The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of a three part series on incarnation. In Part 1 I shared a reflection about the importance of having eyes to see the theological and philosophical constructs of our culture. In Part 2 I talk about Brueggemann’s work, Prophetic Imagination, and how a second element for incarnational witness is the embrace of pathos and lament.


Embracing Humanness – Mourning, Pathos, and a Shock to the Numbness

Jesus embraced humanness in the incarnation and we are invited to follow him in that way of suffering love. But there is a problem in our culture to which the church in the West is largely unaware. The problem is that there is an inability to embrace suffering and mourning. Walter Brueggemann makes this clear in his work,

The Prophetic Imagination. We are scripted into a cultural status quo (or Royal Consciousness) that presses us to live for the now. On a more sinister level, forces of consumerism are providing for us “ends” that leave us satiated in materialism alone. The story is a dark one and tells us that the highest point in life is to live for consumption. It masks the reality of impending death and doom shouting “peace, peace, all is well, just buy more stuff”, when there is no peace (Jer 6:14). The problem we are faced with in this situation is a denial of humanness that leads to oppression, for an illusion that ends in calamity.

How is this important for incarnation of the gospel in our time? Brueggemann plunges us deep into the narratives of Moses and Solomon to contrast the two consciousnesses they embodied. Under Moses, God was free and responded to the people’s lament and embrace of Pathos. Under Solomon, affluence, oppressive social policies, and static religion attempted to contain God and formed a consciousness that served the King. To answer the question, in our time today, we live under a Royal Consciousness that is not unfamiliar to the Solomonic one. Ours is the worship of the economic, capitalist King that is uninterested in the greater values of God’s heart; to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8).

If we are to live our faith genuinely in communities, it will require that we embrace our humanness and suffering in the way of Jesus and the prophets that preceded Him. This should happen as we journey with Jesus; for in conversion there is a mourning that leads to dying that leads to new life. Both personally and corporately, the church’s task in the numbness of culture is to embrace pathos to teach it to mourn. In addition, embracing pathos will help us to embrace our humanness, shock us out of Royal numbness, and fund for us a way to imagine an alternative future that belongs to God. Brueggemann put it best in concluding his book. He reflects on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”:

“There is work to be done in the present. There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come. There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation. There is mourning to be done with those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech. The saying is a harsh one, for it sets this grief work as the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.”

Part three and the conclusion tomorrow.

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The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 1

The following is part one of a three part series of posts on the incarnation. It is a small paper I completed for a class in Spiritual Formation. I welcome your questions and feedback on these thoughts. As the total paper is a short 7.5 pages, it was difficult to formulate detailed arguments. As such, I deal with three general perspectives that I feel the Church needs to consider as it incarnates the gospel. This first part considers Lesslie Newbigin’s work, Foolishness to the Greeks


Engaging the topic of the Church and her move into the neighbourhood, presses one to grapple with elements of the incarnation. That Jesus incarnated the presence of God in human form requires us to consider the presence and work of God among us and in us in each cultural context we find ourselves in. As Eugene Peterson’s, Message puts it: “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood”. This compelling description of incarnation shapes the pattern now for the church.

But the pressing questions of “How?” and “In what manner?” remain on the forefront and can determine the difference between faithfulness and gospel reductionism. I believe for the church to faithfully move into the neighbourhood, a number of things need to be considered. That they begin with the church’s faithful relationship with Jesus and a clear understanding of his mission and purpose is without question. Without this, “moving into the neighbourhood” will bring with it numerous reductions and cultural accommodations that are sadly far too evident in many churches today.

As I Reflect on the readings for this paper, Brueggemann, Wright, and Newbigin, all offer incredible challenges to the Church about her relation to the gospel and culture. In addition, they fund for us new (or, rather old) perspectives for the church’s faithful witness. In this paper, I will present three perspectives that have emerged from my engagement with the texts.

With Eyes to See – A Cultural Investigation Alongside the Gospel

I am learning that perceptive eyes and critical thinking about the world around us are important elements to appropriately understand how to incarnate the gospel. Foolishness to the Greeks is a superb book that engages the sub-forces of culture and how we are shaped in the West alongside the gospel. For how can we trust that our understandings of the gospel and the culture (in which we are so enmeshed) are accurate, without first listening and observing the philosophical and theological assumptions we come to the table with?

Newbigin’s work is helpful in that it challenges our presuppositions about culture and the gospel. One big issue was made clear to me. It is that the gospel is not about propositions and mental articulation of Jesus in order to go to heaven when one dies. The gospel is, as Newbigin summarizes, “…the announcement that in the series of events that have their centre in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ something has happened that alters the total human situation and must therefore call into question every human culture.” This statement early in the book sets up a number of arguments that bring into question Modernity’s Post Enlightenment assumptions that suggest a divide between that which is sacred and that which is secular. This has made religion a private affair (of values) and left the public world of “facts” (as governed by the public religion of science and rationality) untouched by the challenge of the gospel.

Why is understanding this important to faithfully incarnating the gospel? It is so because the neighbourhoods we desire to incarnate in operate in the realm of pluralism where our Christianity has no superior claim to any other religion and all religions have no claim on the God of rationalism that governs public truth. “What is true for you is not true for me”, is the earthed expression of this postmodern reality. This must cause the church to move beyond trying to rationalize faith (as it so often does) according to the scientific principles of modernity, and begin to live and breath the resurrection as a result of being in Christ. We must embody the resurrection in historical word and deed following in the footsteps of Jesus.

The Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and this serves true in our day as well. It can be said true that sacrificial love and care for the world holistically (beyond care for only the rational mind) will always trump the scientism that tries to rule the public realm that belongs to the Kingdom of God, without discounting the value of science, of course. To live out of a hermeneutic of love is the invitation knocking on the door of the church in the West. After all, in our postmodern times, truth is understood locally and experientially. This way will surely call into question the culture with the gospel and what better opportunity than now to live out our faith?

Part two will come tomorrow.

I welcome your questions and feedback.

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On the Journey Towards Being Vulnerable

The following is a weekly reflection sent by the Henri Nouwen Society to my email. In addition to daily quotes from Nouwen’s work, Bread for the Journey, (see my posts here) members of the Nouwen Society contribute to weekly reflections (Subscribe). This week, Steve Imbach’s contribution is a valuable one for those willing to engage deeply the work of God in their lives.

“Our media are saturated with images of individuals wearing the mask of “all togetherness”. I rub shoulders daily with people quick to reassure me of the unreality “I’m fine, thanks”. I find myself trapped in a superficial community, stuffed in my self-imposed cocoon of fear and shame, afraid to admit my brokenness and weakness. I can’t face the possibility of rejection and loss, not making the cut, not fitting in. To break out of this prison, we are invited into the honesty of becoming vulnerable. Vulnerability dismantles our obsession with getting it right.

As I take off the mask of “all togetherness”, I discover a vast world of freedom. In my vulnerability, I become accessible to fellow companions on the journey. My vulnerability invites others in, offers understanding and empathy, but also can be a cry for help. Even though vulnerability’s path is often painful, its reward of deepening intimacy is welcome. Being vulnerable opens my heart to a larger worldview. I become free to explore beyond the exhausting self-focus of supporting my false image of “OKness”. I find myself challenged to deeper transparency as I sing along with Leonard Cohen “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.


Steve Imbach is a Spiritual Director with Soul Stream in the Vancouver area.

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Loving a Neighbourhood: Chronicles of Incarnation Part 1

Consider this the beginning of the first “post series” at Toward Hope. I’ve decided to do this in conjunction with a project for the Centre for Spiritual Formation that focuses on working with our local church leadership team and mission groups to cultivate an attitude of discernment for the purpose of deeper missional engagement. So, “Loving a Neigbourhood: Chronicles of Incarnation” will consist of stories of neighbourhood engagement that are related to this project of discernment we will be journeying through. For the one or two out there that wish to follow along, you can read the project proposal to get a better sense of what is involved.

The premise behind this series and project is a desire to incarnate the gospel into our neighbourhood. Our desire is to reflect the image of the Trinity as a community of followers, not only seeking to win souls for the Kingdom, but seeking to act justly and love mercy here on earth as it is in heaven. This is an experiment in learning to listen to the work of the Spirit in our lives personally and in our community. If we are to appropriately discern how God is moving in our community to engage in mission, we must first learn to listen how He is working in us personally. I am convinced that culturally we are not taught to pay attention and as a result are socialized into a deadly state of apathy that overlooks the most important elements of God’s law and heart. It goes without saying that this ubiquitous cultural passivity has in part pitched its tent among the faithful in the church.

The main practice we will use to cultivate an attitude of discernment in our community is the Prayer of Examen. Made popular by St Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century, this prayer consists of listening to our experiences carefully and discovering how God is present in each moment through some directed meditation. The most popular format is to ask two questions while reflecting on your day, season, community, etc. What gave me life today? And, What took life from me today? Through these questions ( and they can be asked several different ways), situations can be brought to our awareness that can help us to live in greater freedom as we discover God’s work in us and invitation to us. Applied communally, a corporate attentiveness and awareness can be fostered.

We will begin the project in the fall with the mission groups, but during the summer I will be on reconnaissance in the community gathering information and talking with people on the street to hear the narratives they are living. It’s important to hear the stories of people as they are the playground where echoes of Kingdom seeds can begin to germinate. My hope in this is to get a sense of what the community’s fears, struggles, and hope’s are. Since part of this project will include teaching the practice to leaders, I will use the summer months to cultivate it further in my own life.

One such narrative already emerging is one of suspicion, mistrust, and alienation. I feel this when out walking with the family and when we have our monthly bread night coffee shops in a friends carport. We will often chat with people we meet on our walk and the exchange is congenial. However, there seems to be a resistance to taking it to the next level of relationship. It is as if people are only comfortable keeping neighbours at arms length where it is safe from the unpredictability of human relationship. This narrative is one that is destructive as it strips people of a life of freedom the Kingdom gives as gift. It is a form of oppressiveness and injustice among us. It somehow conforms people into a life something less human than the one we were intended for.This is perhaps a very common narrative, especially in the West, but the question needs to be asked in my context specifically. What does it mean to live God’s justice and love into this specific situation?

This will be the focus of my prayers for a time.

Should you have any suggestions that may help this experiment, please leave a comment below.

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Listening into Action…

These days much thought has been given to the important role of listening within the church. In large part, the popularity of Spiritual Formation has something to do with this. There seems to be a peaked interest in rediscovering the ancient rhythms of solitude, silence, and prayer. This is understandable considering we live in a culture that indoctrinates us into narratives of progress, busyness, and compulsiveness. There is a longing to stop and listen to the Spirit, to abide in the mystery of “God with us” as we traverse the uncertainties of life as his children. Perhaps it is a reaction to an evangelicalism that is often shrouded in certainties, strategies, and predictability. Maybe it is because we have left little room for the mysterious in our modern minds. Or, perhaps there is a realization that in our own strength and strategies we can not change the world regardless of how crafty our plans may seem.

Enter the task of listening. It makes sense theologically that the church should be in a responsive posture to God’s unique leading in each context. We see throughout scripture that unimaginable trust was cast on YWHW as he acted for Israel in history. In addition to the Spirit within us, there is evident always the hint that God is out there, somehow moving in fascinating ways beyond our reach and vision as his people, always suprising us along the way. The story of Cornelious’ conversion in the book of Acts comes to mind. The question before us is this: If it is our desire to live in the same tradition of trust found in scripture, how do we determine what God is doing both inside and outside the Church? The laws of relationhip suggest that when someone speaks, someone should listen. How do we listen when the voice speaking is not commonly audible and is (by one means) embedded into historical contexts (scripture) very different than our own today? I’d like to suggest that an effort in learning to pay attention is required.

Paying attention suggests that we need to take the scriptures, God’s people, and our relationship with the the Holy Spirit into consideration as we traverse each step of the adventure we are on. We focus well on the scripture but fail to cultivate the attentive ear necessary for hearing the active and unpredictable Spirit in our lives. I’d like to suggest that practices like Lectio Divina, the Prayer of Examen, Silence, and Solitude are helpful guides for us to recapture the ability to hear God intimately and live lives of discernment. In addition, paying attention is required if we are to know how to proceed in God’s mission.

Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to allow the scriptures to read us. Modernity taught us to ‘get on top’ of scripture to take it apart as if it were a science experiment in need of dissection. There is a time and a place to get behind the text in detail, but it should not come at the expense of dismissing the narrative that invites us into the story to be shaped by that story. Lectio Divina invites us into the story. It embeds us into the text personally and makes the truths of our faith a lived and breathed narrative and not just some abstract truths or principles in a vacuum.

The Examen teaches us to stop, relive, and listen for God in each of our experiences. This is an incredibly counter cultural thing to do as we are socialized in the complete opposite direction of this. Instead of being taught to muse, we are taught to a- muse, which is the opposite of ‘to think’. Examen first helps us to recognize how God is moving and working in our lives and can then help cultivate in us an attitude of attentiveness to what God is doing around us and outside of us (a seemingly important ability if we are to discern mission). We can begin to see and feel, and then to act, as God does in the world as we grow closer to him in relationship.

Silence and Solitude are the playground where the above two disciplines can take place. Making a conscious effort to be still and silent will free us from our compulsions and allow the Spirit’s voice to emerge. Yet another counter cultural practice, silence and solitude create space for us to be freed from our attachments, distractions, and incessant noise. They make us aware that our lives beat to the tune of a different drum.

So much of the above goes against the grain of how we are formed in our culture. And we have to ask if the contemporary values we have often allowed to infiltrate the church are in fact healthy ones. The reality is that when we employ a life rhythm that includes the above practices, we become aware; aware of how we are being formed and aware of what we have traded away of the gospel. If we are to have the heart, eyes, and hands of God on earth to continue His mission, we must pay attention. Anything less does not put us in a posture of listening responsiveness to the Spirit’s leading, but causes us to use God as an energizer for our plans as if we knew best.

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The day the Lord spoke…

Today sure feels like one of those. I was impacted by numerous things in my daily tasks. This post will take the shape of a bit f reflection, some blog links, a picture and some quotes, as those are all the things that have stirred something in my heart today.

I am not sure whether the time and thought I have been putting into a Spiritual Formation engagement proposal has anything to do with it. But I think it may as my proposal is all about helping a community discern God’s presence among them for the purpose of deep missional engagement. The whole idea is to move from programmatic activity to a deeper missional lifestyle that takes seriously the issues of social justice before us. This process is stirring something in my heart.

With that fresh on my mind, I was hit with this image that Brant’s blog led me to. Now although this image won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1994, I have never seen it before. It touched me deeply and I feel something stirring in my heart.

Then Andrew Jones linked up to this site that posted an article about orphaned kids and missional families. This article addresses the absurdity of there being 65 million evangelicals in America and yet there are 115,000 orphaned kids. What’s wrong with this picture? Where is the true religion James talks about. We will not have another child until the a serious discussion about adoption is worked through. Bethany is a Christian adoption organization that you can start with if you are interested. This stirred something in my heart.

Then I had a conversation with my good friend Bill. Bill should blog, but he doesn’t. he is thoughtful and one of the best conversation partners around. We looked at the image above together (on the phone) and had a serious talk about justice and compassion and what it means to be a Christian. One thing we realized is that here in the west we often do not recognize our complicity in the issue of poverty simply by the way we live. This stirred something in my heart.

I then proceeded to read this Christianity today article about what it means to be poor in Spirit. Please read it, it seems we cant be poor enough. And again, this stirred something in my heart.

Then finally, and very inspirationally, Erika posted an email to her from a reader about making a difference in the life of a family. This person asked Erika to find a family or two that could benefit from a 50$ bi-weekly gift card for groceries. This story stirred something in my heart.

This quote stood out for me today

“Take this city, a city should be shining on a hill. Take this city, if it be your will. What no man can own, no man can take. Take this heart, and make it break.”


I’d be foolish to wonder for much longer what God is saying through these encounters today. Something is happening, Aslan is on the move in the hearts of the faithful to see a fresh and lovingly piercing movement of God’s people in the West. There is some upside down living going on that serves as criticism to the status quo that turns a blind eye to the things that matter most to God’s heart. The poor.

Is there something stirring in your heart? Or better yet, is it breaking?

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busy writing…

I have been busy the last couple of days formulating a proposal for a Spiritual Formation engagement in our congregation. This has kept me from posting as much as I like.

The engagement I am working on is a practice in discernment through the prayer of Examen to help our mission groups walk in closer attentiveness to God. This I am hoping will help our groups take mission in our neighbourhoods to the next level. It’s been a fun exercise so far and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on it more later. It was due yesterday and I am desperately trying to get this finished up.

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Thursday, Bonhoeffer and Spiritual Direction

It’s Thursday (my Friday) and I sit in the lounge space at Regent College awaiting a meeting with a potential Spiritual Director. More on that below.

I had the rare opportunity to drive into work today, so I took the time to listen to yet another one of Krista Tippett’s podcasts from Speaking of Faith. This one was on Ethics and The Will of God, The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is very good podcast that discusses, with filmmaker Martin Doblmeier, Bonhoeffer’s original ideas about the nature of ethics, the will of God, and Christianity without religion. I can’t recommend the Speaking of Faith podcasts enough, so go and listen to a few of them.

The podcast leaned heavily on Bonhoeffer’s, Letters and Papers from Prison. It intrigued me as the book is a collection of his developing thoughts that arose from his grapple with faithfulness in the midst of the messiness of life from a nazi prison. I bought the book.

One quote that stood out for me in the interview is the following excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work, Life Together:

“On the ministry of listening: The first service that one owes to others in community consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives His Word but also lends us His ear. …Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and, in the end, there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.”

The ministry of listening is something that has stood out for me lately. It is related to my experiences in the Centre for Spiritual Formation in the area of discernment. Len has been blogging tons about the role of listening in leadership as well. One of the questions I have been wrestling with lately is this: How do we learn to become a discerning people that pays attention to both the work of God in our lives and outside as he leads us into mission? I am in the process of putting a project together that will hopefully help us learn to understand discernment as way of life and facilitate deep missional engagement with the community.

Speaking of discernment, I mentioned above that I am awaiting a meeting with a Spiritual Director to see if it might work. I guess today is more of an interview process than anything. I’m looking forward to the experience and opportunity to learn from an intentional listening relationship. As this stuff becomes more familiar to me I’ll blog my thoughts.

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Spiritual Formation Retreat – Day 8

Monday was filled with the anticipation of re-engaging the familiar. We were all missing our families and the thought of holding my wife and kids made it difficult to remain focused on the time together in the morning. The fact that I could not sleep well the night before did not help the matter. I was glad that it was only a scheduled half day.

We gathered for morning prayers and then breakfast. After breakfast we had a wrap up session informing us of the details and deadlines of all the papers that will be due; papers that I am praying for the time to write. The complex dynamic of a family with two young kids, a full time job, and other ministerial responsibilities challenges me to be a wise steward of time and ensure I do not neglect other important areas of life. In particular is the practice of Sabbath that I must ensure is consistent.

There is nothing too much other than that to report. It has been an informative and profound week for me and I look forward to integrating the practices we learned of in the day to day hustle and bustle of life. After some good-bye’s we I made my way home.

I have uploaded additional pictures of the retreat HERE.

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Spiritual Formation Retreat – Day 7

[NOTE: I have uploaded a bunch of pictures from the Spiritual Formation retreat as well as created a category on the left. Just click on the picture on the side bar and it’ll take you to the photo album or click on the Centre for Spiritual Formation link under the categories section to get to each post from the retreat.]

Saturday began in silence and I decided to reflect on the events the night before. I didn’t post about all of it yesterday as the post was getting too long. But last night I took the time to prayerfully walk the labyrinth at VST. The experience was powerful as I considered at each turn of the labyrinth moments and events in my Christian journey. There were times in my faith that I felt outside of God’s will, somehow distant from him, or removed from his presence. While walking and reflecting on times of closeness and distance I came to the realization that it was just a matter of closeness to the centre and that I could never wander outside his reach. Each step toward the centre or away from it was a careful recollection of times and events. In the end I realized God’s presence in times of dryness like never before.

After the labyrinth I made my way down to the Spanish Banks. I have a small Swiss Army Knife and I decided to try and widdle away at a piece of wood as a reminder of the retreat. I ended up making a celtic cross with a stake I found at a construction site on the way down to the beach. Once the cross was fashioned, I carved away at the wood slowly etching the trinity symbol in four places on the face of the cross. Unfortunately it was not without incident. I almost shaved the top of my thumb off with the little saw blade on my knife. I pressed on nonetheless.

In between carving and watching the sun go down on the beach I turned open the pages of Carlo Carretto’s fine work, Letters from the Desert. Carretto has some insightful thoughts about following Jesus and prayer that are just as pertinent today as they were in the 50’s when he penned them. His words on poverty and justice were particularly piercing in this time of reflection on the way I live. After a long time there, I made my way to the top of Spanish banks just in time to watch the sun set behind the mountains.

Saturday’s adventure led me to spend time at the Rose Garden and the Nitobi Garden on the UBC campus. It was there I spent time in my thoughts journaling about the importance of prayer in my life. After some time I made my way back to Carey and dove into the book of Genesis. I am always taken aback by the faithfulness of Abraham and his persistent pursuit of the promise.

Not long after, we gathered in the prayer room and prepared for the release from silence. We were led out by a wonderful liturgy and into a time of reflection about how God spoke to us during our time. I am astonished at how much the Lord speaks when we intentionally make ourselves silent.

By six o’clock it was time to gather for a dinner together. We ate and had jolly conversation which was followed by a time of blessing. We had each drawn out names from a cup and prepared a special blessing for that person. After our blessings, we in turn blessed our instructors by telling them how much they mean to us. This was followed by a lovely time of communion together.

A few of us were hungry again (Jake, Tim, Tony, Les, and I) so we took a drive to Vera’s Burger Shack on campus. They were closed so instead we sinned and ate Mc Donalds. Restless still, I decided to give the guys a tour of the city from my unique perspective. And as we made our way through neat little places and a stop at my place of work, my friends got to see the city and some of the stories associated with different places. It was late and we were tired, so we headed back to campus to get some sleep.

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Spiritual Formation Retreat – Day 6

Day six (Saturday) was the day we all looked forward to. It was time to make our way outward and visit with Tim Dickau from Grandview Calvary Baptist Church on the East Side of Vancouver. We gathered after morning prayers and breakfast and began the trek toward the bus station. After the bus ride, we arrived at the corner of Commercial and Broadway and made our way toward the Church. Fortunately we passed one of the greatest coffee shops in town so I had to suggest we stop for a fix.

When we arrived at the church we were greeted by Tim and ushered into a multi purpose room in the basement of the church building. Tim led us through some of the most stimulating theological discussion. Before getting into the specifics of how his congregation has lived out a gospel witness, TIm got into questions about the gospel, eschatology, justice, and importantly lament. Lament for him was a huge key in the manifestation of a prophetic witness. We have become numb and lost the capacity to mourn the injustice and oppression around us. He had asked us to read chapter three from Brueggemann’s book, The Prophetic Imagination, called; Prophetic Criticizing and the Embracing of Pathos, as preparation for our discussions. He led us through a Lectio Divina reading on Amos 6:1-7 and the imagery of the text really hit home to the apathy we feel toward the least of these.

The startling thing to realize was to what level we are all socialized and caught up in what Brueggemann calls the Royal Consciousness; that is, the status quo the empire must maintain that stifles imagination for alternative realities and presses us into living simply for the now. That agenda has been manifest throughout time in the pursuit of wealth and the marginalization of the poor. The Royal Consciousness thrives on the near sighted-ness of people to issues of the world around them.

I have experienced this numbness. I can liken it to the experience of channel surfing. We are a culture saturated with images. When images of suffering and injustice are presented to us, we have this inane ability to turn the channel on our TVs and in our minds, thus preventing us from entering into the pain of situations and not experiencing lament. “And now, a word from our sponsors” has become the liturgy of suffering for us today.

After a short break, Tim shared with us the endless list of ventures they as a church have both instigated and supported. From community housing, to addressing issues of homelessness, to advocacy, to community gardening, and supporting the arts. The stories are rich and reflect the way this diverse community has come together to win the favor of the people and confront the powers of oppression and injustice in their neighbourhood.

Tim reflected on the last number of years and identified four key trajectories that his church has moved along in one way or another. I share them with his permission.

1. From isolation, to community, to radical hospitality

2. From homogeneity, to diversity, to integrated multicultural living

3. From charity, to advocacy, to seeking justice for the least

4. From confronting idolatries, to repentance, to the pursuit of deeper participation in the life of God.

What struck me the most about all Tim shared was how this community learned to engage the powers of society through the practice of lament in worship and life. They resist the urge to construct worship in a way that reflects the “happy and clappy” status quo of culture and they have learned to tell the truth about their lives and situation. Often that means embracing suffering and lamenting the brokenness of the world we live in. This has led to hearts breaking and the re-imagining of a future under God’s reign for the Commercial Drive area. Their community is a vivid picture of the interplay between heaven and the Drive. Change for them is not offering a religious program for consumption to the people, but attacking through compassion the systems that perpetuate the marginalization of people.

It was time for lunch and we made our way to a fine restaurant in the Il Mercado Mall for traditional Italian pizza. After lunch Tim strolled us through the neighbourhood and told us stories of people and places over the years. Eighteen years of relationship building culminated in fruitful discussion with patrons and homeless people on the Drive; all in some way integrated with the love that has poured out from the church.

After a wrap up discussion to unpack the experience at the church after our walk, we made our way back to campus and into a time of silence for 24 hours. It was a necessary time to sit with all we’ve discovered this week. Our silence began at 4:30 and we were given some guidance for reflection. The clamoring of street festival and busy Saturday buzzing on the drive was now gone. Dinner in silence, evening walk in silence, the sun set silently, and into the silent night we journeyed together pondering these things in our hearts.

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Nouwen Series on the Cup of Life

I just posted a short, four part series on the Cup of Life by Henri Nouwen. Please read them in the following order to benefit from the continuity and stream of thought.

The Cup of Life

Holding the Cup

Lifting the Cup

Drinking the Cup

May the thoughts of Nouwen stir in you a vivid imagination for faithfulness and the courage to hold, lift, and drink, the cup of your life.

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Spiritual Formation Retreat – Day 5

Friday marked our last morning at Rivendell. Our prayers were wonderfully led by Tim K. He took us through a meditation on The Lord’s Prayer. It is interesting to note that we often glibly say that prayer and do not consider the implications of praying that most antithetical prayer to everything selfish about us.

After breakfast, we had our long anticipated class segment on the Missional Church. Perhaps because the teaching was given over the web and through a prerecorded webinar, the students had a hard time with it. Everything about the week was experienced in a conversational manner with plenty of interaction. Sitting through three segments of information I think lost some of the people.

The information about Missional Church was new or foreign to some among us, so that led to plenty of conversation and questions. As most of the academic work I’ve done in classes has been through the missional paradigm, I felt it was nothing new, but a refresher nonetheless. I also found myself happily talking through with people some of the concepts and paradigm shifts thinking in missional terms will illicit. There was much fruitful conversation around this as our discussions were held in the context of imagining what our Spiritual Formation Engagement project will look like.

After our last session up at Rivendell, we rushed down for the 11:30 am ferry and made our way back to Carey College to prepare for our adventure through East Vancouver. On our way I asked Tony if he’d ever had a Jamaican Patty. He said no. So I took him by the Patty Shop on MacDonald and 25th for an introduction. I think he is a believer in the patty now. After our fill, we went to Carey to check in.

Upon arrival, we gathered and stowed our luggage until the rooms were ready. Cam Yates took us on a walking tour of the campus to show us the Labyrinth at VST and then we made our way onto the rose garden and the Japanese Garden. He was showing us so we would have places to explore while we are on our silent retreat. On our way back we couldn’t resist stopping by the Regent bookstore. Christiene (my wife) will be happy to know I resisted the urge to buy a book. There must be something wrong with me.

After dinner a few of us went in a car ride to the shops to curb a hankering for some Bubble Tea.  Well, I was the one hankering… my friends from Alberta had no clue about the experience of drinking a fruit slushy with tapioca pearls in it. I have to admit, they were adventuresome enough to try and for that I give them credit. We made our way down to the Spanish Banks for low tide and on the way we noticed some meager residential dwellings on campus. The thought of ever affording a home in this area (not that I’d want to) evokes the need for math skills to great for me to ever aspire to.

After a jaunt on the beach we went for night prayers. Tony led us through a wonderful liturgy that included a time of examen. It was indeed a blessing.

The night wound down with some pleasant conversation with Tim, Tony, and Jake. There was an anticipation among us as to what the next day would hold as we looked forward to spending it with Tin Dickau, Pastor of Grandview Baptist Church, to learn about how the church he pastors has reflected Christ’s love down on Commercial Drive.

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Spiritual Formation Retreat – Day 4

Thursday began with morning prayers as usual. Colleen led us through an almost Lectio Divina exercise on the Prayer of St. Patrick. It was quite profound to meditate on the words…"I arise today in God’s mighty strength, in the power of the three-ness". A real sense of God’s presence was felt as we took time to embrace and enter the Kingdom.

The day was spent with Steve Imbach from Soul Stream. Steve is a Spiritual Director and he led us through some teaching on Spiritual Direction and how it can help us learn to pay attention to how God is working in our lives. One of the requirements this year is for each of us to see a Spiritual Director once a month, so what we experienced was an introduction to what we can expect.

One of the questions I have about Spiritual Direction pertains to its role in the church. I think it is an important question and one that needs discussion. There is an argument that impartiality and an unbiased perspective is critical to the direction relationship, as well as the intentionality of the relationship that stems beyond the confines of a friendship. So this seems to support and "outside of church SD relationship". However, I am inclined to wonder at what the possibilities of this function are in the local Church context. I guess it depends on the charisma of the community and if the gift of SD is available. I could see it being the role of an elder or group of elders that are committed to the spiritual care of the congregation. Perhaps if there was a commitment to training in SD and if that was emphasized in the church, this could come to fruition. I say this because, form what I’ve learned this week, there is a specific skill set involved. I know many have sought SD outside the church and I am inclined to wonder at how much of that is cultural and stems from a low view of ecclesiology? I am curious to hear your thoughts.

After Lunch Steve Imbach and Kathy Bentall (another SD) had a meeting in view of the group. It was helpful to see the line of questioning and how she listened in awareness to what the Spirit was saying through Steve’s sharing.

After dinner Tim, Jake and I went for a walk around Killarney lake and took in the sights of creation. It was a good day, we had evening prayers and then sat up and chatted into the night, contemplating if this was the last night that we would be at Rivendell together, or if the Lord would bring us back sometime.

What are your thoughts about Spiritual Direction and the Church?

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Spiritual Formation Retreat – Day 3

Today marked the beginning of an adventure in discernment and desire. We spent the class time with Andrea Kastner, a retreat leader who has devoted her life to prayer, gardening, and spiritual direction. The first half of the day dealt with attitudes of discernment and we explored the broad nature of discernment as way of life. Conventionally, many have come to view discernment merely in terms of making a decision. We want the writing on the wall and often buy into an understanding of God that sees him as holding his cards close to his chest wile we try to learn his esoteric secret for out lives. Not so. Discernment as a way of life invites us to pay attention to each situation with an openness to see each moment through the eyes of God. In addition, a holistic approach to discernment should include not only our desires and listening prayer, but also those around us who we are in community with.

After lunch we explored the nature of desire and how our passions and deepest desires are connected to God and discernment. Out of this I’ve begun to explore the idea that perhaps we share our deepest general desires. In essence, could they not be a longing for the attributes of the Trinity God? The mutuality, generosity, intimacy, gratitude, passion, purpose, etc, seem to be where some of my deepest desires lie and I can’t help but wonder how much of that is shared among humankind. However, I am just exploring at this point and I am open to your suggestions and experiences in this area.

We also took time to sit with another and bring a situation of discernment to them. The exercise was to ask each other how our desires influence our issue of discernment. I sat with Jean, a delightful friend who spends her time working with L’Arche. She is among the most thoughtful people I have met; a blessing indeed.

Before dinner we had time to drive to Killarney Lake and Tim K and I ran/walked the 4k distance. Tony T and Jake S walked the lake. If you recall, Tony is the friend who has lost much weight and the lake hike last year was totally out of the question for him. When i saw him come around the turn at the end of his walk, he had a Rocky-like victory expression beaming from his face. Way to go Tony.

Dinner was a delight and I had the privilege of leading night time prayers. I led the group through a time of prayer and singing that reflected on God’s command for us to love one another.

As I type there is a group of us sitting around the fireplace talking about the Church and life and how this week is becoming a memorable one for us all.