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.

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


the gift of love and community




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!


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.