lose her arrogance, get rid of the us and them mentality, and love as Christ loves. Some readers may be hoping (or dreading) a next-step response to include a major sellout of redemption, salvation, or being 'born again'. But he doesn't go there. He knows that no one has all the answers, that we need to be more willing to learn from others than to teach them. But he has no plans on being a universalist. He reminds us that the issue is following Christ—his life, his way, his deeds, his character of “compassion, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion and love.”
I think he probably has more to say on this question, and perhaps has a lot more thinking to do before saying it. In some ways, his response to this question may not take you as far as you want to go—but that's OK. If he stirs up discussion, he has done what he wanted to do.

Question 10, the What-do-we-do-now question.
How can we translate our quest into action?
As McLaren comes to his final question, it is a 'What next?' kind of question. Although he certainly encourages us to rethink many of the paradigms built over the past 2 millennia, he is careful to not let us stop at just thinking and talking. “If this quest leads only to a reformation in our thinking and talking, it is not a new kind of Christianity at all, but just a variation of an old kind. ... The end of our quest is a better world in which God's will is increasingly done.”
Although the call is to action, it is not just outward action. It must include “...a deep desire to know and love God.” He calls us “ arise each day in the real presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, to “...nurture an interior life with God”, “ struggle with the versions of the faith we inherited without giving up on faith altogether”, “to proceed...more by quietly building communities of peace and practice rooted in the teaching and example of Jesus.”
In a desire to both honor the rich history and theologies of the past, yet press on in our quest, he paints a colorful rainbow of the historical stages of our quest: Survival, security, power, independence, individuality, honesy, and then something much richer than just peace, that includes healing, unity, liberation and rediscovery. His warning to us is that “Sometimes our honest inquiry simply leads to conceit and a critical spirit.” Instead, he encourages us to recognize that each stage is reached by an honest search, and growth out of the previous one. Although we may see all stages present around us, each has value for those who find themselves within it. We must not be content in a stage of 'honesty' critiquing the other stages, but move to a place of “one-another-ness, interconnectedness, joined-in-the-common-good-ness, and profound commitment to the well-being of all”—the place where we must realize God dwells. Contrary to a view that pits one theology against another, we need to see the inclusivity of Christ. This is a much more generous and magnanimous position than I might naturally take. After all, if each stage is a step forward, it is easy to berate those who are:
-content to stay where they are, and
-happy to pin the tag 'heretic' on anyone who is struggling forward.
McLaren concludes his response to the final question with confidence. Confidence that we will continue to grow and adapt in grace and love.

McLaren wraps things up with some wisdom for those continuing the quest (slightly edited):
-Don't think your way into a new way of living, but live your way into a new way of thinking.
-This needs to be a communal activity, not a solo sport.
-“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
He also gives some sage, gracious advice for working out whether you will stay or leave your present community of faith, and how to do so lovingly.
He ends on the high road of honoring and staying connected with the past, while precipitating a change “... out of love for the truth, and the desire to bring it to light” ( Luther).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“A new kind of Christianity” Brian McLaren

My friend and fellow blogger Ron and I are reading and reviewing Brian McLaren's latest: “A New Kind of Christianity” which has just come out.
Here is his post.

This is probably the tenth McLaren book to grace my bookshelf. This is not the book to start getting to know Brian. For me at least, his earlier books started closer to home, only a small journey from the familiar pathways of modern Christianity. True, even his earlier writing takes you out to the edge, but this book starts off in 3rd gear, and doesn't even slow down for curves. If you think you want to get an idea if McLaren has something to add to or aid your own journey, his earlier works are probably a gentler place to start.

First, some general comments.

Sometimes we are exposed to ideas that are discordant with the inner, deepest vibrations of our heart. They are jarring and off-key, they don't fit.
Other times, these new ways of understanding resonate to the very core. It is deep calling unto deep.

Most of McLaren's writing resonates with me in this way. Although his journey may be quite different from mine, it soon crosses paths with some of my questions.
He often goes farther than I have even thought of going as he ventures out sword in hand, slaying our sacred cows. No question is too heretical, too basic, or too presumptuous for him to entertain, as he searches for potential responses that will better fit within the complete framework of our faith.

I like his intention of not providing answers to the 10 questions that form the backbone of the book. Rather than assuming that there is one complete, absolute answer for each, and that he has figured it out, he approaches each question with a desire to provide an alternative response to the answers we have probably grown up with. He intends to stir up conversation, not end it. He uses the term 'response' instead of 'answer' to intentionally steer away from the 'Here's the complete truth on this' idea.

He has written the book in a particular sequence, with each question and response providing a foundation for future chapters. He seems to approach the design of the book as an architect who might first draw a few sketches of what the finished building will look like, and then draw the blueprints. Then comes the actual construction with footings, the foundation, the first floor, and then succeeding floors.

For this reason, the book needs to be read in order, as a progression. You can't skip ahead to question six without first understanding how he has built the framework through the first five.

You don't have to agree with every premise he makes—I think he would rather stir up healthy discussion, comparing and contrasting various angles. But at the same time, you can't expect to be able to enjoy the third floor of the structure without having a degree of acceptance of the overall plans and the earlier construction. Since the earliest chapters and questions deal with major foundational elements, you will likely find that you are either willing to tentatively accept his premises and carry on, or decide that they are too unorthodox, and you will move back into the old building you are familiar with. (But there is nothing like seeing even the first stages of a new structure to make you realize that the old one has its limitations.)

Although McLaren's detractors may feel he doesn't honor the Bible as the Word of God, I believe he not only does so fervently, but he has the ability to read it again for the first time. After deconstructing centuries of some aspect he considers a misunderstanding of the intent of the writer, he is able to read it again without that earlier predisposition.

Brian lays out a bit of his own journey by way of introduction, something I rather appreciated. It helps place his present thoughts within the timeline of his own odyssey.

Book One (Questions 1-5)

Question 1, the narrative question. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
McLaren jumps in with both feet, and his talk of Plato and Aristotle, the Greco-Romans and dualism soon had me begging for mercy! I am no student of history, and didn't catch all of the drift of his thoughts until coming back to it after reading the rest of Book One. A simpler contrast of viewing the story of Jesus backwards (from now back through the various reformers and theologians to Christ himself) versus forwards (from Adam through Moses, David, and on to Christ) made more sense. Seeing how Jesus comes after many stories of God's gracious dealings with man throughout the Old Testament places him in historical sequence more accurately than through the many lenses of theologians since then. His retelling of the Old Testament stories recapture the positive, hope-filled dreams of the Jewish people, the mercy and forebearance of God and the many times he forgave and was reconciled with his people. Seeing the Old Testament story-line in this way made it easier to see God as merciful, patient and forgiving.

Question 2, the authority question. How should the Bible be understood?
If Question one didn't scare you away, number two pushes even more buttons. Rather than trying to destroy Christianity, the Bible, or people's faith (as some will no doubt say), I believe he is doing the opposite. He tells us that we can learn more from the Bible by not expecting it to be something it doesn't claim to be. By not forcing it to have a specific answer to every specific question, we can rather learn the themes and story-line of the Bible—and from that learn how to live. He gives a “deeply disturbing” illustration of how individuals and groups claimed biblical support for slavery for many years.
Through his attempt to read the Bible as he feels it was intended to be understood he is finding solid reasons to return to a faith based on love and compassion, justice and ethics, centered on the character of Christ, rather than the pride and self-promoting system often seen masquerading as Christ's church. He freely admits that the challenge is to unlearn the old habit of expecting the Bible to be a constitutional system of laws, a book to answer every question (but is willing to let you take a bit of time to work through this one).

Question 3, the God question. Is God violent?
McLaren presents the unfolding of God's character as a timeline—and we have not yet reached the end of it. There is a common understanding that God was more violent and vengeful in the Old Testament, and more gracious in the New. McLaren breaks this rough dichotomy into more stages, but sees them more as a revelation of His character over time, not a change in it. As well, he correctly points to Jesus as the way to understand God. We must not try to shape or control Jesus by our pre-conceived view of God from elsewhere in the Bible, but to shape our understanding of God from how He is presented to us in Christ. Jesus shows us what God is like; all our conceptions of God need to line up with Jesus.

Question 4, the Jesus question. Who is Jesus and why is He important?
I loved McLaren's allusion to the ballad of Ricky Bobby's table grace. Hilarilously and poignantly it illustrates a common trait among us as Christians—we tend to make Jesus into whatever we like (and set aside the parts we don't) and have the nerve to believe that our view is 'objective' and 'true'. In this section he demonstrates his appreciation for God's purpose in scripture by drawing an incredible number of very specific parallels between the Gospel of John , and the Old Testament (particularly Genesis and Exodus).

Question 5, the Gospel question. What is the gospel?
In a nutshell, his premise here is that the gospel needs to be a new kind of Christianity based on the teachings of Jesus. Instead of interpreting the Gospels through what we think Paul is saying, interpret Paul through what Jesus said and did.
A couple quotes:
“We're not claiming some new revelation or new authority figure. We're following the best Christian tradition of going back to Jesus and the Scriptures.”

“Shouldn't you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?”

Book Two (Questions 6 – 10) next week!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On generosity and spades

I've been thinking a bit about the balance between generosity of spirit, and calling a spade a spade.

Let me explain...

As I find myself seeing some things in a different light than many others do, I have felt that a generosity of heart and spirit is appropriate. I need to recognize the rights of other people to feel the way they do, to understand things the way they do. I guess this is coming at least partly from an effort to not be arrogant, saying “I'm right, you aren't, end of story.” I am realizing that there needs to be lots of room for conversation, for sharing of ideas, for openness of mind. I don't always see this in the traditional church setting when most teaching is very one-directional (lecture-style), and that style of delivery doesn't provide opportunity for discussion.

So, I don't want to be the same kind of guy, spouting off my own interpretation, and then expecting everyone to agree with me. I want to try to encourage a better way of approaching the searches we all have at one time or another.

So, I want to be generous, allowing others to see things differently than I do.

But what if the 'others' are effectively blinded by the process (and to the process) that brought them to their present point of view?

Forgive my proximity to another rant on the Olympics, but how can people NOT see how spending billions of $ on 16 days of partying versus spending $$ on the well being of our children, healthcare, education, etc. is a terrible exchange? Is the combination of cutbacks on government programs and the likelihood of years of debt NOT a scary one? (Not to mention other injustices I have blogged about before here and here.) And yet facebook is filled with excited clamorings about the Olympics.

It makes me think about the Biblical prophets. They are given a 'shape up or ship out' message to pass along to a people that aren't exactly in a doomsday mood.

So are they supposed to generously let the people go on their merry way if they don't choose to 'shape up'? Or are they expected to don their 'the end is near' sandwich boards, and stand on the street corners, even if they get untold flak from the general populous?

This is not a rhetorical question—I'm interested in your thoughts.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We were made for this?

A (perhaps) final rant on the eve of the 2010 Olympics.

You may have noticed that I am not a fan of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Particularly so because of the many negative things connected with these games; I'm not necessarily against international sporting events.

One of the big things about the Olympics is the need to collect money to pay for all that is involved. Piles of money. Major piles of money.
So, the right to use the Olympic rings, logo, name, etc. etc. etc. are sold to the highest bidder. You can get to be the official Olympic soft drink, or bank, or fast food purveyor, or what have you.

One of our national department stores has paid for the privilege as well.
That would be “The Bay”, a business that has been around since 1670. That's right, almost 340 years. It began as the Hudson's Bay Company, “the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay.” Initially they dealt with our First Nations, trading furs for manufactured goods across the continent. Now they are a retail chain that has acquired a number of smaller chains including Zellers, Simpsons, Woodwards, Fields, and K-mart (but probably not doing too much fur trading).

All that to say that their Olympic advertising slogan is “We were made for this”.

If by “this” is meant hosting the world or putting on a world-class sporting event (except that we are struggling to find enough snow), I would say they are right. We are well known for being loved by most nations. Want to travel? Put our Maple Leaf on your backpack. We're a pretty friendly bunch. Quite laid back, given to peacekeeping more than warmongering (at least, that's what we tell ourselves.)

If by “this” is meant this pretty long list of injustices:
--colonialism and imperialism
--no Olympics on stolen land (unsurrendered First Nations territory)
--ecological destruction
--homelessness and poverty
--impact on women
--2010 police state
--public debt
--corporate invasion,
then I don't think we were made for this at all.
We might be doing a pretty good job of accomplishing those 8 evils, but it doesn't mean we want them to be our legacy.

I would hope and think that we were made to be known for our justice, fair treatment of our First Nations brothers and sisters, looking after the planet, looking after those who need a little extra help, championing the rights of everyone (not just white males), freedom of speech, prudent use of resources, and not so heavy into consumption.

I would really like to think that.

So, to “The Bay”, I don't think we were made for what these games are going to be remembered for.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Paradise lost-paradise regained

Genesis tells us that life/society/the-world-as-we-know-it started in a garden.
Idyllic perfection.
I know that is kinda hard to believe, given the-world-as-we-now-see-it.

Of course, the whole process of how the world came to be is a big debate, and even whether there was a literal garden, Adam & Eve, and so on.

But, no matter how you understand the first chapters of Genesis, it is a valid concept—the world started out in better shape than it is today.

Then it went downhill fast.
Thistles and sweat and death.
Selfishness, arrogance and thirst for power destroyed paradise.
Since then, it has been generation after generation, just trying to stay alive.
The original perfection now only a distant memory.

Except in God's heart.

He really wants to see his original wonderful world back, to see paradise regained.

If his first creation was sublime, nothing would be better than to see it reinstated. I really don't think heaven (whatever it entails) should be presumed to be better than God's initial concept of paradise.
Walking with God in the cool of the evening
God's home
There is no better picture of the kingdom of God, because that is what it was.

So, God's ultimate goal has been to bring it back.
Enter Jesus
“As everyone dies because of Adam, so also everyone will be made alive because of Christ.” 1 Cor. 15:22
“If one man's sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God's gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do!” Romans 5:15
It really is an awesome symmetry: paradise lost, paradise regained. The kingdom of God lost, the kingdom regained.

That's why Jesus' teaching on the kingdom is so essential. That's why we need to see how Jesus described the kingdom, and follow him on it.

Adam was the end of the beginning, Jesus is the beginning of the end. Actually, he is the beginning of the end of the end of the beginning. His life and death marks the end of the effect of paradise lost—if we actually follow him.
“If death got the upper hand through one man's wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?” Romans 5:17

That's why being and bringing the kingdom is crucial. Being kingdom-minded puts us and God on the same trajectory towards paradise regained. Sharing the same dream as God!

And I am NOT talking about sitting around waiting for some escape into heaven! I am totally talking about living the kingdom life Jesus was always teaching about, here and now.

Re-read my posts about the kingdom.

Then see if you and God are on the same wave-length, if you are living in such a way that his kingdom is getting closer to restoration. That you are working to see paradise regained.

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