Love with us

At Christmas, we refer often to "Emmanuel," the prophetic name for Jesus meaning, "God with us."

It's a profound concept, this incarnation of God in the world. Divinity and humanity fully united. Theologians have spent centuries exploring this mysterious union. Wonder, awe, and joy are likely responses to such a blessed truth. Our Christmas celebrations will no doubt honor Emmanuel in many ways this week.

Yet if you're like me, there is also a December dissonance that comes with celebrating our lofty beliefs in the incarnation. We look around in the world and see much violence and conflict, sickness and disease, sin and brokenness. Self-doubts can creep into our consciousness as we recognize our own failures. There are times that the good news of Christmas is better framed as a question: God with us?

But then we encounter the Nativity narrative and should take heart. Just when you'd expect God's perfect revelation to be perfectly revealed, you get this:
  • Mary – pregnant teenager
  • Joseph – typical Jewish man
  • Zechariah – average priest 
  • Elizabeth – barren, “well along in years”
  • Shepherds – low social standing, rough around the edges, violent even
  • Wise men – pagans, non-Jewish religious folks
  • Herod – a mad king
The grandeur of God’s love incarnate is revealed in the messiness of everyday life, the type of messiness we know all to well ourselves. Other-worldly ideas exist in a down-to-earth reality. God’s love isn't “out there” bound by abstract caricatures of how the supreme powerful creator of the world can and should act. Just when we think the world is beyond God, God reaches beyond our expectations into the world. 

In the Nativity, we get love in its fullest sense:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9


And the good news of Christmas is this: love with us!


I'm taking a year-end blogging break - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


the risk of incarnation

Parker Palmer on the risk of incarnation:

"The story of God taking the risk and showing up in the flesh"

"A risk we are all called to...the risk of being fully human..."

“Are you ready for Christmas?”

“Are you ready for Christmas?”

This phrase is offered as a sort-of “how’s the weather” alternative for social small talk during December. Typical answers revolve around buying presents and attending Christmas parties. In a busy time of year, this is a natural banter we can unite ourselves around. It’s amazing and amusing (and troubling!?) how shared stress unites!

This year has been no different.

Personally, however, the question has come to mean something more than presents and parties. In the context of Advent, I’ve realized “Are you ready for Christmas?” takes on a whole new meaning.

Am I ready for hope? Peace? Joy? and Love?

And, really, am I ready for Jesus!?!

Such questions are no small talk. But then, Advent and Christmas are no small talk either. Advent as a time of preparation calls for deep reflection on these questions. And the fact easy answers are absent is kind of the point. We have a period of preparation in Advent because answering these questions takes time. Reflection is hard work.

Such reflection reveals the tension of Advent:

I want hope for a world filled with stories of hopelessness.

I want peace when stories of violence continue to shock us day after day.

I want joy in a time when pessimism seems to reign on so many levels.

I want love knowing how peoples’ default feeling is one of rejection or judgement.

Yet this desire for God’s reign in the Advent themes comes with the stark reminder of how my own life often neglects such aspirations. Advent words can easily become empty words - what “I want” isn’t lived out. My life isn’t consistent with the reality of “God with us.” In this sense, I’m far from ready for Christmas. I’m guessing I’m not alone.

We can hide from such deeper reflections, busying ourselves with Christmas chaos as we are so prone to do. Or we can hide in self-pity and retreat from our own failures at being more hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving. Or we can realize that Advent and Christmas was never about our readiness to begin with.

Instead of readiness, we get this realization: God is ready...for hope, peace, joy and love.

Yes, we hide, distracted and insecure.

But in Advent, God calls out in the most hopeful, peaceful, joyful and loving way:

“Ready or not, here I come.”


Gun control - "Fear not, Seek peace"

Indeed, the lament and mourning will continue in the wake of another violent tragedy.

But action is also needed:




a lament: "peace on earth"

In Advent and Christmas, as we look to the Prince of Peace, too often we are confronted with the very absence of what we’re celebrating.

This week is no different. With yet another devastating shooting, families left are mourning the senseless loss of their innocent children. And we all mourn. We wonder, where is this peace on earth?

Now isn't the time for trite answers. We can't fabricate our advent themes of hope and peace and joy and love. Nor should we. Even the Prince of Peace wept at the suffering in our world. I think Jesus is still weeping.

U2's lament, "Peace on Earth" has been on my mind lately, today even more. Timely words this sad advent day...
Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I'm sick of all of this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be
Peace on Earth...


Jesus this song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
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
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth


light in the darkness

As we near the winter solstice, many people struggle with the shorter days and longer nights. Daily life carries with it a constant weariness. The reality of a drenching greyness that characterizes life on the “Wet” Coast only exacerbates the fatigue. For many these winter days, living in darkness is no metaphor.

Added to this seasonal experience are the areas where living in darkness is indeed metaphorical of other struggles in life: fear, loneliness, despair, sickness, frustration, apathy, gloom, wickedness, questions, brokenness, misery.

Darkness.

Then we hear this:

The people walking in darkness
   have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
   a light has dawned.
Is. 9:2

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Jn. 1:4-5

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jn. 8:12

These familiar Christmas words are filled with hope, no doubt. Reflect on them. Soak in the light that overcomes the darkness.

But also be honest.

Too often the light of Christ is portrayed as little more than Christmas cheer, in which going through the motions of holiday tradition with a smile on your face is somehow supposed to magically cure your ills. Light, we believe, is something we acquire by an act of our will. Being “happy” and “merry” are fabricated cures for escaping the darkness, or at the very least, ignoring it.

Sentimentalizing the light of Christmas ends up trivializing the darkness of our lives.

Let’s not forget there is darkness even in the nativity story:
  • Mary - social darkness through an illegitimate pregnancy.
  • Joseph - secrets of his betrothed cast a shadow on his place in a community.
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth - barrenness dims any hope of a future.
Where are you experiencing darkness this Christmas season?

Interesting, though, that these individuals didn’t overcome their darkness to only then encounter God’s light. No, in the midst of their darkness, light broke through the gloom of worry, exclusion, fear, and uncertainty. Not light after the darkness. Light in the darkness.

Yes, December is dark for many. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. And the hope of Christmas isn’t to ignore or escape this darkness for a period of temporary holiday happiness.

In our darkness, we don’t find the light; the light finds us. 

The light shines in the darkness...
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned

Related: Light of the World 

preparing for peace

Advent is all about preparation and waiting.

I take comfort in how prominent waiting is in the Bible. The Christmas story itself is full of waiting. The old couple Elizabeth and Zechariah knew waiting. Childless in their world was a social curse – “disgrace” as Elizabeth herself puts it. The blessing of religious leadership for Zechariah, a priest, was missing the sign of a blessed life: children. And along with all faithful Jews, they waited for their Messiah, for a restoration of God’s promise of peace made long ago. Waiting had both personal and communal implications. Life was incomplete.

Then Zechariah had a vision, an encounter with a holy being, an angel. They were to have a son!

Do things ever make you laugh or scoff in church, or reading, or prayer? “Ha! Yeah right.”

Zechariah, naturally, doubts. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Muted waiting becomes his lot.  Until, miraculously, pregnancy is followed by the birth of the promised child. And then we get what’s known as Zechariah’s song:

Nativity of the Forerunner
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:67-79

With all his hope and confidence, Zechariah’s still proclaiming a future reality. Waiting is still his lot. His prophet son is still a baby after all. Romans still ruled. Peace wasn’t the path.

So why this preemptive song of hope?

We often think of waiting as a passive exercise. But it isn’t. For Zechariah, waiting wasn’t wasted. He wasn’t satisfied waiting for peace. Zechariah was preparing for peace.

This Advent, anticipating the Prince of Peace, how are we preparing for peace?

We long for peace in our lives, in our community, and in the our world.
And we wait for peace, perhaps even more this time of year.
May we join Zechariah, preparing for peace, committed through the gift of God’s love and salvation, to walk the “path of peace.”


Related: a story of waiting

**This post is adapted from my recent sermon, "Preparing for Peace"**

weekly clips: "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel"

Are your expectations for the perfect Christmas sabotaging your chance to experience the real path of Christmas? What will it take to begin a fresh journey? Are you trapped in the same mechanical process of preparing for Christmas year after year? With whom in your life can you start new and meaningful traditions that celebrate Jesus' incarnation?

 

who would you have lunch with?

There is a story floating around cyberspace this week about forgiveness, Ted Haggard, and Christian community. A pastor reaches out to disgraced evangelical leader, Ted Haggard, through the simple act of inviting him for lunch. It's a touching story.

You can read it here: Michael Cheshire, "Going to Hell with Ted Haggard"

Here’s my initial response (which I posted in a comment over at Jesus Creed):

I appreciate the engagement and love reflected in this story.

One phrase, however, has troubled me: “Of course, I understand that if a person doesn’t repent there is not a whole lot you can offer.”

Really? I understand and value accountability within Christian community, as well has having a certain moral standard for leadership. But I see a resignation in this phrase that dismisses the complex journey of sin and repentance as the Holy Spirit convicts. Can one still meet Ted Haggard for lunch if he hadn’t repented? I’d hope so.

I’m glad Michael Cheshire pushes us evangelicals with this story. I just think he could have pushed us further.

And here a few more thoughts for consideration:

We can and should graciously love those on the outside (“Love your neighbor” - Mt. 22:39)

We can and should graciously love those on the inside of Christian community, as this story illustrates. (i.e. “Love one another” - 1 Jn. 4).

Where Christians struggle, however, is how to graciously love those who were on the inside, but now find themselves on the outside.

I don’t think there is simple solution, for as I’ve already mentioned, sin and repentance is a complex journey. And in the context of Christian community, especially those we empower in leadership, complex can be an understatement to describe how to process situations such as Ted Haggard’s.

But that’s not what troubles me with Cheshire’s story. I think ministry leadership is conditional, sure. But leadership role and friendship are different. And I don’t think friendship is necessarily conditional. Sometimes friendship is the most and best we can offer to someone not seeing the err of their ways, whatever the situation. Abandonment isn’t biblical accountability.

So my question I’m pondering is this: what type of people are we friends with? Insiders? Outsiders? Or everybody?

Or more simply, who would you have lunch with?


taken for granted

It was typical late-fall rainy Saturday on the West Coast as my son and I meandered through town. One of our stops included the bottle depot - a chance to “cash in” on the pile of containers that had collected in our garage. We cashed in on a whopping $12.60 (which is actually a fair-amount if you’re familiar with bottle returns).

For years we’ve been in the practice of giving our bottles or the money we cash in to various charities or good causes. This year we agreed the neighborhood food bank was a worthy option.

But as we were leaving the bottle depot, we met homeless man going about his daily business (i.e. cashing in bottles from his daily bike route). Incidentally, I had just met him earlier in the week at said food bank. I knew he lived in a tent by a nearby river.

So at the car I asked my son if we should give the man the money instead. He agreed. Turning around we went and introduced ourselves and gave our gift. The man remembered me, although he was a little stunned, perhaps wondering what the catch was. Then my son and him bandied on about bears, coyotes and other critters that are a normal part of living in the woods. My son was intrigued to say the least and the conversation went on for a few minutes. But it was raining, so into our warm car we went, off to do more errands and eventually head back to the confines of our dry home. Off we went.

 “Why do we have a house daddy?”

My distracted Saturday-errand-mind was jolted to attention. I take our house for granted. Yes, there is bills and mortgage payments that remind me whose house it really is. But for the most part, I don’t think about it. It’s my house. I take a house for granted.

And of all people, shouldn’t my four-year-old son take his house for granted?

Obviously not.

Now distracted by the profundity of my 4-year-old's question, I gave a simple answer: “Um, because we’re lucky to have enough money to live in a house.”

His “oh” was followed by my internal “whew” - discussion diverted to preparing for our next stop, the pool! My reflection on this one question, however, has persisted.

My son’s world is getting bigger. He notices things - notices important social realities. He’s meeting people who are different than us. And being more social than I’ll ever be, he has no problem striking up a conversation with a stranger whoever it is. As such, he’s learning.

And I’m learning.

I’m learning that generosity is more about sharing with others than me giving from a position of superiority or wealth (as if $$ is all we have to give!). The homeless man’s gentle interaction with my son was a gift worth far more than our $12.60. Need and vulnerability is measured in more than dollars and cents.

I’m also learning to discover where I should stop taking areas of my life for granted. My seemingly trivial residence actually reflects a deep dependence on the support of others, be it from family, banks (!?!), or employers.

And finally, like most parents, I get tired of the relentless ‘whys?’ from my son. Yet like most parents, I’m learning that sometimes ‘why?’ is often the very question I need to stop me in my distracted tracks.

If there’s one thing I can take for granted, it’s that there is much wisdom to be found in hanging out with a 4-year-old, ‘whys?’ and all!


Recommended: Tim Keel, The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge

weekly clips: "recapturing advent" - Stanley Hauerwas

"we need to wait" - busyness and advent

Ours is a busy culture. We do a lot. As such, Christmas is a sort-of annual festival of busyness. Our chaotic lives display a pace unparalleled the rest of the year.

Partying, shopping, eating - busyness becomes our measure of faithfulness to the ‘spirit of Christmas.’ One doesn’t have to be pessimistic of the busyness, for sure. Much of the activity reflects a genuine desire to connect and celebrate, to recognize family and faith, hope and love - it’s a good busyness in this sense. But busy nonetheless. The more the merrier!

Advent by Linda McCray
Often lost in the hum of holiday busyness is the Christian celebration of Advent, which begins this coming Sunday. Advent literally means “coming,” and incorporates practices of expectation and longing for the advent of God - “Immanuel...God with us” (Mt. 1:23). At its core, then, Advent isn’t about the frenzy of celebrating Christmas, but the act of waiting for Christmas.

But we’re busy. We don’t wait. We get things done. Christmas starts now (now being as early as September for some retailers)!

There is a real danger that our well-intentioned busyness distracts us from our deepest needs. Longing characterizes much of life - expectations for relationships, careers, happiness and such. Whether we like it or not, much of life is spent waiting.

Advent brings this experience of waiting to our celebration of Christmas. Like God’s people of old, we still wait for mercy and blessing in our lives and for this world. Yes, Christmas marks the fullness of God’s promised presence, but Advent marks how this promise finds fulfillment in the journey of anticipation. Unlike our typical Christmas festivities, God doesn’t give us everything at once. This isn’t how God chose to reveal himself. This isn’t how we should commemorate God revealing himself.

We need Advent.

We need to wait. 


Related:

"It's complicated"

They got married?”
“That person is divorced!”
“That person is still single?”
“They got married young!”
“They got married old!”
“Who would love him!?!”
“How does he stay married to her?”
That’s an unlikely match!”

Stigma. Judgement. Labels.

Stigma is a disapproval of, or discontent with, a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society. Stigma may attach to a person who differs from social or cultural norms.

When it comes to relationships, stigma abounds.


Just change your Facebook status to see what I mean!

So often our relationship status defines us.

And Christian approaches to relationships sometimes accept these stigmas. Books, events, websites, sermons create a compartmentalization of people in the church based on relationship status. While helpful to address specific needs of various life situations, such an approach is often all there is. The Bible is used as handbook on relationships; Jesus turns into the unrivaled relationship guru.

Yet reading passages like Matthew 10:34-39 and Matthew 19:1-12 the last thing we get is clear relationship advice. Instead, Jesus provokes, talking about family division and “hard hearts” in the complex world of relationships and faith. No easy answers here.

For Jesus-followers, it seems the only accurate relationship status is, “It’s complicated.”

Consistently in his teaching, instead of outlining how to be a good spouse, or how to live the single life, Jesus reiterates what it means to overcome our hardness of heart: follow, lose your life...identify with him.

The message is clear: identify your whole self with Jesus, not with your relationship status. Instead of giving relationship advice for his followers, Jesus gives following advice to people in relationships.

It may be complicated, yes, but such is the way of Jesus in the world.


**This post is adapted from one of my recent sermons**


weekly clips: #GivingTuesday

Following my post from earlier, don't forget about #GivingTuesday!



put the giving back in thanks - #GivingTuesday

Today is American Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

Tomorrow is Black Friday.

Monday is Cyber Monday.

How quickly the pause for thanksgiving is followed by the frenzy of shopping!

I often bemoan our culture’s excessive spending - post-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping craziness only exasperates my frustration. While often a willing participant in excessiveness - most in N.A. are! - I find our cultural default to consume everything to excess troubling to say the least. And we can’t get away from it. As Skye Jethani observes about our culture in The Divine Commodity,
A century of manufacturing insatiable desires has created a culture of overindulgence; obesity sexual promiscuity, and skyrocketing consumer debt are just a few signs. Although lack of self-control has always plagued humanity, for the first time in history an economic system has been created that relies on it.
Too much turkey isn’t the only problem of overindulgence around the holidays!

Even while I’m guilty of perpetuating this culture along with everyone else, I don’t want to give in completely. To remain ignorant of our excessive consumption or to resign ourselves to it as simply “the times we live in,” denies our own freedom to live better.

A new movement, #GivingTuesday, offers such a way, even if just a start.

The craziness of shopping this weekend isn’t going away anytime soon. Yes, that’s frustrating, but true. #GivingTuesday offers an alternative in the midst of the problem, hopefully helping us realize that thanks really should lead to giving.

building peace, literally

Imagine coming home after a being away for several years. Let’s say you were studying or on a temporary work assignment. And now, finally, you return. But upon arrival, someone is living in your house. Not just squatting, but literally taken over your home for their own. What do you do?

Demand they leave. Claim your ownership. Call the police! Yell incessantly, “Get out!!!”

Seems pretty simple to me. 

Now, of course if you’re a Christian, yes you’d do this as lovingly as possible, perhaps not pressing charges if the squatters were in a difficult place in life (after they pay for any damage of course). We are forgiving people after all - peacemakers even.

I often think such hypothetical situations are unhelpful to envision what peacemaking can and should look like. Because really, when is this type of thing ever going to happen?

Meet Caesaer Hakim (his story is told in this month’s MB Herald):
After fleeing aerial bombings and living in a refugee camp in Uganda for 14 years, Caesaer Hakim and his family were excited that the day to return home had finally arrived.

But when they got to their ancestral home in Opari, they found another family living on their land.
Not so hypothetical after all.

Prior to coming home, Hakim received training in peacemaking. And no, the training didn’t involve how to lovingly evict squatters. Hakim knew more was needed.
His skills were soon put to the test as he dealt with the new family living on his land. “If I had not had the peacebuilding training, I would have picked a quarrel with them. Instead, I built my house on another plot of land.”

Neighbours are aware of this action, and the example he set earned him respect as a peacebuilder. This enables him to share his knowledge and skills as he leads the committee and helps other families resolve conflicts.

“I am like a teacher,” he said. “Knowledge is like fire; it cannot be contained.”
I talk about peace and faith fairly regularly here. I’m constantly challenged personally with how a view of peacemaking and the gospel translates into everyday life. I realize my idealism and struggle to maintain it. In my life the way of peace risks abstraction and irrelevance. Hope wanes.

Then I hear stories of Caesaer Hakim, a man building peace, literally.

weekly clips: Christianese

Yes, Christians say some pretty funny stuff...(and yes, the source is "GodTube" - very creative title!)


From worshiphousemedia on GodTube.

Jesus and productivity

We live in a culture dominated by efficiency and productivity. We all feel the pressure, no doubt, to contribute something to the world, to live up to expectations and make something of our lives. Ours is a "what have you done for me lately?" culture.

And so we want to be productive. We feel good being productive. We have (!!!) to be productive we tell ourselves (or others tell us).

With all these pressures, it's helpful to pause (if you have time) and consider, what does productivity mean for you?

Now read Luke 19:1-10:

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

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

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

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.”
 

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (NIV)

And then consider this: What is productivity for Jesus?

Awareness.
Presence.
Flexibility.

Have a productive weekend!

how we remember

As a leader in a peace church in Canada, I've always wrestled with how to commemorate Remembrance Day.

"The Road to Peace" by 'gilad
I firmly believe it’s the role of Christians to seek nonviolent resistance to injustice in its many ugly forms. No, this is not passive nonresistance, but the creative and active response to injustice (read Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed if you want a glimpse into the possibilities of such response). Yes, such an approach invariably fails to guarantee success at it’s typically defined - risk is inherent to active peacemaking. Such is the way of Jesus.

But with such a view, I don’t think I should ignore Remembrance Day. I wear a poppy. I read stories of war veterans. I pause in silence.

Yet one could suggest a recognition of Remembrance Day communicates a parallel support of current military efforts by Canada or other countries - I’m guilty by association.

There is a tension. And I feel it.

Which is why it’s so important for me to reflect on how we remember just as much as the act itself. Central to how I remember as a Christian is lament - lament that war blasts us with the reality of the world as it shouldn’t be. As we honor the sacrifice of veterans, we mourn the fact that such a practice even exists.

Remembrance Day - and all thoughts on war and violence for that matter - should lead us to lament...

...Lament the innocent victims; the families torn apart.
...Lament the soldiers’ lives lost on all sides (all war is more complex than good vs. evil).
...Lament the violent assertion of the strong at the expense of solidarity with the weak.
...Lament the absence of God’s ultimate vision for peace.


Related: “inefficiency wins”

weekly clips - Remembrance Day and "Praying for Peace"

How will you remember on Remembrance Day?

church: people not a building (but...)

Most Christians would agree the church is not a building. It’s common understanding that the church - “the called out ones” (ekklesia) - is the people not a building.

Yet you look around the world, from medieval cathedrals to neighborhood steeples, and one could wonder how seriously Christians themselves hold to this key principle of people before buildings. I mean, really, a lot of money has been spent on church buildings!

Hyde Creek Community Church...building
It’s no surprise, then, that in various points of church history people have questioned the role of the building for the church. From monks to Anabaptists to hippies to emerging/missional folks, groups of faithful Christians have demonstrated boldly and creatively how faithfulness to Jesus hinges on a way of life, not a place to meet.

I find these examples both inspiring and, well, challenging.

You see, this fall our church purchased a building (you can read some of the story here as recorded by my friends at the MB Herald).

I’m aware of how easily a building can take over the identity and focus of a church. “I go to church”, while an innocent phrase uttered often, can begin to reflect a reliance on the structures of the church not the people nor the God we profess to follow.

And yet we bought a building. Why?

In many ways our lead pastor’s words, cited at the end of the article above, summarize well our perspective on our building: “We’re home now.”

We're making this transition in the life of our church by attempting to put the building in a proper perspective. For our family of faith, it’s our home - a place to meet and to host, to worship and to serve.

Are there still dangers? Absolutely. Will we be at times distracted (mortgage anybody!?!). No doubt. But being aware of these dangers, we’re asking some important questions to keep our building in perspective:
  • How does what we do with this building say to our neighbors?
  • How can we be good neighbors?
  • How can we be good landlords?
  • How can our space be a place of hospitality and hope?
And in all these discussions, we do need the reminder that the church is about the people united in Jesus wherever we may be. Right now we just happen to gather in our own building. And for this we are thankful. 

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).


what should I read?

"Most people would hesitate to recommend a book that’s hard to read. I usually am, but with The Cost of Community, I’m willing to make an exception. You see, The Cost of Community is hard to read for all the right reasons."
This is a blurb from my latest book review published in the MB Herald.

Reading and reviewing this book makes me wonder how we should interact with the books and authors we read. And similarly, what should we read?

I know for myself, I tend to read books I know I'll already agree with or ones that align with a specific project or interest I have. The upside is obvious: I get read books I enjoy! The downside, however, is more subtle: reading can end up being a sort of pat-on-the-back for own views on life. The Cost of Community tested this reading approach.

I did enjoy The Cost of Community, yes; but it also challenged my view of faith and life as a Jesus follower beyond what I'm comfortable with. Jamie Arpin-Ricci presents implications (not applications!) of Jesus-following, that to be honest, I'd rather not deal with (e.g. risk-taking, everyday peace, money). This challenge is the best - and worst! - part of the book.

And it's a challenge, I'm learning, that I need in my reading.

What's a challenging book you've recently read?

weekly clips: "The Saints"

Besides Halloween, this week also celebrated All Saints Day. 

Check out this thoughtful reflection on those who came before us:

Happy? Halloween!

I’m not a big fan of Halloween. It’s not that I have deep convictions against it. Mostly it’s the growing industry around Halloween that seems so absurd and wasteful. And yes, as a parent and a Christian, the emphasis on the dark side of the spiritual realm makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

But maybe I’m just a scrooge (or the Halloween equivalent!) when it comes to Halloween.

As I continue to process this bizarre day in our cultural calendar, I’m reminded of a few thought-provoking Halloween posts that have tempered my crankiness:

Richard Beck has a whole host of Halloween-related posts. With “In Defense of Halloween” he offers this helpful reminder:
The night isn’t demonic, it’s just mysterious and, as a consequence, spooky. And it is good at times to confront the spookiness to see that there really isn’t a monster in your closet.
And then singer-songwriter, Steve Bell, traces some Halloween history and weighs in with a challenge for Christians to engage the world around us - "Keeping Christ in Halloween":
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.
Happy? Halloween!


weekly clips: Hellbound(?)

In light of my two-part review earlier this week, here's the trailer for Hellbound(?):

Review Part 1

Review Part 2


Hellbound(?) Review - Part 2: it is more than just a movie

Click to read part 1

As I said in part 1, good art is primarily provocative, rarely conclusive on any one topic or idea. When it comes to understanding hell, Hellbound(?) cannot be seen as authoritative theologically or conceptually.

But all art still says something. While not authoritative, art still presents a point of view in the provocation. Dante’s Inferno, for example, was very influential in determining peoples’ conclusions on hell - a poem! In the case of Hellbound(?), then, what is it saying?

The film makes a case to raise the credibility of Christian Universalism (not to be confused with universalism in general). Kevin Miller, the filmmaker, reflected on this sole purpose in a recent interview: “The people who are opposing the idea of eternal conscious torment are Christ centered, biblically based, and around since the beginning of the church (e.g. Gregory of Nyssa).”  Beyond semi-controversial figures such as Brian McLaren and Frank Schaeffer, Hellbound(?) includes several thoughtful and nuanced descriptions towards a biblical understanding of Christian Universalism. Brad Jersak stands out in this regard. At the very least, the viewer should take their views seriously and respectfully.

At the same time, however, Hellbound(?) doesn’t do itself any favors in establishing this desired credibility. The film very clearly slants towards supporting some sort of Christian universalism. The lack of interaction with annihilationism and the caricatures of the eternal conscious torment folks (although the examples are true) leave Christian universalism looking like the only sane option. This will no doubt - and it should - leave viewers who disagree very frustrated, unfairly represented by the Phelps clan and an angry Mark Driscoll. To get the respect he desires, Miller would have been well served to convince better proponents of the traditional view or annihilationism to participate in the film.

In the end, I’m not convinced by Christian universalism. Well it’s interesting to learn of some in history who have held this position, such an appeal still stands against the majority of theological tradition and orthodoxy. There is too much speculation on exactly how God enacts his love and judgement in the afterlife to make a convincing case, although this could be said about all detailed descriptions of heaven and hell. To Miller’s goal of establishing a greater appreciation and understanding of the Christian universalism project, I do think this movie helps dispel false caricatures of universalism devoid of Jesus and the bible. I resonate and support the desire for faithfulness to Jesus and biblical interpretation. I’m just not convinced they're right in their conclusions.

And finally, like my conclusion with Love Wins, the greatest value of Hellbound(?) is not its speculation on the afterlife but rather how it challenges the audience to consider the implications of their belief for life here and now. Cosmic speculations are never far from down-to-earth ethics. I was particularly surprised with the repeated reference to peace and violence in relation to our views on God’s love and judgment. I found my inner-Anabaptist cheering (reserved Mennonite cheering of course) as folks interacted with how our beliefs about God and judgement will inevitably influence how we treat others in the world. Near the end of the film, the gospel of peace boldly confronts Christianity’s tendency towards violence. If we truly believe, as Christians on all sides of the heaven/hell discussion do, that Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s love and judgement, we should all default to patience and humility as we interact around ideas of love and justice, ideas only fully known and lived in the divine mystery of God in the flesh.

So yes, I recommend Hellbound(?). Find folks to interact, challenge and reflect with. Don’t just speculate without turning to the bible. But also don’t just read the bible without taking the speculation seriously. And with a topic as controversial and divisive as hell, let this reminder be your guide:

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. 
But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:12


Hellbound(?) Review Part 1: it is just a movie

I've been mulling over this movie for a week now, and have realized a two-part review is in order - much to think about!

For Christians, hell is controversial. Or at least talk about hell is controversial.

Just ask Rob Bell.

Books have been written. Blogs have been posted. Tweets have been tweeted.

And now, movies have been produced.

Hellbound(?), produced, written, and directed by filmmaker Kevin Miller (from my hometown of Abbotsford!), is crawling its way through N.A. theaters this fall (official term is a “platform release strategy”).

The topic? Hell. Or more precise, how Christians have traditionally understood the Bible’s teachings on hell and how we should live with this teaching now. As the website states, “Hellbound? asks why we are so bound to the idea of hell and what our view of hell reveals about how we perceive God, the Bible and, ultimately, ourselves.

Before engaging the content, an important point: Hellbound(?) is art. Deeply theological, yes, but not theology proper. And while you could make the argument that a documentary should be more authoritative than a feature film - it often involves more straightforward presentations of facts and arguments - I don’t think this has to be the case. You see, documentaries also tell stories, just differently. They provide a context for a particular argument or topic by giving voice to a variety of perspectives and highlighting examples of the subject matter. Hellbound(?) does this well.

So right from the start, viewers need to experience the movie as such: a work of art. From music, to creative editing and transitions (at times a little over the top - e.g. Phelps family and Mark Driscoll shouting), to locations, and to the overall quality of the picture, Hellbound(?) succeeds as a work of art.

For the viewer, then, especially ones with a vested interest in the topic (i.e. Christians - this movie is primarily addressed a Christian audience), we need to remember that any artistic presentation cannot represent the fullness of the Bible’s teaching on a subject. As with Rob Bell’s book, this film is not authoritative, nor should it be. It is just a movie. And in movies, provocation is not bad. Good art provokes. It is the viewers’ responsibility, then, to not give too much credit to the message of the film. Take it for what is. Art. In this sense, good film watching is just as important as good filmmaking.

But like all good art, provocation leads to thinking. Hellbound(?) leads to much thinking, specifically about hell.

In part 2 I will elaborate on the content of the movie itself.

weekly clips: “To be loved is to be known - to be known is to be loved”



 

Falling from the edge of space – God’s plan?

Recently I posted a clip describing the preparation of the Red Bull Stratos, which also gave some background into the jumper, Felix Baumgartner.

Sunday he completed this spectacular feat.

Dizzying!
Perhaps I’m reading too much into the comments of a now-celebrity, but reflecting on his accomplishments, Baumgartner stated his belief that “God has a plan for me.” And this death-defying stunt, well,  “that’s [God's] plan.”

I’ll admit, I’m skeptical of this type of talk, let alone when it comes from those at the center of pop-culture. Is Baumgartner just expressing the typical celebrity pseudo-religious hype? Hard to know. I don’t know him. But even if he’s sincere in his belief that falling from the edge of space is God’s plan for him, raises the question: What exactly is God’s plan for us?

“This is God’s plan” is easy to say when you’re at the top of your game – setting world records! What about times of sickness, loss, frustration, or uncertainty?

I always have this question when I hear people talk like Baumgartner: is God’s plan generally specific or generally general? Put more plainly, is God’s plan to develop and execute a plan for events or develop and execute a plan for people? Or in this case, is God’s plan for Felix Baumgartner to sky-dive from the edge of space (likely enshrined as one of the greatest daredevils ever!) or to be a certain kind of person whatever he is doing?

I think God does work in specific moments of history, through individuals and communities. Jesus proves this!

But I also think this is the exception not the rule. A scan of Jesus’s teaching or the New Testament letters quickly reveals how God’s plan is for his people to represent him in history, not to plan out history for his people. God’s plan is fundamentally relational.

At the very least, these types of examples should cause us to reflect on how we talk about God’s dealings in the world. Love of God and neighbour, the virtues of the Spirit, and a depth of love are relevant for all the situations we face.

Felix Baumgartner seems genuinely thankful to God for where his life has gone. Great. But we need to remember, especially in the echo of celebrity praise, that thankfulness is an attitude towards all of life all the time, not an attitude towards specific circumstances.

After all, there is much more to be thankful for than jumping from the edge of space.

From trendy to change - World Food Day

Today is World Food Day.

A very worthy cause, described with this purpose:

The aim of the Day is to heighten public awareness of the world food problem and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

The focus this year is on the need for agricultural cooperatives:

It has been said repeatedly that we have the means to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. What is needed is the establishment of an enabling environment that allows small producers to take full advantage of available opportunities. Strong cooperatives and producer organizations are an essential part of that enabling environment.

Now, I’m no farmer, economist, or global forecaster, but this sounds good. In a world so often dominated by competition and individual success, cooperation (not corporation!) is a breath of fresh air. I would venture to say, the more cooperation the better!

And then I wonder, what can I do?

One practical response is to join the growing trend and eat local. Why not give the 100-Mile Diet a try! These ideas and movements force us to ask how our food is produced, where it comes from, and how our food acquisition affects those around us, both locally and globally. All important and complex issues. And if you need some stronger motivation to change your habits, watch Food Inc!

I will admit, eating local is trendy. Me blogging about eating local is trendy. But what would happen, as events such as World Food Day dare to hope, if what’s trendy became an actual trend? What would happen if trends, such as eating local and agricultural cooperatives, led to concrete change in our world?

I hope I’m not just trendy.

And so today, let’s consider our part in world hunger. And turn trendy into change. 

"Lord give bread to those who hunger, and hunger for justice to those who have bread.” 

weekly clips: Red Bull Stratos 2012

Crazy!


the gift of love and community

Fellowship.

Communion.

Participation.

These terms are rich in describing the nature of community the bible presents. They describe the dynamic relationship we have with God and others that isn’t something to be grasped, but rather something to be accepted as a gift - “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). It’s only because such love is divinely-infused that we can experience the “joy” of interdependence (1 Jn. 1:3).

Yet for all its richness, this gift of Christian community is not easily accepted or experienced. Community doesn’t come easily in a world of self-sufficiency.

Spending a Thanksgiving weekend with family, church, and children - not without some stressful parenting moments! - exposed my own tension between self-sufficiency and dependence on others. Whether it’s wanting to be liked, be an awesome parent, or say the right things in church, it’s easy for selfishness to take over.  It’s no wonder that humility as exemplified in Jesus is not easily come by, and never to be taken lightly (Phil. 2:6-11). humility can’t be manufactured. Fabricated humility is an oxymoron. We are so prone to personal freedom, success, and individuality (all good things in right doses), we neglect to accept that which is out our control - the gift of love and community.

There can be good reasons to be self-confident about certain things. But true community, formed with the gift of humility and interdependence, isn’t one of them. And facing my own self-sufficient inability to fabricate such humility and love, for this gift I am truly grateful.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 1 Jn. 4:11-13.

Thanks be to God!


weekly clips: Mumford & Sons - "I Will Wait"

Following my post from earlier this week, here's a video of Mumford & Sons' first single off of their new album, "Babel":

Mumford & Sons and honest hope

Basically defined, hope is our expectation that circumstances will improve, life will get better.. From experience and the stories of others, we believe there is reason for hope.

But hope also needs honesty.

It’s one thing to say, “Oh, have some hope, life will get better.” It’s quite another to identify the struggle one is in, and without resolving the struggle, to find hope in the midst of reality itself.

Many times words just can’t express this hopeful honesty without falling into trite sentimentalism or depressing realism. Personally, this is where music remains such an important avenue to convey values of hope and honesty beyond our ability to understand.

In their most recent album, “Babel”, Mumford & Sons provide a dynamic experience of the inseparable relationship between honesty and hope. From their emotionally charged ballads to the whisper of their folkish reflections, Mumford & Sons illustrates the reality of honesty and hope together. We see this in the intensity of longing with “I Will Wait.” Or facing the pain of a haunted past -“hope torn apart” - “Ghosts That We Knew” offers light in the darkness of despair. The listener will find a companion in the “Hopeless Wanderer.” While loneliness doesn’t disappear for any of us - the honest recognition of “a clouded mind and a heavy heart” - there is hope when such wandering is shared. We aren’t alone even in our loneliness. And to be sure, as “Broken Crown” brashly proclaims, honesty doesn’t come cheap, pretty, or clean - hope can be hard to accept in the honesty of brokenness (“how dare you speak of grace”).

Sometimes we can too honest.
Other times we are too hopeful.

What we need more of, really, is an honest hope.

Thank you Mumford & Sons!

Related:

facing uncertainty

Consider a big decision in your life (past, present, or future).

Now, consider the experience of deciding, especially the time of uncertainty and indecision prior to your choice.

For many, this state of disequilibrium is one to be avoided at all costs. Or at the very least, resolved as soon as possible. We are creatures of stability. Life is fulfilling if we know exactly who we are and exactly what we should be doing.

And this impulse isn’t bad. To seek certainty and purpose is natural.

But if we’re honest, such stability isn’t the norm.

Countless people deal with uncertainty on a daily basis, be it in relationships, career, faith, and the like. There is a constant stress on our psyche as we ponder over and over, “What should I do?”

As a Christian, it can be tempting to offer religious self-help advice (e.g. “pray for an answer”) or simple cliches that gloss over the depth of frustration we often endure (e.g. “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window”).

I don’t mean to exclude the value of direction through prayer and God’s leading - I’ve experienced this myself. I just hesitate to make these extraordinary experiences the norm. For all the times I’ve gotten clear direction from God there have been countless more times I remain in a state of uncertainty. When it comes to discerning decisions, the influence of faith is complex.

And so I’ve come to accept the complexity. And I still have hope and purpose. Consider my paraphrase of Jesus’s famous teaching (Mt. 22:36-40):
Facing uncertainty, and wondering how Jesus always seemed so confident in his approach to life, a doubter tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what do I need to do to rid myself of uncertainty - to attain purpose and direction?” 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 your reflection, uncertainty and decisions hang on these two commandments.”
It’s easy to feel worthless or unfulfilled in times of uncertainty. We may feel like we are wasting our time until we “get our act together.” The Greatest Commandment reminds us that there is no wasted time - we can always love God and love others.

Facing uncertainty, love is one thing we can be certain about.

weekly clips: "follow me"

In light of my posts this week - "We all follow..." (Part 1 & Part 2)...

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" Mark 8:34-36

 

We all follow...(part 2)

Part 1 here...

In a world where we all follow something, for Christians to we follow Jesus needs some clarification. “Follow me” is one the most familiar, inviting, challenging, confusing, difficult invitations in the Bible. Add to it the many different ways we follow in our lives, and Jesus’s invitation is far from simple. “Follow me” involves dropping everything coupled with a willingness to die, while at the same time promising to bring light and life to all. No wonder the concept remains a difficult, challenging, misunderstood aspect of our faith.

And in the process, following Jesus can simply mirror the other things we follow in life. There are different ways of follow Jesus (not all bad):
  • Paranoid Jesus follower
  • Popular Jesus follower
  • Intellectual Jesus follower
  • Entertained Jesus follower
  • Fashionable Jesus follower
  • Sound-bite Jesus follower
Consider this: What’s your default mode of following Jesus?

“Jesus follower” becomes a label we tack on to our existing identity. Following Jesus, unintentionally in most cases, becomes secondary – faith is an add-on in our lives.

And so we struggle to be faithful to Jesus’ call. We fail in relationships. We get angry. We’re selfish with our money. And we read the teachings of Jesus and think, “If only it were that simple!”

Following Jesus is just another choice among many. It’s no wonder, in the words of sociologist Reginald Bibby, we end up with “religion al le carte” – order your favorite religion from the smorgasbord of faith!

How does Jesus compete with that!?! “Drop your nets” or “pick up your cross” doesn’t sell in a world of cable news, Twitter, and self-help advice!

And so long as we view following Jesus as one of many choices, it shouldn’t sell. That’s not following Jesus anyway.

Instead, following Jesus is about our whole identity, out of which everything else follows. To “be yourself” is to be true to Jesus - to have your identity rooted in Jesus (Col. 2:6-7, Jn. 15:4).

We modern Christian tend to ask questions like this: How do I schedule in time with God? Or when do I need to make “Christian” choices? These questions make sense from our culture’s practical approach to life. But these questions limit faith to certain actions or specific times in life. But if following Jesus is about identity, we realize this: I’m always a Jesus follower! I don’t schedule in time with God or certain parts of my life where I need to do “Christian” things. Sure, I might schedule prayer, or bible reading, or volunteering at the food bank. But I’m no more or no less a follower of Jesus when I’m doing those things as I am when I’m mowing the lawn or walking to the park. 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, 
but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

**This post is developed from a recent sermon - "We all follow..."**

We all follow...(part 1)

“Be yourself!”

So goes the gospel of modern Western culture. Personal freedom and fulfillment define what it means to be human - individualism the way.

And this isn’t a necessarily a bad thing. I can think of numerous times when the phrase helped me greatly. Whether it was protecting me in the face of negative peer pressures or sustaining confidence in the face of failure, “be yourself” has helped maintain contentment with who I am. I like me.

Yet for any regular reader of this blog, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that “be yourself” has limits. To make it our mantra in life exposes the irony that it is. In our quest to “be ourselves” we all follow something.

Even the path of complete personal freedom and fulfillment is a very recent value historically – a value that...we follow.

And so even in a culture as “free” as ours, we hear of and practice following all the time:
  • News (radio, TV, smartphone, newspaper-maybe!)
  • Twitter (Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are in a race to get to 30 Million followers!)
  • Authors (e.g. Rudy Wiebe - one of my favorites)
  • Movies (e.g. Dark Knight series)
  • Fashion (not a reference to myself, by the way)
  • Advice (e.g. Seth Godin)

If we all follow, our goal shouldn’t be to free ourselves from all forms of following - impossible! Rather, to be ourselves, we need to understand what it is we follow.

Some questions to consider:
  • What are the ways people “follow” in our culture? 
  • What do you follow? (i.e. What are you most passionate about? What takes up most of your time/energy/focus?)
  • How does your following shape who you are?
Part 2 to follow...

**This post is developed from a recent sermon - "We all follow..."**

weekly clips: "International Day of Peace 2012"

As I posted yesterday, September 21, 2012 was the International Day of Peace.

Here's some insight into the motivation and vision to "make the world a better place," encouraging all people to "make peace a choice."



International Day of Peace - 'Sustainable Peace"


Today is the UN International Day of Peace.

This year’s theme is sustainable peace - challenging the world to consider how our perspective and use of natural resources influences peace. Sustainable, far from just an environmental issue, has huge social implications. Today, let’s not forget that.
There can be no sustainable future without a sustainable peace. Sustainable peace must be built on sustainable development.
And I think the nature-imagery of Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom offers a glimpse into the type of vision needed to sustain peace through sustainability that today is intended to represent.

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.
The cow will feed with the bear,
   their young will lie down together,
   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
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.
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 11:6-10.

Virtue After The Hunger Games

I’m always a little bit behind in reading popular novels. Last summer was the Harry Potter Series. This summer I narrowed the relevance gap a bit and read The Hunger Games Trilogy.

Overall, I thought it was pretty good and not overly predictable. The narrative is paced well with enough character interaction to provide (some) depth. The series’ post-apocalyptic setting offers insightful critique of where our culture could potentially end up. Far from deep - it is still popular fiction, let’s remember - the novels present a challenging depiction of culture, oppression and violence, but does well not to glorify violence in the process. And while I don’t think the conclusion of the series offers much hope in the face of violence, at the very least it’s honest about the problems of our culture and world.

Now onto the heavy reading - I also read Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue this summer. MacIntyre skillfully and thoroughly traces history and philosophy in analyzing modern morality, suggesting that we’ve lost the capacity to form virtue. We live in a world “after virtue.” Virtue, as MacIntyre describes, is our innate ability to “sustain practices and enable us...in the relevant kind of quest for the good.” Without virtue, people are more interested in getting the right answers individually (pragmatics) than becoming the right people in society (character/virtue). Of particular note, MacIntyre concludes that for morality to make sense we need to recover our connectedness - connectedness to history and to one another. The person I am relies on the people I relate to. Community is essential.

Reading The Hunger Games and After Virtue side-by-side, while unintentional, was an interesting exercise. In some ways - and this may be a bit of a stretch - The Hunger Games illustrates an extreme of MacIntyre’s thesis. The Capitol, completely absorbed in themselves and maintaining their particular culture, is oblivious to what is obvious to the reader: they are immoral. Their citizens are brainwashed. Or worse, they are animals. The Districts, on the contrary, begin to look beyond the facade and start to remember - they remember life before the oppression of the Capitol. After Virtue insists that moral health is rooted in knowing our history; knowing our rootedness to the people around us. In remembering the Districts retrieve aspects of goodness (i.e. virtue), albeit still incomplete and uncertain.

In assessing modern culture, After Virtue doesn’t offer easy solutions to the problems of modern morality. And The Hunger Games doesn’t resolve these problems smoothly either. But from popular novel and moral philosophy alike, I was reminded of an important reality: Who I am is bigger than myself - i.e. other people and history shape me. Fulfillment isn’t escaping my reliance on others and history, but embracing it.
"I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’ We enter human society, that is, with one or more imputed characters - roles into which we have been drafted - and we have to learn what they are in order to be able to understand how others respond to us and how our responses to them are apt to be construed." (After Virtue, 216)
**NOTE** I do worry, especially with the Hunger Games movie, that folks will completely miss the important moral implications of the story. With no culture of character - i.e. “after virtue” - how can we be expected to navigate the moral implications of a story such as the Hunger Games? Action and violence, instead of the profound cultural critique they offer, are merely entertainment for consumption. Basically, I’m afraid that MacIntyre’s thesis still holds true - the moral message of the Hunger Games falls on deaf ears - it succumbs to the very culture it critiques.