relaxation

This week I’m back after two weeks of vacation.

I always find that coming back from vacation has me in a reflective state. I keep thinking about how fast the time went! And there emerges a distracting, yet welcome, pulse of memories that won’t go away. And I don’t really want them to.

As I return to the rhythm of “normal” life, I find myself asking, similar to last year, what’s the point of vacation and rest?

For this most recent vacation, one word comes to mind: relaxation.

To relax means to lessen something, be it tension, busyness, anxiety or other such things -  things that tend to characterize modern life.

As we camped with our two young children with little or no agenda (tenting with young ones requires some much flexibility), relaxation became main activity. The measure of a good day was in how relaxed we were by the end of it. Beaches, bike rides, ice cream, reading, fresh coffee, naps, swimming, and yes, more swimming made for one very relaxing vacation. We were very efficient in one important area: doing nothing. Our greatest accomplishment as a family was our relaxation.

But as I continue my post-vacation reflecting, I realize how times of relaxation bring a challenge to my return to the “real” world. A few questions linger:

-How do I define productivity?
-Is relaxation a worthwhile goal beyond a few weeks in the summer time?
-Has the modern motto, “work hard, play hard”, helped or hindered how I pace my life?

I may be done vacation for awhile, but I don’t think I’m done relaxing.


weekly clips: "loved as you are"

unheard of: "dependance on sacrifice - lessons from my little boy"

This post I wrote soon after our son was born in 2008. "Unheard of" is a series while I'm on vacation where I dig up old posts few people have read.


Dependence on Sacrifice - Lessons From My Little Boy

I’ve always believed that healthy relationships involve a degree of sacrifice to be successful. Being happily married for over five years has contributed to this understanding, as both Julie and I are continually learning how to best serve one another. Entering the realm of parenthood, however, has given me a whole new perspective on what means to sacrifice for someone else’s well being. You see, in marriage, individuals, while benefiting from the sacrifice of their spouse, are not totally dependent on that sacrifice for survival. We still have the freedom to be independent in areas of our lives (or at least we think we do!). This doesn’t mean we aren’t dependent on our spouse’s sacrifice, but that we can choose (for better or worse) if we are going to allow the other’s sacrificing love define who we are. Infants, however, don’t have the luxury of choosing their dependence on the sacrifice others. Their very survival depends on the sacrifice of their parents—the conscious choice to put your child’s needs above your own. As a new father, I find this new responsibility to sacrifice for my child both a great burden (am I willing to sacrifice enough for my son’s well being?) as well as a great honor (I have the privilege of influencing the identity of this little person). I anticipate the days, months, and years ahead of wrestling with how my son’s life is dependent on my sacrifice as his dad and humbly pray for the strength to appropriately place Landon’s life before my own.

This notion of a child’s dependence his parent’s sacrifice has got me thinking. Tt challenges our understanding of dependence in our lives. In terms of a baby, it’s easy to focus on their physiological dependence on their parents for survival, which obviously diminishes as they grow and mature and develop the ability to care for themselves. Character development, however, is harder to measure. When do we stop being dependent on others, such as our parents, for the shaping of our identity? Or do we require on ongoing dependence on others—dependence not unlike that of an infant and their parent—to help direct us along the path of who we truly are? Major life decisions, traumatic experiences, and simple day-to-day events bring a complexity to our lives that can be overwhelming to process if walked alone. Trying to make sense of our role as individuals in this complex world is a burden no isolated individual, in my opinion, can truly grasp. Belief in such autonomous freedom, quite simply, is an infantile fantasy. And so I think we are too hasty in associating age with independence, failing to see that our well being, like that of an infant, is dependent on the sacrifice of others for survival. As others sacrifice for us by walking alongside us and speaking wisdom into our experiences, our role is to accept our ongoing dependence on these people—the reality, in a way, that we never completely grow up.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Landon (Cuteness makes my sacrifice as a father so much easier!):

unheard of: "reality check - the truthfulness of movies"


This post is from February 2008, a time at which I obviously didn't have any children as when do I get the chance to see movies now!?! "Unheard of" is a series while I'm on vacation where I dig up old posts few people have read.

Reality Check - The Truthfulness of Movies

Over the last several years I have found myself increasingly interested in movies. This interest has led me to reflect on what it is I like about films and how they impact the way I see the world (if they do at all).

Watching movies is by no means a formulaic experience, as I find myself engaging movies in a variety of different ways, particularly depending on the genre of the film. For example, certain films are primarily there to entertain, working as a sort of escape from the realities of everyday life, where I catch a glimpse into the often unrealistic, but nonetheless enjoyable experiences of various characters (e.g. Dumb & Dumber).

At other times movies encourage an artistic appreciation, as even while a little off track from the mainstream films, the level of creativity they display demands recognition. Or even other times, I find myself interested in films as a form of cultural engagement, especially if ‘everybody’s seeing it,’ ensuring I won’t be left out of the next conversation on the latest films.

More recently, however, I have found myself engaging films in a different manner, a way that applies to most movie genres if you ask me. I am calling this type of movie watching the ‘reality check’ approach. What I mean by this is that I think all movies give a window into some aspect of the human experience (good ones at least). While often over-exaggerated in portrayal, I find that at certain points in a good movie, I find myself in agreement, saying, “Yup, that’s the way the world is.”

This form of movie watching struck me most recently when I saw the highly acclaimed film, There Will Be Blood (not recommended for the faint of heart). Daniel Plainview is the main character, acted brilliantly by Daniel Day-Lewis, who is driven by an overwhelming desire for success in the oil boom of the early 20th century, a success to be achieved at all costs. At one point in the film, in a rare moment of vulnerable self-reflection, Daniel comments on how it is his pent-up hate for everyone around him that ‘protects’ him from weakness, allowing him the strength to literally succeed over and above everyone else. I was struck by the truthfulness of his statement, exposing the loneliness that accompanies, or even is required, for power-hungry individuals to achieve success. In this moment of honest vulnerability, Daniel reveals a sobering truth of the human experience. As I watched this scene, then, I encountered a ‘reality check,’ a glimpse into the truthfulness of our world. To the creators and actors of There Will Be Blood, I am grateful.

As a Christian, the idea of recognizing truthfulness in the stories being told around us, through film in this case, witnesses to the formative nature that truthful story-telling has in our lives. As we Christians claim the biblical narrative as the story that forms us, the smaller stories we encounter in our cultural experience compliment the story-forming nature of our faith. Therefore, anytime I am offered a ‘reality check’ through film, I take it as an opportunity to be impacted by the truthfulness that I hope will continue to form me as a person and the world I live in.

weekly clips: "honoring our particularities"

unheard of: "plane chats and comforting words"

This post is from May 2007 - part of my vacation series, "unheard of" where I dig up old posts few people have read.

Plane chats and comforting words

On our trip back from Winnipeg, Julie and I had the “opportunity” to sit with a chatty fellow on the plain. While Julie was right next to him, all three of us interacted throughout the journey back to Vancouver, which in the end was a pleasing experience considering that I was not enticed by the French version of Will and Grace playing on the TV’s. This man was a professor of Transportation Economics at the U. of M., and was quick to fill us in on all the latest happenings and present predictions in the world of transportation. The book he was reading on the history of the automobile from 17??-1842 looked quite fascinating (boring???) as I did not even know the automobile existed at that point in history.

All said, the topic eventually lead to human values and religion. It was at this point, already knowing that I was a theology student, that he popped the question, “how do we know which religion is the right one when they all claim to be the right one.” Now, on the spot I honestly did not know how to respond as I usually take the route of careful reflection when it comes to these matters. Therefore, I kind of dodged a straight answer and related my understanding of my own religious experience and how it is a process of discernment done in the company of others, rather than the smörgåsbord approach so many individuals seem to take these days. With that response I think he realized I was not prepared to paint myself into a corner and the conversation shifted to something else.

The rest of this week I have found myself wondering if my answer was adequate and if perhaps I should have been quicker on my feet to challenge his question, particularly the part about how all religions claim they are the only right ones. I felt somewhat discouraged actually, thinking that here I am, a theology student, and I am talking about is my personal religious experience. Shouldn’t I say more???

Then today I read an article by one of my professors, John Stackhouse, which ended offering some comforting words. Discussing the modern approach to evangelism as traditionally having taken the line of “we’re better than all of you” Stackhouse points us to the example of the Apostles where the primary focus was relaying what they had seen, touched and heard (1 John 1:1). Basically, their
response to the religiously diverse atmosphere of the 1st century was there own experience of encountering Jesus Christ himself. Stackhouse follows this verse with the comment that I found most comforting, stating that “Jesus called us to be his witnesses, not his experts in comparative religion.” 

The reason I found this article encouraging is because my goal as a Christian is to be faithful with my whole life as a witness to Christ, not just my ability to logically prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt. While I recognize the danger of using this concept to shirk the responsibility of intelligibly communicating the Christian faith at all, I was glad to know that my Christian witness is far more just providing the “right” answers to questions from a gentleman on the plane…

unheard of: The church or not the church?

While I'm away on vacation, I'm going to post some of my early posts which very few people have actually read (according to my stats counter). Hence the name, "unheard of."

This first one is from January, 2007 while I was still studying at Regent College. While obviously idealistic without much specific substance (!!!), I still feel the same way 5+ years later.

The church or not the church?

It’s easy to examine institutional Christianity and become frustrated at the apparent shallowness prevalent in the faith of many Christians, particularly in North America. Christianity seems to simply be another social attachment no more significant than a gym membership or social club. Individuality is expressed to the point where the Christian faith has become relegated to be true only as private preference, with no relevant meaning for the world beyond therapeutic benefit in face of difficulty (which in North America usually pales in comparison to the massive suffering in the rest of the world).

Ok, enough complaining, because if there is one thing that frustrates me, it’s ripping apart institutional Christianity without offering some sort of way forward. I think that the alternative required is a redeemed vision for what it means to be the church. Rather than accepting that Christianity has become a matter of personal preference (which leads many to drop it all together), I wonder if it is possible to reclaim its relevance within the context of the church and society… Is it really possible that institutional Christianity can still serve a purpose in our world? While many will say no, my understanding of church as true community that encompasses all areas of life forces me, no matter how depressing the track record, to emphatically say yes!

The church or not the church? I am willing to explore the church…

weekly clips: "life is a rehearsal"



 


"the time has come"

Have you ever felt like your life is on the cusp of something big? You’ve been dissatisfied or waiting and now, finally, the time has come!?!

The bible is full of examples where special things happen at special times. The Greek word kairos is used repeatedly to define these types of circumstances - times of fulfillment (Eph. 1:10), times of suffering (Rom. 8:18), and times when God’s presence is clearly evident in the world (Mk. 1:15). And for a group that believes strongly that God works in history - a God “of the times” so to speak - Christians shouldn’t ignore important times in our lives.

But it can be difficult to know exactly how a specific time is important. And so we look for signs: a dream, a consensus, a bible verse, a prophecy - anything to bring clarity to the time.

My denomination is gathering in Winnipeg this week for its’ annual convention - Gathering 2012. There is a strong sense, through a period of discernment, discussion, prayer and reflection that this is a kairos moment for Mennonite Brethren (MB) in Canada - a time of opportunity as God moves in this current moment of our history. And while I’m unable to attend the meetings this week, I’m following along from afar.

I appreciate how Laura Kalmar defines the dynamic of this kairos moment as she reflects on one of the sessions:
Kairos signifies that something amazing is about to happen. In the midst of ordinary, tick-tock (chronos) time, extraordinary (kairos) time happens. Kairos refers to “the right time, opportune time, or seasonable time. Kairos is the right moment of opportunity which requires proactivity to achieve success. It is significant and decisive.”
But the challenge remains: how do we (Canadian MB’s) discern the times? And in a world often referred to as “post-denominational” (to say people don’t value denominations as they used to is an understatement), the role of denominations for this time is a question all groups of Christians need to be asking. Again, how do we discern the times?

We need to be asking, is this a special time for denominations? And I mean “special” in the positive sense (for some, “special” would mean the demise of denominations - not me!). And personally, is this a kairos moment for MB’s in Canada? As one who still values denominations, especially my own, I surely hope this is an important time for MB’s. So long as we mean kairos in the right way.

Any discussion of kairos needs to remember the breadth of God’s timing in our midst - a view of God and history that reflects Jesus’ view of timing for his followers. For Jesus, kairos definitely communicated urgency and importance - his very presence was the defining moment in history. But we often wonder, joining his followers in asking, when is this special time?

Now.

It was now in the 1st Century; now in each moment of subsequent history; and it’s now, well, right now.

Now.

Ever since Jesus’ proclamation that “the time has come” (Mk. 1:15), all time has been important for his followers - a time of living in the reality of God’s kingdom; a time empowered by God’s Spirit to join together in unity; a time to love God and love others throughout history and throughout the world whatever the cost.

In many ways, this reminder should alleviate the pressure of making any one moment in history bigger than it is - all moments are “big” to God after all. Yet Jesus’ words don’t let us off the hook either. There is no room for complacency if all time is kairos time. We are simply instructed to be faithful in whatever time we find ourselves. We don’t look for the signs we want, as if faithfulness is akin to predicting the weather. Rather, we look to The Sign (Jesus!) as our guide for the times (Mt. 16:1-4).

For Canadian Mennonite Brethren, then - and all Christians for that matter - may Jesus’s word on kairos inspire us to live faithfully whatever time and place we’re in.

Now is the time... 

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. 
Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15


weekly clips: Christianity and Evolution: A Galileo Moment?

In light of this week’s news on the discovery of the "God Particle" or the "Higgs Boson" as it's technically called, I found this clip from historian Mark Noll to be a helpful perspective on the relationship between Christianity and science.
“The churches will reason better about these scientific questions if they reason patiently, reason from the basis of broad Christian belief, reason especially from the beginning point provided by confidence that God in Christ has spoken truly to all humankind.”



praying for the weather

Some thoughts on a sunny day...

It was a gray and wet spring here in beautiful British Columbia. Yes, more than usual if you can believe that!

And now all we see if sunshine for many days to come. You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief across the Greater Vancouver Region. Finally!

Everyone is happy and smiling.

I actually didn't mind the wet weather.

But for many, weather impacts mood and overall disposition. Rain brings depression, with happiness dependent on rays of sunshine. For some, the opposite is the case. The technical term is seasonal affective disorder.

For others, farmers for examples, weather impacts livelihood and the ability to provide for one’s family. In some places in the world, weather determines survival itself (and while you’re thinking about it, please support the drought relief work of MCC in Africa).

Considering the weather’s effect, it’s no wonder people pray for rain. Or sun. Or clouds. Or a mix of sun and cloud so it’s not too hot, but still nice enough to have a church picnic (ours is this Sunday!). Weather is a big deal!

But I wonder, when is it appropriate to pray for the weather? Or even further, is it even appropriate to pray for the weather?

Praying for weather, we can forget, is more complicated than it seems:
  • What happens when the depressed person’s prayer for sun is matched with a prayer for rain by the farmer down the road?
  • What happens when rain finally comes to areas of drought only to carry with it disease and sickness to the thirsty masses?
  • What happens when the beautiful warmth of the sun only tells the beginning of the story in which a young father battles deadly skin cancer?
I’m not saying stop praying for the weather. If anything, our prayers remind us that everything in this world comes from our Creator God (Ps. 8), including the weather (Ps. 135:6-7).

But we need to be careful we don’t base our belief in God’s goodness on the result of our specific meteorological prayers.

So if you’re complaining about an exhausting heat wave or questioning whether or not summer will ever arrive, remember this: foremost in Christian belief is God as creator, not God as weatherman or sky-controlling magician. God doesn’t play favorites when it comes to the weather, so why should we?  

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Mt. 5:45)


Related: “Rain” over at Rumblings.


celebrating as aliens and strangers

Happy Canada Day! And for my American friends, Happy Independence Day!

I posted last year on this topic, describing what I experience every year as an “hesitant nationalism.”

This year I’ve been reflecting on how to apply words like these to national citizenship in the 21st century:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:9-12).
Practically speaking, if you are a citizen you are not technically an alien or stranger. This is especially true in North America where both countries grant extensive rights and freedoms to make sure all citizens have a chance to experience benefits of citizenship. It’s hard to lose your citizenship.

It was much different in the 1st Century, especially for the early generations of Jesus-followers.  Identifying with Christianity came with the risk of losing citizenship, and even your life! Faith and citizenship was an either/or situation. Not so for us. Living in a culture of religious freedom, we identify as citizens of a country and with our particular religion of choice. Faith and citizenship is a both/and situation.

So on one level Peter’s words don’t translate into a culture of religious freedom. Canada and U.S. aren’t oppressive. We aren’t aliens and strangers but free citizens.

But on another level, Peter’s words are more relevant than ever. Our legal citizenship may not jeopardize our faith (and vice-versa), but a tension does exist. Or at least it should. Do we see our religious and national identity as equal parts of who we are? Or do we believe the example of the 1st C. church is timeless, where they exhibited values of community, sacrifice, and love at all costs? An allegiance always to God’s kingdom first?

Even though we’re not forced to choose, it’s still worthwhile to ask: Where’s our primary allegiance?

Here are just a few things in North American culture that reveals this tension: excessive consumerism; extreme individualism; state-sanctioned war and violence; great economic disparity between rich and poor. The list could go on...Our reaction will reveal our allegiance. Maybe Christians are still aliens and strangers? Or at least we should be.

National holidays can sometimes give us the impression that all is well in the world and in our countries. And as free citizens, Christians join the party. I’m one of them! But I’m reminded that celebration can mute the tension of our primary allegiance: commitment first to Jesus or first to the world?

And so...

Happy Canada Day and Happy Independance Day!

Let’s just remember, as Christians, we celebrate as aliens and strangers.