10 things I love about marriage

Our wedding day!
This past week my wife and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.

I’ve written before how too often marriage is seen as a commodity, a relationship we consume for our individual benefit, dependant on my satisfaction instead of mutual love and commitment. It’s my experience of the latter that makes me love marriage - the chance to share life together in all its complexity and joy.

I’m truly blessed to have 10 years of mutual love and commitment with Julie! And so here’s a bit of a lighter post - 10 things I love about marriage (in no particular order):
  1. Friendship: genuine relationship in all its facets
  2. Adventure: whether it’s cycling the neighborhood, camping with babies(!!!), taking career risks, or traveling, marriage has provided many great adventures.
  3. Family: two beautiful, fun, amazing children we get to share life with!
  4. Faith: to see and experience God’s presence together in our marriage has sustained us these 10 years.
  5. Presence: the opposite of loneliness
  6. Games: who doesn’t love games with their spouse!?! Board games that is.   
  7. Honesty: It can be amusing to think back to the first months of marriage and the walking on tippy-toes around simple day-to-day aspects of married life. Yeah, not much tippy-toeing now.
  8. Commitment: we’ve had some struggles these ten years - disappointments, losses, conflict...through it our common commitment to one another has only deepened.
  9. Partnership: work, parenting, home, community, faith, and just life in general, has given us the opportunity to support, encourage, and join one another in fulfilling our aspirations in life.
  10. Influence: it’s a privilege to lead alongside one another, leading, teaching, and mentoring individuals in life and faith in a variety of ways.
Thanks for making marriage so great Julie!



the Bible matters

I take the Bible seriously. I wouldn’t be working at Bible college if I didn’t. And as one who stands in the Anabaptist-evangelical tradition - “people of the book” - this is hardly surprising. To me, when it comes to faith and life, the Bible matters.

A common phrase related to our understanding of the Bible is “the authority of Scripture.” It’s an important concept that describes the understanding of the Bible’s role in Christian faith and practice. It’s also easily ignored.

Yet when debate occurs regarding topics such as heaven and hell or sexuality, people can talk about these particular issues until they are blue in the face (or the cyber equivalent) without ever getting to the root of the disagreement - what’s the role of the Bible in such matters?

And so we should look to the authority of the Bible to settle disputes. If we can agree on the authority of the Bible, then we will be united as Christians, right? Or so the thinking goes.

If it only it were that easy.

I do think we need to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. But then let’s be honest and recognize that such acknowledgement doesn’t guarantee agreement. I personally know people equally passionate about the authority of the Bible who disagree almost just as passionately about the role of women in the church. In such cases, instead of labeling others as too “conservative” or too “liberal,” we need to delve into the complexity of how we understand the authority of the Bible. New Testament scholar, Tim Geddert, reflects on the topic of diversity in biblical interpretation, describing well the nature of our disagreements:
“We have no right to consider every other view to be clearly and self-evidently unbiblical and wrong. I have no right to assume that people who believe differently...than I do are taking the Bible less seriously than I or that they are not being honest and sincere, or that they are not thinking as carefully. We read the Bible with different lenses and we often disagree. Moreover, we often approach biblical texts with somewhat different hermeneutical approaches and assumptions. That is to say, we build differently the bridge that connects the message of the Scriptures with the situations to which we want to apply it.” (All Right Now: Finding Ethical Consensus).
Different interpretive lenses and assumptions, but equal concern for the authority of the Bible.

What are we to do?

Here’s where I point back to my Anabaptist-evangelical roots. I think the best way to interpret God’s Word (in the Bible, yes, but also in following the way of Jesus and the voice of the Spirit in this age) is in the faithful community of Jesus followers, expressed both locally and beyond. My tradition call this a “community hermeneutic” - people discerning together for their time and place how the authority of the Bible relates to their lives. In gathering to interpret the gospel together, like in the first church of the New Testament, the “Spirit guides the community of faith in the interpretation of Scripture” (MB Confession of Faith).

To those who fear an acceptance of cultural relativism or subjective interpretation, a practiced community hermeneutic is neither - it’s the active and dynamic process in which the authority of the Bible is enacted throughout history, carrying forward the timeless gospel of Jesus (Heb. 13:8).

To those who fear an archaic legalism rife with narrowmindedness or power and control, a practiced community hermeneutic is neither - it’s a practice of interpretation rooted in mutual submission of all people in the community faith. Jesus is the model leader in this regard.

All this to say, the authority of the Bible is both a complex and important part of Christian faith and practice. And the more we acknowledge together how the authority of the Bible is understood and practiced, perhaps the less we confused and conflicted we will be when we face disagreements from time to time (or a lot of the time!). Maybe such a view of the Bible’s authority, to quote the Bible (!!!), could even help us “love one another” just a little bit better (1 Jn. 4:7-12).

Maybe. May it be.

**For an engaging read on just how “easy” biblical interpretation is, read this gem from John Stackhouse - “I Tim. 2:15ff., Gender, and "Just Obeying What Scripture Clearly Says"
 

Run for Water - "Now I have hope"

Abbotsford's Run for Water is one of the most inspiring community events I know as individuals and groups partner together to run, yes, but mainly to give hope by giving people access to clean water.


This clip tells the story of Selamnesh and the "hope" she has because of the Run for Water:


Why Run For Water?

Runners possess an acute understanding of the importance of hydration - how critical clean drinking water is to sustaining fitness, health and life.  In the developing world, the stakes are much higher.  Estimates are that 1 billion people on our planet do not have access to a reliable source of clean water and that every 19 seconds, a child dies for lack of clean water!  The lack of a water source also means children, particularly young girls, cannot go to school. It means women cannot tend to their family or pursue a livelihood.  Instead they spend their days attending to their daily water needs, frequently walking for hours to fetch water that is unsanitary.  Each May, we encourage people of all ages and abilities to run for "Water" in order to help those in need access safe, clean water sources.  Access to clean water is foundational to securing health, education and economic well-being. 

cities and suburbs

What’s your opinion of cities and suburbs? 

Preparing to lead PRAXIS, an urban discipleship program, yet living and working in the suburbs, I find myself wrestling with the often tenuous relationship between cities and suburbs. 


Caricatures of both city and suburb abound. For some, cities represent life and creativity and connection - the center of the all things culture. Suburbs are boring, homogenous places of over-consumption and narrow-mindedness. For others, cities are too busy, crowded, dirty, and if anything, full of cultural corruption. Suburbs are quiet, safe, spacious, and definitely morally superior.

Yet for anyone’s who lived in both cities and suburbs will know, caricatures are always incomplete. “Cities good - suburbs bad” and vice-versa just isn’t true. Instead, one finds a combination of light and darkness, good and bad in whatever the place. In their song, “Take Back the City,” Snow Patrol captures this tension well, a description I think could describe many places in our world. They describe the city as a place that has “both cradled you and crushed.” The urban domain is “a mess, it's a start, it's a flawed work of art” - yet a place we “love” nonetheless.

As one immersed in both cities and suburbs, I find such honesty refreshing, compelling me to engage the world around me, both cities and suburbs.

90

As a culture we are often uncertain how to approach aging, both for ourselves and how we treat the aged in our midst. Retirement often accompanies a withdrawal form “normal” life and old age often brings a withdrawal from community altogether (often reluctantly, but not always).

My grandma turned 90 this year. In the midst of a culture that often devalues their elders, this story of my grandparent’s ongoing experience of life and faith and community is inspiring:

When Jake and Elsie Bergen retired to Winnipeg in 1995, they immediately looked for ways to connect. “We tried something that had proven to be successful in other places: we placed an ad in the local newspaper offering our services for odd jobs, like cutting the grass or housework. It was very satisfying to share with people our reasons for serving,” says Jake. Until 1999, they served with Good Neighbours Active Living Centre, a non-profit that connects older adults with services and friends.

Now, Jake and Elsie participate in the prayer room of the Billy Graham telephone ministry, a care group, Sunday morning prayer times, and the church prayer chain. They make many personal visits, sharing the Bible and Elsie’s home-baked bread. In 2007, Jake received training through Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba in preparation for visiting patients. “Afterwards they invited me to sign up as on official visitor, but I didn’t because they limited what I could say and ask.” Instead he became a volunteer chaplain/visitor for Mennonite Church Manitoba. “Here, I am free to discuss the Lord. I go weekly to Riverview Health Centre [a facility for rehabilitation, palliative, and long-term care], and to Concordia Hospital monthly.”

“Elsie makes friends very easily,” says Jake. “She can talk to anyone. God gave me a great gift when he gave me her. I have learned an awful lot from her. We live in a big apartment [block] where there are a lot of opportunities for us to make friends and it is important that we share our friendship.”

Did I mention she just turned 90!?!

(Story courtesy of the Mennonite Brethren Herald)

Christian Fundamentalism - then and now

It can be easy to critique past examples of Christian fundamentalism from our 21st Century perch upon which we view the past. And yes, while aspects of fundamentalism linger to varying degrees, they are often easily spotted - Westboro Baptist likely the most prominent extreme (and perhaps “extremist” is a better term for such groups). Most Christians can distance themselves from fundamentalists fairly easily.

I find it intriguing to observe the development and interplay of identity and culture, particularly in Christian groups. Fundamentalist Christians are often labeled as such due to their critical view of the world around them. As culture changes, however, one would expect the forms of fundamentalism to change as well. You’d think what was a cultural concern in the 1950’s would shift. But then I read this quote from the 1950’s and wonder if Christian fundamentalism has changed much at all:

“Fundamentalism is considered a summary term for theological pugnaciousness, ecumenic disruptiveness, cultural unprogressiveness, scientific obliviousness, and/or anti-intellectual inexcusableness...extreme dispensationalism, pulpit sensationalism, excessive emotionalism, social withdrawal and bawdy church music.”  (Carl Henry, quoted in Moral Minority by David R. Swartz)

Contemporary evangelicalism is diverse movement, and many evangelicals don’t fit the above description of fundamentalism. This is a good thing. Evangelicalism ≠ fundamentalism. But some evangelicals do still fit the above description, if not overtly, at the very least through a lingering distrust of the world around them wrought with aspects of the extremes in the quote above (including the music!).

As an evangelical Christian myself (of the Anabaptist variety), I’m wary of any association with fundamentalism. And so I think it’s prudent for evangelicals to maintain a historical and cultural awareness of Christian fundamentalism’s past and present varieties, and no doubt look in the mirror every once in awhile.

On voting

Today is election day in British Columbia.

Strong opinions.
Weak opinions
No opinions
Bad opinions
Annoying opinions
Good opinions

Opinions on parties and opinions on voting vary greatly.

Personally, I think it’s important to vote. Even as an Anabaptist Christian, part of a history of checkered political involvement (how does one vote from a labour camp?), voting gives me the opportunity to participate in the communal process of discerning our shared values as a society (yes, I’m somewhat of an idealist).

That said, as an Anabaptist Christian, I also need to keep voting in perspective. My vote doesn’t define who I am. In an age where elections capitalize on stark polarizations that seek to motivate voters more by fear than ideals, conflict rather than cooperation, voting is my chance to reflect a political engagement that reflects my values, not determines them.

And so as I go to the polls today, and in many elections to come, I think these words from the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith offer a timely reminder of the value, and perspective, to voting:

The primary allegiance of all Christians is to Christ’s kingdom, not the state or society. Because their citizenship is in heaven, Christians are called to resist the idolatrous temptation to give to the state the devotion that is owed to God. As ambassadors for Christ, Christians act as agents of reconciliation and seek the well-being of all peoples...

...At all times, believers are called to live as faithful witnesses in the world, rejecting pressures that threaten to compromise Christian integrity.

"To Rise Above" - Ascension Hope

This past week marked Ascension day in the church calendar - a time to remember, reflect, and renew our commitment to living under the lordship of the risen One. As I've reflected before, the ascension of Christ reverberates a new reality through history. Ascension day calls us to acknowledge this hope.

This clip considers the immense hope of ascension...

the progress of God - more questions from Rob Bell

As I make my way through another Rob Bell book, through all his controversial publicity tactics, sparsely crafted arguments and continued theological elusiveness (yes, his schtick is getting mildly tiresome), I continue to appreciate one particular aspect of his books: he asks good questions.

As I reflected this past week on our view of the world as either good or worse, these questions from Bell’s recent book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, have lingered for me:

“Is God progressive, with a better, more inspiring vision
for our future than we could ever imagine,
or is God behind,
back there,
in the past,
endlessly trying to get us to return to how it used to be?”

Not surprisingly, Bell argues that God is calling humanity forward, “a continuum, a trajectory, a God-fueled movement within and through human history.”

And he elaborates that such progress happens with or without our awareness or participation in it as Christians - “Churches and religious communities and organizations can claim to speak for God while at the same time actually being behind the movement of God that is continuing forward in the culture around them...”

Behind Bell’s musing on the progress of God is the question of discerning such movement of God. Like the subjectivity in describing our period of history as “worse” - my worseness theory - how do we discern the ways in which we understand the progress of God’s presence in the world?

Here’s where Bell’s writing is incomplete by itself. His good questions don’t always correspond with good answers. He closes the book with some anecdotes on God’s love and presence and our connectedness to one another - good and important stuff. But he only scratches the surface of discerning the progress of God in the world. Here sparse writing means sparse answers. As usual, Bell raises an important issue. And as usual, he basically ends there.

Which brings me back to Bell’s questions about God’s progress. As I read Bell, I’m realizing such questions are harder to answer than they are to ask. And for the Bell, ever the provocateur, that’s probably the way he’d want it...

goodness theory


Let me suggest the “goodness theory” (profound, I know).

Faced with much brokenness, violence, sickness and death, our propensity to propound the “worseness” of our times, while not surprising, is incomplete. Even Jesus, while acknowledging the injustice - the “worseness” of his times - upheld a foundation for seeing the world as profoundly good.

Where we are prone to worry, Jesus reminds us of God’s care in the world. Where we are prone to conflict and violence, Jesus reminds us that love and reconciliation is possible in the world. Where we are prone to view weakness as failure, Jesus reminds us that being “poor in spirit” is the way to blessing in the world.

In a recent sermon on Revelation 21, I made the point of emphasizing that the “it was good” of Genesis 1 remains true of the world and true of our ultimate hope for how the world can and should be. This is the goodness theory.

And no, this is not based on an ignorant blind eye to what is indeed “worse” in the world. Instead of sin being cumulative, measured as “worse”, the Bible portrays sin as relational. Instead of measured and categorized in history - the worseness theory - sin and brokenness are dynamic relational realities that reflect the absence of wholeness (shalom). Relationships aren't easily measured as we all know. Relational discord doesn’t replace the goodness, it only hides it.

The question, then, is can goodness be recovered?

Here we need to recognize how goodness isn’t only rooted in the “it was good” of creation. Goodness isn't only in the past. Goodness is present and future. Goodness, in fact, finds fulfillment in the Good News - God among us in the person of Jesus, redeeming, restoring, and healing through the tangible expression of God's love (1 John 4:9-10). The broken relationship is restored. Wholeness is recovered.

In Jesus, goodness overcomes worseness. “God with us” determines our view of the world. 

Good news indeed!

"I'm not that interested in Christianity" - Stanley Hauerwas

What is a Christian?

Christian: "Paricipant in the ongoing history of God's care of the world..."

"There is an alternative to the world's violence. And that alternative is called the church..."

To be a Christian is to see "signs of God not abandoning the world..."

These comments come from an insightful and challenging response from Stanley Hauerwas, once again presented in with the creative excellence of The Work of the People:



"rumors of wars"

Last post I suggested the worseness theory - each generation’s belief that the world is the worst it has ever been. And as you could tell, I’m not convinced.

But doesn’t Jesus teach a form of the worseness theory?

6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. (Mt. 24:6-8 NIV)

If you’ve tracked the news lately you’ll know that earthquakes and other such calamities of both natural and human origin plague our world. Together, Jesus’s apocalyptic words and current events only seem to confirm the worseness theory. The world is getting worse - "rumors of wars" indeed.

Yet I wonder: what would my google news feed report in, say, 1212? Oh, that was the year several thousand teenagers were led to join the Crusades (yes, the Crusades), and over two-thirds of the them died in travel. Or what about 1569? Oh, that’s right - the year Dirk Willems was chased across a frozen pond, turned back to help rescue his pursuer, and was promptly re-arrested and executed for the his radical beliefs (he baptized adults, that crazy guy!). Or 1925? That was the year my grandfather’s family (he was only a baby) was forced to flee increasing hardship and persecution in Ukraine. They were the lucky ones to escape the post-Revolution violence and death of the time. Pick any year in history and you could likely argue for the worseness theory.

It seems to me that the worseness theory itself is the problem. The problem isn’t our difficulty to pinpoint precisely if and when the worseness of our times can be proved correct. The problem is attempting to make that judgement to begin with. “Worse,” you see, is a relative term too often defined to suit our own views or adapt to our times, be that 1212, 1569, 1925, or today. We need to realize that each generation has seen “worse” in its own way. And then, I would suggest, we need a different lens for the world than “worse.”

Instead of “worse” what is an alternative lens to view the world?