weekly clips: peacemaking and nonviolence

In light of my posts on Anabaptism, I thought the clip below was appropriate for this week:

Peacemaking and Nonviolence

“God’s power is hidden under the signs of vulnerability”

“We choose weakness. We choose vulnerability. We choose love - to have our hearts broken... Because we trust and know...God is there...”

“God has done the radical thing. We just have to live into that promise.”


This post is part of my regular series, "weekly clips." 

Is Anabaptism still relevant?

After yesterday's post, I find myself asking: Is Anabaptism still relevant?

First, here’s some highlights from the other participants in the Anabaptist Vision synchro-blog:

Ryan summarizes the problem of the Anabaptist Vision: Christians end up as...
a bunch of people who are really, really, really convinced that we ought to do the things that Jesus taught, and try really, really, really hard to do them, but succeed inconsistently, experience frustration with their efforts, and have little patience with others who do the same.”
Chris’ thoughts on guilt-ridden Christian living relate well - guilt being the result of Christianity reduced to exerting as much effort as possible:
Failure to live up to the expectations of a community, let alone an ethical teaching based on the life of Jesus can facilitate a debilitating guilt.
And in light of such problems, Len offers a timely reminder that discipleship isn’t about us, but us being empowered by the Holy Spirit:
In how many churches do we see a demonstration of the power of the Spirit?...
...discipleship is only possible because Christ empowers us to follow Him...
…a strong theology of discipleship without a strong theology of the Spirit creates burdened people who carry too much baggage to be effective in helping others find God.

This synchro-blog exercise has reminded me that historic traditions such as Anabaptism can’t remain static, lest they become stagnant and irrelevant for the here and now. We learn and are shaped by history, indeed. But we aren’t bound by it either. This shouldn’t mean Anabaptists drop our distinctiveness altogether - but we do need to adapt.

I’ll let the synchro-blog gang elaborate on the relevance of Anabaptism:
If ever there was a time when a compelling articulation and expression of faith as a Spirit-infused, prayer-soaked, joyful, liberated and liberating following after the person and work of Jesus Christ, it would be now.  If ever there was a time and a place, in other words, for a spiritually vital Anabaptist vision, it would be now. -Ryan
I would like to see a re-engagement of a theology around the spiritual practices within Anabaptism.  From practices as ‘big’ as communion (which would be helpful in working through our guilt), a re-engagement of communal liturgy, prayer, music, and the dynamics of an individual spirituality within a tradition that is, for our North American context, fairly communal. -Chris
We first need our own people both saved and set free — knowing more than a form of godliness, but also its power. Then we have a chance to establish a dynamic local mission movement. -Len
I believe the Anabaptist tradition still has something to offer. I’m glad others do as well. We just need to realize that the vision will always be changing, even as the focus remains the same - “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The Anabaptist Vision—Synchro Blog

I’ve reflected a fair bit on the question, “What is the Gospel?” as my church recently went through a series on the topic. One of our aims was to recognize how the good news goes beyond personal salvation - Jesus is Savior and Lord of our whole lives, past, present and future. Inevitably, we talked a lot about discipleship - the gospel of Jesus here and now for us as followers of Jesus. All good stuff I think.

But in the midst of our discussion a challenge arose. The strong emphasis on discipleship, rightly stated I believe, was perceived as a sort-of works-based Christianity. As one person suggested, we risk trading a salvation-only gospel with a discipleship-only gospel.

As a pastor and church aligned with the Anabaptist tradition - a tradition that has always strongly emphasized discipleship - I wasn’t surprised by the critique. But I was troubled.

What if it’s right?

Enter synchro-blog discussion: A group of us are reflecting on an article this week - “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision” - that addresses a challenge in how Anabaptism is communicated and practiced (follow links below). Referring to what’s often called the “Anabaptist Vision”, Stephan Dinteman points out the tendency in Anabaptism to adopt a behavior-based discipleship. Discipleship is one-sided - it’s all about us. Dinteman outlines the problem as follows:
This approach to the Anabaptist vision resulted in generations of students and church leaders learning behavioural aspects of the Christian faith without learning equally well that discipleship is only meaningful and possible because it is an answer to who God is and what God is doing, and without necessarily experiencing what it means to have a life-changing personal friendship with the crucified and risen Jesus.
My first response is one of agreement. We can’t follow Jesus by ourselves, but need the transforming work of God in us and through us - discipleship is only possible because of the power of Christ’s resurrection and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following Jesus is beyond us.

But I don’t think Dinteman solves the problem completely. We need more than a corrective or balance in emphasis. Dinteman still frames the discussion as two separate categories of life: God’s work and our work. But do we really have to order them as step one and step two? Or God’s work and then our work?

I wonder, can it be both at the same time?

I worry that Dinteman’s critique accepts an overly categorized approach to God, faith, and discipleship. Correct behavior-based discipleship implicit in the Anabaptist Vision? Absolutely! But in the process, we need to realize that following Jesus is far more than a clear ordering of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Anabaptism doesn’t need to be more balanced in a modern 21st Century kind of way. This just accepts a separation of God’s work and our work into nicely ordered categories. But one of the best lessons of Anabaptist history is that faith is never nicely ordered (read Martyrs Mirror). Let’s not forget that.

Dinteman proposes that “the challenge before us now is to experience and name these transcendent works of grace in ways that are authentic and empowering for our times.”

I suggest, then, that an Anabaptism “for our times” requires we move beyond just balancing the dichotomies of God/salvation and discipleship. These shouldn’t be dichotomies. We need to remember that following Jesus is about dynamic participation with God in the world. This dynamic participation accepts that our faith isn’t always nicely ordered - sometimes God acts, other times we act, oftentimes it’s both at the same time. Faith gets worked out in unpredictable and complicated ways - yet ways that are mysteriously powerful and influential in our lives and the world.

As Anabaptists, I hope we never downplay discipleship. But I also hope we don’t simply (or impossibly!) just follow Jesus. The Anabaptist Vision, and even Dinteman’s response, needs the bigger picture of Anabaptist history and biblical faith that gets beyond 20th-Century categories of salvation and discipleship (and all of the baggage that comes with that). 21st Century Anabaptism, therefore, needs to be a big picture Anabaptism - theology, history, church, culture, discipleship all interrelated as we seek to faithfully participate with God in the world.

The Anabaptist Vision—Synchro Bloggers:

weekly clips: "Fight Church"

A few years back I posted about Fight Pastor. Well now there is a documentary coming out that follows folks like Fight Pastor as they attempt to integrate following Jesus with Mixed Martial Arts culture.

Reactions? Thoughts?

Niche Bibles and "The Way"

Beyond specific bible translations, there are many many many (MANY!!!) bibles that target specific demographics or segments of culture - women's bibles, youth bibles, sports bibles, farming bibles...you get the point. I call them niche bibles.

And now, along comes another niche bible: The Way - a new version of the New Living Translation. And the niche? Well, I’m calling it the hipster bible (although its target is young adults in general) with its artsy design, personal stories, photos, and probably most prominent, authenticity - “The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions, and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems” (introduction). This theme is evident throughout - its greatest strength in my opinion.

Now, on one level I have a problem with niche bibles - a critique leveled at the whole bible industry in general, not The Way itself. They create a perception that what we believe is the most relevant story in all of history isn’t relevant enough. As one person describes, we produce “entertainment bibles” - one of many products available in the quest for personal fulfillment. This puts too little emphasis on the biblical narrative itself (it’s not merely a product for consumption) while at the same time giving too much credit to the bible’s role in personal faith. God is revealed in scripture, no doubt. But always in context of the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit and the tangible community of God’s people in the world. Niche bibles risk stopping faith at the individual. And interestingly, hipster young adults tend to be suspicious of corporate marketing or branding in general, so it’ll be interesting to see how The Way is received.

On another level, niche bibles aren't all bad. The concept reflects the belief that the bible is relevant for all people and all cultures - doubting hipster artistic folks included. In this sense, I really like The Way (don’t think I can call myself hipster though - jeans are too baggy!). The NLT is a very easy-to-read  translation. The stories and questions throughout anticipate the concerns young adults have with the bible today. And the personal nature of the dialogue invites ongoing reflection, not abstract answers that stifle engagement, however theologically sound they may be. Oh, and the pictures are cool too.

So while I’m hesitant to endorse niche bibles, they aren’t likely going away anytime soon. Overall, then, I definitely recommend The Way bible for anyone seeking an authentic journey through scripture. The publishers and contributors have addressed today’s young adult culture well, hipster packaging and all!

Advanced Reader's Copy of the Bible has been provided courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

look around

I must confess, I write this post as a recently converted iPhone user. My life will never be the same...

Much has been said about the impact of technology on our day-to-day lives, oftentimes framed negatively as we become more and more dependent on technological devices. We cannot ignore this reality.

So as one who actively participates in this technologically-dependent culture (iPhone and all!), I try to integrate ways to avoid the trappings of technology that can so easily overtake my day-to-day life.

One practice I’ve adopted is quite simple. I regularly look around. Profound, I know! I stop, observe, listen, and  watch. I take moments through the day to be attentive to my surroundings; to notice the complex subtleties that make up our world. Mostly, I take only a minute or two; just enough time to notice my surroundings - an environment that influences and impacts each moment of my life whether I know it or not. But it’s up to me to notice.

For example, while recently sitting on a park bench, I decided to jot down a few words as I observed that particular moment. Lots happens in a minute or two:
Noise, walking, smoking, birds, reflection, colors, distraction, clouds, history, isolation, fast, slow, assertion, addiction, talking, silence, coffee, litter, green, community.
Each word reflects the moment as it lay before me. And each word has a story I only began to notice as I took in my surroundings. Many of my observations revealed a tension of everyday experience that somehow combines to form life as we know it - isolation-community, fast-slow, noise-silence. Again, complex subtleties of everyday life that we need to notice.

I learned something important in this simple exercise. It’s blatantly obvious, I know, but my iPhone and I don’t make the world go ‘round. Go figure.

I do believe technology helps us navigate the complexity of life more efficiently - I have and will continue to utilize the benefits of technological advance. But let’s not let technology distract us from the details of everyday life. Let’s not allow our gadgets give us a false of sense of power or popularity. More connected than ever in the broadest sense, we risk becoming disconnected in the best sense - here and now.

Just look around.

weekly clips: Sean McConnell - "Praise the Lord"

There are some songs that hit me right when I hear them. Last year it was Josh Garrels', "Farther Along."

This week I stumbled upon this performance by singer/songwriter Sean McConnell that stopped me in my tracks. I can't stop listening.

h/t to The Work of the People (again!!!)

everyday faith

Faith and everyday life can be a challenging topic.

Well, consider this: when I’m not with Julie, do I stop being her husband? No, I’m always a husband to Julie. Everyday activities reflect me being Julie’s husband, sometimes more directly than others. But you can’t separate me being her husband and other things. That goes against the depth and commitment and permanence of our relationship in marriage.

Belief in God and commitment to faith in Jesus is often referred to as a covenant in the Bible. It’s not just an external arrangement or label we wear that describes certain aspects of our life (e.g. I do “Christian” things like going to church, praying, etc... and do “normal” things the rest of the time). No, like in a marriage, our faith is always our defining characteristic, but not in the overtly religious ways we can sometimes make it. There aren’t two me’s (Christian Dave and Dave). There is just Dave who is a Christian in everything...

Part of our struggle with everyday faith, then, is when we accept an unhealthy dualism between religious/spiritual and the “real” world. It’s all the real world! We just have religious language and practices to help us better understand this real world.

Everyday faith isn’t tweaking small aspects of our Monday-Saturday life, like:   
  • praying out loud at lunch break so my co-workers notice
  • bringing up Christianity/Jesus as often as possible with my neighbors
  • putting a Jesus-fish on my car
  • always being happy
  • never getting angry when someone drives slow in the fast lane of the highway
The last thing we need is an everyday faith that simply tries to make everyday life more religious – rigid in specific ways of acting that we call “spiritual” – at the expense of becoming more authentically human.

I like this comment from a friend: 
God isn't trying to make us good Christians or even great Christians but rather great people.
But there is no strategy to make faith connect with everyday life – that defeats the purpose. I’m suggesting we realize not how to make faith a part of everyday life, but realize that faith – God, Christianity, following Jesus – is our everyday life.

Everyday faith is not intended to induce everyday guilt. Everyday faith is about recognizing and living in the way God intends us to live – in the fullness of relationship with God and with others and the world around us. Shalom is a biblical word that describes wholeness – peace – in all things. This is God intention for our lives. This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Let us follow Jesus with an everyday faith...

what your purpose in life?

Have you ever felt like you over-complicate life? That in the pursuit of your dreams (whatever those may be) the pursuit itself prevents you from ever reaching the goal? That you try too hard to attain what is so hard to get?

Over the centuries, much has been said and written and sung about this search for life’s meaning or “purpose.” Some of it good, much of it bad. The search for purpose is in response to the endless cycles of doubt, frustration, and dissatisfaction we can find ourselves in, always falling short of that ever-elusive contentment. We just need some hope. And if we can’t fulfill our dreams, we may as well at least read about it!

I shared some quotes/ideas last week from the book Love Does by Bob Goff - lawyer, activist, and adventurer (and friend of Donald Miller - I say this because Miller was instrumental in the writing and publication of the book).

On the one hand, Love Does adds itself to the looooooong list of books intended to inspire us to pursue our dreams. The tagline even points in this direction: “discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world.” But where others try to teach us to think right, or adopt the right attitude or energy, or follow 29.5 steps to personal happiness, Love Does reveals that fulfillment is found in the very process of life itself, not just when we reach some sort of goal. It's a typical purpose-driven-type book.

Through whimsical storytelling (although I’ll be honest with a nit-picky critique - the word “whimsical” is way overused), an understated, yet effectively straightforward writing style (one notices Miller’s influence here - the writing isn’t forced), and an overall contextualizing of God and faith into everyday life, Goff highlights that life doesn’t have to be complicated. Love isn’t an abstract idea we strive for. Love, quite simply, does.

And so Goff, through semi-autobiographical writing, focuses on everyday stories of love in action - friendships, connections with strangers, playing with his kids, and general wisdom on life and faith. And while it’s a Christian book, it’s not a religious book. Goff’s life and faith is so deep in his being it’s implicit in everything he says without falling into the trap of cliche christianity. To rephrase Goff’s own description of one of Jesus’ parables, Love Does is deep and theological without being a deep theological treatise. There is depth without jargon.

The downside, perhaps unavoidable in a set of personal stories, is the message could be seen as too easy. With seemingly endless resources at his disposal, Goff does some amazing things in the name of love. Inspirational for sure! But unattainable at the same time. And yes, it’s the spirit of the stories, not how we replicate them that matters. But similar to my feeling about some of Miller’s books, which I’ve benefited greatly from, there is a danger of faith becoming so informal and intuitive that it “just happens.” Well, it doesn’t “just happen” for a lot of people, including Bob Goff. Love happens because we make it happen, oftentimes through the hard work and dedication that loving well requires, especially sacrificial love. And I think Goff would agree. Yet facing my tendency to over-complicate things, easy may be exactly what I need. So I'm torn on this one.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Love Does. Goff’s journey of life and faith is an inspiring testimony to how God invites us to participate in his love for the whole world. Goff gets it. And readers should too. Instead of just thinking about our purpose to be loved and loving people, Love Does reminds us that we are loving people each and everyday. Amen!

Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson.

weekly clips: N.T. Wright on the role of women in the church

As a part of the "Week in Mutuality," here's N.T. Wright on the role of women in the church (h/t Rachel Held Evans).

And thanks to Rachel Held Evans for this excellent and thought-provoking week of posts.

This post is part of my regular series, "weekly clips."

Love Does - quotable

I just read Love Does by Bob Goff - he's a friend of Don Miller who encouraged him to write a book, so he did. The book is full of inspiring stories, everyday wisdom, authenticity and a depth of faith that is often lacking in popular Christian literature. In fact, it reads a lot like a Don Miller book! 

I'll share more next week, but for now here's a few notable quotes/ideas:

“I used to be afraid of failing at the things that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter."

“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply have to say yes.”

The story of sending his kids around the world to meet face-to-face with world leaders just to become their friends (an exercise in response to 9/11).

On theology and the parable of the banquet - a well-word commentary on how theology should operate for ordinary folks: "The message [Jesus] had for this round of people was simple: 'There's more room.' That was it. It wasn't a deep theological treatise. Yet is was exactly that, deep and theological." I love that last line!

"If you want to know the answer to the bigger question - what's God's plan for the whole world? - buckle up: it's us."

S is for "Submission"

This blog post is part of a broader discussion initiated by Rachel Held Evans: "One in Christ - A Week in Mutuality." You can follow the discussion on her blog or on Twitter - #mutuality2012.

Several years ago I had a really good idea while preparing to officiate a wedding for a first time. I had the couple to pick a bible verse for the ceremony - one that would set the theme/focus for my meditation and the service overall. Nothing profound, I know, but it seemed like a good way to make the service personal and theological.

Of the all the great choices available (1 Cor. 13 and Col. 3:12-14 are two of my favorites), this is what they picked - Eph. 5:21-25:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Submit, submit, submit. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, I thought...

Now, being a culturally astute theology grad student at the time (i.e. one who thinks they know everything, but really doesn’t!), I knew the word “submit” was loaded. For many, submission is all about power - who’s got it (usually the man) and who needs to respect it (usually the woman). The short and profound command of the first verse (describing mutual submission) gets overwhelmed by the rest of the text. Husbands get to love, while wives are supposed to submit. It's unfair! In good conscience I could not preach this message. What was I to do?

To say I was nervous is an understatement.

But then I realized “submit” is only a bad word in bad marriages. I once read that “marriage in our society has become a commodity.” If we grow tired of our partner, we simply trade up “for a newer and sleeker model.” From this standpoint, it’s no wonder submission is disliked!

Back then it was still safe to quote Rob Bell in public, and his words helped guide my thoughts. I shared them with the couple that day:
So the husband is commanded to lay down his life for his wife, and the wife is commanded to submit to her husband, but they’re both commanded to submit to each other because everyone is commanded to submit to everyone else, and all of this out of 'reverence for Christ.' (Sex God)
Sadly, in our world of power struggles and selfishness, we immediately want to know, “Who’s in charge? Who’s gonna make the decisions? Who has the final say? Who’s in control?”

My answer: yes!

In marriage, submission means both partners belong to the other person. Love, not power, determines the nature of the relationship. And facing all the decisions and situations of married life (career, children, place, faith), we need the reminder that God’s design for marriage is about sacrificing for the other. Submission is mutual.

Which is why I was glad (and relieved!) the couple actually picked a second verse for their ceremony (I didn’t tell them to do this!):
“I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3)
What began with my fear and trembling over the dreaded S-word - “submission” - turned into joyous celebration of covenant love as I led this couple in their vows of submission and belonging to one another.

In marriage, couples belong to one another. The love they profess reflects the unconditional of love of God through Christ. This love isn’t based on the ability to muster enough good feelings. Or on how many times one says “I love you.” Or how many conflicts are resolved using newly found “active listening skills.” No, covenant love isn’t a formula for success - marriage is far from formulaic! But simply and beautifully, covenant love offers something profound and binding for every situation: “I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.”

For consideration:
  • How do you understand parts of the bible like Eph. 5:21-25?
  • How can we regain a healthy emphasis on submission and sacrifice?
  • If you're married, how does mutual submission work itself out in your marriage?

weekly clips: "old radicals"

I posted this one a few years back, but is worth a re-post. Inspiring!
This post is part of my regular series, "weekly clips".