God with us

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Is. 7:14)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).



“God With Us”

Prince of peace, transforming one
You call us now to love
Wonderful, counselor
Born to make us whole

Mighty God, revealed so small
Raised up to be our truth
Everlasting, one with the Father
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

We bow down before you the little one
Knowing your great power
The mystery of your amazing life
Draws us before you
It’s who you are…

Jesus Christ, Immanuel
God with us, God with us
Born to live, to live in love
Immanuel, Immanuel

(DW – 2006)

what is peace?

In advent and Christmas the message of peace gets proclaimed year after year by Christians around the world.

We crown Jesus our “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6) and join the angels in proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk. 2:14).

But really, what does this mean? How do our professions that Christ is our peace become actualized in our lives and in this world?

For some, a focus on the internal peace that Jesus brings through his love and forgiveness is the most meaningful aspect of peace at Christmas. There is comfort in the belief that whatever situation we find ourselves in, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Ph. 4:7). And in a world that seeks inner peace through personal success and shallow happiness, the reminder for an internal peace rooted in Christ is a timely one indeed.

But I’ve wondered if the peace of Christ offers more? What if Christ as the “Prince of Peace” means that participants in the kingdom of God – Christians – are in fact a people of peace?

Now, I’m not so naive as to forget the centuries of Christian violence both in the world and among ourselves that taints our witness as a people of peace. And in a world torn by violence, war, and injustice, we can’t help but lament the absence of peace. Sadly, most times Christians aren’t a people of peace. It’s quite appropriate then to question the peace we profess at Christmas:

Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won't rhyme

So what's it worth?

This peace on Earth
(“Peace on Earth,” U2)

But in our lament at peace’s absence, let’s beware not to become hopeless, and thus relegate peace solely to our personal experience of faith. We must not forget that Christ’s message of peace and reconciliation redefined what it meant to be the people of God – peace experienced in the unity of all people. I like how John Yoder describes the reality of reconciliation that Christ’s peace brought between Jews and Gentiles – a reality of unity the global church and our local churches must continue to realize today:

It is not the case that inner or personal peace comes first, with the hope that once the inward condition is set right then the restored person will do some social good…Two estranged histories are made into one. Two hostile communities are reconciled (He Came Preaching Peace).

So as the peace of Christ is known in our own lives this Christmas, my prayer is that we may live tangibly as a people of peace in a world starved for reconciliation.

For Christ is our peace, who demolished all divisions and made us one new family united by His one Spirit in the bond of peace. We proclaim that our allegiance to the name of Christ is higher and stronger than any other loyalty.
(Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith - Liturgical Version)

advent and the growing need to conspire

Every year we hear of Christians bemoaning the commercialization and secularization of the Christmas - or perhaps I should say “holiday" - season. “Why can’t they just call it for what it is!” we hear incessantly across the airwaves and interwebs. Well, recently a group of Christians have decided to take a different approach to reclaiming Christmas. They call it Advent Conspiracy.

Responding to the extreme consumerism that dominates much of Western Christmas celebrations, Advent Conspiracy calls Christians to instead worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. And while I’m not sure why we need a “conspiracy” to live out these core Christian practices, for a religion often unaware of how deeply its been shaped by culture, the call for change is refreshing nonetheless.

Most refreshing perhaps is the shift in direction Advent Conspiracy takes in the whole issue of Christmas and culture. As co-founder Rick McKinley suggests, "Christians get all bent out of shape over the fact that someone didn't say 'Merry Christmas' when I walked into the store. But why are we expecting the store to tell our story? That's just ridiculous" (see Time magazine article here and CNN story here).

I tend to agree.

Should it really matter to Christians if the Gap or other organizations censor their use of the word Christmas (see here)? Is my faith somehow dependent on secular culture’s acceptance of my religious symbols? Is not society’s support of clean water projects – one of Advent Conspiracy’s proposed gift alternatives – more important than a store clerk wishing me a sentimental Christmas greeting?

So, as we celebrate advent – this time of expectation for Immanuel, the “God with us” event of Christ's birth – Advent Conspiracy reminds us that celebrating Christmas moves us from the grandiose sentimentalism we often take for granted to a recognition that in the most plain and ordinary of circumstances (a stable in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago), God’s love is most profoundly known.

Merry “Conspiring” Christmas to you all!



"advent is patience"

Some interesting thoughts from Stanley Hauerwas on patience and advent as a way of understanding Christian living in the world. And while some (including myself) have argued his idealism leads to an impractical - and often vague - approach to Christian living, his reminder that Christians are a "patient people" is particularly poignant around the chaotic busyness of the holiday season.

"To recapture advent is to recapture a sense of what it means to live as a people in a world which has taken the time of God's patience not to live the way Jesus made it possible for us to live. So, advent is the recovery of how to live in a world of impatience as a patient people."



(h/t The Work of the People - if you haven't checked out this website, do it. It's great!)

searching

The Christmas season often involves a search for meaning and connection - a desire for inner peace or as the cartoon suggests, a need to simply "feel good." In my preparation for an Advent sermon this coming Sunday, I came across this poem which describes how in the context of Advent, we are reminded not of our own searching, but of God's coming.




THE BONDING
by Ben Witherington III

A cold and listless season,
And full of cheerless cheer,
When hopes are raised and dashed again
And joy dissolves in tears.

The search for endless family
The search for one true Friend
Leaves questers tired, disconsolate
With questions without end.

Best find some potent pleasure quick
Some superficial thrill
Than search for everlasting love
When none can fill that bill.

So hide yourselves in shopping
And eating ‘til you burst,
Use endless entertainment
As shelter from the worst.

And hope at least for truce on earth,
Though warlords rattle swords
As if to kill could solve our ills
We seize our ‘just’ rewards.

Mistake some rest for lasting peace
And calm for ‘all is well’
And absence of activity
As year end’s victory bell.

But what if Advent is no quest
Despite the wise men’s star
What if Advent isn’t reached
By driving from afar?

What if Good News comes to us
From well beyond our reach?
What if love and peace on earth
Are more than things we preach?
What if a restless peace
Is what He did intend
Until we open up our lives
And let the stranger in?

What if a peaceless rest
Is not the Christmas hope
What if nothing we could do
Helps us truly cope?

What if there is a bonding
With one who rules above
Who came to us in beggar’s rags
And brought the gift of love?

The God shaped hole in every heart
Is healed by just one source
When Jesus comes to claim his own
Who are without recourse.

So give up endless seeking
Surrender is required
The one who is the Lord of all
Cannot be bought or hired,

He’s not conjured into life
By pomp and circumstance
By Yuletide carols boldly sung
By fun or drunken trance.

He comes unbidden, unawares
Fills crevices of souls
He comes on his own timely terms
And makes the sinner whole.

‘We shall be restless’ said the saint
‘Until we rest in thee’
And find that we have been reborn,
Our own nativity.

How silently, how silently
The precious truth is given
And God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.

curiosity over assumptions

In recent months I’ve begun listening to podcasts from Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett. Produced through American Public Media, Speaking of Faith is a weekly radio program discussing topics in “religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.” In exploring the various topics, each episode attempts to tell the stories behind the ideas. Each program, then, “takes a narrative, or first-person, approach to religious and philosophical conversation (and) draws out the intersection of theology and human experience, of grand religious ideas and real life.”

As I prepared for my participation in the Living Library (see here), a recent Speaking of Faith episode caught my attention. Titled “Curiosity Over Assumption – Interreligiosity Meets a New Generation,” the program introduced the Muslim-Jewish relationship of two young women in Los Angeles. While openly admitting their differences – differences that have the Middle East mired in violence – these women are determined to seek peace not violence. And they do this in the simplest fashion – they spend time together and they listen to each other’s stories. Simple, yet radical, these women are “innovating templates of practical relationship that work with reality, acknowledge questions and conflict, yet resolve not to be enemies – whatever the political future of the Middle East may hold.”

Through the story of these women, I’m reminded (chided?) that engaging our differences requires humility and honesty. Conveyed in the phrase “curiosity over assumptions,” humility shelves our own preconceptions about others and their ideas until we’ve let them tell their story. And honesty is an important companion to humility. It acknowledges that humility doesn’t always mean agreement. In fact, the women readily admit that “dialogue is messy.” There are no easy ‘lets-just-get-along’ answers.

And so I'm inspired that even amidst the stark differences in our world, humble and honest dialogue can bring hope to our conflicts – a hope that in our curiosity we’ll find peace.

living library

Last week, I had the chance be a book. Not write a book. Or read a book. But be a book.

How, you ask? Well, a local community college (Douglas College) has recently introduced the Living Library, a movement designed to “promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding” amidst the diversity of our pluralistic world. This goal is achieved by participants engaging people instead of just borrowing books.

So, last week I was a book on the topic of religion and culture, with the specific title, “Engaging Our Stories - Living Amidst Spiritual and Religious Diversity.” People could ‘borrow’ me for up to a half-hour and discuss anything related to my topic. For two hours I occupied a small table in the library in which three people signed up to discuss religion and culture with me.

Most valuable was the chance to hear peoples’ stories. I met a woman from Guatemala who grew up Catholic, a woman recently immigrated from Iran who is a faithful adherent to the Baha'i religion, as well as another person who resides in East Vancouver and is intrigued by the shifting role religion has in Canada. All three people I met probably did more talking than me, even though I was supposed to the ‘expert.’ But considering my book title, I didn’t mind. In fact, interacting with these folks simply reaffirmed my belief in the value of sharing our stories.

In a Canadian culture that prides itself as tolerant, we too often tolerate without understanding. You know how it goes: “You do your thing. I’ll do my thing. We’ll all just get along. That’s the Canadian way!” Well, I believe we need more – we need tolerance with understanding. In a culture as diverse as Canada, the idea of simply tolerating fails to address the reality of our differences – differences that in other areas of the world lead to intense conflict both personally and politically. If we simply tolerate, I wonder how long our Canadian peace can last? But when we take the time to understand what’s behind our diverse values and beliefs – i.e. examine how our stories shape our values – we make a very important statement: in the midst of our differences: people are important.

And so as we strive for peace in society, acknowledging our stories can add depth to our tolerance. When addressing differences, an engaging tolerance can equip us to peacefully handle conflict - not because we are a tolerant country, but because we know each other.

And so I think events such as the Living Library are actually quite countercultural (perhaps without even knowing it). Instead of a passive tolerance we’re used to as peace-loving Canadians, the Living Library calls for an engaging tolerance that values peoples' stories. And considering the Christian belief that humanity is created in the image of God and along with all creation was declared “good,” I’m willing to support any efforts in my community that affirm God's view of the world.

"One Love" on World AIDS Day

It's only fitting that I came across this music video today - World AIDS Day. May the unity expressed in this music reverberate into a tangible response to the brokenness around our world. And in particular, the brokenness caused by AIDS.



(h/t Dave Cho)

a rant on worship

For many 21st century modern evangelicals, just the mention of liturgy causes a stir. Images of old cathedrals, monotonous readings, organ-accompanied choral singing, and uninterrupted periods of silent prayer (what, no music or video!?!) all betray what we’ve come to know as “contemporary” worship.

In my time studying theology and pondering topics related to church, Stanley Hauerwas has been influential (and challenging and frustrating!) to both my theology and how I view the church’s role in my life and the world (see here). I recently came across this clip of Hauerwas discussing (ranting about?) modern worship - and in particular, the problem of worship emulating entertainment:


To begin, I liked Hauerwas’ comment that “liturgy is the work of the people.” Most simply, liturgy refers to how worship gatherings are formulated and presented – be it readings, songs, meditations, etc… In this sense, all corporate worship involves liturgy of some sort, whether you are in a 'liturgical' tradition or not. Liturgy as the work of the people, however, implies our full participation, not merely our consumption of spiritual experience. And it’s in this participation of the liturgy, according to Hauerwas, that we experience transformation – we “discover we are made in God’s image” (Performing the Faith).

I agree, then, with the admonition that worship is never about entertainment. Hauerwas rightly comments, “If you compete with television, the television in the end will win cause it’s so good at what it does.” For us to presume that “we know what it is we need and want” implies an incorrect focus for worship, making our (selfish?) needs primary. We must remind ourselves that worship isn’t measured by its ability to sustain our attention. No, worship is measured by its ability to remind us who we are – “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12).

Through worship we discover the truth about ourselves, making possible lives of goodness otherwise impossible” (Performing the Faith)

One of the ironies of our times is that many ‘conservative’ Christians fail to understand the relation between truthful worship and truthful living…The question, then, is not choosing between ‘contemporary’ or ‘traditional,’ to change or not to change, but rather the faithful character of our worship, insofar as such worship shapes the truthful witness of the church to the world” (A Better Hope).

more than just the ability to drive

For someone interested in the impact of individualism (see here) in contemporary culture, the following quote stood out to me. It reveals an attitude behind something most of us take for granted and think very little about: the ability to drive.

“In modern society, getting a drivers’ license at age sixteen is a more significant rite of passage than being able to vote at age eighteen. After all, in many ways a young person’s life is far more practically changed by the ability to drive than the ability to vote. It represents the ability to direct one’s own path, to not rely on others for transportation”

(Albert Y. Hsu, “Spaced Out – The Impact of Commuter Culture” in The Suburban Christian).

BTW: I hope to share more on Hsu's book at some point. It's been a challenging read considering my context in Greater Vancouver suburbia.

as we remember


Lord God,
fill us with the love that flows from Your heart,
that we might be agents of reconciliation in a broken world,
ambassadors of the Prince of Peace in all our ways.
Give us the patience to wait on Your judgments,
rather than taking vengeance ourselves.
Give us the strength to yield,
returning evil with good,
and trusting in the power of Your love,
rather than our own love of power.

Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith - Liturgical Readings

application or implication?

I’ve been involved in various discussions over the years, and increasingly now as a pastor, over defining faithful Christian living in the 21st century. Well, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by a constant need – no, let's say demand – for application. I’m frustrated because in a culture dominated by consumption and immediate gratification, any provision of simple application for Christian living too easily glosses over why we do what we do.

And so people are eager to be told how theology applies to their context or what strategies they can employ to be more faithful Christians. And pastors and leaders perpetuate the situation, supplying said strategies and applications meeting peoples need to have everything laid out nicely. One only has to browse the Christian living section of Amazon to realize how widespread – and profitable – the consumption of application has become. Just this morning, for example, I read how certain pastors are promoting “strategic consumerism” as a way to combat problems associated with our consumeristic culture. Are you serious!?! Somehow I think we need a little more than strategy to combat consumerism. Faithfulness isn’t a strategy, particularly in the face of the economic brokenness we are all culpable of in North America.

Does this mean application and strategies are wrong? Absolutely not! I just think strategies need to be accompanied with life transformation – both individually and corporately. A transformation, additionally, that relates to my specific situation and the issues I face. Someone in Grand Rapids doesn’t know what issues Christians are facing in Port Coquitlam, so why would I want them telling me how to live? But our demand for application forces them to answer questions they never should have to answer.

At the study conference I recently attended, a fellow attendee made an observation that has resonated with me. Instead of looking for applications, he suggested we should be looking for implications. Returning to consumerism, instead of being given a strategy for Christian consumption, Christians need to hear how and why we should be thankful and content with “our daily bread” as Jesus taught. As we reflect on Jesus’ teachings, the implications of what he said will invariably lead to transformation of how we live. Application isn’t absent. Rather, application develops out of our wrestling with the implications of being a follower of Jesus in our specific contexts. This will be different for me. Different for you. Different for the CEO of a major corporation. Different for the roofer in Abbotsford. Quite simply, application isn’t given to us. Application is discovered.

Demanding easy applications attempts to “do” Christianity without having our lives transformed by the implications of following Jesus in our everyday lives. As difficult as it may be, I’d much rather explore the depth of implications than the emptiness of generic applications.

us/them

Check out this thoughtful and challenging reflection of Christianity and Nazi Germany from a friend of mine - "they'll know we are Christians by..." Considering how many Christians supported much of the evils of Nazism in WWII Germany, we as Christians today should ask ourselves "if we could be capable of the same things?"

Yikes!


halloween or not?

Any thoughts on how Christians should view/participate in Halloween?

From a Christian perspective, a celebration of "dark" sides of spirituality seems to counter our call to separate ourselves from things that go against God. Add to that the excessive partying and overly-revealing costumes (as seen on Granville street Friday night), and I've often wondered if there's anything good about Halloween. Why bother? And as Christians, perhaps we shouldn't bother...

This morning I came across a reflection by songwriter/storyteller Steve Bell. Bell contends that instead of fearing Halloween, Christians should engage in the positive aspects of the celebration such as "generous neighborliness." Hence his title, "Keeping Christ in Halloween." Bell closes his post with these provoking thoughts:

It seems to me that we could be out participating in the wider culture; joyfully, cheerfully, confidently handing out ’sweets’ in the various cultural arenas: politics, arts, education, science, festivals etc. We need not do this in the defensive, combative spirit we’ve become famous for, but with a caring neighborliness befitting the character of the Christ whom we worship. And we need not be concerned that we will be tainted in our efforts. For we do not draw from a shallow well, but the inexhaustible Christ who gave himself entirely so that all would know that the organizing and redeeming principle of the cosmos is not self-securing fear, but self-donating love.

Well, when my temptation is to withdraw from Halloween, often in a "self-securing fear" as Bell describes, I find myself challenged to reconsider how I engage with culture. And in particular, aspects of culture that Christians often demonize as evil (no pun intended:).

BTW: We couldn't resist dressing Landon up for Halloween.

what's the difference?

This reflection comes out of my experience of the Alpha program; and in particular, the presentation: “Why and How Should I Read the Bible?”

In an age of spiritual self-help books and endless publications professing to know the meaning of life and the path to happiness, the question of the Bible’s significance needs exploration.
Now, one approach is to argue to the Bible’s legitimacy within history, tracing the relevant evidence regarding original manuscripts, archaeological discoveries, persistence of the message, etc. Once we have established the Bible’s credibility, we can then accept it as a “manual for life” as the Alpha program presents. But in the face of the so many other “manuals for life” – e.g. spiritual self-help books – we need to understand what distinguishes the Bible’s ideas from all the other ideas about faith and successful living. Quite simply, we need to communicate to others that THE BIBLE IS NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK!

In the time I’ve been studying theology, my appreciation for the narrative quality of the Bible has only grown with time. More than abstract ideas about God, faith, and life, the Bible presents truth in the telling of stories – stories about real people, in real places, who have real encounters with God. Unlike spiritual self-help books that often attempt to provide ideas and methods in order to help us escape reality, the Bible offers stories that help us better understand the reality in which we find ourselves. And with our own life-stories full of situations of joy, hurt, disappointment, peace, and chaos, we can relate to a God who interacts with people’s joy, hurt, disappointment, peace, and chaos as the biblical narrative presents.

The church, then, needs to communicate the Bible’s significance as a story of truth, not just a bunch of good ideas. Our world has enough good ideas, but not enough good stories. This is what makes the Bible different.

The church is the community that is at once the storyteller as well as a character in the story that is required by Christian affirmation of God’s redemption of the world through the people of Israel and the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Stanley Hauerwas)

artistry of confession

At the study conference – “Confessing Jesus in a Pluralistic World” – Thomas Yoder Neufeld, the main speaker, discussed the nature of God’s wisdom and peace as exemplified in Jesus. Jesus is the “personification of wisdom,” Yoder Neufeld proclaimed. Followers of Jesus “seek to find evidence of wisdom in places they may not expect” just as Jesus did in his interactions with others. And in the context of “a world where divisions ran deep,” Yoder Neufeld described how Jesus initiated a “giant recycling project” of which everyone is a part. Barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are shattered through the “tenacity of God’s embrace” as all people are invited to experience the peace that Jesus brought. The implication for all Christians is to seek the wisdom of Jesus and represent his peace in all our relationships.

Now, several times in his presentations Yoder Neufeld highlighted the artistic aspect of confessing Jesus. In the New Testament we see several examples of confessing Jesus through hymns and psalms (Jn. 1:1-14, Col. 1:15-20, Phil. 2:5-11). These are artistic expressions of God’s “manifold wisdom” (Eph. 3:10). We see an intentional creativity in the fundamental creeds and confessions of the early church.

What does it mean, then, for us to echo this artistry in our own confession of Jesus? Or perhaps more appropriate, how do we creatively confess Jesus beyond the sources of the CCLI website? (I don’t mean to offend worship leaders and song writers, but there needs to be more to Christian art than contemporary worship music)

In his presentation, Yoder Neufeld directed us to the work of the Holy Spirit. He suggested that we pray the Holy Spirit would “enliven our imaginations” to God’s wisdom, helping us creatively express to the world who Jesus is. As Stanley Hauerwas reflects, “creativity exhibits the peculiar way Christians are trained and encouraged to remember their story” (Performing the Faith).

For anyone tired of the “same-old same-old” in our churches, the call for creativity is invigorating, freeing us to explore the breadth in confessing Jesus, particularly relevant in our complex pluralistic world. And so I pray we don’t limit ourselves in exploring the artistry of confession as a fundamental part of being a follower of Jesus.

i'm glad

As part of the conference I attended on the weekend, the MB Herald is running a blog of reflections from participants. To see my own contribution, "I'm glad," go here (and feel free to read the others as well:)

loaded words

At a recent Mennonite Brethren study conference, “Confessing Jesus in a Pluralistic World,” I thought it would be interesting to note words and phrases that are “loaded” – words carrying multiple, often divergent, meanings. And when not properly defined, these words can lead to inaccurate assumptions made by the listeners and perhaps lead to unnecessary confusion (disagreement!) within the group. Here’s my un-exhausted list in no particular order:

Sin, admire, eternal life, wrath, community discernment, team, protect God, peace, murder, hostility, gospel, atonement, penal substitution, enemies, guilt, shame, appeasement, secular, pluralistic, application, discipleship, grace, redeemed, lost people, theological anchor, Anabaptist, evangelical, authoritative, mutual submission, confession, inclusion, salvation, them, justice, violence, dialogue…

These are just a few of the terms that were being bandied about as we explored together what confessing Jesus means in our culture. As you can probably tell by the list, the old adage, “define your terms” could go a long way towards achieving understanding in any large group, such as 200+ Mennonite Brethren leaders.

I hope to post more on the conference soon...

does peacemaking pick sides?

Reading the latest MB Herald, my denominational magazine, an article on Mennonites and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict caught my attention. The article raises some important issues surrounding the practice of peacemaking. Quite simply, does peacemaking pick sides?

The critics suggest three objections: "activists affiliated with MCC and CPT offer a one-state prescription for peace which fails to recognize that 'a Jewish minority would not be safe in a Muslim-and Arab-majority country in the Middle East'; 'ironic and hypocritical' Mennonite hostility toward Jewish sovereignty; and Mennonite 'inability to deal with the reality of evil and the power needed to confront it.'"

And the Mennonite Central Committee's response: "MCC decries all violence...be that acts of terror committed by Palestinian militants against Israelis, or Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands... We seek to engage in ‘preventative defence’ on behalf of the world by proactively working for justice and peace." When it comes to picking sides in the conflict, "MCC seeks to respond to the most vulnerable people." In many cases, the most vulnerable happen to be Palestinians.

Now, I'm no expert on Middle Eastern politics and I realize the issue of securing peace is extremely complex on many levels. But the reality is, MCC's mission is to actively seek peace for all people, not political goodwill for nation-states. Plus I don't think it's our Christian responsibility to achieve political harmony at the expense of justice for the citizens of any given country. I seem to remember Jesus' response to our world's injustice picking sides too - "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt. 25:40 NIV).

My response: keep picking sides MCC and may God continue to use you to bring peace to our broken world.


FYI - I have a book review published in the same issue - "loving means engaging"

parables of heaven

As I continue to adjust to the transition from education to career I have been doing a considerable amount of reading in the area of pastoral ministry – essentially, how to be a pastor.

A book that’s been helpful personally is “From Midterms to Ministry” – a collection of stories and insights on the joys and challenges of being a pastor. This book only reinforces my view that sharing stories is one of the most effective ways we can support and encourage one another in our lives as Christians. It reminds me that I’m not alone.

I was especially encouraged by a story shared by James Kay in which he describes his unlikely journey to pastoring in small-town Minnesota fresh out of his seminary education. Like most seminary graduates, Kay had strong views on the church and how he could implement those views. But as he encountered the unexpected, the frustrating, the broken, the down-to-earth, Kay’s view of the church began to broaden. His seminary-packaged view of the church was met by a complex group of people who didn’t fit into his notions of what church should look like. But these were real people with real issues. And as Kay learned, these people had real faith. Against his theoretical expectations, the rag-tag people of this small-town embodied the gospel, for “all that is necessary for a true church is the gospel of Jesus Christ; it is this story that creates the ‘ties that bind’ the multiple stories of ordinary and strange people into the common story of the uncommon people of God.” I like that. It takes some of the pressure off of finding (or creating) the perfect church.

Now, part of what unites these “ordinary and strange” people is our common experience of brokenness and sin. No one is exempt. Not even pastors! “Sins are not confined to non-churchgoers! As Martin Luther said, ‘God saves real, not imaginary, sinners.’ Every Sunday, the wicked and the violent walk into our churches, because the line between good and evil does not run between the religious and irreligious, or between the pastors and their people, but through them all.

Kay offers a sobering message to all church leaders, one that leads me, a pastor, towards humility and openness as I relate to my church family. No matter how hard I try, I don’t (and won’t) “have it all together.” But this realization of sin comes with a declaration of hope. Kay reminds us church folks that “what keeps us going in a world like this is something called ‘heaven,’ which is not only our final destination, but which also breaks into our life and death in parables that point us to what is finally true and real about ourselves and about God.

As I journey in my faith amidst the complexities of church-life, I take joy in the parable of heaven – the stories of redemption we share with one another and that permeate our everyday lives.

what's the point? - loving others

Ok, last point in my "what's the point?" series.

Loving others - Unfortunately loving God through our worship and care for one another can often lead to a distorted view of the greatest commandment. We forget the “love your neighbor” part. And sadly, our churches can easily make this mistake. Is the whole purpose of our faith to make ourselves feel better about ourselves? Is that really what Jesus taught?

"And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"Is like it…" Notice Jesus doesn’t say loving our neighbor comes next, or later, or if you have time. Loving your neighbor comes NOW – it accompanies loving God. And so our church programs should reflect Jesus’ teaching. And so hungry folks in a local park, or children in Africa with dirty drinking water, or strangers in line at the grocery store, or the hospital-bound cancer patient who sits alone waiting for treatment, or the rough-around-the-edges recovering drug addict whom we often cross the street to avoid, how we relate to these folks – these hurting people all around us – reflects our faithfulness as the people of God.

But do we enough? How much of our energy gets put towards loving God and each other in relation to loving others? Do we simply check loving others off of some sort of imaginary list of spiritually good works, or do we constantly wrestle with how to meet the needs of our neighbors as a fundamental part of loving God as his people? In our comfortable lives, we can all do more, not out of guilt or on our own strength, but as we are empowered by God’s call on our lives as the people of God. We can’t forget this!

Well, in sum, the church is the people of God – a community formed through the call of Jesus Christ on our lives to be a representation of God to this world. Not at the expense of a personal faith – an experience of Christ’s salvation in our individual lives – but the recognition that a personal experience of God finds its fullness in community as we seek together to love God and love others fully.

what's the point? - worship and care

If all we do in church is supposed to be centered on loving God and loving others as I suggest, what does this mean for our church programs – the things we are “doing” that make us so busy?

First off, what are we doing that falls specifically under the “loving God” part?

Worship - Ok, if there’s one area of church life that I’m tired of, it’s the discussion over worship “style.” It’s become too easy to define our worship gatherings around personal preference, not whether we’re faithfully loving God with our whole selves as specific churches in particular places. We all think we’ve got worship right… Unfortunately, people get distracted by the format and forget why they worship in the first place. Worship throughout the Bible is both a personal approach to life in commitment to God as well as a corporate gathering to remind the community of faith of their identity as the people of God. By reminding us of who we are, worship acts to call us towards greater faithfulness in loving God and loving others. Worship format, therefore, should always serve this purpose… And I’ll admit, this means the door is open for creativity as we gather to be reminded of who we are as the people of God.

Care for one another - I think how we relate to one another in the church is part of the loving God part. We help remind each other who we are as followers of Jesus within the people of God. Now, lots of programs in churches are often geared towards the church itself (e.g. Sunday school, care groups, social events, board meetings, prayer chains, etc…). I think this is a good thing, qualified of course with the assumption that all our programs – all our busyness – intends to encourage the church community towards more faithfully loving God and loving others. In doing all of these things, then, we are not merely making life complicated amidst an already hectic society. No, we’re following the admonition of Paul to “encourage one another” in our faith (1 Thess 5:11). Being part of a faith community is about sharing our lives with others, realizing that God has created us to need one another.

Next up - loving our neighbor.

jazzy hymn - i have decided

This video of Mike Janzen came through my inbox this morning via a Steve Bell update.

The artistry and incredible musicianship speaks for itself. Enjoy!

what’s the point? – what are we doing?

If the church is God’s representation in the world – the people of God – it seems natural that what we do should reflect who we are.

Easier said than done…

You may have noticed, but church practices are by no means universal. To say there’s variety in churches is an extreme understatement. Historically, how we “do” church has seen its fair share of variation, ranging from the early church’s debate surrounding Jewish-Gentile integration, to the countless monastic movements, to the papal of feuds of medieval Catholicism, to the Reformation, to the proliferation of denominations, to the “style” of worship, and on and on and on...

This lack of consistency in representing biblical Christianity only contributes to the church’s apparent irrelevance I discussed earlier. How can people who claim to follow the same God accept so much variety and outright disunity?

Often churches think if they can just “get it right” they will overcome this critique. And so they approach what they do in a certain way. For some churches this means adopting a consumer-oriented approach to church. Essentially, variety in church practices is something that should be capitalized on. If we simply get the formula right and garner just enough of the “cool” factor (e.g. rock music), people will see that what we offer is worth something amidst the smorgasbord of religious options. (Ryan’s got some good thoughts on consumer approaches to church here). For other churches, they deem an opposite approach more appropriate, a complete withdrawal from attempting to be relevant in the world. Scared that society will negatively infiltrate what we do (e.g. rock music), we’ll just withdraw into our holy huddle, adopting practices and programs that sustain a status quo we’ve all become accustomed to. Both responses, unfortunately, allow the church’s relationship to society – how they are perceived by others – to determine what they do.

And while most churches likely fall somewhere in-between these two caricatures, I want to suggest that even some sort of middle ground isn’t helpful. Finding just the right mix of cool and conservative doesn’t lead to faithfully being the church in the world. We need a different motivation. Jesus’ straightforward summation of faithfully being God’s people sums it up:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Mt. 22:36-40 NIV).

I want to suggest an appropriate paraphrase is “all that we do in church hang on these two commandments.” So as I post on how church programs in the areas of worship, encouragement, and loving others, I’ll propose that it’s these few words, not cultural relevance, that should determine what we do as the people of God.

oh how time flies…

Well, I’m officially the father of a one-year-old - my little fella Landon. It’s hard to believe how much life has changed in the last year (for all three of us). We’re so thankful to experience this year of transitions with our awesome son. I’d do anything for the little guy (well, not so little, but you know what I mean;)!!!

Happy Birthday Landon!

One day old...


Merry Christmas!


Distinguished 6-month-old.

Summer with Dad!

The "I can't believe I'm one" look.



the prayer cross - "experience the magic"

Described as a great "spiritual accessory" (whatever that means), I came across this pathetic display of Christian commercialism on TV this week - The Prayer Cross. I'll let the ad speak for itself...



UGH!!!

what’s the point? – people of god

In response to an irrelevant church, my first thought is to ask, “who are we?” Searching the biblical narrative, a common theme that broadly summarizes the church’s identity is “people of God”

We find in the biblical narrative a story about a loving God who created the heavens and the earth. Not only that, God created humans in his own image, calling them to bear that image in the world. And while humans have chosen to go their own way more often than not, God continues to call for a community – the people of God – to represent him to the world.

Old Testament: Here we read about the journey of a people living out the call to represent God. And while it’s a journey filled with failure and disappointment, God’s persistent love continually calls this “people” towards himself. We here phrases like “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12) and “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I am God’” (Is. 43:12).

New Testament: Unfortunately Christians often interpret Jesus’ message to make the Old Testament unnecessary, which can lead to a neglect of the emphasis on the people of God as integral to biblical faith. But if we consider how Jesus himself declares that he came to “fulfill” the message of the Old Testament, not “abolish” it (Mt. 5:17-18), we see continuity in God’s mission through both testaments – a mission to establish a faithful “people of God” initiated with Israel and confirmed in Christ. And so we get language referring to the church as a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9) and a “chosen people” (Col 3:12) – language that continues to emphasize that being a Christian is a communal activity.

Now, making our identity as the “people of God” central to our understanding of Christianity contrasts a common alternative view to Christianity: the “Lone Ranger Christian” or perhaps more current, the “Jason Bourne Christian.” These approaches to faith suggest that a ‘strong’ Christian is someone who is completely self-sufficient, able to muster enough strength and courage to face whatever hardships come your way. And these types of people are looked up to in our society, as complete independence becomes a celebrated achievement all should strive for. But looking at the biblical narrative, God may call individuals to specific tasks and declare his love for us individually, but always within the greater context of his love for all people and his desire to create a people – the people of God.

For a great resource of this topic, check out N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God

what’s the point? – irrelevant church

In a post last week, I raised the question “what’s the point?” in response to the busyness in our lives and in particular, our churches. I’ll take the next few posts and explore some of my answers.

The church’s busyness, I believe, contributes to the cultural stereotype that the church is irrelevant in cultivating spirituality. And so we here phrases like the oft heard, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” For many, church affiliation is seen as a waste of time. As sociologist Reginald Bibby describes, “Canadians may be hungering for the gods but that is hardly to say they are hungering for the churches” (Restless Gods).

Unfortunately, churches can easily succumb to the stereotypes that culture has for them. The message can be dated, irrelevant, and boring. The programs, well, they’re much the same. The church accepts its fate to remain a private social club for individuals who choose it, but not really offering anything beyond that.

Interestingly, Bibby’s research shows a resurgent interest in organized religion in the early 21st century. And while people have seen the church as irrelevant, it’s not because they’re necessarily against church in general, but because the church itself has been irrelevant. The problem, Bibby’s suggests, is not necessarily an unreceptive culture – the problem is the church itself.

And the problem, I’m suggesting, is the church’s practices – our busyness – can easily wander away from a biblical understanding of the church’s role in the world. This disconnection from the Gospel, then, leads to disconnection with the surrounding culture. If we don’t continually discern and remind ourselves why we do what do, we run the risk of simply remaining an irrelevant – albeit busy – organization in society.

It’s to this situation that I ask the question, then, what’s the point? And in particular, who are we and what are doing?

a prayer in our doubts

This morning I read a paraphrase version of psalm 109 and was struck with the honesty of the author as he related the experience of doubt. Answering questions of suffering in the context of our belief in a good God is no easy task. For example, you can follow a discussion on Ryan's blog on the very subject. Leslie Brandt, the author, expresses the challenges of the subject well in his prayer. May this be our prayer in the face of our doubts...

Oh God, I have been taught to believe
that You are God over our world.
It has been dinned into my ears
by the preachers of my youth,
by parents, teachers, and self-appointed apostles.
“God holds the reins,” they say.
“He will have the last word,” they claim.

I’ve honestly tried to believe it.
And with tongue in cheek
I’ve sounded off to others
about Your power and Your promises
Maybe they sensed my incredulity.
It may be that they just habitually accepted
or unthinkingly nodded assent
to my platitudes and pronouncements.
How can I really believe in Your omnipotence
unless I look the other way
when tragedy befalls
or close my eyes to the agony and ugliness
on all sides of me?

I cannot believe You inflict pain on Your creatures.
I realize that our suffering is most often
the consequences of our own selfishness.
But what about the babies born
with two strikes against them?
the grisly slaughter on battlefield, highways?
the destruction of thousands when the earth
shifts and breaks up under them?
the pressures and indignities
forced upon minority races?
What about this, O God?
How can I explain this to my sceptical friends
or even to myself?

Is it possibly true, O God,
that You really are not omnipotent?
that this fractured world is not
in the palm of your hand?
that Your great power is limited
in respect to this distorted planet
and its sin-ridden inhabitants?

O God, the basis of all being,
my ultimate and eternal concern,
I know that Your are not floating out there
over and beyond our ball of clay.
You are in our world.
You are amongst Your creatures,
inscrutable, indefinable,
great in majesty and splendour.
You bring beauty out of ugliness.
Out of the ashes of our sickness and suffering
You bring forth new creations.
I shall never want to define you, O God,
for I cannot worship what I comprehend.
But I pray for Your grace to stand firm
even amid my nagging doubts
and to praise You in time of adversity.
(Psalms Now)

too good to pass up

In exploring some answers to the question I raised in my previous post, I came across this little gem of an illustration. Perhaps I can work it into my sermon…

There was a $20 dollar bill and a $1 dollar bill on the conveyor belt at the downtown Federal Reserve Building. As they were laying there side by side, the $1 dollar bill said to the $20 dollar bill, "Hey mannnnnn, where have you been, I haven't seen you in a longtime?"

The $20 dollar bill replied, "Man I have been having a ball! ". I've been traveling to distant countries, going to the finest restaurants, to the biggest and best casinos, numerous boutiques, the mall uptown, the mall downtown, the mall across town and even a mall that was just newly built. In fact, just this week I've been to Europe, a professional NBA game, Rodeo Drive, the all day retreat spa, the topnotch hair salon, and the new casino!! I have done it all!!!"

After describing his great travels, the $20 dollar bill asked the $1 dollar bill, "What about you, Where have you been?"

The $1 dollar replied, "Well, I've been to the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopalian Church, the Church of God in Christ, the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, the A. M. E. Church, the Disciples of Christ Church, the..."

"WAIT A MINUTE, WAIT A MINUTE", shouted the $20 dollar bill to the $1 dollar bill.

"What in the world is a church??!!!"

(found here, via Google search)

I know, I know, you’re probably groaning, but aren’t all good sermon illustrations supposed to make you groan!?! ;)

let the busyness begin

I’m not sure about you, but the busyness of September can easily become a drain on the psyche. Kind of like the first day of class when you get your syllabi and are bombarded by the long list of assignments that require completion in the weeks and months that follow. It’s a daunting place to be.

If you’re part of a church, the kick-off of fall programs can bring similar feelings. Fall fairs, care group socials, worship team practices, strategic planning, Christmas planning (yes already!), Alpha, youth group, clean-up day, kids club, soup kitchen, bible study, family nights, board meetings… I think you get the point. Church is BUSY.

But is busyness really why we go to church? Aren’t there enough other activities in our lives that fill up our schedule? Isn’t there a way church can be more than just filler in my weekly timetable?

Well, that’s led me to ask the question, “What’s the point?” Why do we do the things we do in church? And to be honest, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. So I’ve decided to title my sermon this coming Sunday, “What’s the point?” I have been charged to speak a message on who we are and what we do as a local community church. Hopefully questioning (and answering?) this crucial question can provide a frame of reference from which we can understand (and perhaps reprioritize) our busyness in church.

And so I plan to share my discoveries over the next week. Likely some things will be positive – at least I assume that what we do week to week does have some value in the context of God’s kingdom. But I also suspect to be challenged, as there may be areas of my life and our church that have succumbed to merely adding busyness to our lives. In this case, my prayer is that we’ll seriously engage how to be more faithful in our church life.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress...

fresh start in a time of transitions

Well, since I last participated in the blogosphere my life has been full of transitions. So this return to blogging is a sort of fresh start – new look, new name, new blog posts (I mean it this time!).

I’ll begin with a summary of my recent transitions.

Graduation - In April, I officially graduated from Regent College with a Master of Christian Studies in "Christianity and Culture." And while I had completed all my work in Sep. '08, I still found it meaningful to officially celebrate the accomplishment.

Job - Around the time I graduated I accepted the position of associate pastor at Hyde CreekCommunity Church , in Port Coquitlam, B.C. While I'm saddened to leave my roofing career (I'm serious, I will miss it greatly!), I'm excited to be able to join a community of faith in a pastoral role and work with a local church towards faithfully representing God's kingdom in the world. Besides general duties involved with any pastoral position, the main focus I will have is on "community impact." This basically means I will be helping the church find appropriate ways in which they can make a meaningful contribution in the world, both in the neighborhoods everyone lives in and in the church's backyard. Less about program and more about people, I’m excited to be a part of church looks beyond its own walls and seriously engages its task to tangibly represent God’s kingdom.

Home - With this new job has been another transition: moving! After scouring the market north of the Fraser, we were able to find a home in West Maple Ridge, a short drive to the church in PoCo and with great access to the rest of the Lower Mainland via the Golden Ears Bridge. And while we’re still adjusting to our new home and town, we’re enjoying our exploration of the new communities we are in and getting to know the people we’ll be sharing our lives with in the years to come.

And so as I transition into my role as a pastor and Julie and I settle into both a new community and church, I intend to revive my blogging. It’s here that I will offer my thoughts, inviting you to consider my ideas around faith, community and culture.

Correcting Mennonite Brethren Individualism: The Pertinence of Stanley Hauerwas’s Theology

Well, earlier this month I finally submitted my MCS thesis for binding. While the whole process pushed me in just about every way imaginable, I can truly say it was an extremely awarding project. The chance to explore the historical developments of my own religious heritage (Mennonite Brethren) in relation to a contemporary theologian has been an experience that will impact my life forever.

If you're interested, I've included the abstract to my thesis here and below is a link to the document itself for anyone brave enough to wade the waters of Mennonite Brethren history and the oftentimes refreshing yet frustrating Stanley Hauerwas.

Abstract

Individualism is a pervasive problem in Christian faith and practice in the twenty-first century, elevating the individual experience of faith at the expense of acknowledging the community-implications of Christian identity. Stanley Hauerwas, prominent Christian ethicist and theologian, provides a response to individualism that is both compelling and frustrating, offering an inspiring argument for the centrality of community in the Christian faith, but leaving to his readers the task of applying his ideas.

A contemporary North American denomination susceptible to individualism is the Mennonite Brethren. By emphasizing the individual nature of the Christian experience, the Mennonite Brethren movement has demonstrated a propensity towards individualistic interpretations of the Christian faith, both in its historical roots and North American assimilation. Considering their individualism, the Mennonite Brethren are an appropriate case study for assessing the applicability of Hauerwas’s theology.

This thesis examines the applicability of Stanley Hauerwas’s theology for responding to Mennonite Brethren individualism. Hauerwas’s project helps Mennonite Brethren identity by challenging them to rebalance their theology and practice away from individualism and towards a more community-oriented faith. Unfortunately, Hauerwas lacks practical and realistic solutions that could help envision Mennonite Brethren community in the twenty-first century. Ultimately, Hauerwas’s project is only partially valuable towards correcting Mennonite Brethren individualism.


MCS Thesis - David Warkentin

A Healthy Dose of Doubt

Doubt: a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something

Lately I’ve been wondering about the role and value of doubt in the Christian faith. Be it discussions with friends, thoughts on various theological issues, discussing life’s conundrums with my wife, or reading other blogs (see Ryan’s helpful thoughts here), the topic of doubt is constantly coming up. So I figured it was time to share some of my own perspectives…

It seems that today doubt has become an acceptable part of the Christian faith. For instance, much of Christianity (not all) accepts Mother Teresa’s doubt – her “crisis of faith” – as a further sign of her already profound expression of true faith. I tend to agree. Now, I am careful not to endorse doubt as the only or the primary expression of one’s religious exploration. The tendency to deconstruct all truth in our (post)modern context can lead to endless questioning without any real desire for answers. It exhibits itself more as pessimism towards all things “modern” than actually being a serious consideration of religious truth.

Despite this problem, I actually think a healthy dose of doubt exhibits religious vitality. For one, doubt pushes us take seriously the truth claims we so often take for granted. And considering that Christian beliefs can and should have a profound impact on how we live, doubting these beliefs reflects an acknowledgment of just how serious and life changing our understanding of truth can be.

Second, doubt is simply a reality of the human experience. Being a Christian isn’t reality-denying, as some perhaps have interpreted it to be. Rather, a Christian perspective on life attempts truth to the reality of human experience, doubt included. I think our attempts to live ‘Christianly’, for example, could translate far better into the brokenness of our world if Christians were willing to at least acknowledge the doubts many people have regarding the applicability of Christian principles in our world.

Finally, these signs for doubt as religious vitality reveal the ongoing necessity for humility in the Christian life, in particular humility regarding our ability to answer life’s bigger questions. While we may accept our own theologies and biblical interpretations as true (as individuals and communities), we must recognize the context from which these ideas come from and be willing to recognize areas in which human brokenness may or may not have ill-construed our interpretation of truth. From this position of humility, I believe, we acknowledge as Christians that our experience of truth is yet limited. From our humility, then, we place hope beyond ourselves for complete truth. Hope, however, amidst our doubt, never in denial of it.

Blessed Identity

In a recent sermon I delved into the meaning of the beatitudes throughout Scripture (“Blessed are…”). In particular, I examined how our view of what it means to be blessed is challenged by the statements of blessedness we encounter throughout the Bible. Typically, especially in our North American culture, we define our lives as blessed based on the circumstances we find ourselves in (e.g. $$$, family, health, friends, etc…). The problem, I suggested, is that this view of blessedness is limited to our own experience of what we think is blessing, whereas in the beatitudes of Scripture, blessedness is foremost a statement of our identity as the people of God. Christian living, then, requires us to accept identity as God’s people—an identity that in itself counts us blessed.

So when we read the beatitudes, instead of simply viewing the statements as rigorous ethical ideals for us to scramble towards attaining, they are actually a declaration of who we already are as the people of God. By realizing our blessed identity as the people of God, we don’t allow our circumstances to determine our blessedness, hopefully leading to an approach to everyday life that is informed by this blessed identity.

But is simply declaring our identity as “blessed” enough to actually live out that reality? Well, as I reflected on my message I came across the following:

If it acts like a duck (all the time), it's a duck. Doesn't matter if the duck thinks it's a dog, it's still a duck as far as the rest of us are concerned.

Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promise, not "being who you are".

That's because 'being' is too amorphous and we are notoriously bad at judging that. Internal vision is always blurry. Doing, on the other hand, is an act that can be seen by all.

As the Internet and a connected culture places a higher premium on authenticity (because if you're inconsistent, you're going to get caught) it's easy to confuse authentic behavior with an existential crisis. Are you really good enough, kind enough, generous enough and brave enough to be authentically a hero or leader?

Mother Theresa was filled with self doubt. But she was an authentic saint, because she always acted like one.

You could spend your time wondering if what you say you are is really you. Or you could just act like that all the time. That's good enough, thanks. Save the angst for later. (Seth Godin via Mike Todd)

So… it’s one thing to declare who we, and it’s quite another to actually live that identity out. In a way, the absence of action may in fact be the absence of identity altogether.

And so for someone who has spent considerable time and energy reflecting on the identity of the people of God, these challenging reflections push me to consider how identity requires a corresponding action in our world. Now, I’m not convinced we have to separate identity from action. How can we know how to act if we don’t know who are are? And yet how can we be authentic individuals without concrete action that represents who we are?

I conclude, then, that there needs to be a both/and reality of identity and action—an understanding that who we are requires concrete action consistent with that identity.

The problem, which I'd love to get some feedback on, is when we doubt who we as Christians can we still act faithfully even if we are unsure of what believe? Still working on that one...


Craig Cardiff

Recently I decided to take advantage of the latest iTunes wizardry and give the application “Genius” a try. For those who don’t know, Genius examines your music library and makes suggestions for new music based on that. Short story short, I came across the musician Craig Cardiff, an independent Canadian musician whose folk tunes, raw voice, and challenging lyrics can’t help but draw the listener in. In an extraordinary way, Cardiff manages to not only present his art, but presents a glimpse into reality through his music. In my opinion, any musician who can achieve that is worth my time.




I have his album Goodnight (Go Home) and can’t turn it off. Go to his website for a listen…

Discovery of Heaven

I recently completed Discovery of Heaven, by Harry Mulisch. The book is a philosophical/theological novel that covers some pretty major themes first in human relationships and modern culture, but then also in considering the role of the supernatural in a modern world that typically denies any supernatural reality.

The background of the novel has two angels in dialogue about a plan they have been working on—a plan that involves a final interaction with the increasingly self-sufficient modern world

What drew me into this novel was the story itself. The narrative begins by tracing the friendship of two men, one an astronomer (Max) and the other an academic-turned politician (Onno). Together they not only display a constant intellectual banter that challenges the reader to reflect on many different important themes, but they also experience several adventures (told in vivid and usually humorous form by Mulisch) that pull the reader along through all 700+ pages. And eventually, through a bizarre set of circumstances (influenced by the angels), these men end up raising a son, Quinten.

And it is Quinten who is ultimately the person whom the angels use for their final interaction with modern world. Experiencing a recurring dream throughout his childhood, Quinten realizes at a young age that he was born for a particular purpose, even if he doesn’t know what that purpose is. And so in his teen years, Quinten decides to travel to Italy on the quest to fulfill this purpose (Having recently traveled Italy, I especially appreciated Mulisch’s colorful descriptions of Italian architecture and culture). The narrative eventually takes Quinten to Rome where he uncovers the special purpose of his life, culminating in an event that signifies, essentially, the cutoff of supernatural interaction with the world and thus the completion of the angel’s plan.

What drew me into this novel was both Mulisch’s excellent descriptive writing and ability to weave a story. And while both characters and events are at times far-fetched, the truths that are represented make these situations somehow believable, if not for the simple fact the reader cannot help but see that the story presents much of what we experience in modern culture.

For someone who holds out hope that God still interacts in our world the end of the book was somewhat depressing. Yet the reality of humanity’s hardening towards supernatural interaction—whether that be through science, art, music, or otherwise—was a sobering reminder of how modern culture has come to see itself as the pinnacle of reality—sufficient unto itself.

In my opinion, any novel that walks the line between entertaining prose and profound themes related to the human experience is worth reading. With this criteria then, Discovery of Heaven is without a doubt a must-read.