"Having a blog is like wandering around your house naked with the windows open; it's all very liberating until someone looks in the window. However, while being caught unawares is one thing, it is quite another to stroll up to the window and press your naked, flabby body against the coolness of the glass in a hideous form of vertical prostration for all the world to see..." These posts are the smudges that are left behind on the window.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Other Side of Forgiveness

Most conversations about forgiveness usually focus on the act of forgiving; how do I do it, does that mean that I have to give that person full access to my life again, do I have to love them, do I have to forget about what they have done, and other questions. All these questions are very valid, and need answers. If you want to understand forgiveness I suggest "Exclusion and Embrace" by Miroslav Volf. It's a bit of a tough read, but I have never found anything that explains forgiveness as clearly and completely, so it's well worth the slog.

But there is another side to forgiveness which isn't discussed as much; asking for forgiveness. In order to have forgiveness happen - mostly - you need the forgiver and the offender. I sometimes think it's easier to be the offended party - the one that needs to forgive - and that's why most of our conversations centre on that aspect. It's easier to be the self righteous one, thinking that there's nothing I've done wrong, I'm in the right, it's them that needs to clean up their act.

So - I wonder if that isn't why there are passages in the Bible where we are told not to have communion until we've apologized to someone that has something against us. Or, in the Lord's Prayer where we are to ask, 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'.

While forgiving is a hotly debated topic, I think asking for forgiveness is a lost art, and equally as important - if not more so, especially considering that Christians have managed to offend and alienate most of the rest of the world.

What about you? Do you find it easier to forgive, or to ask for forgiveness?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The God of Second Chances

Shane Hipps tells the story about when he lived Phoenix. In Phoenix people tend to have rocks instead of lawns due to the lack of water. One day at his new house, he notices that there are weeds starting to grow in amongst his rocks, so he goes out and starts pulling them. As he is doing so, a neighbour walks by, and asks why he is pulling out the wild flowers. Shane tells the neighbour that he isn't, he's pulling out weeds. The neighbour then explains to him that these aren't weeds but flowers that the pervious owner had planted, which create a wonderful garden each spring. 

This story is told in the context of love vs fear. The point he is trying to make is that sometimes we are so fearful that we are afraid to do anything, for fear of getting it wrong. We're afraid to pull the weed for fear that it is actually a flower, but we're also afraid to let it go in case it actually is a weed. He says that in love there is NO fear, not even fear of making a mistake. Why? Because God is the god of second chances. He then goes on to say;

"...Here is a most wonderful thing about God. When we live with a sincere heart, God responds a lot like the wildflowers in my front yard. If I had pulled all the wildflowers and missed their bloom, amazingly they would come back again next year. They would give me another chance. In the same way, if we act on our fears too quickly and miss the message God has for us, the good news is that God is in the business of bringing new opportunities all the time. God is persistent in the giving of good gifts. Even if we flinch from the open hand of grace, mistaking it as an immanent slap, we are not disqualified from that grace. Grace just keeps on coming, gently, subtly, consistently. That is good news.
If we let the buds grow and they were just weeds, no blossom - no problem. That is when we pull the weeds. No punishment. Just a little work. The lesson is one of acceptance and trust that God is not out to trick us, but to offer us more freedom and love than we could ever exhaust. 
God even wants to release us from our fear of misidentifying fear. 
This is the way grace works. If we accept it, it is ours to enjoy. If we miss it, it keeps coming back. It's a free gift endlessly offered. When we're ready, the blossom will be there for us to enjoy. So a posture of hope, anticipation, and readiness is appropriate,  not fear.
Whether we are confronted about some new idea about God, a new calling in life, a new relationship, or the end of something we love, we must let the words of Jesus resound in our hearts - 'Take courage, it is me. Do not be afraid'.
Sometimes the thing we fear the most is sent to free us."
After I had read that, i sat there pondering it for awhile. It then occurred to me that not only are we given a second chance when we've screwed things up, but sometimes, we ARE the second chance. Sometimes, when someone else screws up a relationship, we become the second chance. Sometimes, when a fellow Christian has screwed up an opportunity to promote the Kingdom of God, we become the second chance. In a way, this is very comforting. If I screw things up, as I often do, God will provide a second chance, either to that person and/or for me to make things right. 
I know I've screwed up a lot of things. I also know that I've been provided with a lot of second chances. Was it one for one? I can't say - maybe it was, but I just wasn't paying attention. The important thing is to not be paralyzed by fear or what-if's, but to move forward in a love that knows no fear. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Need New Glasses

As I sit here typing this blog, I am wearing a pair of reading glasses. They help me see things that are within about 5 feet of my nose. I never used to need glasses, but as I turned 40-ish it started to become apparent that my arms were no longer long enough. But even with glasses, my eyes have slowly deteriorated, and I keep buying stronger and stronger ones - I now use prescription reading glasses for work.

The other day I started reading a new book by Shane Hipps (with my glasses). He was the teaching pastor at Mars Hill church when Rob Bell was there (not Mars Hill where Mark Driscoll is). The name of his book is; 'Selling Water by the River'. It seems to be about how we as Christians often confuse our  religion with what Jesus taught; how we end up worshiping our beliefs instead of God. You can see a short video clip promoting the book here where he uses a really good analogy comparing the wind and sails with Jesus and religion.

The interesting thing is that he doesn't totally dismiss religion and the beliefs that are an inherent part of any religion as irrelevant. In this quote the river is used as an analogy of God or Jesus;

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Traveler or Tourist?

We‘ve been to Greece a couple of times in the past 5 years. The first time was for our 25th anniversary. We chartered a sailboat and spent 2 weeks sailing from island to island in the Ionian sea. It’s a wonderful way to travel. You get to see small harbour villages that most tourists never see; eat in quaint tavernas, always by the water; shop in what they call supermarkets which are the size of a 7/11 – it’s all very relaxing. After this....

To read the rest of this short article I wrote for St. Benedict's Table click here

Friday, 21 September 2012

Wives and Sweethearts

In the movie Master and Commander, captain Jack Aubrey, played by Russell Crowe, is hosting a dinner in the great cabin of his ship. In the cabin are the ship’s officers and a few select guests, all male, ranging in age from about 14 to 70. As is the custom at these meals, after which they have consumed copious amount of food and wine, there is a series of toasts. 

Captain Jack stands up and says, "Gentlemen a toast."
The room goes quite.
"To wives and sweethearts..."
"Aye aye" the men murmur in agreement as they raise their cups.
Then, with a whimsical note in his voice he adds, "...may they never meet!"
To which all the men break out in raucous laughter.

When I was younger - much younger - before meeting my wife, I went out with a girl for about 2 years. Back then I'm afraid I was a bit of a jerk, and I didn't treat her very nice. It  wasn’t really intentional, I was just stupid. Over the years I have often felt bad about this, and thought that if I ever had the chance, I would apologize to her. Once or twice I even went so far as to make a half hearted attempt to find her, but without knowing her married name it seemed impossible.

Last year about this time I was putting the boat away for the winter. It takes a couple of days, and during my off time I was reading NT Wrights book, "The Lord and His Prayer". It was probably during the section on “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” I realized that if I really believed all this stuff then I HAD to find her and apologize. But it wasn’t a sort of I-should-get-around-to-doing-that-some-day kind of feeling. I was driven. I haven’t felt that compelled to do something for longer than  I can remember.

Given that I have a tremendous grasp of the obvious, shortly after starting my quest it dawned on me that I was going to get myself into a lot of trouble if my wife found out. So I told her.  She was incredibly understanding and wonderfully supported me through the whole thing. 

It took about 3 weeks of obsessive searching before I found her, including contact with her brother-in-law, which I will elaborate on in a bit. We exchanged a couple of emails and even talked on the phone for a few minutes. She was very gracious and did extend forgiveness. 

Some might be wondering at this stage why I am telling this story. I mean, ultimately, it doesn't cast me in a very good light. But there are actually three reasons.

The first reason is that if you believe that being a Christian is about living out the kingdom of god, that we are all called to be imitators of Christ, that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is more than just a phrase you say during communion, then I tell this story to encourage you. This whole story could have gone sideways and ended very badly. I understand that, I was prepared for it, and I’m glad it didn’t. But even if it had gone sideways, it was still the right thing to do. Because ultimately I knew I had done all I could to bring reconciliation. 

The second reason is related to the first. At one point my quest lead me to her brother-in-law who, it turns out, is a minister.  I explained my situation to him, via email, as best I could without revealing too much, and appealed to his pastoral instincts to put me in touch with her. To a certain extent I understand his reasoning, but despite the fact that there were ways for me to get my message to her without knowing where she was, he refused. Using such platitudes as “leave it in gods hands” and “it probably means more to you than her” etc. So my second reason for the story is to let you know that even if you do try to do the right thing, there are those within the religious community that will oppose you. They may even be leaders in the church - people who should be leading by example. And you should be prepared for that.  

The third reason is to start a conversation. Not necessarily about my particular circumstance, but about what it means to be a Christian. I think that if we take this Christian thing seriously we need to start talking to each other, and exploring what that means. We need to talk about our successes and our failures because that’s how we really learn. I think that Christianity has gone so long, and strayed so far, from it’s original intent, that we don't know what it means anymore, and we need each other to rediscover and explore the forgotten arts of christianity - arts such as humility, forgiveness, compassion, acceptance and many others. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Dandelions and Daffodils

Let it never be said that I can't change my mind! I have recently changed my mind on one of my most fundamental beliefs - something I've held since was in my teens. In fact I have written about it on this very blog.


There is a blog that I follow a bit, and sometimes post comments on. It has become more and more apparent that the author of the blog, and most of her commenters are charismatic. In fact I would say that a good chunk of the people on the blog also go to the same church.

The other day the topic was Spiritual Gifts. Now I have been mulling over this topic for awhile, and not really sure where I stand on this, but I posted a comment that took a different point of view than most of the others, and was basically summarily dismissed. Needless to say this just annoyed me. I can handled someone having a different opinion - thats fine - but to just dismiss it outright I felt was just rude. I wasn't impressed.

But then something happened.

A picture of a field of wild flowers popped into my head. At first I didn't know what to make of this. Had that burrito at lunch finally returned to that it's revenge? Were the mushrooms I bought off the guy on the street actually magic like he said? But then it slowly dawned on me; this is how God sees all the different versions of Christianity. Each one is beautiful in its own way. Each one has a certain type of attraction. Not all people are attracted to the same kind of flowers, so it takes differing kinds. Not only that, but it is actually the variety that is beautiful. A field that is all one type of flower is not as beautiful as one that is filled with all sorts of flowers. One might say yes, but there is beauty in a monolith. And while that is true, the monolith is only beautiful in contrast to its surroundings. Not only is the variety beautiful, but God wants this variety because each one celebrates a different aspect of his essence: the timelessness of the liturgy, the emotion of the charismatic. the fervency of the evangelical, etc.

I didn't necessarily think that everyone should believe like me, but I did think that there shouldn't be any distinctions. And this is where there is a very big BUT (you knew there had to be one). The field of wild flowers is only beautiful if they aren't fighting with one another, or thinking they should be the only ones in the field, and trying to take over - when that happens we call them weeds - and we pull them out and burn them. And the problem with this whole thing is that I'm not sure that humanity, particularly certain conservative protestant denominations, can actually stop thinking they should be the only ones in the field. I mean let's be honest, Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans etc don't have this problem.

It's the old joke about the guy who dies and goes to heaven. St Peter meets him at the pearly gates and as he leads him in he says to the guy "be quiet as we pass the next room". In the room are a bunch of people praising and worshipping. The guy asks St Peter "who are they?" St Peter says "oh, them. Those are the (insert whatever conservative protestant denomination you want in here) . They think they're the only ones here".

For my part though, I'm going to be ok with whatever denomination or tradition you belong to. I may not agree with everything you believe, but I will try to look for the common ground between us. After all, I can't control what other people think. I can only control what I think, and that's hard enough most times.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Seeing Through the Eyes of God

Several years ago a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer – for the second time. He had previously been married, and in a cruel twist of timing, the day he started planning his second wedding, he also had to start planning his funeral.

Over the course of the next five years or so he steadily, and inevitably, declined. First getting thin from loss of appetite, and then getting thick, but only in spots, as the evil inside him started to show itself and take over his body.

I visited him regularly and did odd jobs for him around the house as his ability to do those things faded like an old memory, but sometimes we just sat and talked. Surprisingly, there was lots of laughter; he maintained his sense of humor to the end. Eventually he asked me if I would be co-executor with his second wife. I felt honored, so I accepted. All I would need to do is help her out with a few things he said.

Little did I know.

During that time I was part of the religious spectrum that believed one had to say the ‘prayer’ in order to get to heaven. So, one day, while we were visiting, I felt I needed to do my duty. I told him about God and how much He loved him - how it was never too late. Despite the sun streaming into the window there was a shadow of death in the room, and it made the whole conversation seem empty and pointless. So I hung my head and mumbled something about, as a friend, I felt I needed to tell him this, but I would never bring it up again - unless he wanted to. He politely thanked me, and told me that there were other people who had told him the same thing.

We never talked about it again.

Eventually he succumbed and, as promised, I helped his wife with the execution of the Will. Part of his estate was leaving a small sum of money for all his kids. His youngest daughter had challenges. Technically it wasn’t Autism, but you could easily be forgiven for calling it that. All the kids got their money, except the youngest, who we set up a trust fund for.

Over time everything was taken care of except the administration of the trust fund. And that’s when the fun started. His first wife wanted that money for herself - and wanted it bad - but we knew he didn’t want that.

When I was younger I would often go for a drive if I needed to work out a problem. Driving seems to put me into a meditative state where the possibilities are endless. One day while driving to work, I was thinking about his ex-wife and all the problems I was having. I must admit that some of those thoughts weren’t very Christian. I hated her: I hated her selfishness, I hated her greed, I hated all the grief she was causing me.

And then I felt bad.

After awhile the thought occurred to me; “I wonder how God views her?” And then another thought; “I should ask God to show me how he views her, maybe that would help”. So I asked God to show me how he sees her. I expected one of two responses; either nothing at all, or some kind of warm fuzzy glow in the middle of my chest, like a shot of Gin knocked back too quickly.

I wasn’t prepared for what actually happened.

My vision blurred. My nose plugged up. Within a minute I could barely see. I just about had to pull over to the side of the road I was crying so hard. The tears were burning rivers down my face, and the snot in my nose couldn’t get out fast enough. I was bawling like a schoolgirl rejected by her first boyfriend. These were tears of sadness and love, and they were inconsolable. They were the tears a parent sheds for a wayward child they love with every fiber of their being, and it destroys them to see the self-destructive path they have chosen.

It was terrifying.

In retrospect I don’t know if it was God or, as the Buddhist say, some moment of enlightenment, but it’s quite possible I will never make that request of God again. There was something very primal about it, yet very sacred. It was if I had stepped into an area where only God can dwell, and where only God should dwell. I felt like I was trespassing on a rich man’s property. I had touched the Holy and was found wanting.

I would like to say that everything worked out with his ex-wife, but it hasn’t. However, it did make me see that I cannot hate. But more than anything it made me see how much God, or whatever word you chose, loves us - all of us - not just those in our tribe: a love that’s meant to be lived through us.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Christianity as Poetry

Martin Buber is quoted as having said; "All of us have access to God, but each of us has different access. Our great chance lies in our unlikeness. God's all-inclusiveness manifests itself in the infinite multiplicity of the ways that lead to him, each of which is open to one person."

In Dueteronomy 30:14 the commandments of God are described as; "something very near to you, already in your mouths and in you hearts; you only have to carry it out."

In the parable of the two sons, Jesus says that the one who does the will of the father is the one who originally says he won't do it, but eventually goes out and does it anyway, not the one who says he will do it, and then does nothing.

I have often said that heaven will either be filled with a lot more people than we imagine, or a lot less. I'm beginning to lean towards the former. I think there are many, many people out there who don't call themselves Christians, but who are actually more 'Christian' than those who do. Somewhere along the way they've figured out that acting the way Christians are supposed to act is, in fact, the right way - it is something 'already in their mouths and in their hearts'. But that doesn't mean that those who call themselves Christians - even though they may be doing it badly, or different from us - are wrong. As Martin Buber says, they're simply coming to God in their own unique way. Peter Rollins argues that the sheer number of variations of Christian denominations and traditions out there is a testament to the fact that God cannot be known in his entirety, and that this is the way God wants it, so we don't end up making an idol of our particular brand of theology.

The poet Kathleen Norris in her book, The Cloister Walk, makes the point that Christianity is more like poetry than prose. And that when we take that poem, and start to break it down and analyze it, and turn it into dogma, that we lose the essence and beauty of it.

I must admit that I'm a bit like an ex-smoker who is the most critical of those who smoke. Because, as an ex-fundamentalist, it is fundamentalists that drive me the most crazy. But I'm starting to see Jesus' point when he said that those who aren't against us, are for us. And I'm starting to see that Christianity is more like poetry than prose, and I have to embrace the essence and beauty of it in all it's variations and differences. And I'm starting to see that no matter how right I think I am, I could still be wrong. And I'm starting to embrace the essence of Christianity wherever I find it: be it in the actions of someone who doesn't call themselves a Christian, the prostelizing of a fundamentalist, or the liturgy of the more traditional.

I think that the gospel, and God's love, is way bigger and more encompassing than any of us can imagine.

I sure hope it is, because my version is pretty puny.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Denying the Resurrection

"...we were having an argument about the resurrection, whether or not it had happened and whether or not it could be proved. One of my friends shared the story of how she had asked a liberal bishop if he actually believed in the resurrection. "Believe it?" he answered incredulously. "I've seen it too many times not to!"
This story comes from Diana Butler Bass' most recent book, "Christianity After Religion". She goes on from there to explain how we often get tied up in arguments about what we believe about the resurrection, and end up completely missing the more important question of "Do you trust in the resurrection?" What does she mean by that?

The cross is the most recognizable icon of Christianity. It wasn't always that way, but it is now. We see it in our churches, we wear it around our necks, we get it tattooed on various parts of our body, we put it on our bumpers - it's everywhere. Despite the many artistic variations of the cross, they can all be broken down into 2 basic forms: one depicting Christ on the cross, and one where the cross is empty. It seems protestants prefer the empty cross, while Roman Catholics and Orthodox prefer the the one with Christ on it - and each has their reasons for their preference. One emphasizes the death of Christ and Good Friday, while the other emphasizes the resurrection and therefore Easter Sunday. But I think this emphasis, as subtle as it is, is a mistake. It is a form of dualism, where we choose one over the other, when we should be embracing both equally.

Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and showing us what that meant. He turned the rules of the day upside down with self sacrificing love. And when they nailed him to the cross for it, God vindicated him by raising him from the dead - in effect saying "See, I was right". Jesus on the cross shows us how much we are to love our neighbour, while the empty cross confirms that it's the right way to live.When the bishop says he has seen the resurrection too many times not to believe it, he is saying that he has seen people who's belief in the way of Jesus is so strong that they are willing go beyond normal forms of sacrificial love; that they are willing to embrace the radical, self sacrificing life of Christ. And when they believe in this way, their lives are raised from the death and decay of self destruction and emptiness to something beautiful and transformative.

The empty cross is the reason we believe, while Christ on the cross is how we live in response to that belief.

When Peter Rollins is asked if he believes in the resurrection, he answers "No". Then he goes on to explain that whenever he thinks a bad thought about someone, or whenever he fails to help a person in need, or whenever he acts in a selfish way - when he doesn't go the extra mile, or treat his neighbour as himself - he denies the resurrection. He is in effect saying, "I don't really believe in the resurrection, because if I did, I wouldn't do these things".

Do you believe in the resurrection? Do I?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hard Choices

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
(John 18:36 ESV)

The other day a group of us were watching a sermon by Bruxy Cavey, the pastor of The Meeting House. The sermon was about the meaning of Jesus' death. Commenting on Jesus' statement to Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, Bruxy made the point that Christians don't fight, they bring peace. That we need to move towards hostility, not to propagate it, but to be peace makers.

During our discussion about the sermon, someone asked how war fit into this philosophy of not fighting. This is an interesting question, although a bit theoretical at this time, at least for Canadians.

I think the important thing is not to get sidetracked with massive theoretical questions like this, but to ask ourselves how we are going to embody this concept in our lives today. How are we going to take personal responsibility for being agents of peace and reconciliation as demanded by being kingdom people within the sphere of influence we have today? Hopefully, if we are practicing this way of being in our daily lives, if the big question ever does happen, we will have learned enough by that time, that we will be able to respond as God would want us to - whatever that is.

As far as the big question goes, I don't know if there is a right answer. I suspect it might be akin to what Frederick Buechner says in regards to abortion: realizing that the decision to abort, or not to abort, doesn't always have a right answer, Buechner says that no matter what one decides, the important thing to remember is that one is never beyond the forgiveness of God. If war were to break out again, similar to WWII, I suspect that both those who would choose to fight, and those who would choose not to fight, would have to depend on that forgiveness.

Thank God!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Product of Empty Space

I’ve had a few different thoughts rolling around in my head recently. There’s quite a bit of empty space in there, so they can roll around a long time before ever bumping into each other.
The other day I was looking at a blog post about homeschooling. The woman who wrote the post was justifying her decision to homeschool by telling the tragic story of a 15 year old who had frozen to death in her neighborhood as a result of bullying. She was trying to point out how awful public schools were and how she didn't want to subject her kids to that.
If you've read some of my other  posts, you will know that I'm not a fan of homeschooling. There are certain things I have been opposed to as long as I can remember, and homeschooling is one of them. I also don't believe in denominationalism,  or church membership. I was driving home the other day wondering why that is. Then it struck me: all these things have to do with separation. Either separation from other believers, or from the world. It's an us versus them attitude.
It’s evil. It’s wrong. It’s a sin.
Denominationalism says my brand of belief is better than yours; my beliefs are right and yours are wrong. Church membership says my church is better than yours; it says I'm part of the club and you aren't. Some churches even go so far as to say that if you aren’t a member you can’t serve. How arrogant is that? Homeschooling says my kids are better than yours, or perhaps more accurately, your kids are worse than mine and I don't want them influencing my kids.
The way most of us Christians live ours lives is with this undercurrent of isolation and separation. Denominationalism etc is only the visible sign of a much wider attitude. We have completely misunderstood the God given mandate to be in the world but not of it.
We go to our churches which are more like country clubs than anything. Our friends (true friends) are all from the  church.  Most of our social events surround the church. We even speak our own language. If we do interact with the world it's only to prosthelytize. 
This isn't what I  see Jesus doing when he goes out of his way to interact with the world. When he eats with tax collectors and sinners. When  he says it is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. When he goes around healing everybody, but not getting them to say the sinners prayer. He's meeting them where they are, in their hurt and brokenness. He's announcing the coming of the Kingdom. He's saying that everybody is connected, and that those who understand that will help those that don't. When he says that we are not of the world, he’s not saying that we are somehow holier than everyone else, he’s saying that we are called to a higher standard - a kingdom standard - where people go the extra mile and turn the other cheek. Not where we separate ourselves from the world so we won’t get contaminated. Jesus touched the leper and and bleeding woman - people that would have made him unclean.
All this makes me wonder about that poor kid that froze to death. Where were the Christian kids in that school. Were they carrying on with their parents attitudes of isolation and separation? Did they even know that this kid was hurting? Did they stand up for him at all? Or were they more concerned about going to heaven when they died? Then I wonder how homeschooling helped this kid. What good did isolating this woman's kids from the evils of public school do for the kid who died? 


Perhaps the Christian kids who were there did nothing, but if your kids aren't even there, then there isn't even the possibility of helping someone in need. 
How is that good news for anyone?
If you want to read a good article that’s the antitheses of homeschooling read this article from Christianity Today.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

No Pigs Allowed

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:28-34 ESV)
If you've gone to church very much at all, this is a familiar story. I have always wondered why Jesus was begged to leave, and why he sent the demons into the pigs.

It is unclear if these particular people were Jewish. And, if they were, what were they doing with pigs in the first place? Perhaps there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Jesus seldom did, or said anything that didn't have several layers of meaning. It occurred to me the other day that perhaps this was a living parable.

We as Christians tend to live our lives knowing that we aren't perfect; that there are all sorts of things wrong with the way we live the Christian life. We are willing to see, and admit to the common, acceptable, and perhaps visible wrongs in our life such as; jealousy, anger, selfishness etc. But when we start to let Jesus really work in our lives, he starts to point out the not so obvious things: things we may have buried so deep that we don't even see them, things that define us, and, sometimes things that have even been sanctioned by the church.

The pigs in our life.

And sometimes this becomes too much. We just want him to leave. To leave us and our life, and let us go back to living our comfortable, predicable lives. We're fine just the way we are - thank you very much - and we beg him to leave. But if we are serious about following Christ, we have to let him not only exorcise the demons that we can see, we have to let him get rid of the pigs that we don't see. We have to get rid of non-loving things like our attitudes towards gays and lesbians, people of differing religious beliefs, or that difficult person at work. They have to rush down the bank and into the sea.

Attitudes like this have no place in the Kingdom of God - just like a Jew had no business with a herd of pigs.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Everybody Hates Karl

Karl Barth, for those that don't know, was a German Theologian in the early 20th century - a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have read many quotes from Barth and couldn't figure out what all the fuss was - he seemed to make a lot of sense to me. From what I heard, we evangelicals hated Barth - or were supposed to hate Barth. So, never being one to conform, I bought one of his books, and having the tremendous grasp of the obvious that I do, quickly realized what the problem was.

Here are a few excerpts from his chapter on Free Grace;
Strange Christianity, whose most pressing anxiety seems to be that God's grace might prove to be all to free on this side. That hell, instead of being populated with  many people, might some day prove to be empty! ...
Even in the midst of hell, grace would still be grace, and even in the midst of hell it would have to be honored and praised and therefore announced to the other inhabitants of hell...
We must reckon with the fact that [grace] can always be at work outside the walls of the Church and can be announced even by quite other tongues than those which have been given to us. Its being so free brings fresh air again and again into the Church. We need this fresh air, and we should not try to shut it out with the holy games of our churchly speaking and behavior...
We ought not to act as if we knew this or that, even in an elementary way, when we are only guessing. That God's grace is free grace will be impossible for us to overlook at this point,.... But this much is sure: it is also here, and precisely here it is grace. We know just one thing: that Jesus Christ is the same also in eternity, and that His grace is whole and complete, enduring through time into eternity, into the new world of God which will exist and be recognized in a totally different way, that it is unconditional and hence is certainly tied to no purgatories, tutoring sessions, or reformatories in the hereafter...
One cannot deal with the free grace of God the way one can deal with a principle. The heralds of free grace cannot advertise themselves as, or behave like, purveyors of a principle. In fact they must deny the "human self-assurance" which seeks to "put the lord's word and work to the service of any arbitrarily chosen wishes, goals and plans”. The message of free grace has never remained pure, has always been perverted into its opposite when it has been put into some sort of service or framework which is foreign to it, whether worldly or spiritual, philosophical or theological, ...
If the Church does not love the message of free grace (if it stands apart from people with too many scruples, if it meets them with too many reproaches), if it is afraid of that message and is too pious and moralistic for people - what is the Church then? Nothing, nothing at all!
I can see why we evangelicals are supposed to hate Barth; he completely undermines our dualistic, us vs them mentality. He says things like; "Jesus Christ is the same today, tomorrow and forever", where's that in the bible! (insert sarcasm emoticon here). And worse than that he agrees with such obvious heretics as CS Lewis.

Seriously though, what an incredible freedom and relief of pressure, to have the ability to say "I don't know". That even if a loved one died without "knowing Christ" that you do know that God's grace is forever. That there may be validity to someone else's point of view. That we don't have to have all the answers. That God loves everyone, no matter what, or when. Maybe then we evangelicals could relax, and just love people for who they are. Now that would be good news!

I hope Karl is right.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

An empty cup of tea

Th Master Nan-in had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen, but instead of listening the visitor kept talking about his own ideas. After awhile Nan-in served tea. He poured tea into his visitors cup until it was full. Then he kept pouring. Finally the visitor could not restrain himself, "Don't you see it's full?"he said. "You can't get anymore in." "Just so", replied Nan-in, stopping at last. "And like this cup you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give you Zen unless you offer an empty cup?"

I think we as evangelicals are very much like this cup of tea, especially if we've been in the church all our lives. We know all the answers, we've been told what to believe. We've been told that we have all the knowledge, and that even though there may be other traditions who seem to sincerely believe that, "they are sincerely wrong".  Our cups are so full and overflowing that not only can we not get anymore in, we can't even move the cup to someplace useful.

Mark Buchanan has just put out another book, "Your Church is too Safe". Mark is a good writer, who pastors out of British Columbia. His books try to get Christians to think outside the box, at least a little, although I don't know how successful he is - he might be a bit too subtle. In an excerpt from this latest book, he makes two distinctions between the definitions of the words Traveler / Tourist and Disciple / Believer.

Traveler literally means "one who travails." He labours, suffers, endures. A traveller.. ...gets impregnated with a new and strange reality, grows huge and awkward trying to carry it, and finally, in agony, births something new and beautiful. To get there, he immerses himself in a culture. learns the language and customs, lives with the locals, imitates the dress, eats what's set before him. He takes risks, some enormous, and makes sacrifices, some extravagant. He has tight scrapes and narrow escapes. He is gone along time. If he ever returns, he returns forever altered...
A tourist, not so. Tourist means, literally, "one who goes in circles." He's just takes an exotic detour home. He's only passing through, sampling wares, acquiring souvenirs. He tastes more than he eats what's put before him. He retreats each night to what's safe and familiar. He picks up a word here, a phrase there, but the language and the world it's imbedded in, remains opaque and cryptic, and vaguely menacing. He spectates and consumes. He returns to where he comes from with an album of photos, a few momentos, a cheap hat. He's happy to be back. He declares there's no place like home...
....At some point we stopped calling Christians disciples and started calling then believers. A disciple is one who follows and imitates Jesus. She loses her life in order to find it. She steeps in the language and culture of Christ until his word and his world reshape hers, redefine her, change inside and out how she thinks and dreams and, finally, lives....
...A believer, not so. She holds certain beliefs, but how deep down these go depends on the weather or her mood. She can get defensive, sometimes bristlingly so, about her beliefs, but in her honest moments she wonders why they've made such a scant difference....
... You can't be a disciple without being a believer. But - here's the rub - you can be a believer and not a disciple. You can say all the right things, think all the right things, believe all the right things, do all the right things, and still not follow and imitate Jesus...
...The Kingdom of God is made up of travellers, but our churches are largely populated with tourists. The Kingdom is full of disciples, but our churches are filled with believers.

I would hope it isn't happening in Mark's church, but the issue that I see is that those in the pews  are being filled to overflowing with the notion of being a tourist-believer. This is exactly where the pulpit wants people, but it's not where God wants them. We have phrases like; 'this world's not my home; I'm just passing through; strangers in a strange land; be ye in the world not of the world (this last one has been mis-read for centuries to justify the previous ones. Taken in it's proper context it has nothing to do with separating yourself from the world).

Those of us who are serious about being Traveler-Disciples need to take our cup to the sink, dump it out, and start letting God - and only God - fill it back up again. When God fills our cup, there's always room for more; more of him and more of others.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

As long as it doesn't lead to dancing

Just before Valentines day, Drew Marshall did a Valentines themed show. One of his guests has a website where they sell Christian "toys" to enhance your relationship with your spouse - I'll let you fill in the blanks as to what that means. They tried to Christianize it by emphasizing that these were for couples to use.

Now, I don't care if people want to use these types of things, provided they aren't trying to compensate for other issues in their marriage. Other than that, if they both think it sounds like fun, then whatever - as long as it doesn't lead to dancing (as the old joke goes). If there are issues, then they are better off addressing those first, before they try to put a bandaid on their problems. One of Drew's other guests that day (a Canadian) has an excellent website to address those issues.

This may be the most bizarre of the Christian businesses out there, but it is certainly not alone. There are Christian Realtors, Christian Insurance, Christian Used Car sales (is that even possible?), and a host of others. I must admit that I have a problem with these businesses, as well as people who put fish on their cars, or bumper stickers that say things like; "God is my co-pilot".

The problem is; if you are going to advertise you are a Christian business, you are implying that you have higher standards; and if you're going to tell people that you have higher standards, you better live and operate your business exactly as advertised - and too few do. In my opinion you are far better off actually operating with the higher standards - not telling people that you are so wonderful - and just letting them find out, as Jesus implied in the Sermon on the Mount when he said; "let your yes be yes and your no be no".

The reason is not as obvious as you might think. Some people will think you're just trying to protect yourself if you screw up - trying to save face - but you aren't protecting yourself, you're protecting God.

In 2nd Samuel 12 David has sinned by sleeping with Bathsheba (and a host of other misdeeds), and God punishes David by taking his son - why?

"...because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die." (NASV)

God cares what people think about him. God cares about how you and I portray him to the world. God cares because you and I are God's light into the world - we are reflecting him. We're supposed to be showing the rest of the world what it means to live in his Kingdom. What it means to call Jesus "Lord". The only way that some people will see God is through you and I, and if they don't see something they want to be a part of, they will reject the Kingdom, and they will reject God, and the Kingdom will not have been advanced the way it should have. As CS Lewis said: we are to be little Christs.

So, if we're selling products, or putting a fish on our car, we had better think twice about what kind of standard we're willing to hold ourself to.

And, since we're talking about dancing, didn't David, "a man after God's own heart" dance naked in the street. How does that fit in with the church's prohibition against dancing? It's a good thing smarter people than me are making the decisions for me.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Meister Eckhart on Suffering

For those that don't know, Meister Eckhart was a 13th century German mystic. In the process of reading one of his books I came across this section on suffering which I found profound. I have cobbled together a few of these thoughts.

"Supposing someone has for many years had honour and well-being and that now, by God's design, he loses it. Then a man should take wise thought and thank God. When he realizes the present harm and misfortune, he will appreciate how much advantage and security he had before, and he shall thank God for the well-being he enjoyed for so many years without appreciating how well off he was, and he should not be angry.... ....Since all that is good or consoling or temporal is given to man as a  loan, what has he to complain of when he, who has lent it, will take it back? He ought to thank God that he has lent it to him for so long...

...If, then, you would like to be God's son and yet not suffer, you are very wrong. It is written in the Book of Wisdom that God examines and searches who is just in the same way as gold is proved and burned in the furnace. It is a sign that the King or Prince trusts the Knight well if he sends him into combat. I have seen a Lord who sometimes, when he had accepted someone among his followers, sent him out into the night and then attacked him himself and fought with him. And once it happened that he was nearly killed by someone whom he meant to try in this way, and he liked this man much better than before...

....Silver and gold are indeed pure; yet, if they are to be made into a cup from which the King should drink, they would be burned very much more than otherwise."

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Predestination and Old Souls

Predestination: the idea that some people are somehow chosen to be children of God while others aren't, has been debated and argued for centuries. What if this is yet another example of something the church has profoundly misunderstood? What if people on both sides of the argument have missed the point completely?

The other night there were several people at our house. I was in the kitchen doing something and the rest were in the living room just chatting when suddenly everyone burst out in laughter. This is not an unusual
thing with this particular group, but when I came in, my wife explained to me that one of our members - who is more concerned with social justice than the rest of us - shared the fact that when she was younger, she thought that she wanted to marry a black guy to show that there was nothing wrong with that sort of thing. In and of itself there is nothing funny about this, but the reason it was so funny to everyone else is because it is totally in keeping with her personality, and that even at a very young age it was evident.

I didn't really think much about this until a couple of days later when I was trying to work through some other perplexing scenarios in the bible, and my mind wandered to predestination. Somehow my mind tied

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Complicity of the Church

You have probably heard it said that Satan's greatest trick is convincing people that he doesn't exist. But I wonder if he hasn't pulled an even faster one. One that actually gets some people into heaven, while keeping the majority out. One that has permeated the entire Church, and is so ingrained into Christianity, that very few people would even think of questioning it. Think about it: At least some people will question the existence of Satan, but very, very few Christians will question what actually drove them into heaven.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The wheels are in the box - or - Do as I say, not as I do

Did you ever have one of those moments where you think to yourself; "What was I thinking?" I usually have little moments like that, but the other day I had a bigger one.

It was pre-Christmas, and I was wandering through Costco looking for something specific (as if that justifies it). It was packed with shoppers and getting worse by the minute. Actually, to say wandering is a bit misleading, it was more like a speed walking at the olympics.

At one point I went past the section where they have all the bulky items that they don't really sell a lot of; things like mixers, filing cabinets - you know what I mean. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a smallish woman coming out of that section, struggling with a fairly large box.

She doesn't have a cart.

I assume she is heading towards the checkouts - I'm not. I remember thinking to myself; "Why doesn't she get a cart?" So I shrug my shoulders, and continue my search.

I get to the area that I think my item is going to be, but it's not. Growing more frustrated, it occurs to me that there is an area close to the checkouts where it might be, so I head that direction.

On my way to the checkouts I come across the same woman and she is obviously still struggling. We are now side by side. I look at her. She looks at me. We smile. I see that what she is struggling with is a set of luggage in a box. Then I say to her; "You know they have wheels?" She politely laughs and says; "Yes, but they're in the box".

We part company.

I find what I am looking for eventually, and leave Costco. It's not until I'm half way home that I realize what an idiot I am. I spout all this nonsense on this blog, and to anyone who will listen, that we need to reflect the image of Christ. That we are in this world to make a difference. Blah, blah, blah. But when I have an opportunity to live that - and do one small act of kindness - not only do I not do it, but I mock the person instead! I could have easily helped her; I didn't even have to go out of my way!

Ok, so, read previous post. God doesn't care about who I was, only who I am. I think I'll get into the lotus position and chant that mantra for a couple of hours. Maybe it'll make a difference.

How about you? Ever had one of those brain farts where you actions just don't fit your beliefs?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Who Are You?

Last night we watched the movie Cowboys and Aliens; not exactly an intellectual, or spiritual giant as far as movies go. But there was one interesting statement made in the movie.

The movie starts out with the hero not knowing who he is, or how he got there. The only thing he knows is that he's beat up, and has an odd bracelet on his wrist. As the movie progresses, he starts to realize he has a dark past. Part way through the movie, the preacher who he has befriended lays dying, and says to him; "God doesn't care who you were, only who you are".

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Embracing Sin

I typically have 3 or 4 books on the go at any one time. They are usually fairly deep, which accounts for my watching too much TV: my brain sometimes needs the mind numbing aspects that only TV can give. One of the ones that I am currently reading is a book by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr entitled Falling Upward. (All you evangelicals out here take a deep breath and keep reading). It is quite fascinating. He makes several very insightful observations and statements, but the one that just stuck out at me is this;

Friday, 6 January 2012

Homeschooling and a Salt Restricted Diet

Tomorrow on the Drew Marshall show he is interviewing Nicole Cottrell. She's a Christian blogger who has some controversial views and posts. You can see her stuff at www.modernreject.com. One of the posts that she put up was called Confessions of a Reluctant Homeschooler in which she says that she has just started to homeschool her daughter, even though she has misgivings about it.

Recently I discovered that a girl I used to go out with homeschooled both her kids all the way from kindergarten to graduation in high school. I am almost offended by this notion, because as far back as I can remember I have thought that there is something not quite right about homeschooling, or even private Christian schools.