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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Kingdom in Luke

Luke 6:20-23 contain some similar teaching by Jesus to the beatitudes in Matthew 5:
--The poor will inherit the kingdom
--the hungry will be filled
--those who weep will laugh
--and those who get flack for following Christ will be rewarded.

Luke adds some punch by contrasting these positive attitudes with some 'anti-beatitudes':
--the rich will miss out on the kingdom
--the well-fed will be hungry
--the happy will cry
--and don't celebrate just because people like you.

Then he presents some kingdom paradoxes:
--love those who hate you
--bless those who curse you
--don't be satisfied with just a small sacrifice
--and set the example for generosity, don't wait for the other guy to do it first.

You will get what you give:

Some more nuggets:
--check yourself out before pointing out someone else's faults.
--whatever is on the inside is what is going to come out.
--words don't prove much—it's actions that demonstrate who you really follow.
--a solid foundation and secure building are a picture of a person who lives out the words of Christ. Mere words or statements of faith are like a house with a shaky foundation. The house may be OK, but without a solid foundation of action, it won't survive the storm. Are we putting into practice the things we have heard, or are we just talking about them? Note: Jesus own interpretation of this story is not that he is the foundation, but that obedience is the foundation.

Notice the similarities between the person who built on the rock, and the one who built on sand:
--both hear Christ's words
--both build the house
--both experience the flood.

Now note the differences:
--the house on the rock pictures the person who puts Christ's words into practice, thus building the foundation on the rock, and survives the storm.
--the house on the sand pictures the person who does not put Christ's words into practice, and thus has no foundation, and his house collapses in the storm.

“And why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blessed are... #8

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Want to see God's kingdom come into being, to see people living in harmony? Be willing to suffer some persecution as you work towards seeing it happen.

Persecution will come from people and forces that do not share your purpose or style.
Persecution neither proves that you are right, or that you are wrong. Just expect it.

It may well come from power-hungry, proud, arrogant people who aren't pursuing peace, mercy, teachability or the other traits commended in the beatitudes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blessed are... #7

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Actively working to bring factions into agreement.

De-escalating violence, revenge, or retribution.

'Child of' can also be used to mean 'has similar qualities of' as in 'a child of the 80's'.

It is God's desire to bring relationships into a state of peace. Those who desire to follow him and live as his kids will want to do the same.

Peacemakers are actively involved, promoting, instigating, stirring up the best in others.

But, just in case you think this is an easy one to follow, here are some tough questions:
--Can a tank be a peacemaker?
--Can we use violence to enforce peace?
--Is there such a thing as a 'just' war?
--How do we make a stand for justice without fighting against injustice?
--Is Jesus calling us to passively acquiesce in the face of evil?
--When trying to resolve an argument, are we supposed to just give in?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blessed are... #6

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

Blessed are the genuine, blameless, sincere, untarnished, undefiled, unmixed, transparent in understanding, will, character, thoughts and passions, for they will perceive, know and experience God.

Looking for and expecting to see good character in people will enable you to see those God-like, positive qualities within them. You will see what you look for.

C.S. Lewis in 'The problem of pain' (quoted by Brian McLaren in 'The secret message of Jesus') says: “It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

Blessed are... #5

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

I forgive you for what you may have done or said that hurt me.

Mercy is more in action than in word—it is best demonstrated, not just verbalized.

Being merciful infers an openness to a different perspective—allowing someone to have a different point of view than your own.

Mercy is a generosity of spirit.

Both mercy and arrogance will engender the same in return. What you plant you will harvest. Kindness and generosity towards others will make them much more inclined to be kind and generous in return.

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