“God doesn’t micro-manage the universe”

Recently I watched the video below from Alter Video Magazine. Greg Boyd, who's stated mission is "provoking thought", gives us lots to ponder, especially if these are some of questions you face:

How does God interact with me? And the world?
How does suffering relate to God's sovereignty?
What is human freedom?

These quotes were especially thought-provoking:

“God doesn’t micro-manage the universe.” “Decisions matter.” “Salvation is participating in the life of God.”

I plan to reflect more deeply next week, but for now watch and consider (and comment if you'd like):


Greg Boyd Chat from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

container village - VOTE NOW!!!

Anyone living the Greater Vancouver area knows that homelessness is a reality we cannot ignore. And thankfully, people in the Tri-Cities (Port Moody, Coquitlam, and Port Coquitlam) where I work aren't willing to stand idly by in the face of this reality. Which brings us to a special project everyone can participate in, even if don't live in the Tri-Cities: Container Village.

Container Village is a shelter project that provides temporary shelter to individuals in the community, along with bathroom facilities, a hot shower, and a meal. While plans are underway for a permanent shelter, Container Village offers an immediate remedy to address homelessness. But it takes money. And support. Which is where you and I come in. To help make this happen, Container Village has applied for funds through the Aviva Community Fund, but needs our votes to be selected.as

Here's how another local project, Linwood House Ministries, describes the project:

The Aviva Community Fund is a $1,000,000 pool, available to community groups who have an action-oriented project that will make a tangible difference in their communities. The winners will be selected by... you and me, so voting is critical.

Here's what you need to do to help:

  1. Learn more about the plan here
  2. To vote, you must first register with the Fund
  3. Voting for Phase 2 runs from October 25 to November 5
  4. You can vote once a day for those 10 days, so please do!
  5. Go to ContainerVillage.ca and join their Facebook page
  6. Help spread the word
  7. Vote
  8. Vote
  9. Vote
  10. You get the point

So, wherever you are, please take 2 minutes out of each of the next 10 days and vote for Container Village. VOTE NOW!!!

And if you need motivation, check out this snazzy rap video supporting the project:

October's obsession

I love sports. And while I grew involved in various athletic pursuits, adulthood leads to a different sort of participation: watching sports. It’s no surprise, then, that this is one of my favorite times of year in the sports calendar, what I call “October’s obsession.”

To the avid sports fan, I don’t need to explain. But for everyone else – you know, those people who only like hockey ;-) – October sees all the major North American sports leagues running at the same time (you could say April is also significant, but I’m a big football fan, so I prefer Fall). Just about any night of the week you can turn on your television to find some sort of meaningful competition. Major League Baseball has finally exasperated its 162 game schedule to play games that mean something. The National Football League has a monopoly on people’s Sundays that is an envy to many a pastor (speaking from experience). Friday nights sees a weekly clash in the Canadian Football League (yes, I said Canadian Football League. It does exist. And see Cameron Wake in case you doubt its validity). And from a Canadian perspective, who doesn’t find themselves drawn to the broadcasting altar each October as the National Hockey League's seasonal ritual resumes: Hockey Night In Canada. Oh, and I think the National Basketball Association starts too (go Steve Nash!). Combine all this with an ever-expanding sports broadcasting industry (TSN2, SportsnetONE, ESPN-who-knows-how-many-by-now), and watching sports in October is a couch potato’s recipe for resounding success. Sports truly is October’s obsession.
As I celebrate this October reality, I’ve been wondering: why this magnetic pull to immerse myself in sports? Positively, I think there are many great things about sports culture and being a sports fan. There is something about the context of athletic competition that relates to all of life. Competition, camaraderie, perseverance, toil, failure, victory constitute much of our human experience. In this sense, you could say sports were reality TV long before Survivor hit the scene. And because we relate to it, we rally around it. We cheer for our favourites. When they win, we win (sorry Canucks fans – one day…). In a sense, we live vicariously through the athletes and teams we follow; their risk to become our adventure. To quote the famous phrase, we participate in “the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat.” In following sports, you could say, we are embracing the reality of human experience.

More negatively, however, I’ve wondered if this embrace of reality is actually more of a distraction from reality. Like the trend in the entertainment industry in general, it seems that living vicariously through athletes and sports teams insulates us from dealing with our own reality. We’d rather see Wayne Gretzky hoist another Stanley Cup then put the time and effort it takes to overcome our own challenges; or worse, not unlike the Bills of the 1990’s, put in time and effort only to fail anyways. Sports, then, is an escape. On its own, in the words of Ecclesiastes, our love of sports ends up as “a chasing after the wind” – a sort of exhausting pursuit of victory that coalesces in October’s obsessions but which is never fully satisfied. The clock always runs out. The game always ends. The euphoria subsides. And it’s back to reality.

Thankfully, like October’s obsession with sports, “chasing after the wind” isn’t the full picture. Rather than escape reality, the author of Ecclesiastes call humans to embrace it: I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God (Eccl. 3:12-13 TNIV).

In the midst of October's obsession I’m trying learn how everyday reality is a “gift of God”; how simple activities – eating, drinking, and yes, toiling – aren’t something to be escaped in the hopes of seeing a World Series no-hitter. I don't think I'll stop loving sports. I can, hopefully, temper my love of sports by embracing the everyday reality of life as a gift from God.

"October's reality." Ahh, much better...

cyber-accountability

It's not popular in our day and age to submit our to someone else's authority in our personal lives, especially our religious or spiritual paths. And considering a lamentable past in Western history - Christian history in particular - it's not surprising (perhaps warranted in many cases) that individual commitment to a form of communal authority is unpopular.

So I realize my participation as a member in a local church as well as an organized denomination (so old fashioned, I know!), runs against the grain of popular culture. Yet I persist in believing and promoting this idea of Christian community (see here and here) and strongly support the following statement:

The church is a covenant community in which members are mutually accountable in matters of faith and life. They love, care, and pray for each other, share each other’s joys and burdens, and admonish and correct one another. They share material resources as there is need. Local congregations follow the New Testament example by seeking the counsel of the wider church on matters that affect its common witness and mission. Congregations work together in a spirit of love, mutual submission, and interdependence.
(Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith)

Today I want to reflect on "admonish and correct one another," the type of phrase likely responsible for much of the hesitation to commit to church in our N.A. culture. It's a loaded phrase full of sad memories for many people: broken relationships, abuse, legalism, narrow-mindedness, lack of understanding, insensitivity, and the list goes on... Today, in fact, I had a few of these negative stereotypes confirmed myself. I was notified (h/t Ryan) that I'd been flagged on a blog who's stated mission is to "shine a spotlight" on the Mennonite Brethren world - i.e. they seem to take the role of heretic hunters or theology police. Reviewing MB blogs, here's what their anonymous critique had to say about me:

Another blog by a pastor of a BC Conference of Mennonite Brethren Church seemed hopeful, until it became evident that he has been blogging about lent, Henri Nouwen, and resonating with Brian McLaren and Leonard Sweet, thanks to Regent college.

Hmm... Besides the absence of real engagement with what I actually wrote about the above topics - lent and Regent College, seriously!?! - my real issue is with how mutual accountability takes place in cyber-space. Now, I realize I've intentionally committed to be in relationship with others in my faith community (both in my local church and denomination). And yes, I believe this invites others to "mind my business" as a pastor friend so eloquently puts it. I get that. But in the above quote from the MB Confession of Faith, there is an underlying assumption missing from my anonymous MB brother/sister's critique of my blog: relationship.

If we are going to take mutual accountability seriously - and in our technological culture, I guess this includes cyber-accountability - then the patient path of transparency and honest dialogue is required. Critique isn't the problem, anonymity is. In my opinion, you can't be anonymous in Christian community, however tempting our cyber-freedoms make it.

REPENT and BELIEVE!!!

REPENT and BELIEVE!!!
REPENT and BELIEVE!!!
REPENT and BELIEVE!!!

No doubt, this phrase evokes certain reactions, memories, and even emotions: Street preachers making fools of themselves and the religion they represent; Christian protestors rallying for a cause in counter-Christian ways; or hellfire and brimstone sermons preached with a commanding zeal more reminiscent of a drill sergeant than minister of the gospel.

Well, this Sunday I had the privilege (challenge?) of preaching from the passage in Mark where Jesus says these very words:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Mark 1:14-15 (NIV)

This is a loaded text. And as I’ve shown, “repent and believe” is a loaded phrase.

Typically Christians have defined repentance and belief quite narrowly.

Repentance: Sometimes described as the “negative side of conversion,” repentance is the catch we don’t want to tell people lest they get turned off from the Christian message of grace. In this line, the focus is on personal morality, the call to live Christianly. The idea of “turning around” or switching direction as the word literally means, is applied to individual living. Repentance is about behaviour, our actions.

Belief: If repentance is about our actions, then belief is mainly about our intellect. Often translated “faith” or “trust,” this word refers to our intellectual system of beliefs and the decision to apply those beliefs to our life. Hence we “trust” God and have “faith” in what we “believe” is true about him from Scripture and our experience in the world.

These two common definitions aren’t wrong. We are called to turn from sinful behaviour (repent). We are called to put our faith in Jesus (belief). But if we make Jesus’ message primarily about a personal morality or faith experience, we undersell the reality of this good news Jesus proclaims: the kingdom of God is here.

Instead of viewing repentance and belief as primarily a personal choice of religious devotion, Jesus’ words offer an invitation to participate in the present reality of God’s action in the world. In fact, for Jesus’ Jewish audience, “repent and believe” only made sense in relation to how they defined “kingdom of God.” As N.T. Wright describes, the Israelites had a specific vision for how God should treat his people:

“If the kingdom meant the end of the space-time universe, and/or the literal descent of the earth, riding on a cloud, of a human figure, this obviously had not happened. That, however, would have made little or no sense to a first century Jew. If it meant that Herod and Pilate were no longer ruling Judaea, and that instead a Jewish kingdom had been set up under the direct rule of Israel’s god, this too – though it would have made excellent sense to Jesus’ contemporaries – had obviously not happened. The problem, though, is that Jesus spent his whole ministry redefining what the kingdom meant. He refused to give up the symbolic language of the kingdom, but filled it with such new content that...he powerfully subverted Jewish expectations” (Jesus and the Victory of God)

For Israel, Jesus was calling them to redefine their expectations for the kingdom of God, to turn away from their own agenda to set up a government through political will or even brute force. Repentance goes beyond a moral ethic, becoming a radical redefinition of what it means to be the people of God.

Along these lines, then, the message “repent and believe” is not exclusively an invitation to ‘them,’ the outsiders who need to accept their need for forgiveness and new identity in Christ. No, “repent and believe” is for ‘us’, the religious folks, not unlike the Israelites, who have certain ideas for how God should operate in the world. We do not create nor do we control the kingdom of God. Rather, we participate in the reality of God’s kingdom. This is Jesus’ call for repentance and belief. It is bigger than ourselves. As Christians, we are God’s people, the new Israel to which the message of Jesus still applies:

"The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

Will you participate? Will we participate?

sounds like... what!?!

Acceptance, celebration, relationships, and footwashing. Sounds like...

InSite!?! - a safe-injection site for drug-users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. What!?!

In a recent article, "Why I help Addicts Shoot Up," by InSite nurse (and Regent College student), Meera Bai, we are offered a poignant glimpse into the work of InSite. A picture, a face, a life, and yes, even a beauty, is seen in describing the day-to-day activities at InSite. Writing collaboratively with her professor (and my former professor!), John Stackhouse, Meera describes how her Christian faith is the primary motivation not only to support the type of project InSite represents but also to participate in the work herself. As a theology student, she comments, “Insite is a great place to work...because it contextualizes all the learning. No point to studying God if we don’t act on what we know.” Hmm…

Acting on what she knows is precisely why Meera is so adamant in her support of InSite. She strongly believes the work of InSite is ”offering participants a chance at redemption of both body and soul.”

But if you’ve heard of InSite, you’ll know there is no shortage of controversy among Vancouverites and Canadians about its operation. In fact, the reigning Conservative government in Canada, which perhaps in a drop of irony draws much support from Canadian evangelicals, has constantly pushed for InSite’s closure during their four years in office (BTW, I’m not offering a political opinion by this statement – I voted Conservative in the last election). The obvious good Meera pursues, it appears, is not so obvious to others, even other Christians.

I’ll admit, I’ve been skeptical of the InSite project. Will giving space for safe drug-use really address the issue, or just push the public to a greater acceptance of destructive behaviour? I don’t want to support destructive behaviour. But these concerns of mine (and many others), are exactly why Meera’s voice is so critical in the matter.

Hard drugs (and other social ills) are often viewed as faceless evils needing eradication from society. And Christians can be quite good (bad!) at protesting these apparent evils. While I don’t typically support Christian’s public protest, I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise against harmful behavior. Except for the faceless part.

And this is where Meera comes in. The story of her work with InSite – the struggle, the joy, the love – reveals the human side of destructive behaviour. It’s sad, harmful, dark and broken. No one disputes that. But it’s not faceless. As Christians, accepting this brokenness in people is difficult when we claim to know and experience so much more. We believe the primary call of Jesus, then, is to get your act together because God has a better life for you. Easier said than done. Which is why I think Meera has a better – and more biblical – handle on the situation:

“In the real world—the only world there is and the world Christ calls us to love—sometimes the best we can do, at least immediately, is make things less bad—and in the case of InSite, much less bad.”

“What we provide is reachable steps towards an ultimate end goal of self-worth – which of course includes valuing yourself enough to stop injecting drugs into your system. This is part of the Kingdom of God – which is coming, but not yet here.”

We live in a time in-between. A time where we get glimpses of restoration – the kingdom of God in this world. Yet we are continually bombarded with devastation and brokenness. And so we wait. But our waiting is not an idle wait. No, as Christians, we join people like Meera in following Jesus’ way, reaching out to the broken and hurting people of our world. However dark things get, we have an opportunity to provide the glimpses of restoration and redemption our world so desperately needs. At the very least, it’s a glimpse that people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside need. At the very most, it’s a glimpse we all need.

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away...I am making everything new!" Rev. 21:3-5 NIV

thanksgiving

I was trying to think of something wise or profound to say or quote in recognition of Canadian thanksgiving. This prayer kept coming into my mind:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
(Mt. 6:9-13)




(This painting came up in a Google search. It's titled "reflective moment" by Toni Grote. Somehow it suits thanksgiving)

fashion (non)sense

Okay, here's something a little lighter heading into a long weekend...

A friend of my mine recently started a blog with some friends:

Here's how it works: so you know those people you pass by in your everyday meanderings who offer a cause to pause based solely on their fashion (non)sense? Well, my friend's blog takes advantage of technological advances in the area of covert picture-taking, offering a humorous collection of photos and commentary for the readers' amusement. The blog puts words to what we often think when we're confronted with the experimental, accidental, or just plain weird side of fashion. If you're looking for creative cultural commentary, this is it - I highly recommend it!

Not wanting to be left out, I recently submitted my own picture (not of myself!) and offered a companion write-up in the comments section. I thought I'd share it here. Enjoy!

You know the saying, "business in the front, party in the back." Why stop there! Everyone needs a business partner and who doesn't want a party buddy? Enter the Mullet Lizard™.

This resilient and intimidating creature can accompany you in the boardroom to give you that extra competitive edge over your coworkers - who's gonna mess with a lizard? And throw on the tailored - and stain resistant! - Mullet Lizard Blue Blazer™, and you'll become an unstoppable force climbing the corporate ladder.

And to celebrate this new found business success, you ask? Well, let your hair down (oh wait, it already is!) and slide easily into party mode. This lizard comes ready to tear a strip in any dance floor (literally!). And if you take the Mullet Lizard Dance Training™ (costume is in the bag), you may even find yourself on the upcoming season of America's Got Talent.


And to all those young dudes sporting the trendy urbanite mullet (with companion mustache and fluorescent shades), you've got nothin' on the fashion innovation of the Mullet Lizard™.

little theologians

My two year-old son isn’t quite in the stage of the never-ending “why?“(he’s still navigating - and enjoying - the never-ending “no!”). But it will come. And as I observe parents around me wrestling with the constant why’s of their children, I realize there is an immense pressure to “get it right.” As parents, it’s natural. We want our kids to turn out okay. Our desire to be wise parents, however, is often accompanied with a deep sense of helplessness - we don’t feel adequate to give a full answer to the why’s. Or seemingly worse, we ourselves don’t have an answer to the why’s. What to do!?!

Jewish rabbi and children's author, Sandy Sasso, has this to say about our desire to be good parents:

"I think society does a very good job of teaching us how to be consumers and a very good job in teaching us how to be competitors. The question I think parents are struggling to answer is how do we not just teach our children's minds, but how do we teach their souls? We want our children to be gracious and grateful. We want them to have courage in difficult times. We want them to have a sense of joy and purpose. That's what it means to nurture their spiritual lives."

In a podcast interview on Being (formally Speaking of Faith), “The Spirituality of Parenting,” Sandy Sasso describes the need for parents to see their kids as “little theologians.” In her life as a mother and work as a rabbi and author, Sandy has come to realize a depth in the why’s of children - their “big, deep questions.”

Where does God live? Why did Grandpa die? Will you die? Why isn't life fair? Is God real? How can God be everywhere?

And if our children are deeply spiritual, parenting is naturally spiritual as well. I find these ideas inspiring for my own relationship with my son, while also realizing just how difficult it can be to give him the attention he needs. A couple things from the interview struck me in particular:

Children connect with story and mystery

There seems to be an innate spirituality, a great sense of wonder, spontaneity, imagination and creativity, and a connection to something larger than themselves. What children seem to lack is a language to give expression to that sense of something deeper. And I think, as parents, our responsibility is to provide them with a language, an opportunity to have a conversation about these matters that they care very deeply about...And I've always claimed the language is story, because that's how children make sense of their world is through narrative and story.

Out of this framework of story, Sasso goes on to discuss how ritual and experience can create a lasting impression on children and how they process their why’s - a need for concrete expressions of the unexplainable. This is where reading can be invaluable, in Sasso’s opinion, “a spiritual exercise.” Personally, some of my best memories as a child are of listening to stories read to me by my parents. I can still feel the sense of “it’s going to be okay” when I reflect on those moments of exploration and intrigue in the imaginative works of Lewis and Tolkien. As my son begins to explore the complex world around him, will I attempt to tell him how it is (in abstract ideas he cannot comprehend) or will I tell him my story or other’s stories? Or will I be content to let Nintendo or Youtube (a current favorite!) direct his exploration?

Part of the answer to these questions depends on our ability as parents to accept mystery as a valid category.for answering the why’s of our kids. Unfortunately, as parents we have trouble admitting we don’t have all the answers. Unknowns are a sign of weakness or defeat. But do our kids really think that, Sasso wonders? Which leads to my second observation:

Children need space for silence and dialogue

It's very important to pray with children, mostly, because our children are so bombarded with noise and activity and there's very little time for silence and reflection. We do know that of all the questions that teachers ask children, teachers answer 80 percent of them, because we abhor vacuums, we don't like silence. And I think in moments of quiet and silence, children give us a glimpse of their souls.

What if instead of answers, our kids just want our time, our attention? - especially difficult in an age of busyness and technological distraction. And if we think of the impact of technology on the lives of children in the past 30 years, it’s not hard to recognize why silence or intimate interaction is such an awkward experience in our culture. Children today are accustomed to noise - music, television, computers, cell phones, portable dvd players, and so on. Children are expected to keep up. And in many cases they can and should. But when the why’s are asked, technological noise can be more of a distraction from true exploration. I wonder if part of this spirituality of parenting is to temper our uncritical embrace of all things new?

The point, according to Sasso, is to create space for connection with our children. She refers to faith and spirituality as a journey, a journey our children are already on. Key then, is conversation, and unless we’re patient enough to connect on our children’s level, we’ll always feel the tug of the next thing on schedule. In Sasso’s words, “there are questions, and there is the conversation, and there is the journey.” This is the spirituality of parenting in the face of why’s.

This week our son has started needing a 10-minute snuggle with Julie or I before bed. My first reaction was “great, what about the hockey game!?!” Then my wife commented, “what’s the rush? Our son wants to be with us.” Hmm. Very true. It’s pretty hard to pass on the spiritual experience of a snuggle with my little theologian!