Standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming

Last Friday I had the joy of being with my wife at our church’s annual Christmas production. This was not your typical Christmas production of years past. There was no play…no manger…no shepherds. Instead, it was through songs, readings, and stories that we were able to come in contact with how God was working in our midst. Representatives from various organizations in the lower mainland and abroad were present to talk about  their specific work with the poor, homeless, and refugees. There was a silent auction and through my photography business, I donated a couple of family portrait sessions as a way to throw my hat in the ring for a good cause. The event raised about 10,000$ for the sponsored organizations through ticket sales and the auction.

In many ways it takes time, to slow down, to listen, and and absorb the harsh reality of people around us to really find out where God is at work. Unfortunately for many, we tend to think God’s hand is in the best deal we get on something at the store, or in the comfort of our personal realities…you know, in the things we perceive as blessings. Rarely do we consider that God’s real and significant work is among the poor.

For me… on this evening I was standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming. It was also the same day that I finished reading NT Wright’s book, Simply Jesus and the weight of engaging with the concept Wright proposes – of Jesus announcing that God is becoming King – was heavy upon me. People think Jesus means many things, but an examination as thorough as Wright’s leaves little room to think that Jesus was anything but announcing that God is becoming King in himself. What struck me are the implications this has on not only our personal lives, but in our public lives as well.

Some of these implications manifested themselves nicely and prophetically in the production. In God’s economy there is a spirit of generosity and love that is completed in the action of Jesus and that power now imbues it’s people to follow suit. That same power of God’s presence gives courage to stand up to the injustice of how our society marginalizes people and exploits them. It gives courage to do the things Jesus did….to not only care for the vulnerable among us, but to call into account the powers that corrupt. I am now eager to see this evolve into more systemic engagement that goes beyond charity to challenging the status quo.

Books of 2007

Here is a screenshot from my Delicious Library of the books I have read in 2007. It is less than I expected and the list changed as I was put onto various other books of interest. A total of 19 reflects the joys of being a parent of two kids and tackling some (for me anyways) tougher reads. In particular, Colossians Remixed, Everything Must Change, The Great Giveaway, The Powers that Be, The Prophetic Imagination, and Simply Christian stood out as fantastic books. I would like to double that number this year, but we’ll see how and if my pace of life continues to collide with a steady reading rhythm. In the new year I would like to post brief, but engaging reviews of books, we’ll have to see about time.

If you would like to order these books, you can do so by clicking on the links and buying them at Amazon prices from the Toward Hope Bookstore (also accessed by the aStore link to the left of the blog under my banner).

Happy New Year – Do you know you are Beloved?

I would like to extend a very Happy New Year to the readers of Toward Hope and I would also like to pose a question for you. Do you know that you are beloved? No, really…do you know this in a deep way? Do you know that you are loved beyond measure by the one who breathed life into you? Perhaps the dawn of a new year is a fitting time to reflect and remember this truth about yourself. Come with me, if you will, on a journey of how I have been blessed this day… and perhaps you might share my blessing.

Yesterday as our family was getting ready to visit our good friends Rick and Cari, our son, Nathaniel, fell sick. That meant we stayed home cleaning up after him and celebrating the New Year with a little sickness. It was a quiet night. After the kids went down, I thought to read, so I reached for Henri Nouwen’s book, “Life of the Beloved” and thought this short book would be a great way to start the new year.

This book is a letter to a dear friend of Nouwen’s named Fred, and is an attempt to explain the spiritual life in simple and understandable terms. It is written with the non believer in mind. Nouwen offers the single word “beloved” as the one to cling to; the word that summarizes the essence of the spiritual journey toward God. The journey toward realizing our belovedness is the one that leads to God. How simple a truth that we so often forget; our “belovedness”. So are you beloved?

The answer is “Yes” according to Nouwen. Even those of us in the Christian faith who know in our heads that we are beloved struggle to live out this truth deeply from our hearts. even as Christian’s we struggle for affirmation, approval, and rejection of self in debilitating ways that hinder our growth. Nouwen writes this book in the spirit of the affirming voice of God upon Jesus at his baptism (Matt 3:16-17) and suggests that we are chosen in similar regard. He reminds us that the latent feelings of self-rejection that lie within are only remedied by a realization of our belovedness. For recognizing our belovedness can soothe the deep “…darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence” (pg. 32). Can you identify with this feeling of not feeling welcome in the human experience? I often can and think this is the source of much idleness and fear for me.

In the rest of the book, Nouwen takes us through four key words that provide a map for identifying the Spirit’s movement in our lives. The words: “Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Shared“, provide a context for realizing our belovedness. If you remember, I reviewed Robert Benson’s book, Living Prayer, and one of the chapters focused on these four words as being the pattern of the Eucharist. For in the same way as the bread is taken, blessed, broken, and shared, realizing our belovedness requires that we traverse these movements in our lives as we journey toward God. It is, after all, the same pattern woven in the life of Christ and if we are disciples we ought to follow this same path. For it is the path to freedom from self-rejection and the stories that cripple our lives and enslave us to foreign gods.

So I pray that you know that you are beloved on this day. Know that on you the favor of God rests and he is well pleased. You are chosen and blessed by God and in a mysterious and miraculous way, your embrace of “belovedness” brings out in others that they too are beloved. May you live in the peace of your belovedness this year and may your journey toward God be blessed with much fruit and freedom.

Colossians Remixed on Globalization

Http   Astore.Amazon.Com - Colossians Remixed  Subverting The EmpireI have just begun the journey into Colossians Remixed by Walsh and Keesmaat. My initial impression – slightly skewed by the great stuff I’ve already heard about this book – is that it is, and will be, a fantastic read. Their journey into the workings of gospel against empire is one I am excited to travel. Here is a glimpse of their insight into our cultural reality as they define Globalization:

“Globalization isn’t just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard-of proportions. Progress is the underlying myth, unlimited economic growth its foundational faith, the shopping mall (physical or online) its place of worship, consumerism its overriding image, “I’ll have a Big mac and fries” its ritual of initiation, and global domination its ultimate goal.”

What they are trying to do early on in the book is get at the underlying realities of our postmodern condition and cybernetic optimism (and the values the espouse) in an effort to appropriately assess our culture before diving into the empire-subverssive message of the letter to the church at Colosse. Look for more posts about this book.

Anyone read it? What did you think?

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New Books…

Tomorrow I approach the ripe age of 35. I got a little gift from my father today in the form of cash and I could not resist the impulse to buy some books. I ordered from Amazon in the US to take advantage of the strong Canadian $. Here is the list. If you like, you can order them from the Toward Hope Bookstore for the same discounted prices.

Countdown to Sunday: A Daily Guide for Those Who Dare to Preach

Chris Erdman

An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination

Walter Brueggemann

After Our Likeness: The Church As the Image of the Trinity

Miroslav Volf

Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke

Kenneth E. Bailey

Anybody read these ones yet?

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Everything Must Change

In Reading McLaren’s book, Everything Must Change, (almost finished) I am reminded how much I appreciate both his insight and literary style to communicate things that are often ineffable. He draws his arguments from two big questions: What are the biggest problems in the world? And: What does Jesus have to say about these global problems? From there he does a great job of uncovering the global systems and structures that he ultimately pegs “suicide machine” and exposes the framing stories that serve to shape, guide, and move this unsustainable monster, made up of prosperity, equity, and security systems. A big critique coming from him is toward religion and how it plays into, even sponsors in a chaplain-like way, the injustice inherent in the system. Heady stuff, but coming from Brian, it is easy to read.

Brian draws great parallels with themes of empire evident in Jesus time and ours as he begins to reframe him for our day. What he makes clear is that today Jesus is largely misunderstood with regard to the complete message of the Kingdom and how it relates to the great problems of our day. What happens with religion in empire is that it becomes domesticated, private, and subdued to where it serves as an opiate to numb and never threaten the agenda of the empire; an agenda that moves the suicide machine forward. A way this is realized in our time is by the esoteric flavor Christianity has taken on; it’s one that is fixated on a vision of earth being destroyed in the next lifetime and Jesus coming back to take his followers to some disembodied heaven. When we consider the message of the Kingdom, it really confronts this domestic christianity whilst bringing into question the agenda of empire.

In many ways, this book is an important work as it seeks to address issues of how we have come to believe the gospel and how it relates to social justice and the problems of our day. And McLaren offers creative vision for implementation rooted deep within the framing story of scripture. Many will perhaps call Brian a liberal because of his emphasis on social justice, but what needs consideration is that it is not a classic liberal justice that is devoid of cross or resurrection, but a justice that is lived out of cross and resurrection. In my assessment thus far, I do not see an attempt at just making the world a better place, but a challenge to consider the greater aspects of God’s law and heart that, when taken seriously, really means we need to love our neighbour. And that is something that this book reveals many Christians know little of and many empires ignore.

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Everything Must Change..

I just bought the book and began reading it late last night. It seems intriguing as Brian attempts to ask daring questions in an attempt to integrate the gospel message with how we live on earth; certainly a central point to Jesus’ instruction about how we are to pray and live. I am curious how Brian’s work can help heal heal deep division between liberal and conservative camps with a more holistic gospel message.

Scot McKnight is blogging his way through the book, see Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6. It is well worth the read as Scot reviews books quite well.

This video is a good one posted at emergent village where Brian goes on about religions and the need to bring them into conversation to thwart the ‘opiate’ tendencies they often imbue. It is a very well communicated sequence that uncovers how religion has largely missed the plot

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Questions to Guide Theological and Ecclesiological Perspective

The Challenge Of Jesus _ Rediscovering Who Jesus Was  and  IsI have just begun NT Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, for a paper I am writing. At the end of his first chapter, in which he outlines the importance of studying the historical Jesus, he offers five questions that can guide us toward an appropriate understanding of Jesus to inform our theologies and ecclesiologies.

1. Where does Jesus belong within the Jewish world of his day?

2. What, in particular, was his preaching of the Kingdom all about? What was he aiming to do?

3. Why did Jesus die? In particular, what was his own intention in going to Jerusalem that last fateful time?

4. Why did the early church begin, and why did it take the shape it did? Specifically, of course, what happened at Easter?

5. How does this all relate to the Christian task and vision today? How, in other words, does this historical and also deeply theological approach put fire into our hearts and power into our hands as we go about shaping the world?

These are big and important questions. Wright suggests that if we do not commit to applying ourselves to further study of Jesus, all sorts of misunderstandings creep into our faith and get wrapped up in our traditions.

Anyone care to take a stab at one of them? I know they are big, but perhaps we can address them succinctly.

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Book Review – Quaker Summer

1595542078.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V43502523_.jpg (JPEG Image, 500x500 pixels)-1Lisa Samson sent me a copy of Quaker Summer a while back as it was being released. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to review because of my frenetic calendar. However, Barbara Mutch, one of my instructors in the Masters tract I am on was graciously willing to do so.

Quaker Summer, by Lisa Samson

Reviewed by Barbara Mutch

Quaker Summer, Women of Faith’s 2007 choice for Novel of the Year, is a story of transformation in one woman’s life. Heather Curridge, homemaker, dedicated shopper, private school volunteer, wife to a surgeon and mother to a teenage son old beyond his years, is dissatisfied with her life. She attempts to fill the void she feels with her twin passions of buying increasingly pricey things for her house and baking cakes, and a secondary passion of eating more than she knows she needs. Through a series of random encounters with people outside of her normal sphere of reference, she is drawn outside of her self-preoccupation and into a larger, risky, more satisfying world. She learns that serving the poor and the lonely allows a person to “give away some of my doubts, my fears, my own sin, and the sin of others that I know about.” She discovers that “God wants us to care for the poor and the lonely and the sick, not just for their sake, but for ours. Because in this, we become like Him, growing a bigger heart than we ever thought possible.” And through what may be the most humanly recognizable sequence in the novel, Heather’s remorse for acts of childhood cruelty to two children from a disadvantaged home, she eventually realizes that she wants to become “the person around whom people don’t have to do a thing to be loved.”

Heather’s transformation from collecting possessions to being willing to divest herself of many of her things is closely connected to her willingness to be open to learn new things from the people she meets and to persevere in attempting to recognize the invitations of the Spirit of God. There are few subtleties in the book, and a little less obviousness would make for a much more interesting and thoughtful read. However, spending time in a book that is based on the possibility of change, which lies so clearly at the heart of the gospel, is definitely worth something when looking for a light summer read.

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The God Next Door Resource

Simon Carey Holt, author of The God Next Door has made a neighbourhood exegesis resource available from a section in his book. It looks intriguing and gets at asking some important questions about neighbourhood for discerning mission. Being able to read our world is a critical task for appropriate incarnational ministry. The questions have a hint of Ignatius’ Examine about them (which I quite like) as they encourage discovery of how God is already working “outside” the walls of the church. Have a look and while you’re at it, check out his blog.

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Speedlinking-August 19th

1070024_69servicetyping.jpg (JPEG Image, 500x329 pixels)

  • Here is a great quote about Discipleship from Erika’s site.
  • The 417 Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership…also Here and Here.
  • For Mac users…I ordered I-Life 08. I hear mixed reviews. What about you? What do you think of it?
  • Here are some books I have just ordered:

Any of you read these books? If so, what do you think?

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A Podcast turned into a book purchase…

Toward Hope Bookstore - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_ A Year of Food LifeI was listening to Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith Podcast today. This week she interviewed Barbara Kingsolver to talk about The Ethics of Eating and her new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. I was quite intrigued by what she said that I went and bought the book. The book tells the story of how her family moved from Arizona to VA and became locavores. They grew their own food or ate only local produce and meat for a whole year. I am intrigued by this because of the many things I am learning about local economies, the environment, and ecology as a big part of what it means to live a missional, Kingdom life. Please listen to the podcast…it’s a good one. I will post my thoughts on the book once I work my way through it.

I am hopeful this book will help inspire further and give ideas for our local church community.

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Something new on the site

astore-logo-md-short._V31866931_I have joined the Associates program through Amazon. This has enabled me to create my own bookstore hosted by Amazon and anyone can buy books from Amazon at their low prices. See the a-store widget to the left. In the Toward Hope Bookstore you will find the books that I have encountered on my journey and that shape much of the thinking beneath this blog. Buying through my bookstore will earn me points toward Amazon gift cards that will help offset the cost of books for my studies. Enjoy the selection and I will add to it regularly.

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I started reading this cool book…

Photo 50…called the Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. I can tell that this book will hit me with all sorts of astonishing bright lights (see picture) and profound insights about the emerging missional church that should keep me wide-eyed for some time (see picture). I am looking forward to reading this not only for the insight, but for the discussion this book will elicit from the group of friends reading it together. I’m positive this book will point to all sorts of sunny revelations (see picture) about the church and importantly to the practices that can point a community to live faithfully for the Son (see picture).

It has been reviewed here, and here, and here, and here, and of coarse, here, and here.

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Some worthwhile links…

0801031672David Fitch reviews VanHoozer’s book Everyday Theology:How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. It looks like a worthwhile book that deals with the importance of exegeting our culture. I see the value of this and I have been thinking for the last few years that the importance of reading our world should be a primary task of the church in the West; specifically because of the extent the Western Church has coalesced with North American values. [Update: Baker Academics offers Ch 9 of the book]

Christianity Today has an article exposing the nature of the latest Best Selling Self-help book, the Secret. It is pretty much common knowledge by now (thanks in part to John Stackhouse’s thoughts) that this secret stuff is no secret at all. It’s your materialistic, middle class mantra for getting your best life now (where have I heard that before?). Here is a quote:

"The Secret, you see, is all about the self—it’s for the self, obsessed with the self. Newsweek offers this critique: "On an ethical level, The Secret appears deplorable. It concerns itself almost entirely with a narrow range of middle-class concerns—houses, cars, and vacations, followed by health and relationships, with the rest of humanity a very distant sixth." Read the whole article

Brant Hansen is at it again with his perceptive wit in this post that is an interview between him and, well…him. In the pretend world, it is between him and some church guy that is questioning his ideas about house church and church budgets. He has a point that I think is hard to swallow for some.

Here is a link to an outline for the Ignatian practice of Examen. This is an important practice as it broadens prayer to include not only petition and intercession, but listening. Learning to pay attention I believe is a crucial component to being missional and open to what God is doing both in and outside the church. It moves us away from our presuppositions and allows us to listen to the Spirit at work.

Finally, I am upset that I can’t be at the Allelon Summer Institute this week :( It would have been a great live blogging opportunity.

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