taste of heaven

This morning I'm in for a mini reunion of sorts. And while I'm excited for the time I get to spend with my close friends J and Ryan, whom I studied with at Regent College , I'll admit, I'm equally anticipating the renewal of another acquaintance - cinnamon buns at Grounds for Coffee in Vancouver.

While studying at Regent these cinnamon buns became a weekly ritual of doughy bliss. Using a term from my theology professor, John Stackhouse, these cinnamon buns are "eschatological goodies" - a foretaste of our hope that one day God will make everything right. When I eat a Grounds for Coffee cinnamon bun, for a brief moment (very brief!), all seems right with the world. It's a hopeful experience!

I can't wait for this taste of heaven!

the stories around us

For some reason every time I find myself in a very large crowd, I'm amazed how so many thousands of people end up in one place at the very same time. I mean, it's remarkable how all these people's lives, all with different stories, align together, to say, watch the fireworks in English Bay, or cheer Team Canada in downtown Vancouver during the Olympics, or sing along to U2 in BC Place stadium. Yet in these gatherings, I'm struck most with how little I know about the people around me. We may all gather for a big event, but I feel anonymous. My life - my story - gets lost in the crowd.

But I don't think this feeling is limited to large scale events. Typically, the feeling of isolation is an everyday reality in our North American culture. We know little about the person on the bus we see everyday, or the family at the park who's kids play with ours, or the coworker we see everyday in the lunch room, but have never talked to. Everyday life is like being in a sold-out stadium of strangers, surrounded by stories we don't know.

I have a friend who spends considerable time working in Gambia. As I read some of his reflections this week, I was struck by how his life in Africa is filled with encountering other people's stories. He recently wrote,

There are not a lot of simple answers when you live in and amongst poverty, particularly when it has been presence for a sustained period of time. Each day my door lines with stories big and small. School, food, health care and shelter are all worthy causes and essential to holding the poverty cycle. Of course it is easy to ignore when you aren’t there but when the reality of the situation has a name and face and is standing at your door it is hard to hide.

At first, I was tempted to accept that he's simply describing life in Africa - it's a different culture that allows for people to connect with one another. Here in North America our stories aren't as visible. But in discussing this another friend challenged that the visibility of our lives isn't the problem. Our inability to stop and pay attention to the stories around us is the issue. The stories are there. We just don't see them.

So as I go through the busyness of everyday North American suburban life, I'm challenged to pay attention to the stories around me, recognizing how "each day my door lines with stories big and small."

I've always liked the story of Zacchaeus, which in the context of this post prompts more reflection than just a chuckle over a short-man's attempts to see Jesus. You see, Jesus engaged the people - the stories - around him:

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 34 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Luke 19:1-10 (TNIV)

peace is a choice...

I've been meaning to post this piece on peace for awhile (sorry, I couldn't resist:). But I was reminded of it this week as I read some reflections from a pastor friend of mine on the topic of just war and pacifism (see here his post and the ongoing discussion ).

If you're not aware, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is an organization that works actively for peace around the world, particularly in places where conflict and violence is a significant part of everyday life (see here for a list of places). The following was part of an MCC bookmark that I came across my desk:

Imagine a peaceful world...change begins with a dream.

The world is full of violence. Each day we hear about wars, armed conflict, violence on the street, in the schoolyard, or in the privacy of a home. It is often hard to imagine a world free of violence. People who choose peace dare to dream that a different world is possible. God also has a dream. It is a dream of swords being turned into plowshares, of people living in safety and security, of nations not going to war anymore. Dream a dream and help change the world.

"The regenerated do not go to war, nor engage in strife. They are children of peace who have beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks, and know no war" -
Menno Simons

The bottom of the bookmark states, "over the course of this year, we will explore other ways to choose peace and live out new hope in the name of Christ."

Realizing peacemaking and nonviolence can remain a position of impractical idealism, I look forward to hearing more about how people around the world are practically living out the dream of peace. For a vision that often seems so unrealistic, we need stories to help us realize peace is possible. I will post these stories from MCC as they become available.

capitalism, psalms, and the prodigal son

What do capitalism, psalms, and the prodigal son all have in common? Well, I'm sure exactly, except that I've recently come across works on all three topics and want to offer my reviews here.

Ok, capitalism first. Every once in awhile Julie and I like to watch documentaries. So we decided to go with Michael Moore's latest film - Capitalism: A Love Story.

The film traces the onset of the economic recession in the U.S. and chronicles the personal stories of several families and individuals parallel to the crazy hoopla around the U.S. government's major economic bailout to financial institutions. Like every Michael Moore piece, you obviously get one side the story and as a economic lay-person, it's hard to critique his facts. But as usual, the film is full of Moore's creative storytelling antics - the best part is when he attempts to make citizens arrests of CEO's at major financial institutions on Wall Street in New York. The symbolism of his actions were striking: people in America (and perhaps Canada to degree) are fed up with ongoing acceptance of the inconsistencies and even illegal activities of the elite in our world. And according to Moore, a financial bailout is not the answer. And while Moore may fail to critically provide enough serious solutions (is that really his purpose?), what he does best is tell stories. The economy isn't simply about crunching numbers. It's about people's lives. Moore's storytelling makes that point well, so for his storytelling alone I'd recommend this film.

And now onto the psalms!

The Psalms are my favorite part of the Bible. They express the raw nature of our faith - how the connection between religious devotion and real life is a link wrought with tension, hardship, mystery, and joy. There is an honesty in the psalms that relates to what we experience in the world. So anytime I come across new (or old) takes on the psalms (e.g. the Message or Psalms Now), I'm excited. The latest such translation to cross my path is The Voice of Psalms.

The Voice of Psalms is a collaborative translation, bringing together writers, poets, pastors, and scholars to "capture the beauty and diversity of God's Word." This edition is one of many in a series called "The Voice," published by Thomas Nelson in conjunction with the Ecclesia Bible Society.

Overall, I'd highly recommend The Voice of Psalms. In the process of making the psalms culturally relevant, the authors are careful to maintain a faithfulness to the original text. And where they've added thoughts to clarify concepts, italics are used to highlight where liberties are being taken. This process avoids confusion when comparing it to other translations, while also allowing some freedom in understanding how the tone of these ancient poems maintain relevance today. Here's a taste with their version of Psalm 13 (one of my favorite psalms):

How long, O Eternal One? How long will You forget me? Forever?
How long will You look the other way?

How long must I agonize,
grieving Your absence in my heart every day?
How long will You let my enemies win?

Turn back; respond to me, O Eternal One, my True God!
Put the spark of life in my eyes, or I'm dead.

My enemies will boast they have beaten me;
my foes will celebrate that I have stumbled.

But I trust in Your faithful love;
my heart leaps at the thought of imminent deliverance by You.
I will sing to the Eternal One,
For He is always generous with me.

My main critique is I could have done without the smattering of anecdotes that accompany several of the psalms, as they lacked the same creativity and substance I saw in the actual translation. Also, for some reason I'm not a fan of the title for God, "Eternal One." For me it seems too generic, perhaps lacking the substance of God's identity as described in the whole biblical narrative. Maybe I'm just too used to "Lord" and "God."

I reviewed this book as a part of the "Book Sneeze" review program.

And finally, on the parable of the prodigal son, I recently reviewed Tim Keller's, The Prodigal God, for my denominational magazine, The MB Herald. Here's my summary:

With an apt blend of storytelling, cultural insights, and biblical exposition, Keller’s writing should appeal to many. Overall, The Prodigal God offers a dynamic, yet easily accessible discussion of the Christian faith, offering hope for Christians wrestling with how to understand and communicate the gospel in our world.

You can read the rest of my review here.

So, capitalism, psalms and the prodigal son - stories of life and money in a broken world, poems expressing hopeful honesty for life in a broken world, and reflections on God's love in a broken world. While I appreciate realism for the world's brokenness, I'm thankful that brokenness does not have the final word:

O my soul, why are you so overwrought?
Why are you so disturbed?
Why can't I just hope in God?
Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again.
I will
believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life,
My Savior and my God.
(Psalm 43:5 - The Voice of Psalms)

Ok, one more Easter quote

I keep coming across Easter quotes I can't pass up. This one is from Will Willimon's blog, written in the context of pastoring and the church: Reminds me of 1 Cor. 1:23 -

"Easter keeps differentiating the church from a respectable, gradually progressive, moral improvement society. Here, there are sudden lurches to the left and to the right, falling backwards and lunging forward, people breaking lose and getting out of control. Easter keeps reminding us pastors that the church is the result of something that God in Jesus Christ has done, not something we have done. When the world wants change, the world raises an army, arms itself to the teeth and marches forth with banners unfurled to storm the wilderness. When the God of cross and resurrection wants to change the world this God always does so nonviolently, through some voice crying in the wilderness, through preaching."

Reminds me of 1 Cor. 1:20-25:

"20 Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (TNIV)

one-day happy ending?

Ok, I just can't drop this whole Easter thing (see here). But I think this quote justifies my ongoing consideration for the relevance of the resurrection story:

"I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday....and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

"...[Easter] ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don't throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don't do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn't take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It's long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system." (N.T. Wright)

(h/t Artisan Church newsletter)

now what?

I'm realizing after Easter, I have a kind of "now what?" feeling towards life. Maybe it's just a pastor thing, as so much energy went into orchestrating our Passion week church gatherings. But I think it goes deeper than that. I think there's theological basis for how our celebration of Jesus' resurrection demands the question, "now what?" If Jesus really didn't conquer sin, death, and evil, well, then what happens in my life? How is that victory realized? Or, and perhaps the most difficult, what about the fact that so much of life and the world doesn't reflect the hope that Jesus' resurrection points us toward? I realize there are no clean or easy answers to the "what now?" of Easter. I do know, however, that if I do indeed believe Jesus rose victorious from the grave, then life as we know it is changed somehow. How we live must reflect the reality of the resurrection.

This week I encountered several instances of others working through the "now what?" of Easter in one way or another. All of them offer insight and challenge into how we explore the everyday implications of the resurrection. Here they are in no particular order:

Rumblings - "Garbage and Flowers: A Post-Easter Reflection" - Here Ryan grapples with the collision of a hope Christians find so meaningful with the reality of the unrealized hopes - "garbage" of our lives. Add to that some reflection around the place of Easter in secular culture and I think Ryan points to some critical aspects and challenges we're faced in exploring the "now what?" of Easter.

Experimental Theology - "Why Easter Resists Commercialization" - I've always wondered what the title explores - why does Easter take such a back seat in our secular culture to other religious holidays, especially Christmas? Quoting an article, this post by Richard Beck offers good insight into why Easter is "less amenable to Hallmarkification" than other religious holidays.

Intersect - "Hope, presumption or Despair: How do we shape the narrative of our lives?" - I wanted to welcome my good friend, Phil Rushton, to the blogosphere by offering a brief comment here. Phil offers some provoking thoughts around how we can avoid the extremes of presumptive optimism and despairing pessimism, choosing instead to form our lives around the hopeful narrative that Easter offers. Glad to see Phil sharing his thoughts with us blogging folks!

John Stackhouse Interview - In a TV interview, John Stackhouse offers a candid and concise summary for the importance of the resurrection historically (this is the second of two parts to the interview).

Vancouver 2010 - The Legacy of Good Will

It's hard to believe that the Vancouver 2010 Olympics ended over one month ago. What a time it was! National pride and unity spanning the country as our athletes performed heroically on behalf of us all. Here in Greater Vancouver, the Olympic spirit was palpable. There was openness and good will towards others like I hadn't seen before in my lifetime growing up here (perhaps closely rivaled by Expo '86, but I was only 4 then). So, a little over a month out from this event, people are asking, what's the legacy of these games? Will the good will persist and even transform who we are as Vancouverites and Canadians?

This morning I read an article by the president of Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver, Bill Mollard. As someone working in the Downtown Eastside, he was no doubt immersed in the hype of the Olympic event, but also issue of the ongoing poverty many in Vancouver endure. So it's from his context that I find his words on the legacy of the Olympics quite thought-provoking (and hopefully action-provoking!). Here's a snippet of Mollard's comments:

"Could the dogged determination it took to prepare for and execute the games, and the delightful sense of Canadian identity that emerged during them, point toward a way forward for our nation? If we applied the same resolve, brilliance and financial resources from churches, government, scientists, business, police, artists, volunteers, activists and everyday people that we did for this landmark event, what couldn’t we overcome?

Who are we going to be, Canada? The future is ours; what kind of country do we want to live in?"

And continuing, Mollard offers a specific challenge to address this "future":

"Imagine if people looked back and said, 'that was the year we felt something change.' And imagine the part that we, as Christians, could play in this change. Because it’s an issue long dear to my heart, let me let me take you down just one particular path of possibility: ending homelessness... After being caught up in the achievement of these Games, that dream has never felt more achievable. I, for one, believe that Canadians are compassionate, generous, ingenious people who want to empower one another, and especially our most vulnerable citizens. I believe that, with the same communal pride we felt during the Olympics, we can come alongside the mentally ill homeless with the help and care they need. We can offer recovery programs to the addicted that provide a way out of their debilitating condition into a full, good life. Not only can we do this, but we can become known across Canada as the catalyst for this kind of collective compassion."

An overly optimistic vision for the potential of Canadians? Perhaps. A worthwhile proposition, however? Most definitely. And as someone who felt the "change" in Vancouver for two weeks in February, I'm challenged to examine how my cultural participation for the Olympics can extend to more lasting change for my community and our country.

The Lord has Risen!

"His Resurrection"

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; the Lord has risen!

He has risen indeed!

The Lord has risen!

He has risen indeed!

The Lord has risen!

He has risen indeed!

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Death has been swallowed up in victory!

Christ has risen indeed!

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord has risen!

He has risen indeed! Alleluia!