Friday, October 31, 2014

Scared or Sacred

I wonder if the increasing focus on Halloween in our culture: Canadians spend $1 billion on Halloween is really a cry for the sacred.

Many people have made the observation that SACRED & SCARED are anagrams (spelt with the same letters). 

I think our culture deeply missed the sacred. There is an ache at the core of our being that longs for the sacred, the holy, the mystery. Making room for the unexplainable is at the heart of post-modernity. (Although I am wondering if we are post-post-modernity with the increasing focus on individuality, especially in regards to my rights & my beliefs).

Bob Dylan wrote & sang

disillusioned words like bullets bark
as human gods aim for their marks
made everything from toy guns that sparks
to flesh-colored Christ's that glow in the dark
it's easy to see without looking too far
that not much
is really sacred
[It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)]

Sometimes the closest a person gets to touching the sacred is to be scared. To be scared is a substitute for the sacred. When we can no longer find (or when we have stopped searching for) the sacred we settle for being scared.

Bob Dylan wrote & sang 

some of us turn off the lights
and we live in the moonlight shooting by
some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
to be where the angels fly
[The Girl From the Red River Shore]

We can live with fear - something is out there in the dark. What we cannot live with, is the horrifying idea that - there is nothing out there.

Wendell Berry wrote:
There are no non-sacred places. There are only sacred and desecrated places. [How to be a Poet]
The scriptures point to the incarnation - the Word become flesh - Jesus.

John writes:

What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
The Word became flesh and blood
and moved into the neighbourhood
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son
[John 1:4,5,14]
We live in a sacred world. A world where the sacred is made real. But we also live in a desecrated world - a world that denies the sacred - we often call it a secular world (although that is a distinction that contributes to the problem of ignoring the sacred and our mistreating this planet and everyone and everything thing on it).

One of the way people, in a world which denies the sacred, get some excitement, is by scaring themselves - Halloween is getting some thrills with a little innocent (or not so innocent - the sexualization of Halloween is a topic for another post) fear.

Don't settle for being scared... discover the sacred.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Canada, Terrorism & the Kingdom of God

What follows are some incomplete thoughts on what happened in Montreal & Ottawa

Like many Canadians, I find myself in a place of sadness following the senseless violence in Ottawa on Wednesday.
I identify with the voices that lament the sense of loss of what we have seen as our peaceful context.
I get patriotism. I love Canada. I have lived in 3 provinces and visited all provinces except for Newfoundland & Labrador, Yukon and Nunavut. I proudly wear a Canadian flag pin when I travel out of the country. But patriotism is not the answer.
I get the need to respond to terrorism. The very nature of terrorism is that they operate by a different set of rules. But new laws, in and of themselves, will not make a difference.
I mourn that the life of another can be disregarded so easily. But the rhetoric of revenge is not the best way to re-establish a sense of calm and confidence.
I get human rights. We live in the tension of wanting to be safe, but not wanting what we have called rights restricted. But nothing governments can enact will ever make us totally safe.
I get voyeurism. We all like to see stuff we know we shouldn’t. We like to be in the know. We like to live vicariously through others. I’m glad for the difference between the USA media reporting and Canadian media reporting on the attacks. But better or more reporting does not change the reality of pain, suffering and death. It does not change the fact that in times of crisis there is much that is unknown.
I lament that humankind is divided by systems of defence and self-interest rather than a common commitment of seeking the good for all. But the solution is neither a one common government, nor increased protectionism.
I long to get a better grasp of the kingdom of God. I long to move beyond simplistic, nationalistic statements about the deaths of soldiers in Montreal last week and Ottawa this week. I long to grasp what it means to live like I actually believe Jesus when we said: “love your neighbour as yourself” [Matthew 22:39] and “love your enemy” [Matthew 5:33].
I pray that the light of God’s love would blind hatred and revenge and give us all a vision for the dawn of a new day filled with the power of a love for all our neighbours. I pray that we will not demonize all Muslims like we have done with the other people groups, including our own First Nations Peoples.
Living in step with the Spirit, living filled with the love of the Father, living in the Jesus way, is not easy in our culture. And it is not going to get any easier. I believe that more than ever, we need to immerse ourselves in understanding how the early church lived in a world of rejection and persecution. In the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”.
I came across this prayer, and will end with it:
A prayer in response to the events on Wednesday, 22 October 2014, Ottawa, Ontario ~adapted from a prayer by pastor Carmen Brubacher, Ottawa Mennonite Church
Our God, We call you Light of the world, but today we feel the weight of night. We call you Wisdom, but today we have so many unanswered questions. We call you Prince of Peace, but today we feel surrounded by violence. We call on you in our fear, our disbelief, our sadness, and our helplessness. Hear our cries.Hold us as we remember the sounds, images, and experiences of Wednesday. Hold the families of all those killed and injured in our capital city. Hold families around the world who experience violence and instability.Remind us to hold each other as we gather in our homes, schools and workplaces in the coming days. May we seek your wisdom as we try to respond to the questions of our children, which echo our own questions. Why do people kill each other? We are people shaped by your story of peace. May our responses to the events in our capital city be formed and informed by this identity.  May we seek your light as we find our way through the dark.In your mercy, Lord, hear our prayers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What IF...

What IF
We lived the grace we are blessed with
And loved as we have been loved
What would that look like in practice, not just thought? 

What IF
We repented and believed
And turned our living right around
What would that look like among the forgotten?

What IF… 
We took up our cross
Denied ourselves and followed 
What would that look like in our rendering of wealth?

What IF
God’s kingdom came down
And God’s will was the world’s constitution 
What would the streets of earth look like?

What IF
The first were last
And the last became our priority
What would the poorest places look like?

What IF
We stored up treasure
In heaven and not on earth
What would the return on our investment look like?

What IF
The rich like camels could make it
Through the eye of a needle
What would the heaven on the other side look like?

What IF

via Steve Stockman

Thursday, July 17, 2014

when we idolize we demonize

Someone made the point that when we idolize things we often, inadvertently, demonize the opposite. As I think about this, I think that's right. And the flipside is just as bad. Here’s a few examples to think about:

  • If you idolize youth, you may demonize old age
  • If you idolize liberty/autonomy, you may demonize rules/restrictions
  • If you idolize relationship, you may demonize singleness
  • If you idolize children, you may demonize childlessness
  • If you idolize money, you may demonize poverty
  • If you idolize material possessions, you may demonize simplicity
  • If you idolize fame, you may demonize obscurity
  • If you idolize success, you may demonize humility

These statements can also work in reverse. It’s also important to note the use of the word ‘may’ – it doesn't necessarily follow you’ll demonize the opposite of that which you serve but it’s worth being aware of. What is interesting is that the polarization reveals the futility of idolizing any of these things. None of them are supposed to be worshiped. When we stop idolizing them we can see that there are blessings and trials bound up with all of the above. So beware of false demons, as well as false gods.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Place Where We Are Right

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

This is a poem by one of Israel's leading poets. It's short and simple, but speaks deeply, reminding us that nothing new can grow between us when we speak to each other from "the place where we are right."
It also leads to a very important question for our politically charged age: How might things change if we began our political conversations not from our certainties, but from our "doubts and loves"?
  • People who differ politically love the same things — our children and grandchildren, our country, the natural world. 
  • Many who differ politically harbor the same doubts — that what's being done (or not done) to care for the things we love is the best or the right thing to do.
  • Yes, people may differ on what the best political solution is. But what if, instead of starting by arguing over solutions — over "the place where we are right" — we began by sharing our loves and doubts? 
  • I suspect that our political conversations would be much more productive because they would proceed from common ground.
based on a note from Parker Palmer

Monday, July 14, 2014


I have been reading David Webster's Dispirited: How contemporary spirituality makes us stupid, selfish and unhappy (Zer0 Books, 20012)

When the opening is "When someone tells me that they are not really religious, but they are a very spiritual person, I want to punch their face. Hard." [1] You know you are going to have an interesting read.

One of the things that Webster argues, is that in our western cultural setting we buy into what he calls "faith-lite" which arises from our focus not simply on our individualism but on our increasing personalization, where we seek to build our own model of belief. 
"Why I wish to characterise this type of self-made faith as 'lite' is in the failure of it to make demands of us, and the way that we are able to jettison aspects that we come to find uncomfortable." [17-18]
Webster goes on to suggest:
"There is a model of truth at work in the realm of contemporary spirituality that is actually a refusal to accept an uncomfortable truth about truth. This truth is that truth is intrinsically judgemental, exclusive and difficult.... [This means that we do not] cede the whole debate to those who believe we can merely choose what to believe on the basis of lazy, faux-postmodern, neo-liberal inclusivity." [41]
Throughout the book, Webster punches holes in much of contemporary spiritualities overly simplistic reading and understanding of ancient wisdom, and in the non-questioning of assumptions about buzz words and ideologies. One of his last footnotes is about the "rather intriguing animal therapy approaches". He rightly raise the question of why 
"some animals (cats, say, as opposed to a house of chicken) seem very powerful at affecting human stress - although I would be interesting in how much nervous, mentally ill humans stress out otherwise-chilled cats."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Justice, Politics & the Gospel

Tomorrow Ontarians will go to the polls (except for those who voted in advance polls & those who for a variety of inadequate reasons refuse to vote). 

DISCLAIMER: I am not now nor ever have been a member of a political party (although I was tempted to join the Rhino Party). I have voted Liberal, Conservative (in more than one version), NDP (I am one of 8 people who admit they voted NDP in Ontario in 1990) and Green.

This is a tough election to figure out who to vote for, or vote against, which is the typical Canadian way of voting. There is a clear difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives - neither of which are an option I like.

No matter what you think of political games and the accusations of corruption by whatever political party, human nature being what it is, we will be likely be in a similar place at the next election.

Justice and caring for those who on the edge of society is an important part of what the church is called to. Part of that involves the transformation of systemic structures that cause oppression. Part of that means working with political systems, including building bridges across political boundaries. There are men and women with hearts toward God of all political stripes.

But the reality of knowing the gospel and knowing people, is knowing that there are always new ways of distorting justice and causing more oppression.

And so as we work towards justice in our world, we want to be clearly and solidly rooted in the transformation of the person because of the gospel of Jesus. It is in him that we find life.

I won't tell you how to vote: Conservative, Green, Liberal, NDP (those are the only parties running in my riding) or the other option of declining your ballot; but I will remind you that Scripture calls us to pray for those in places of authority in our world.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Grace and a Comma

In Luke 22, Jesus is finishing up dinner with his disciples. He is getting ready to be arrested, to be led away, to be beaten, to go to the cross. Prophecies are coming true and chaos will shortly break out among disciples. At this point they have sworn to serve until death. 
In the middle of all this, Jesus pulls Simon aside because he knows that Simon will soon betray him. He says to him in Luke 22:31-32:
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.
  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”

And then, he drops the 9 words that are so important and powerful. 
9 words that I want each of us to grasp and turn to, whenever we fail and mess up and feel hopelessly undeserving of hope.
Jesus tells Simon:
And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Do you see what Jesus is saying in that first half of the sentence,
And when you have turned back?”
He’s saying:
You are going to fail.
You are going to fall.
You are going to lose it.
You are going to make commitments and break them.
You are not going to always be the husband/wife, mother/father your family needs.
You are going to sin.
But, but, but, you will turn back. 

You will come back. 
You will know redemption. 
You will know return. 
You will know a God that not only allows the “comeback” but actually celebrates it.

When I read that phrase “And when you have turned back,” I catch a loud, wild, ridiculous picture of what grace really looks like.

But, if you go too fast, you’ll miss the comma.
You’ll miss the gap that sits quietly before the next thought.
You’ll miss it because it's so easy to misread the second half of that sentence.

Here’s what it says:
And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
But here’s how we sometimes read it:
“And when you have turned back,
 repent for a long time
 and stay a long way from me
 until you are clean enough to return to my presence.”“And when you have turned back,
 please stay far away from any ministry opportunities.
 You are too broken to help other people.
 How can you minister to others when your own life is so messed up?“And when you have turned back, here are a bunch of things you need to do in order to earn back my good favor.”

But Christ doesn’t do that!
He drops a comma like a grenade.
He gives us the gift of the comma, and then, asks us to strengthen our brothers.
Not beat ourselves up with emotional whips.
Or lie in a hole of shame.
Or stay to the shadows of church, afraid to be seen.
He wants you.
In his arms.
By his side.
Surrendered and free in his presence.
Not because you deserve it or have earned it or are perfect.
But because of the cross
Because of the resurrection
That’s it.

We all get the grace of a comma.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

big tent evangelicalism

One of the things that has happened to evangelicalism over the last couple of decades is it has become increasingly narrow. Andy Holt in venn magazine issues a call for Big Tent Evangelicalism
I long for a big tent Church. What good does it do any of us to break off into like-minded sub groups, perpetuating the us-vs-them mentality?
Jesus was called a “friend of sinners.” Do you know what that means? It means that he was kind to the broken. It means that the wounded and hurting, the outcasts and the rejects were drawn to him. Do you know what all of these people have? They have baggage. They have stuff that makes them hard to love. 
Jesus is still drawing these kinds of people to himself. Do you know who they are? They’re you and me. If you have come to Jesus, it’s because you’re broken, you have baggage, and you have stuff about you that can, sometimes, make it hard for others to love you. And that’s okay! Because we’re all in the same boat. Whether we admit it or not, we are all the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the Samaritan woman, the frightened Pharisee, the impetuous Zealot. We are all the “sinners.”
Jesus had a big tent. The Samaritan woman had almost everything wrong about theology and the Scriptures, but there was room for her. Nicodemus had all the right answers, but was too afraid to openly follow Jesus until after the crucifixion. There was room for him. Martha was a Type A who knew what her place in life was, and there was room for her. Mary dared to sit at Jesus’ feet like one of the disciples – like one of the men – and there was room for her. James and John were audacious enough to ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he came in glory, and there was room for them. The lot didn’t fall to Barsabbas to replace Judas, but there was still room for him. There was room for Paul and Peter and Apollos and Junia and Priscilla and Timothy and Titus. There was room for the Roman centurion and for the confessing thief.
Maybe I'm a slow learner, or a dreamer, but we still don't get the explosive nature of God's Kingdom. When you bring people together - sinners, redeemed sinners - they start to let their brokenness show and things can explode. It is grace that keeps us all together. It is the Spirit of the living God that keeps the kingdom from blowing up. But, sadly, we prefer our own way(s) and so we push away anyone who dares to disagree. 
Apart from listening to the Spirit and walking with the Spirit we are not living in this much needed grace.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

biblical literacy

Many studies show that we [this applies to our society as a whole, but I am writing specifically about those who claim to be Christian] are increasingly becoming biblically illiterate. You can check the various bible societies for exact stats.
There are several types of illiteracy.
  • The illiterate. There are people who are illiterate or functionally illiterate, often because of generational poverty, mental health issues and/or substance abuse. 
  • The illiterate because they did not grow up with the Bible. This is a good type of biblical illiteracy because it can change with time as people begin to read and understand the Bible.
  • The illiterate because they have difficulty reading the Bible. In my experience, this is often older folks or people who grew up in fundamentalist churches that rely on the KJV. This is often a hard group (especially the fundamentalists) to help understand that newer translations are valid and can be helpful for their spiritual life.
  • Then there are the illiterate because they simply don't read the Bible. It is this last group that saddens me so much. 
If we claim to be people who walk with and follow Jesus, then:
  • Why don't we read and study and meditate on the scriptures? 
  • Why do we think we can know the heart and mind of God, if we seldom read the scriptures?
  • Why do we think we can reduce the scriptures to Facebook posts and Twitter tweets?
I love how Rich Mullins once responded to the question:
   "What is your favourite Bible verse?" 

Being and becoming people who follow Jesus and walk this missional journey with him is rooted in our being people who listen to the voice of God through the scriptures and by the Holy Spirit.