Life is full

http://www.epiphaneia.ca/victoria-2013/
My blogging silence this week is not for a lack of ideas or interest on my part. Life is full. But I anticipate some engaging stuff in the days following my first annual Praxis retreat to Victoria and Seattle. The following offers a highlight of some what we'll be experiencing this weekend:

We get to hear from Shane Claiborne and others at the Survival of the Weakest conference:



And then we're off to Seattle for a series of diverse connections, from church planters, to a mega church, to a faith-based community development organization. We're looking forward to connecting with Kurt Willems and Pangea Communities, visiting a Sunday service at Mars Hill Downtown, and touring Seattle Neighborhoods with Parish Collective.


All told, it should be an engaging and rich weekend. Life is indeed full. And I'm loving it!

Mark Driscoll doesn't like me...

I usually don’t take the bait on anything Driscoll-esque, but this time I couldn’t help it. This time it’s personal (kind of).

You see, Mark Driscoll doesn’t like me. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement. Mark Driscoll doesn’t like pacifists. In fact, to those ardent supporters of the nonviolent way of Jesus, he offers this condemnation:
Some of those whose blood will flow as high as the bit in a horse’s mouth for 184 miles will be those who did not repent of their sin but did wrongly teach that Jesus was a pacifist.

As a pacifist, I take exception. Beyond unhelpful rhetoric and ridiculous judgement, Driscoll offers a view of Jesus more in line with a recent Saturday Night Live parody than the incarnate God.


Driscoll also suggests pacifists promote a “pansy Jesus,” as if North American machismo is the standard for masculinity represented most clearly, for Driscoll, in a sword-wielding Jesus of a literal reading from the book of Revelation. As Preston Sprinkle points out, it seems Driscoll has traded the crucified Lamb for the crucifying Lamb. Sprinkle goes on to counters this unhealthy blend of masculine culture and theology that Driscoll seems oblivious to:

The New Testament is clear: Real men love their enemies, never return evil for evil, and never resist evil by using violence. Real men suffer. Real men pray for those who persecute them. Real men submit to the sword, but they don’t bear it. So go ahead and eat raw meat, vote Republican, shoot your guns (just not at people). But let’s invite the word of Christ to reconfigure and confront our cultural view of manhood.
Call me pansy, but I’m sticking with “Love and nonresistance”:

Believers seek to be agents of reconciliation in all relationships, to practice love of enemies as taught by Christ, and to be peacemakers in all situations. We view violence in its many different forms as contradictory to the new nature of the Christian. We believe that the evil and inhumane nature of violence is contrary to the gospel of love and peace. In times of national conscription or war, we believe we are called to give alternative service where possible. Alleviating suffering, reducing strife, and promoting justice are ways of demonstrating Christ’s love. 

Here are a few more responses worth reading:

"oridnary life"

As a pastor and now Bible college teacher, I'm considered a "religious professional." However uncomfortable I am with the term (and I am, believe me!), I get paid to lead, partner, and grow with others in the area faith and spirituality. And quite problematic, I think, is a tendency to see aspects of the spiritual life as something we can somehow attain. We want to be experts. As a religious professional, I had a better be an expert. Expert in prayer. Expert in worship. Expert in the Bible. Expert in Christianity...

The problem?

Well, spirituality quickly divorces from reality. We strive for something "out there" only to miss how that something (God) is right here. If we want to be experts in anything, why not consider expertise in the ordinary?

Speaking on prayer, Richard Foster offers this reminder which I think applies well to all our spiritual endeavors:

Healthy prayer  necessitates frequent experience of the common, earthy, run-of-the-mill variety. Like walks, and talks, and good wholesome laughter. Like work in the yard, and chitchat with the neighbors, and washing windows. Like loving our spouse, and playing with our kids, and working with our colleagues. To be spiritually fit to scale the Himalayas of the spirit, we need regular exercise in the hills and valleys of ordinary life. (From Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home)

 

Where do you start?

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on sexuality. Before you get too excited, I should clarify: it was our Mennonite Brethren denominational study conference: Honoring God with the Body.

That said, beyond the captivating topic, it was a meaningful time of connection with friends and colleagues from across Canada. And talking about something as personal as sexuality, it was good to be among friends.

It was interesting, however, how just like families gather and divergent opinions exist and percolate, this study conference clearly reflected an ongoing diversity in how Mennonite Brethren understand the various facets of sexuality.

Yes the group shared a common faith in Jesus and acceptance of our Confession of Faith. But does this mean we approach the issue of sexuality from a common place? It was quickly evident that despite shared convictions in faith, there was no common starting place in understanding sexuality.  

For example, one speaker strongly emphasized God as law-giver, offering a thorough exegesis of biblical texts in which we can ascertain God’s moral laws for sexuality (homosexuality in particular). Another speaker presented a personal/pastoral example where  his starting point was the relational example of Jesus in engaging sexuality. Not surprisingly, these presenters offered different conclusions for what it meant to show love, with various individuals responding positively or negatively depending on if the presenters approach resonated. There was a palpable angst from all directions - "that's not right!" or "that's insensitive!" Such comments revealed frustration with certain conclusions. But with such diverse starting points, can we really be surprised?

I bring this up to remind us not to only grapple with conclusions in understanding diversity, be it theological or otherwise. If we could improve at naming our starting points, not only could we develop a healthy self-understanding (avoiding the self-righteousness one speaker chided us about), but we could also understand each other. No doubt difference will remain. But understanding difference - particularly in an area as complex and personal as sexuality - is a good place to start if you ask me.



Weeping presence - Brene Brown

I have several friends who have journeyed through immense loss this past year. Sadly, one of the main hurdles in the process of their grief is the church. Attending church. Talking to church folks. Listening to sermons. The whole experience of church is often filled with religious platitudes that fly in the face of deep grieving. Words and actions intended for comfort, brush off the pain of loss and communicate a "get over it" message of insensivity. In the conviction that Jesus is healer, we as Christians can forget how for Jesus, healing is found in the pain and sickness and loss, not in spite of it.

This clip from popular author Brene Brown gives me hope for a church that embraces and follows the Jesus who weeps with us:

"Geography of nowhere"

I came across an interesting phrase recently that illustrates well our culture’s current perception of reality and place. Much of our culture exists in a “geography of nowhere.” Reflected in the uniformity of aspects of society (e.g. suburbs), this reality is now evident in the uniformity of our global connection. Enhanced by the leaps of technology, we transcend our physical spaces and inhabit communities that are a blend of our experiences, interests, education, religions, relationships, all together forming an experience of reality that is located anywhere but here. Like Truman Burbank’s life on Seahaven Island in the film Truman Show, the lines between reality and fabricated reality become blurred. In some ways, through our pervasive use of social media, we all get to star in our own reality show. We actually choose to be Truman in this “geography of nowhere.”

Faith in a God of history, faith in a God revealed in Jesus some 2000 years ago, offers an important perspective on reality in relation to our cultural situation. We can be tempted to categorize the reality of God alongside all the other aspects of our created reality. Following Jesus gets boiled down to some pious tweets, a check in a Facebook profile box, or some impassioned comments on our favorite secular news site. How easily we forget that God reveals himself in a particular place and time in history. In creation, God speaks literal place into being. With the incarnation of Jesus, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). Where we adapt to an ethereal concept of God and faith in Jesus - just another fabricated reality among many we create - the very God we manipulate models a completely different perspective on engaging our world: real presence. In the world. In history. God’s is a geography of presence. 

I’m not ready to stop tweeting, blogging, instagramming, or facebooking. But I do sense a tension when I consider following the God of history in our geography of nowhere. I’m left with this question: what does day-to-day reality look like, with all the pressure to fabricate myself and my experience, in light of God’s geography of presence?



Thankful for place

This thanksgiving I’m thankful for place - my home, my neighborhood, my community. I love traveling and exploring, but I also love rootedness and belonging. As I examine my daily life and the many places of connection, I’m thankful for what is right in front of me.

James Davison Hunter offers this insight which has inspired my thanksgiving this year:

“A theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places they experience directly. It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for, people and places across the globe. Far from it. Christians are called to “go into all the world,” after all and to carry the good news in word and deed that God’s kingdom has come. But with that said, the call of faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us—the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality, and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires, and worries of the people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, coworkers, and community—where we find our authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context from within which shalom is enacted.” (Hunter, To Change the World, 253)


"Buildings have pedagogical power"

Have you ever thought of architecture as educational, a source of information and insight in society? Or of a building as teacher?

I've been reading Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh. This insightful and thorough work examines the changing dynamics of home and culture, engaging the various factors related to how we understand the concept of "home" in a world full of homelessness in many forms. One key factor, the authors suggest, are buildings - "The built environment is one of the most enduring ways in which we put our worldviews into action." Buildings say something about culture and are integral in creating, sustaining, and at times removing, a sense of home.

Having just moved back to my hometown of Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, I've been reflecting on this concept on several levels. Personally, we are establishing our family home in a new house. It's helpful to consider how our physical house relates to our settling into a feeling of home. Our physical house reflects what we value in establishing our home. As a broader community, Abbotsford continues to grow, both in population and architecture. Home to  nearly 140,000 people - very diverse people! - Abbotsford's continuing development of houses and buildings invariably says something about the community. Recent debate around a supportive housing project illustrates the connection between buildings and values.

Quoting environmentalist David Orr, this comment from Beyond Homelessness should challenge us all to a greater awareness of buildings and culture:

We "must begin to see our houses, buildings, farms, businesses, energy technologies, transportation, landscapes, and communities in much the same way that we regard classrooms. In fact, they instruct us in more fundamental ways because they structure what we see, how we move, what we eat, our sense of time and space, how we relate to each other, our sense of security, and how we experience the particular places in which we live." Buildings have pedagogical power. Whether one lives in a traditional longhouse, a split-level rancher in a North American suburb, a public-housing apartment in Toronto, an old-order Mennonite community, or a clan compound in Nigeria, it will profoundly shape how one experiences the world. But each of these dwellings, each of these built environments, is itself an expression of the vision of life, the overarching narrative, the guiding symbols, and the cultural practices of those who had the power to construct these sites of habitation.

What are you learning from the buildings in your community?

"We like it" - violence and sports

“We like it.”

This phrase cut through all the nuances of a the day-long discussion on a local sports radio around the issue of violence in hockey (is “nuance” possible on sports radio!?!). Analyzing levels of injury and assessing the impact on the tradition of the game involve speculation and debate. “We like it” offers the truth.

I’ve spent much of my life as both a fan and participant in sports. In fact, sports has been a key arena for my own personal growth, a place to develop character and social skills that have shaped who I am today. In many ways, sports can serve as a training ground for life. Despite many problems with professional sports (e.g. celebrity culture, $$$), integral to its’ entertainment value is its’ mirroring of life - we can identify with the struggle, loss, victory, and perseverance of the individuals and teams we follow. Sports is inspiring.

But then I face the issue of violence and sports and “we like it” rings in my ears. Despite all the benefits, the fact we “ooh” and “aww” at every wild fight in hockey, concussion-inducing hit in football, dirt-kicking dispute in baseball, and every other violent outburst we find in sports, calls into question just how inspirational sports really are.

I’ve had someone comment to me personally that sports (I played contact football as a young adult) gave me a platform to practice assertiveness and conflict. Typically a conflict-avoider, football was a context where I actively participated in conflict, at times violent (in a controlled way). This was seen as a good thing. And for the most part, I agree.

Or perhaps you’ve heard sport referred to as an “outlet” for aggression. There is the joke about pastors and Christian leaders in sport - the basic punchline is “watch out!” In this sense, sport creates an alternate reality where we can “let loose” - violently at times - in ways real life doesn’t allow.

Yet I wonder, what does this say about real life - conflict, struggle, and relationships - if we need a platform for our aggression and violence?

I still love sports. It’s hard to beat October as a sports fan! And I continue to benefit in life from my years as an athlete. But I also need to admit that there is a tension between sports and real life. And violence in sports exposes the tension - this dark side that exists in the alternate reality of sport.

“We like it” can’t be our only guide to accepting and participating in sports and violence. If we continue to accept the value of sports and character development, we need to develop the character to accept that “we like it” just isn’t good enough.

To use an old sports adage, we can and must do better.


Imagining Peace - International Day of Nonviolence

Today (October 2) is the International Day of Nonviolence as declared by the United Nations, appropriately observed on the birthday Mahatma Gandhi.

I often feel stuck when I consider  an application of non-violence in our world. As a follower of Jesus, I take his words to love our enemies seriously, yet realize such a command rarely translates easily into my personal life, let alone global politics. When it comes to non-violence, my mind is blank. Besides heroic examples like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., I can't imagine nonviolence in our world.

It's with this frustration that these words from Stanley Hauerwas have me hoping nonviolence is in fact possible, if we'd only start imagining...

"The essential problem for the elimination of war lies in our imagination. Under the power of history created by war we cannot morally imagine a world without war...What is required is not simply discovering new contexts to sustain martial virtues, but rather an alternative history. Precisely this God has offered through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Such an alternative is not an unrealizable ideal. No, it is present now in the church, a real alternative able to free our imagination from the capacity of war...

War has been eliminated for those who participate in God's history. The miracle we call the church is God's sign that war is not part of his providential care of the world. Our happy task as Christians is to witness to that fact."
From "Should War Be Eliminated?" in The Hauerwas Reader
 
 

listening as service

As Christians, we can be experts at getting things done. And rightly so. The way of Jesus and the early church was defined by activity, “go”, “love”, “serve”, “preach”...Christianity, it’s safe to say, is an active faith.

A challenge, however, is when we equate active with modern notions of success and progress. What’s active is identified with tangible results, a good “return” on your investment of time and energy (and money!).

Or take the popular practices associated with spirituality. Prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance can be tangibly measured, and so become our litmus test for spiritual maturity. And while all important activities for a vibrant spirituality, our desire for faithfulness can quickly turn into busyness or simply “trying harder.”.

I wonder if we need to consider broadening our understanding of active spirituality?

In her book Sacred Pauses, April Yamasaki suggests we root spiritual practices in our ordinary life with God - slowing down to observe God in our everyday lives is just as vital as the disciplines of prayer and scripture reading. “God is always with us, and there is room in our ordinary lives to be with God.” In this sense, then, something as simple as paying attention becomes a spiritual discipline.

Similarly, I think such a posture affects how we approach active service in the world. As I took my students to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission we took the posture of listening as service. We were intentional to actively listen to the people around us. While hard to tangibly measure our activity, it was anything but passive. Listening was our service.

When I think of our call to be salt and light, the call is as much about what we do as who we are. Are we observant, paying attention to intricacies of life and faith in the rhythms of life? Are we active listeners, giving ear to the countless stories people are yearning to have heard?

This doesn’t mean giving up our desire to tangibly make a difference in the world and peoples’ lives. It does mean, however, that we need to reframe how we measure our impact. I like how one friend recently challenged our tendency as Christians to produce results: “Jesus said ‘I will make you fishers of men’ not boat builders.” In our efforts to gauge spiritual health and faithfulness, let’s be sure we take all aspects of our life seriously, even the most ordinary of activities.