Henri Nouwen and Lent

This morning I was reflecting on Lent, remembering how I began wondering what it was all about and unsure how to even approach it. Well, after a month I still feel the same ambivalence towards the whole practice of Lent. I’m just not getting it. My life has been as busy as ever and to be honest it is a lot easier to let busyness replace the reflective observance of Lent. Feeling somewhat frustrated and questioning why I even bothered attempting this religious observance, I decided to google Henri Nouwen and Lent. Now, for anyone who has read any Nouwen, he’s probably one of the most quotable Christian writers in recent history, so I didn’t have much trouble finding some inspiration. Here’s a quote I found helpful, and, well, a little daunting as well…

How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess.... I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.

This quote describes the tension I have when I consider my Lenten observance. I can identify with the frustration of having “missed the spiritual fruits of the season” due to my own lack of intentional devotion. The second part of the quote illustrates why myself, and perhaps others as well, struggle to participate in Lent. This is the fact that Christian spirituality, illustrated in the observance of Lent, is about self-sacrifice. And to be quite honest, I don’t really want to sacrifice control over my life. In a world where forms of pop-spirituality promise “spiritual fruits” at no expense to oneself, this Christian participation of ‘dying to self’ is incredibly unpopular. However, what I am most struck by is Nouwen’s clarity for why this is so important to Christian spirituality; namely, dying to self is the only way to truly live in participation with God, which means being able to “rejoice fully in your (Christ’s) Resurrection.” Christian self-denial is not an empty practice of ascetic spirituality. Instead, Christian spirituality dies to the self in order to truly live. It isn’t life denying, it is life affirming.

In light of this sobering quote, I realize why Lent has been a difficult time for me; Christian spirituality is hard work! And while I would like to jump to a celebration of the blessings we experience in light of the Resurrection, I think Nouwen is right to emphasize the need to walk through this pain in order to fully embrace the joy!

Thank Henri!

Canucks Rap!

Check out this video someone submitted to the Vancouver Canucks ultimate fan contest. It's pretty sweet!


"WWJDrive"

I have recently found myself grated by the apparent increase in people driving oversized pickup trucks and SUV’s around the lower mainland. I know many people are in construction, or desire to avoid the connotations associated with owning mini-vans (whatever those may be…), so I want to make sure I don’t just label everyone with a truck or SUV as irresponsible. That said, I still think many people do not consider vehicle choice to be an important ethical decision related to our faith. Reflecting on this I came up with the very tacky question of “would Jesus drive an SUV?” I think it is a valid question, as the message of Jesus pertaining Christian living concerns more than just an intellectual agreement with the gospel. It’s a life lived in commitment to loving God and loving others, which I would argue includes what vehicle we drive.

I mentioned my "innovative" reflection to a friend, and he mentioned he had heard of something like that. So I Googled the question “would Jesus drive an SUV” and what do you know, I am about five years late! Back in 2002 the Evangelical Environmental Network (no, does not have to be an oxymoron) started an initiative to get Christians to take seriously how our vehicle decisions affect the environment. This initiative is called “WWJDrive” and has enlisted the support from many prominent Christians around North America. There main assertion: transportation choice is a moral issue! I tend to agree.

Anyway, check out the website as I was encouraged to know that despite the glaring evidence that may suggest otherwise, some people are taking their Christian faith seriously to include all life choices, which in this case pertains to the ethical implications of transportations choices.

Spirituality, Service and Integration

This past week I have been considering my last post, wondering if my frustration is valid, or perhaps the effects of end of semester tensions. Perhaps it is a bit of both. Regardless of its origin, this issue is important to me as I continue to develop my academic skills and simply grow as a person. It seems too easy to become engulfed by the academic experience, and so my point in all of this is too strive for a balance between in my critical thinking.

Though UBC’s mission illustrated my frustration quite well, it dawned on me that I should perhaps check Regent College’s mission, seeing as this is the place I am studying (duh!!!). While the openly Christian foundation of Regent results in a definite shift in focus from UBC, there are three aspects of Regent’s distinctives that I see as possibly resolving some of this tension in any academic environment.

SPIRITUALITY
With the ultimate goal of deepening our love for God, we are committed to the mutual influence between academic pursuits, faith, and piety.

I often forget that my faith involves all of my life, including academic pursuits. Assignments such as book reviews or critical research papers take a different tone when I think of it as a spiritual exercise. And by ‘spiritual’ I don’t just mean some sort of mystical experience, but the holistic life I live, committed to Christ in all I do.

SERVICE
We are committed to theological reflection that fosters generous service to the world.

While this aspect of service has affinities with UBC’s “agents of change,” I think the subtle shift in language denotes an attitude of humility that perhaps will look less at society as a problem that needs fixing. A life of service to the world implies a willingness to cooperate, which in my mind necessitates a combination of positive and negative critiques, allowing for genuine relationships to develop. This is contrary to the impersonal intellectual mongering that is common to so much of academia, including many “Christian” institutions.

INTEGRATION
We are committed to the formation of a Christian mind through an inter-disciplinary approach to theological education.

In the case of Regent, this means utilizing the wide spectrum of academic disciplines, not just theology or specific “Christian” ones. However, I think the concept of integration can be applied to all academic pursuits, allowing for a blend of perspectives, perhaps leading towards conclusions that are able to embrace a balance beyond one narrow viewpoint. I am not suggesting a generic approach to all education, where no one approach or opinion is emphasized. Rather, I see this integration as a relational dialogue with the variety of methods and conclusions confronted in the academic environment (Something more akin to Alastair MacIntyre’s view of traditions and their interaction with one another).

This hasn’t resolved the tension for me, especially considering that it arose while I was studying in an environment that espouses these distinctives. But I think they are a good reminder to anyone studying. My hope is that my academic experience can truly be an exercise in spirituality, leading to a life of service to the world that willingly integrates a variety of perspectives to enrich the process.

Negative Tendencies?

Having been immersed in realm of college and now graduate education, I often find myself torn in regards to the tendency, or perhaps I should say necessity, to be critical. The majority of assignments are geared towards being critical about a certain topic, book, or person. The University of British Columbia’s mission centers on training students to have “strong analytical, problem-solving and critical thinking abilities.” While I recognize that critique does not discount positive response, the above statement assumes that education and life in society begins from the place of negative critique. It makes sense, therefore, why much of the educational process centers around the problems, because without them, how can we “be agents for positive change” as the UBC mission desires? Without the overwhelming environment of negativity, how would we be inspired to make a difference towards positivity?

My question is: is this the correct starting point for our outlook on society and life in general? I am not going to ignore the obvious evidence that the world indeed has many problems that the educational process can aid in developing people to deal with. Critical thinking is an important aspect towards understanding where society can improve. However, it is when the negative emphasis becomes the starting point that I get frustrated. I would be happy with even a balance in the educational process, perhaps finding at least as many things we can affirm complimenting what we critique. Perhaps I am missing the point of our modern educational system, but sometimes it gets a little overwhelming and even downright depressing when we ignore what is good in our search to be critically minded.

Here are some questions arising from my reflection:

-What is a Christian view in this area? How do we balance our understanding of sin with an appropriate emphasis on the goodness of humanity?

-Is this just my optimistic personality reacting against reality that much of what we see around us is problematic?

-How can critical thinking remain critical while maintaining an acknowledgment of goodness as a compliment to focusing on problems?


Perhaps I will post more as I continue to reflect...

NOTE: Yes, I realize the tone of this post somewhat contradicts the issue at hand, so don't leap to any conclusions that I hate my education or something :)