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

dispirited

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?" 
   Isaiah.

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.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Discrimination?

Trinity Western University [TWU], an evangelical Christian university in Langley, BC, received preliminary approval, last month, by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Province of BC to create a new law program. 

Several groups including the University of British Columbia [UBC] and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society are protesting the move. 

At issue is a requirement on the part of TWU that staff and students acknowledge the school’s faith-based values and beliefs; this includes signing TWU's Community Covenant which states that: 
"The University’s mission, core values, curriculum and community life are formed by a firm commitment to the person and work of Jesus Christ as declared in the Bible.
Both UBC and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society take issue with the Covenant saying that this conflicts with “a lawyer’s obligation of non-discrimination” and exclude potential students and staff who identify as LGBTQ. 

At issue are the statements: 
"Members of the TWU community... commit themselves to:... observe modesty, purity and appropriate intimacy in all relationships, reserve sexual expressions of intimacy for marriage, and within marriage take every reasonable step to resolve conflict and avoid divorce"; 
"community members voluntarily abstain from the following actions:... sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman". 
What we have here is not so much discrimination, although I think one could probably argue that those who hold to marriage as being between a man and a women are being discriminated against, as it is the refusal to recognize: 
(a) the restriction of sexual intimacy to marriage; and, 
(b) the sacredness and oneness / exclusiveness of marriage. 

And yes, Christians have failed at both of these, but neither of these values are held high within the LGBTQ or QUILTBAG [Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer] communities. 

Even more telling, is that neither UBC or the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society have done their homework. The issue of TWU’s Community Covenant has already been ruled on by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2001, the Court ruled in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers that the British Columbia College of Teachers had no legal justification for refusing to accredit TWU’s graduates on the basis of TWU’s Community Covenant. The Court found no evidence that TWU’s students, who had signed and abided by the Community Covenant, demonstrated any discriminatory behaviour in the exercising of their duties as teaching professionals.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Olympic Hockey and Religion

Like most of Canada I watched the gold medal games (as well as some of the other games). Those Olympic hockey games were the only games I have watched all the way through this season. In comparison, most of the NHL games I have watched are pretty lame. But it's not NHL hockey that I want to write about.

Sunday morning the headlines blared the gospel of Canadian Hockey, as our men triumphed on the Olympic rink, just like our women did a few days earlier. Much of Saturday and Sunday's news was about how brave, patriotic Canadians were getting up very early Sunday morning and braving frigid temperatures to heroically make their way to the pub to watch the big game. There were even video clips of mosques and churches that decided to show the game before morning worship. The overall mood was exultant. 

This is what it means to be Canadian, we rehearsed to ourselves, over and over again. 

At one level, this idea that "hockey is Canada’s religion" is simply hyperbole. It simply say that hockey matters to Canadians

But behind all that there is a hint of truth. If hockey is like a religion, then, among other things, it is saying that our identity and value is tied to our winning the gold medal. Hockey is what brings us together. 

But maybe the hyperbole over hockey says less about Canadians’ love for hockey and more about our diminished worldview. Maybe it's not: “We love hockey so much that it’s almost like a religion!"; but, “There is so little else that matters to us and our identities are so frail that we will settle for a bunch of millionaires who happen to have been born on the same chunk of dirt as us winning a hockey tournament to give our lives meaning and purpose.” Maybe the statement “hockey is Canada’s religion” isn’t so much about how much hockey matters to us, as how little religion (and more importantly faith) does. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

kingdom of God and home

The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”
~Frederick Buechner

silence & speech

The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community. Silence and speech have the same inner correspondence and difference as do solitude and community. One does not exist without the other. Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech. 
Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing. But this stillness before God’s Word will exert its influence upon the whole day. If we have learned to be silent before the Word, we shall also learn to manage our silence and our speech during the day.
Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 79 (thanks to Len Hjalmarson