Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Do we believe it?

Christians sometimes speak about ‘dying well.’ That was a phrase that Puritan theologians and pastors (rooted in 16th & 17th century England… many left for America in 1660-62) used.

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Easter Sunday. The German theologian-pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45)wrote that:
How we deal with dying is more important to us than how we conquer death.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions” 

Bonhoeffer points out that we are thinking about the wrong thing: Socrates talked about overcoming dying, but Christ overcame death. Then he writes this (Bonhoeffer is dynamite!)
Based not on the art of dying, but on the resurrection of Christ, a new, cleansing wind can blow into the present world…. If a few people really believed this and let it affect the way they move in their earthly activity, a lot of things would change. To live on the basis of the resurrection – that is what Easter means.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions” 

Do we believe it?
Do we live on the basis of of the resurrection?
do we practice resurrection?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Three stories.
  • I know I am late to the story. I have paid very little attention to the musical "Hamilton". 
  • I have also been reading Bruce Feiler's new book "The First Love Story: Adam Eve and Us"Adam and Eve leave the Garden, their son Cain kills their other son Abel. I can't imagine their pain.
  • I have recently returned from Uganda, where I had the opportunity to connect to the ministry of I Live Again - Uganda. I heard many stories of deep pain and trauma. And saw our living out forgiveness is changing lives.
But the thing that links these three stories together is forgiveness. 
  • In Uganda, forgiveness is the key to recovery from the trauma of war.
  • In Genesis, forgiveness is at the heart of Adam and Eve's relationship and their relationship with God.
  • In Hamilton, after Alexander has cheated on his wife and his son, Philip, has been killed in a duel, there is a song about imagination, commitment and ultimately an act of love to re-choose someone after a difficult time. Eliza is confronted with the “unimaginable” decision to forgive her husband’s acts of adultery and betrayal. “Unimaginable” because the audience still feels the heat of the incendiary curse she pronounced on her husband only moments prior:
You forfeit all rights to my heart
you forfeit the place in our bed …
I hope that you burn
But by the emotional climax of the musical, we find this moment of profound release and beauty:
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable 
They are standing in the garden 
Alexander by Eliza’s side 
She takes his hand 
It’s quiet uptown 
Forgiveness. Can you imagine?  
Forgiveness. Can you imagine? 

We are never told about Eliza’s thought process in moving from anger to forgiveness, not that explanations would help. Only that Eliza forgives. Can you imagine?

It's a powerful song - take a listen. But more than that, know that in Christ, there is forgiveness, know that in Christ, you can be forgiven, know that in Christ you can forgive.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review: The Shack

I went to see “The Shack” last night. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Spoiler alert: parts of this review may give away plot elements.

And then I came home and read some reviews. And was surprised (I’m not sure why. I have certainly heard and read enough attacks by people who call themselves “christians” over the years.) 

Here’s where we need to start. This is a film based on a novel. It is not a systematic theology (and if you are getting your total picture of God and his work from a systematic theology, you need to rethink that approach). It is a “true” story in the sense that it is rooted in the main character’s (Mack) experience in the world (including an abusive father, loss of a child, overwhelming grief). It is a modern parable (don’t make the mistake of trying to make every detail represent something vital).

As a work of fiction, it takes us out of our comfort zones into places most of don’t have to go, it takes us to places where we see something of the incredible depths of God’s love. 

Many seem to be stuck on the portrayal of the Trinity in the film. People, remember this is all part of a dream sequence in the film. It is an attempt, it is not a definitive statement on the nature of the Trinity. In fact, I love how Papa sometimes appears as female and at another time as male (and incidentally, and thankfully, none of the trinity characters are white males) – which is a very biblical picture. This picture painted in the film of the Trinity is of a community of sacrificial, others-centered, love (which is orthodox). Seldom do we/can we imagine what the Triune community is really like. The Shack provides a fun and engaging image of this as we try to comprehend the Trinity. I liked the scene of the Father, Son, and Spirit sitting at the meal table. It reminded me of the icon depicting perichoresis. The marvel of redemption is that we get to sit at the table, too.

Some see in the film the idea of universalism. But I did not see any “all religions lead to God” teaching. Nor was there a minimizing of sin and evil, of these being taken lightly with no judgment to fear. This is not a film about all aspects of theology, nor does it pretend to be. It is the story of one man’s journey of finding God, healing and resurrection life.

The thought the film deals honestly in its depiction of devastating human pain and the Jesus’ command to love and, yes, forgive. The film raises the question: How can a good, loving God plan or allow evil? There is no flippant, superficial forgiveness in this film. 

Having just returned from Uganda and seeing the work that some of God’s people are doing in helping people find and offer forgiveness as a result of the incredible pain inflicted on them by the LRA [Jospeh Kony & the Lord's Resistance Army], seeing that the resolution to human pain is found in the deeply loving Trinitarian God who suffered with and bore our pain is so important to grasp.

The Shack – both the book and the movie are great conversation starters.

But here’s what saddens me: many of the criticisms of The Shack are offered not as conversations points but as pronouncements. They shut down the dialogue. In contrast, The Shack raises the question: How do we present God as Father to this father-starved generation and call them to draw near to Him, when the mention of “father” conjures up images that are uncaring, distant, and (in more cases than we’d like to admit) abusive? The Shack tackles that question by starting in the kitchen with “Papa” represented as a warm, embracing African-American woman and leading Mack from there to know “Papa” as Father who will shepherd him gently through the hardest stretches of his journey. 

Papa, says of every human she meets or recollects, “I am especially fond of him.” If there is one line I wish people would grasp it is this: God says of you, “I am especially fond of you.”

The Shack is about being reassured of God’s relentless love for you in the presence of your greatest reason to doubt Him. How ironic for Mack to come to grips with God’s love at the murder scene of his daughter where God’s love seemed so wholly absent. What a great starting point for deep conversations about all of life.

The film / parable is about how we feel about ourselves in our own “shacks.” Do we really believe – deep in our guts, not just in our heads – that God is “especially fond” of us?

This is where The Shack engages us. It encourages us to embrace the loving relationship into which God invites us. No, it does not answer every question, address every aspect of God’s nature or reflect on every topic of Christian theology. Instead, it zeros in on the fundamental way in which wounded people erect barriers that muzzle the divine invitation to loving relationship.

Friday, February 10, 2017


There are some anti-immigration posts floating social media around that argue for building walls and extreme vetting and deportation, based on what the book of Revelation says:
The Scriptures tell us that the eternal city of his coming kingdom will be surrounded by “a great high wall with twelve gates” (Revelation 21:12), each guarded by an angel so undocumented intruders cannot enter.
Identification papers will be scrutinized carefully before anyone is allowed to enter through one of the great big beautiful doors that are built in this wall that surrounds the city. In John’s vision, “books were opened,” and “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life” he was not only not admitted but “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12; 15). Talk about extreme vetting and deportation.
But, we need to read the whole passage: one of the vital characteristics of the new city [apart from it being cube-shaped] is that "it's gates will never be shut" Revelation 21:25

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, in the quote at the end of this post [go ahead, drop down and read it now], highlights a very simple, yet profound truth. A truth that inevitably flows from the Gospel when we understand it.
God is love. God loves me. God loves people. I love people.
Not a series of “shoulds” and “oughts,” but a discovery of the reality of who God is. A discovery of how the world looks through the Gospel and in Jesus.

It is obvious to say that Christian spirituality, worship, prayer and calling brings us to the love of God. But it doesn't stop there, Christian spirituality, worship, prayer and calling brings us to the love of people. When we see and know God most clearly, compassion and love for people overflows.

If our expression of Christianity bears the fruit of hostility towards the world of humanity, and directs us away from that world’s brokenness and reality, then we have missed the heart of the Gospel and the heart of God. Hans Kung [On Being A Christian, 1974] , wrote how on "being Christian [...is] being radically human." Merton, recognizes that there was more to his life than his calling to the monastery. He reminds himself and us, that we are human, and, we are called to be people (both as individuals and together as the church) who live out this humanness, demonstrating to the world and the people in it that the heart and glory of God wants to break in. We are called by God into this world.
"Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun." ~Thomas Merton

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Jesus Is Not Santa Claus !Robert Farrar Capon

The words of that dreadful Christmas song sum up perfectly the only kind of messianic behavior the human race, in it’s self-destructive folly, is prepared to accept: ‘He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice; he’s going to find out whose naughty and nice’ – and so on into the dark night of all the tests this naughty world can never pass.
For my money, what Jesus senses clearly and for the first time in the coin in the fishes mouth is that He is not, thank God, Santa Clause. He will come to the worlds sins with no list to check, not test to grade, not debts to collect, no scores to settle.
He will wipe away the handwriting that was against us and nail it to His cross. (Col. 2:14)
He will save, not some minuscule coterie of good little boys and girls with religious money in their piggy banks, but all the stone-broke, deadbeat, overextended children of this world whom He, as the son of man- the Holy Child of God, the ultimate Big Kid, if you please – will set free in the liberation of His death.
And when He senses that… well, it is simply to laugh.
He racks a “gone fishing” sign over the sweatshop of religion, and for all the debts of all sinners who ever lived, He provides exact change for free.
How nice it would be if the church could only remember to keep itself in on the joke.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Book Review: The Bad Habits of Jesus

Title: The Bad Habits of Jesus: showing us the way to live right in a world gone wrong
Author: Leonard Sweet (read by Dean Gallagher)
Year: 2016
Publisher: oasis audio
Media: CD

Confession: I like Leonard Sweet. I have read many of his books and heard him in person several times. Len Sweet can almost always be counted on to give us a good read. I know a lot of people don't like what he says, but, he certainly causes people to think: deeper, and in fresh way about God, the Kingdom, our world and ourselves. 

"The Bad Habits of Jesus" was written in six weeks, and includes some crowd-sourcing from his Facebook page. 

Jesus’ so-called bad habits reveal truths about God’s love and message that are vital for us. Len Sweet takes the biblical context and gives it that little twerk that helps us see Jesus, might I even say the real Jesus, not a sanitized, religious Jesus, a little clearer.
Len Sweet talks about: Jesus Procrastinated, Jesus Offended People, Jesus Offended People in High Places, Jesus Hung Out with Bad People, and Jesus Thought He was God. 

This is one of my first experiences listening to a book. And in this case I think it works. The chapters are not long, they held my interest, and some of them made me hit pause and relisten (a couple of the disadvantages of an audio book, is it not as easy to relisten and I can't underline a passage). The CD set includes an extra CD with some questions for a discussion group. 

Would I recommend this book? Yes. But don't expect a Bible study. It relies on the readers’ knowledge of the Biblical text. It is more a food for thought book.

I received this audio book from the author in exchange for a review.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

film review: Arrival

Janice I went to see Arrival last night.

It’s a thoughtful sci-fi film from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. It’s a story about 12 mysterious spacecraft that touch down around the world. An elite team – led by Colonel Webber (Forest Whitaker), linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) – are brought together to investigate. As the world teeters towards a military response, the team races against time for answers.

This is not a film that depends on special effects and amazing technology for it’s impact. Arrival takes its time unfolding, but gradually gets under your skin and commands your attention.

It’s a film that draws us in to consider big questions. It's about love, loss, tolerance, compassion, language and non-linear time. it’s a film that asks questions.
  • How do we approach those things, the unknown, that terrifies us?
  • Will man’s tendency toward violence kick in before its science and language leaders can figure out a way to stop it?
  • Why is it important to communicate through language and not action?
  • What would it mean if we could see visions of not just a possible future but our specific future?
  • Would the choices that get us there be any less significant?
  • Would the “gift” of seeing the future be a blessing or a curse?
  • How could a brain that grasps the eternal picture—an all-at-the-same-time awareness—not go insane in a time-bound world?
  • It raises questions about geopolitics and the nature of time and the sanctity of life.
Arrival is a film that remind us that we’ve all had those days when communication breaks down and fear over the unknown sets in. And it is the best of us who persevere, get up from being knocked down and repair that which is broken.

As I reflected on Arrival this morning, I came across some lines from T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” that describe something of the circularity of overlapping departures and arrivals: 
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
Or this:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. 

Eliot (and others) put into words a feeling, an idea that haunts us: that we’re eternal beings in a time-bound world. Little ruptures (liminal spaces and moments) are everywhere:
  • the strange way that joy is so closely related to impermanence and longing;
  • the mysteries of memory, imagination, and dreaming;
  • the oddity of deja vu;
  • the prophetic gifts that Christians chalk up to the Holy Spirit and secularists dismiss as uncanny intuition.
Christians have language for this, because we believe that there is more than we can see, that our being is eternal. C.S. Lewis wrote “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world”?

As the characters in Arrival discover, “time” isn’t what they understood it to be: the future, the past, and the present are all the same from the point of view of the heptapods.

I wonder, as we approach Advent, the season when we contemplate the mystery of an eternal God taking on temporal form “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4.4), if Arrival helps us approach the incarnation with fresh insight and an invitation to revisit the familiar story and see afresh the mysteries the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. To quote Eliot again, maybe we will
“arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

we also live double lives ~ Walter Brueggemann

Power turns and postures and exhibits.
It controls and manages and plots.
We participate in it,
we benefit from it,
we are dazzled by it… and more than a little afraid.
Just underneath, all the while…
Just underneath dazzling power
sits violence and brutality,
greed and fear and envy,
cunning and shamelessness.
In that too we participate.
Like the ancients, we also live double lives,
public in pageant and role and office,
hidden in meanness and thinness.
We do not do well at bringing this double together.
But we confess you to be Lord of all our lives,
Give us new freedom about our public lives,
give us new candor about our hidden lives,
Correct what is brutal and greedy and fearful,
chasten what is hidden and mean.
Make us women and men of shalom,
the kind of welfare you will for our common life. Amen

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

our true home ~Walter Brueggemann

God before and God behind,
God for us and God for your own self,
Maker of heaven and earth,
creator of sea and sky,
governor of day and night.
We give thanks for your ordered gift of life to us,
 for the rhythms that reassure,
  for the equilibriums that sustain,
   for the reliabilities that curb our anxieties.
We treasure from you,
  days to work and nights to rest.
We cherish from you,
  days to control and nights to yield.
We savor from you,
  days to plan and nights to dream.
Be our day and our night,
 our heaven and our earth,
  our sea and our sky,
   and in the end our true home.

rebrand us - a prayer by Walter Brueggemann

You mark us with your water, 
You scar us with your name, 
You brand us with your vision, 
and we ponder our baptism, your water, 
your name, 
your vision. 

While we ponder, we are otherwise branded. 
Our imagination is consumed by other brands, 
~winning with Nike, 
~pausing with Coca-Cola,
~knowing and controlling with Microsoft. 

Re-brand us, 
transform our minds, 
renew our imagination, 
that we may be more fully who we are marked 
and hoped to be, 
we pray with candour and courage. 


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Some preliminary thoughts on what trump as president means

Many of us woke up this morning to the surprising, and if I am honest, disappointing, news that Donald Trump is the president elect of the USA.
We don’t know what Trump will do. His statements have often made little sense. Some (maybe many) of his statements have clearly been made to stir up a response from his target audience (angry whites who feel disenfranchised).
I feel disappointed by evangelicals (both here in Canada and the USA) who have been strongly anti-Clinton because she is pro-abortion. Trump may have made some anti-abortion statements, but the overall tone of his statements (I cannot use the word “policy” because I’m not sure he has any) are not pro-life. Single issue voting is almost never good. And pro-life is so much larger than the abortion issue.
I have a sense that Christians in the USA have an eschatology of politics. When people, and specifically Christians, become confident because their party wins, or when they get depressed and feel hopeless because their party loses, then they are caught up in the empire-shaped eschatology of politics. It is a sign that their hope is more in politics than in Jesus; a sign that they are more citizens of their country than of the kingdom of God; a sign that they are listening more to the gods of this age than the God of the ages.
Exit polls[1] indicate that white evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Which, at least in part, indicates that character has become unimportant to evangelicals. It’s time to speak up and remind Trump and ourselves (as evangelicals or conservatives or atheists or liberals or whatever label you chose to wear) that immigrants are made in the image of God, women are not tools and toys, racial and religious prejudice must be confronted, and so much more. We are called to speak truth with love.
Trump in his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning said: “We will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us… [we will] reclaim our country's destiny.” Those are scary words. They go back to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. They open the door for political bullying on a continent and global scale.
But having said all that: I went to bed on Tuesday night with Jesus as Lord. I woke up this morning and Jesus is still Lord.
Trump or Clinton was and is not the hope of the USA and the west and democracy. Our hope is in God.
It was the South African missiologist, David Bosch, who in his book Transforming Mission impressed on many of us that the church’s mission is not in fact the church’s mission but God’s mission. Our calling is to participate in the missio Dei, the mission of God in this world. That’s where our hope is.
Our hope is in the gospel of God. God’s mission is gospel-shaped. Some today want to reduce gospel to personal salvation while others want to convert into public politics and secularize the kingdom of God. The gospel is about Jesus the King and the gospel is about kingdom citizens living under the king regardless of who is in “power.”
Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates God’s people. God’s gospel-shaped mission creates a new people of God, that transcends all differences and man-made distinctions. The gospel creates kingdom citizens who live in this world and live the vision of the kingdom of God. We need to soak up how God’s gospel-shaped work always and forever creates a gospel people.
Someone has written: “every hour [‘chronos’ time] is pregnant for possibilities for God’s kingdom to break in with transforming significance [‘kairos’ time].” Lord Jesus break in, in this time, transforming our world. As David Fitch tweeted this morning, “Maybe not since the 60's or even Hitler's rise in Germany, has it been this important for the church to discern what it means when it says ‘Jesus is Lord.’”
And so this morning:
  • Lament, deep lament. For all those who felt threatened, triggered, attacked, vulnerable, through the whole campaign process and now to have to face the uncertainty of a Trump presidency, may you find communities of support and protection. May you find strength for the coming days. May fear not rule in your hearts. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
  • For women, refugees, immigrants, people of color, religious minorities, Lord hear our prayer. 
  • The fact is, our Lord tells us in the last days things are going to get worse not better. I think that is happening and is going to continue to happen. I am sorry I am not more positive but the one thing I know is that the Lord is here and His Spirit is with us.
This morning, among the people I see and talk to, I will continue to try to:
  • Love and not hate
  • Embrace and not divide
  • Take down walls and not build them
  • Trust and not fear
  • Put down stones instead of throwing them
  • Have faith in a God who is bigger than Hilary and Donald and Justin and the USA and Canada and ...
  • Seek justice within my influence and not neglect
  • Be thankful for my job, home, church, family, community and not greedy for more of what I think I deserve
  • Hope and not despair
  • Listen and not shout
  • Be patient, kind, gentle, good and not angry, mean, and disrespectful.
  • Seek peace and not war

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/