worseness theory

Is the world getting worse? Is society becoming less and less moral?

Christians often wrestle with the tension of being “in the world but not of the world.” And when people live contrary to the way of Jesus, Christians develop an angst towards a society seemingly without God. History is simply spiralling into...well, you know where. I’ll call this view the “worseness theory” - each generation’s belief that the world is the worst it has ever been.

Perhaps you can relate to this cultural commentary from a Christian leader:

“The world has proclaimed freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs: only slavery and suicide! For the world says: ‘You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the [wealthiest people]. Do not be afraid to satisfy them, but even increase them’--this is the current teaching of the world.”

Individualism and hedonism abound along with a whole host of other "isms" describing our wayward world.

“Yes!” you may be thinking. “That’s definitely our world and it’s only getting worse. Sound the alarms!” The worseness theory, it would seem, is proving itself true.

But this quote was written in 1880.

The words come from a devout religious leader, Elder Zosima, in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

I often wonder if each generation of Christian leader risks overemphasizing the worseness of their time and their place. Instead of bringing light, they bring alarm. Instead of being salt, they are smoke. And the result? Grumpy, world-denying Christians whose only service is judgement. “Judge not” falls on deaf ears with each generation - this dire warning is met with more of the religiosity Jesus meant to counter. Each generation affirms the worseness theory for themselves.

Where have you seen the worseness theory at work in your circles?
Does anyone else find this trend troubling?
What alternative is there to the worseness theory?

"Limiting God" - Richard Rohr

Another gem from The Work of the People - Richard Rohr - "Limiting God"

How have you seen God limited?
What difference does it make for us to envision God as "totally free" to love?

"faith in public life" - summer at Regent College

As years pass since my last classes at Regent College I continue to find myself reflecting positively on those times. Regent's greatest asset, I believe, is leaving its mark on students far beyond classes, lectures, and assignments. The integration of faith and life through honest and deep engagement with Christianity and culture profoundly shaped the way I view the world. Whether it's as a pastor, teacher, husband, father, friend, or follower of Jesus, Regent's influence on me persists. Quite literally, Regent can change your life. It did mine.

And this summer you can get a taste of the Regent College experience:

Regent's Summer term is different from the regular terms in that it is filled with rich teaching from a wide variety of world class faculty, lunchtime concerts, prayer retreats, and weekly free evening public lectures. It's a great time to dive into courses about history, theology, and Christianity for the pure pleasure of learning, while also enjoying Vancouver in the summertime!

But wait, you may be thinking, is not Regent only for pastors and theology-types? Well, no, actually. Regent College has always sought to serve all people, with their summer program giving particular attention to exploring "faith in public life." So whether you're a teacher, a business person, a thinker, a dreamer, an artist, a parent, or a someone simply wishing to dig deeper into faith and life, I'd highly recommend Regent College summer school. It may just change your life.

More details about Regent summers courses can be found on their summer school website.

Could There Be Peace?

Violence has been before our eyes this week.

But peace has been on our minds.

"Could there be peace?" is a question we should all be asking as we look around and see violence in our world each day.

Contrasts


Life is full of contrasts: joy-sorrow, peace-violence, love-hate, hope-despair.

This has definitely been a week of contrasts. 

I’ve seen joy through my children. I witnessed joy in my son’s exclamation, “We’re finishing the loop!” as he came around the last corner of Vancouver’s seawall to discover our car, and more importantly, his accomplishment. I saw joy in my daughter’s eyes at the simple, yet profound for a 1.5-year-old, game of peekaboo at the park. To be able to witness their discovery is a wondrous thing to behold. In these times, life truly is a joy.

But as we’ve seen in daily news reports, sorrow has continued its’ reign around our world and in our lives. Here in North America, the Boston Marathon bombing is one tragedy among many around the world where death and destruction invades life. And in the wake of such tragedies, we hear stories revealing how our unity in the face of disaster goes only as far as our stereotypes allow. In these times, sorrow overwhelms life.


Joy. Sorrow. Together. This unavoidable contrast.

I struggle to live with and engage these contrasts. I think we all do. With every tragedy I can become numb to the news of violence and death. And amidst the busyness of parenting, I can become distracted from noticing the daily wonder in a child’s world. In both cases - joy and sorrow - I stop paying attention.

I mentioned recently how wisdom is tied to paying attention - we need to notice what’s around us in order to engage what’s around us. This week I'm reminded to celebrate joy and suffer in sorrow. Instead of avoidance, numbness or distraction, we need to live with the contrasts. After all, life is full of contrasts.

NT Wright - faith, gospel and love in the world

It's been awhile since I've had NT Wright clip - this one's worth the 11-minutes...

Cleaning up

I can sometimes be a procrastinator when it comes to cleaning up. Tidying for me is often more efficient in the crunch of the last minute. Be it my inbox (182!!!) or my desk (see picture), I function with a level of mess around me. I can always get to tidying later.

But sometimes deadlines require swift action. Or planned organization. Disorder can’t last forever and I move into action returning a level of order around me.

Tidying, however, is different in times of transition. Sure, I may in fact leave my desk until the last hours in my office, but even something as simple as cleaning up a space can reflect a larger transitional reality: delaying the inevitable.

How often do we avoid the little areas of organization to avoid the larger ones? Am I avoiding emptying my bookshelf because I’m lazy? Or because I’m avoiding the reality that come Monday, this will no longer be my daily space?

Good transition, I’m experiencing, means paying attention to both the large and small realities. I don’t want the rush of office-tidyng to reflect a rush in other areas of this transition like valuable friendships.

The book of Proverbs repeatedly carries the phrase, “pay attention.” Transitions require wisdom, no doubt. And paying attention is integral to wisdom. I’m realizing, then, how even the smallest detail can be worth paying attention to, even how and when I tidy my desk.




"Whatever happens"

Transition.

"Movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another."

This past Sunday I preached my last sermon as pastor at Hyde Creek Community Church. This is a time of transition for me personally, but also for the church. In all the highs and lows of transition, I'm encouraged by how the people of God in the New Testament approached transition. Instead of people leaving, they were sent and commended in their ongoing journey of faith. And transition wasn't made with complete certainty of circumstance, but with a trust and faith amidst whatever the held. As Paul encourages one of the first churches,
  
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…" (Phil. 1:27 NIV)
   
“Whatever happens” – not a phrase we often use in relation to faith and life. It can be hard to accept with its inherent uncertainty and unpredictability. We like to know what happens, not whatever happens! Often we make risk or unknowns the enemy of faith instead of the context in which faith is experienced. Paul, though, talks about faithfulness and unity in the midst of the unknowns.

My current transition is a "whatever happens" moment. And no doubt I'll encounter many more "whatever happens" moments in the years to come. I'm learning, however, that transition isn't so much about determining certainty for my future, but walking with Jesus in whatever the future holds.


Liminal Living

Liminality - "the condition of being on a threshold or at the beginning of a process."

Personally, I'm in a period of liminality - a threshold as I transition in role and community. Christianity, many say, is also in a period of liminality as churches adjust to changing cultures and shrinking public influence. Such transition can bring stress, uncertainty, and a whole host a challenges as people reflect on past identity and the unknowns of the days ahead. Our default reaction can be to get rid of the discomfort as soon as possible. And as Christians, we can even tell ourselves that changing times indicate a loss of faithfulness in the foundations of our faith in Jesus.

Yet this context of transition and disequilibrium, suggests Michael Frost, isn't contrary to following Jesus and may in fact be the exact posture required to faithfully follow Jesus as individuals and communities of faith. This clip elaborates on Frost's concept of "Liminal Living":

Consistency in life and faith

What happened at Easter?

Why the cross on Friday?

Why resurrection on Sunday?

What did this all accomplish?

These are questions Christians have pondered for centuries of Easters come and gone. Other times, little thought is given the profundity of the Easter story - the meaning is assumed.

And in the extraordinary reality of Easter - forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, life! - we don't always reflect on how whether or not our beliefs are consistent with our lives. We don't always realize how what we emphasize in faith - e.g. sin or grace - will influence how we live.

It was in addressing such questions of consistency regarding the cross and Jesus that I appreciated most in a small book I recently reviewed for the MB Herald - Derek Flood's Healing the Gospel. Here's an excerpt from my review:
For Flood, to study atonement theology is as much an exercise in biblical exposition as it is in seeking theological consistency. Love and judgment, punishment and healing must be reconciled....

...Additionally, throughout the text, Flood offers implications for response in Christian life and faith – atonement theology is not merely an academic pursuit, but influences our whole lives as followers of Jesus in the world (e.g., the way of nonviolence).




In Their Eyes

My favorite art - music, visual, film - tells a good story, communicating a provocative message through word and expression of the artist in a meaningful way. Such is my friend Michael Friesen's ambitious and inspiring musical project, In Their Eyes.  

From the website: Over 5 years in the making "In Their Eyes" is a work of  faith, hope and love to share the good news for all of creation recounting history through the eyes of those who lived it.

In Their Eyes is artistic storytelling at its best, an integration of musical components to tell a story - the story of encountering Jesus. It's ambitious in its length of 25 songs (this is no side project or hobby!). It's inspiring in the stories it tells, each song relating its own narrative that also fits into the broader narrative of the whole project. Especially with the first listen, this is one of those albums best experienced start to finish.

Most appealing is how the storytelling goes beyond the biblical narrative-inspired lyrics. Leading the way are Mike's impressive guitar and songwriting skills that reflect an intentionality integral to any good storytelling. One gets the sense that each note, each harmony, each sound matters in the story. Along with dynamic guitar-driven melodies are interspersed strings (and horns and organ!) and timely vocal harmonies that combine to create a full experience of the story. The result: In Their Eyes is art experienced, not just listened to. 

And seeing as we are all storied-people of one sort or another, In Their Eyes is worth recommending to anyone looking to experience how stories - and the Jesus story in particular - come to life through art. 

A few of my initial favorite songs after one full listen: 
And if you're in the Vancouver area, there is an album release party this Friday, April 5, 7:30pm at Hyde Creek Community Church (2145 Nova Scotia Ave. Port Coquiltam). Admission is free. Download cards for the 25 song album will be available for $10