one year later...

Exactly one year ago today Canadians held their collective breath and then followed this with a collective cheer as the 2010 Winter Olympics came to a dramatic and victorious end (thanks Sidney Crosby!).

One year later I’m wondering, what’s the Olympic legacy?

-Canada winning the gold medal in hockey (this was a BIG deal to Canadians)?
-Canada winning the most gold medals (14) by one nation in Winter Olympic history (again, a pretty big deal for a supposedly “passive” country)?
-The fun two-week party in the streets of downtown Vancouver?
-The beautiful weather and scenery that make up many of the images of the event?

Or negatively:
-The tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger?
-The Olympic Village fiasco?
-Tensions between VANOC and Vancouver’s homeless community?
-The exorbitant amounts of public money the whole show cost?

Or, as CTV’s summary program recently induced in many, perhaps it’s simply the good feelings one gets remembering all the stories of courage and dedication by hundreds of gifted athletes from around the world?

So, what was it?

Well, it’s probably impossible to summarize the legacy into one thing. Yet reflecting on my own experience of the event, I did realize a lasting impact on me personally: stories and cheering.

Think of Alexandre Bilodeau. Sure, he’ll always be remembered as the first Canadian to win gold on home soil, but stuck in the minds of everyone is the inspirational story of his brother, Frédéric, shamelessly cheering Alex on. Then there's Joannie Rochette’s courageous bronze medal performance only days after the sudden death of her mother. Or Petra Majdič, sustaining 5 broken ribs in the warm-up to competition, persevering to win the gold medal in cross-country skiing. And the stories go on.

Consequently, these stories inspired the audience to cheer. I think as humans we naturally rally around people’s stories. Gold medals are great. Great stories are gold. We celebrate victory. We connect with stories. In stories we realize that Olympic athletes aren’t superhuman (at least not in everything). Our cheering in the Olympic events becomes just as much a cheering for their lives. We cheer on their courage and dedication, in part, because we know we need the same in our own lives.

If we really want a lasting Olympic legacy, then, I’ve been wondering:
-What if we shared our stories with one another?
-And likewise, what if we cheered one another on?

resurrection and acceptance

Related to my post on atheist/religious dialogue, I came across a fascinating quote that for me accurately describes what’s central to Christianity. Oh, and it’s from the openly secular organization, Centre for Inquiry Canada:
Only claims of his supposed and unsupported resurrection from the dead elevated Jesus above the many lower-level social and religious charismatics who were common in Galilee and Judaea during his time. If Christianity hadn’t become the only Jewish sect that eventually allowed non-Jews to convert, it is doubtful that the life of Jesus would have gone on to influence Western civilization to the degree that it has. "Christ" - Extraordinary Claims
Okay, so “supposed and unsupported” is debatable. Many reasonable individuals look at the historical evidence and do think the resurrection is supported. But that’s not what I want to focus on. The quote describes two key Christian beliefs: resurrection and acceptance. In my view, the authors get it (even if they don’t like the results).

As the quote summarizes, without resurrection and acceptance, Christianity likely would have failed. Yet even the Apostle Paul recognizes the implications for the reality (or unreality) of Jesus’ resurrection: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” But Paul continues, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:17,20,22). This is the hope that has inspired millions in history. It’s true, hope in the resurrection is critical to Christian identity.

When it comes to acceptance, Jesus himself taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:31). And Paul boldly stated a new reality of human relationships: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Again, it’s true, this acceptance is central to Christian identity.

Very likely, I agree, the influence of Christianity on Western civilization would have been minuscule without these keys. And sadly, the rest of Christian history hasn’t always displayed the same life-giving message of resurrection and relationship that the early church lived-out.

But these inconsistencies and the speculations on what may or may not have been doesn’t negate the truth in the analysis of these atheists: resurrection and acceptance are central.

As a Christian, I’m glad for this reminder.

"everything we need"

I thought I'd share what's been ringing in my head this morning. Enjoy!

"Everything We Need" – Steve Bell (Music and Lyric by Gord Johnson)

In the morning Lord we do look to you
For the strength we need just to make it through
Have mercy

In the evening Lord we look back and say
It was in your strength that we made our way
Have mercy

You are everything we need
Feed us Lord

And for those more adventurous in your music tastes, there is this collaboration between Steve Bell and rapper Fresh I.E. that is excellent as well:

who makes the rules?

I’m no expert on the topic of science, atheism and religion. To me, there is much to lament on how both sides can err towards fundamentalism in their own regards. The lack of honest and respectful dialogue is quite sad, really.

I recently came across two good examples of bad (or absent) interaction:

1. The Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter by Robert E. Kofahl.

The preface describes the book as “an ideal reference guide and tool for the new sport of evolution refuting.” While outdated in presentation and content (1980) - I found it in a box of donated books - I fear the tone of this work is alive and well. Any interaction between science and religion gets framed in conflict. One side is right. One side is wrong (and we all know which is the right side to be on!). Automatically we are asked to pick sides. The author make the rules for engagement (a specific Christian worldview) and any opinion that strays from this is seen as less-than-adequate, to put it mildly.

2. Extraordinary Claims Campaign

Promoted through the Centre for Inquiry Canada, the focus of this campaign is to “challenge well-known and widely believed claims by demanding evidence as extraordinary as the claims themselves.” Okay, that’s fine. But what irks me is the lack of historical attention in the method of this inquiry. For instance, they ask, “Why is belief in Bigfoot dismissed as delusional while belief in Allah and Christ is respected and revered? All of these claims are equally extraordinary and demand critical examination.” Would most people agree that all claims religious or otherwise are equal? I’m not so sure. Yet again the rules are set in advance, only this time it’s non-religious inquiry that prevails. All claims at belief are equal, regardless of the historical track-record for these claims.

Both examples illustrate an unwillingness to engage in constructive dialogue. Both sides start with their conclusions, and evaluate alternatives from that perspective. It’s no wonder each side sounds right on their own. They aren’t really engaging in dialogue, only unfair conflict in which they set themselves up to win.

But what if we actually listened to apparent opposing viewpoints? What if we took the time to engage the people we disagree with (and not just “refute” their ideas)? And perhaps this is the scary question for some, but what if we found in our dialogue and increased understanding, that atheist and religious folks actually agreed on some pretty important matters?

Maybe some books would disappear and some websites would go offline.

If so, in my estimation, we’d be better off for it.

For a voice far better equipped to tackle the topic of science, atheism, and religion, I highly recommend my friend Ryan’s blog. He gets it, I think.

the ‘maelstrom’ of adolescence

As a parent in the midst of potty-training my two-year-old, I could only partially relate to these wise words on the efforts of parenting. I have much to look forward to!
Too often the parents make absolutely nothing of their children’s coming-of-age. They let it happen, as it were, by accident. Ho! They took more time over potty training than they take over training toward adulthood. They imply, then, that it is nothing, this ‘growing up’--or else that it is a distinct hazard in the household, a problem, a sin, a sickness, something that wants correcting. In consequence, the adolescent, unprepared, is shocked by the maelstrom which he has entered. Next, he feels an abiding, unspoken guilt at the changes occurring in him. And when he most needs resources to fight this good fight, he least has them. Indeed, the fight seems anything but good and heroic when his voice breaks, her cramps come, but the family (neither parents nor society) has given no dignified name or place to these profound and exhausting efforts. (Walter Wangerin, Jr., Ragman: And Other Cries of Faith).
This is the "maelstrom" of adolescence.

Naturally, as a pastor, I wonder how the church contributes to these problems of unpreparedness in today’s youth. Perhaps we need another program to help kids transition into adolescence? Oh wait, we have youth groups. Maybe youth groups need to talk about real issues? Hmm, I think they try and do that too, often through a myriad of guest speakers, retreats, devotionals, and one-to-one mentoring. In some cases, I even think youth groups tackle issues of adolescence quite clearly, exploring the relationship of faith and life in helpful and honest ways, acknowledging just how difficult it can be to navigate the murky waters of teenage-dom. Personally, youth group was vital as I danced through adolescence.

So, maybe the church has nothing to do with problems associated with adolescence. It’s all on the parents! Yes and no.

True, parents need to realize that any church program doesn’t replace our responsibility to raise our kids. We shouldn’t bracket out spirituality and leave that up to a Sunday School teacher or youth pastor. But do we? And does the church contribute to this?

At this point, I mainly have more questions:

How much inter-generational ministry goes on in an average N.A. church? Who are the youth sponsors? In my experience, they are often (not always!) recent youth. How many baby boomers are youth leaders!?! How many grandpa’s teach Sunday School (or men in general)? How many business executives mentor young leaders in the church? In any given congregation, how many teachers, nurses and other “social” professionals walk with youth through the messiness of adolescence inside the church? Sure, parents also need to take responsibility for their kids’ lives, opening up honest dialogue that engenders trust for whatever situation arises. The church can’t do it all. Yet, the church does act as the family of God - “one body.” I think Paul’s words in Romans remind us that parents aren’t alone:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Rom. 12:3-13 TNIV).
Apply that to youth ministry!

"dancing in the minefields"

I think all people realize the experience of love is complex. Valentines Day reminds of this complexity as we celebrate those special someones, or perhaps lament loss or the absence of a loving companion. Regardless, Valentines Day brings love in all its glory (and occasional difficulty!) to the forefront. I like how Andrew Peterson describes love in the song below: love is like "dancing in the minefields...that's what the promise is for."

And so, happy Valentines Day to my wife, Julie, and to all who journey through life together "dancing in the minefields."

(h/t to Len for posting the song)

Well I was 19 you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much to young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

Well ‘I do’ are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin
Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price for the life that we have found

And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith
to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

Cause we bear the light of the son of man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos baby
I can dance with you

So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

shallow and narrow

Okay, so let’s return briefly to this topic of church and relevance (see here, here, and here for some recent discussion).

I’ve talked about it before, but a term floating around that describes one particular attempt at ecclesial relevance is Hipster Christianity - where church and cool collide.

In his book, Hipster Christianity, Brett McCracken defines this attempt at relevance like so:
...a faith more concerned with its image and presentation and ancillary appeal. It assumes that mere Christianity isn’t enough or isn’t as important as how Christianity looks and is perceived by the outside world.
In a recent interview, McCracken makes another observation that should cause all N.A. church leaders to pause in our attempts at cultural relevance:
Lest we overemphasize its importance in worldwide Christianity, we should remember that hipster Christianity is a rather narrow subset of the faith: mostly white evangelical, mostly economically well-off.
Two words come to mind after reading McCracken’s assessment: shallow and narrow.

I wonder sometimes, especially in a period of financial struggle, if the N.A. church has the wherewithal to redefine success? Or redefine relevance? Maybe we’ll be forced to! Alan Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Ways, highlights how much of the N.A. church “is built on the ideals of comfort and convenience (consumerism), and of safety and security (middle-class).” Hirsch continues his scathing critique by noting how after nearly 40-years of “church growth principles and practice,” the N.A. continues to shrink. Relevance isn’t working. “We plainly cannot consume our way into discipleship.” Like I said, shallow and narrow.

Yet shallow and narrow doesn’t mean the N.A. church isn’t complex. We have vision statements. We have core values. We have boards, committees, and task forces. We have programs. All these things (none bad by the way) fall under the “ministry” of the church. They keep us busy. But I continue to be amazed at how complicated all these things can become. In all our busyness, we lose the basis for what we do. And we can become... shallow and narrow. But perhaps more troubling, is how rarely we appeal to the most basic call on our lives as followers of Jesus:

‘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’ (Mt. 22:37-38).

Before you say, "yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that," pause and assess all you or your church does through this grid: loving God and loving others. Let’s stop complicating relevance. Wherever you find yourself, figure out this simple way of faithfulness: love God and love others.

religious ignorance...err, I mean literacy

  • When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?
  • In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?
  • What was Joseph Smith's religion?
  • Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?

These are few of the questions asked in a recent poll conducted in the US by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. And the results, well, they are pretty dismal. As religious columnist, Douglas Todd, cites, the test's results reveal "that U.S. atheists and agnostics, as well as Jews and Mormons, know more about religion than do most of the strong majority of Americans who are Protestants and Catholics." Todd doubts Canadians would fare much better.

Give the test a try! - test your religious ignorance...err, I mean literacy.

In a culture of increasing religious and ethnic diversity, basic understanding can go a long way towards living well with one another. So what's the problem? In a country (Canada) that officially endorses multiculturalism, how can we engage the differences in our midst? Is it possible to reverse the sad results of the religious literacy survey?

Douglas Todd offers a simple proposal:

Canadians need to know not only what Christians and Muslims think. They need to understand what beliefs fuel the actions of their next-door neighbours, who are often likely to be Buddhists, Jews, Hindus or Sikhs...

[I suggest] we follow the European model and make world religion courses, also called world view courses, a regular and mandatory aspect of kindergarten-to-Grade 12 education.

As much as many university academics might hate it, I also suggest it would be beneficial to require one religious studies course of anyone wanting to obtain a bachelor's degree in Canada.

North American religious illiteracy threatens both our well-being as members of a civil society, and raises the spectre of grave misunderstandings in foreign policy.

Educators should not give in to the kind of unfounded anxiety that has traditionally barred efforts to make world religion courses a part of every Canadians' education.

Religious differences shouldn't be scary. Stereotyping and judgmentalism is scary. And as Christians, why wait for society to embrace education in religious diversity. How many churches hold courses on world religions (and I mean a course that doesn't call everything non-Christian a "cult")? Or when did you last visit a Buddhist temple or Mormon church? Or attend a Sikh Vaisakhi parade? We need to be learning.

Religious pluralism isn't an enemy. It's a reality. And if we don't engage this diversity, well, religious literacy will indeed be religious ignorance.

the fun theory

Would the world be different if life was more fun?

These are some of the questions being asked by proponents of The Fun Theory - “the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.”
Through a variety of experiments fun is tested as a motivating factor to do good in the world (my favorite is the most recent one - “speed camera lottery” - see below). And it seems to work. Less speeding. More recycling. More stair walking. Fun makes us better people!

But does it? Really?

What does the the Fun Theory say about morality in our world? Are we so captivated by ourselves that we need good deeds to be entertaining? And I wonder, is this “change...for the better” actual change or simply momentary good behavior based on emotional pleasure? Is morality so hard to come by that we need to make it fun?

Or am I just a grumpy idealist needing to realize, for what it’s worth, that this project reminds us to stop taking life so seriously and have a good time already!?!

Well, for those of us interested in the sources of morality, I guess we should concede that fun can be a good thing, even if we're a little skeptical at it's ability to effect a deeper "change...for the better." And as a Christian I dare not forget that joy is part of the Fruit of the Spirit (joy is far more than fun, mind you, but I digress). Fun can’t be all bad!

Have fun!