patient Advent

Advent.

Literally means "coming."

For Christians, Advent is about anticipating, waiting, and imagining the kingdom of God in the world - a kingdom marked by love, gentleness and humility. A kingdom beautifully revealed in birth of a baby - Jesus. Power and might unexpectedly small, understated. In fact, power and might redefined by God's self-giving love. "Emmanuel, God with us!"

The celebration of Advent, then, is a reminder that our faith, victorious indeed, is also about waiting:
But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me (Micah 7:7 NIV)
Or as Stanley Hauerwas remarks about Advent:
Advent is patience. It’s how God has made us a people of promise in a world of impatience...And Christ has made that possible for us to live patiently.
During the Christmas season, as the busyness ensues and impatience ends up reigning (and ruining!) the day, Advent offers a chance to step back - a chance to step back and accept an alternative way of living in a world bent more towards what's hectic than what's holy. Advent teaches us that waiting is holy. Patience is holy.

Have a patient Advent!

branding our faith

A consistent image in the New Testament is allegiance. Allegiance to God or the world is the dilemma facing the early church. In Revelation 4-5 allegiance is portrayed in “bowing down” before the throne of God - a clear sign of allegiance to God and a radical portrayal of human identity in a culture where the Roman Emperor demanded allegiance (worship) to himself alone. For 1st-century Christians, “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9-13) was as much a political statement as a spiritual one.

Not living under the rule of a dictatorial emperor, we may think it’s now easier to declare “Jesus is Lord.” We are, after all, free to choose the religion of our choice, at least in the West. But such freedom comes with a cost: we neglect the reality that allegiance remains a central theme in life and faith. While allegiance no longer comes with the threat of death, it remains nonetheless. For us today, allegiance is subtle.

Back to branding. The process serves to illustrates the subtlety of allegiance. Companies no longer just market a product or service, but an identity. The popular Apple commercials are a great example. Often unawares, in the process of buying an Apple computer, people are buying an identity, showing an allegiance to certain image - cool, hip, edgy, etc... Quoting Skye Jethani again, we live in a “culture that values style over substance, image over reality, and perception over performance.” We end up showing our allegiance to these brands, these identities we are marketed and sold on.

Christianity buys into this paradigm - Christian music, art, movies, entertainment. Flashy worship services geared to attract people and provide something they are looking for.

It’s no wonder Christianity and the church struggles to retain members. We buy into trying to present an attractive brand, which ends up cheapening allegiance to mere style, image, and perception. It’s shallow. Christianity is simply another brand to choose from.

We need to remember that while Jesus is indeed Savior (Jn. 3:16), Jesus is also Lord. To ascribe lordship is to give allegiance. Faith in Jesus is our whole life. Christianity is a way of life. It makes sense that Jesus called this the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt. 22:37).

As I said before, brand that!

inefficiency wins

I have had some good discussions this week around what it means to be a peacemaker, pacifist, or hold a “love and nonresistance” position. In a time when wars continue to wage around the globe, and violence and abuse of many kinds is perpetrated in our very own communities, Christians need to continually consider what it means to follow Jesus’s way of peace.

My denomination has this to say in our Confession of Faith:

Believers seek to be agents of reconciliation in all relationships, to practice love of enemies as taught by Christ, and to be peacemakers in all situations. We view violence in its many different forms as contradictory to the new nature of the Christian. We believe that the evil and inhumane nature of violence is contrary to the gospel of love and peace. In times of national conscription or war, we believe we are called to give alternative service where possible. Alleviating suffering, reducing strife, and promoting justice are ways of demonstrating Christ’s love.

I agree.

But a common rebuttal to peace churches asks this question: what about injustice? Surely you can’t sit idly by and watch someone suffer, can you? Sometimes violence has to beget violence for the greater good, especially the victim, right? Call it “redemptive violence" if you want. It’s a make-the-best-of-it, common sense way of loving your neighbor in a violent world. The way of peace is impractical, inefficient, and idealistic. I’ll admit, it’s hard to argue this one.

Although I’m not convinced.

Part of the problem is with the measuring sticks: practicality and efficiency. And while I’ll concede the idealistic critique - I see this as a compliment - I think our categories of practicality and efficiency are challenged when we look at Jesus. In fact, Jesus doesn't seem to care much for success in the way we like to define it. He taught a subversive response to violence and abuse (Mt. 5:38-48) and modelled creative engagement with the authorities in times of injustice and confrontation (Jn. 7:53-8:11). But there was no guarantee of success. In fact, you could say that with Jesus’s death, his way of peace is the most impractical and inefficient model we have. Weakness. Suffering. Death.

Yet such a path ended up bringing life. The way of the cross, however inefficient, ends up securing life and peace (Jn. 11:25-26) that outlasts any violent revolution or overthrow of unjust rulers. Inefficiency wins.

For us, then, to accept Jesus's way of peace means giving up our categories of practicality and efficiency, trusting that with the potential of lost life, there is the promise of new life (Mt. 10:38-39).

Remembrance Day - "The Peaceable Kingdom"

On this day of remembrance for lives lost and violence exacerbated for better (but usually worse) I offer this perspective and hope - God's intention for life in the world - "the peaceable kingdom."

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-10 NIV)


Picture by Will Bullas - "Peaceable Kingdom with two olives"

what’s your favorite brand?

What’s your favorite brand?

In our consumer culture, branding is everything. For example, Starbucks and Apple don’t just market products and services. They sell an experience, an identity wrapped up in their product. It’s common to hear, “I’m an Apple girl.” Or, “He’s a Starbucks guy.” Brands reflect who we are, our very identity.

The problem is when we associate Christianity as just another brand. Our faith ends up being a sort-of accessory or label we wear, often without the transformed way of life taught by Jesus himself. Faith becomes shallow. “I’m a Christian” is professed in the same breath as “I’m a Canucks fan” (often with less passion). Christianity ends up as just another choice among the many choices we make each day. And then we wonder why we struggle to be competitive and offer a product that is appealing to the masses! This is a troubling reality.

In The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani offers an inspiring alternative:
Rather then putting on a “Tommy Hellfighter” T-shirt, a “Got Jesus?” bumper sticker, or “Jesus Is My Homeboy” underwear (all real products), why not follow Paul’s advice and focus our energy toward putting on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). This is how our identity is revealed, not by the brands we display, but by faith working through love. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Christ’s true people are branded with love.
'Successful' Christianity, then, while deeply counter-cultural, is profoundly simple: "Love one another" (1 Jn. 4:7-21). Brand that!

sacred consumption

Why faith?

Why God?

Why Christianity?

I ask these questions not for the point of abstract or intellectual interest, although much has been said or written on these ideas themselves.

No, I ask this question in terms of our personal perspective on God and faith. For those of us who carry a religious/spiritual bent why do we choose the path we're on? Or "why not" for non-religious folks? What's your motivation to follow the particular religious path you are on?

Wary of blind/ignorant/naive religious devotion, the question of "why?" (or "why not?") can form a helpful backdrop to our religious choices, helping us maintain some consistency between what we believe and how we live day-to-day. Keeping the "why" in mind helps us live with at least some level of self-awareness. This is a good thing.

It was with this "why" question on my mind that I read with interest a quote from one of my current reads, The Divine Commodity. Author Skye Jethani examines the influence of a consumeristic mindset on how we view God and religion, suggesting,
"The reduction of even sacred things into commodities also explains why we exhibit so little reverence for God. In a consumer worldview he has no intrinsic value apart from his usefulness to us. He is a tool we employ, a force we control, and a resource we plunder. We ascribe value to him (the literal meaning of the word "worship") based not on who he is, but on what he can do for us."
God is only beneficial is his direct value to us. The "why" question really asks, is God worth it?

For many of us, if we're really honest, this is the only question we know. We want God to relate to our experiences after all. So we choose God because it works for us. Or it makes sense to me. Or it gives you comfort, hope, and peace of mind. All good things, no doubt.

But I think Jethani makes a crucial point in making the connection between pervasive consumerism and our choice of God: it becomes solely about us. The reality of God - is God worth it? - is completely dependent on our ability to make that decision. But if you're like me, you have doubts, disappointments, struggles, and inconsistencies that left to our own devices, will lead us to reject God, perhaps even demanding a full refund for lost time, often paid out in the currency of bitterness or apathy.

If such sacred consumption is our only grid to faith, God, and religion, God is a tough sell. In fact, I think the God of the Bible, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, is an impossible sell when value is based on consumer satisfaction. As I said, God's existence is dependent on us. But is that really even God?

Interestingly, with all its talk of faithful living and right belief - the idea that individuals need to respond to or "choose" God - the Bible consistently emphasizes that all of life is created and sustained by God. Life is "good" not because we declare it so, but because God made it that way (Gen. 1:31). Life with God isn't dependent on our ability or desire to believe and follow him, but finds basis in his sustaining presence as the loving creator of all things:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.” (Rev. 4:11 NIV)
Sacred consumption demotes God to nonexistence, irrelevance, or at best, sentimentality. God as a product is just not worth it my opinion.

Which is why I need this reminder: the source of life is not a product of life.

Who is God?

"I AM WHO I AM" (Ex. 3:14)