Out of blogging silence I could not resist posting the following guest-article about peace by Scott Stephens, found at Ben Meyer’s blog today. It is nothing short of prophetic and quite nicely pulls back the veneer that hides the fallacy of a worldly understanding of peace that is in conflict with the essence of the gospel.

A guest-post by Scott Stephens

is one of the most deceptive terms in public discourse. Consequently,
it is not at all clear to me that people know what they are referring
to when they talk about peace.
Take the current political climate: peace most commonly refers to not
having been part of the invasion of Iraq in the first place, or now
getting the hell out of Iraq and thus bringing an end to our part in
this bloody war. When it comes to Iraq itself, the West’s dreams of
peace are for an end to sectarian violence and the emergence of some
kind of nascent democratic society. And yet even at this point things
are not what they seem.

Notice, for instance, that the
recommendations coming out of the United States Institute of Peace
(USIP) have increasingly stressed the importance of the creation of
low-wage employment for Iraqi youths (who comprise over sixty percent
of the population). The rationale is: get them spending all their time
working and saving for clothes, leisure activities or a new iPod and
they won’t have either the energy or the motivation to kill other
Iraqis. What I find remarkable about this is not just that the grand
American rhetoric of ‘bringing freedom to Iraq’ is reduced to the more
banal image of adolescent Iraqis flipping falafels at some street
vendor in Baghdad. It is the way that this image reflects back to
Western democratic societies its fantasies of what peaceful existence
looks like. Let me explain what I mean.

The fundamental delusion
that rationalised America’s invasion of Iraq was the belief that, once
set free from the grasp of a maniacal tyrant, Iraqis would
spontaneously adopt
recognisably democratic forms of social life. In other words, they
believed that beneath the skin we are all American, and that the
longing for freedom, peace and the advantages of the free market run
deep in the human soul. The reality of the situation, however, was that
deposing Saddam Hussein opened the gates of hell. As George Packer
wrote in The Assassins’ Gate, ‘Iraq without the lid of totalitarianism clamped down has become a place of roiling and contending ethnic claims’.

state of affairs should have come as no surprise, for the chaos to
which the nation reverted post-Saddam was anticipated in King Faisal’s
chilling description of his own people in 1933: they are, he said,
‘unimaginable masses of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas,
imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no
common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy and perpetually ready
to rise against any government whatsoever’. Far from releasing Iraqis
from the terror of the Ba’athist régime so that some repressed longing
for peace could bloom, the American invasion exposed the inherent
violence and sheer bloodlust that had been held in check for four

My point here is not to try to exaggerate the violent
nature of the Iraqi people, but rather to call into question the
widespread belief that peaceableness is a quality that underlies the
human condition, which is allowed to surface whenever the external
determinants of tyranny or extremism are removed. Is it not rather that
human beings partake in a violence so profound that it dwarfs even the
most aggressive mammalian behaviour? And are humans not remarkable for
their natural incapacity to organize themselves peacefully? These were
the observations that troubled Thomas Hobbes, whose immense political
theology stemmed from the conviction ‘that during the time men live
without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that
condition which is called warre; and such a warre, as is of every man,
against every man.’ War, for Hobbes, is not an exceptional state of
mass violence that interrupts a more fundamental tranquillity. War is
the human condition itself.

(I have to admit that I like Stephen King’s variation on this same theme. In one of his more gruesome novels, Cell,
there is a kind of electromagnetic ‘Pulse’ that is transmitted through
mobile phones, which seemingly produces uncontrollable aggression in
its recipients. As the book progresses, though, it is revealed that the
Pulse didn’t introduce or generate this bloodthirsty animalism; it
simply wiped away the veneer of human civility, exposing – to use Carl
Jung’s phrase – our more fundamental ‘blood-consciousness’. Here’s how
one character explains it to his companions: ‘At bottom, you see, we
are not Homo sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime
directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is
that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or
even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most
murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. And that is what the Pulse
exposed five days ago.’)

What then of the so-called ‘peace’ enjoyed and promoted by democratic societies? Isn’t it apparent from the Pax Americana
that now holds sway – whether at home or abroad – that such peace has
become little more than an obsession with the trivial, a benevolent
boredom, or worst of all, the inalienable right to excess? It acts, in
other words, like a palliative, a form of cultural sedation aimed at
distracting us from our violent predisposition, all the while
satisfying our bloodlust through vicarious means (television, movies,
sport, etc.).

I think it is important at this point to register
the extent of my disagreement with Stanley Hauerwas, someone I
otherwise greatly respect, on just this question of the substance and
character of peace. For all his notorious anti-American rhetoric, it seems
to me that on this very point he remains an unreconstructed ‘good ol’
boy’, and his ethical program is perfectly at home within the greater Pax Americana.

have already suggested that the conception of peace as a deeper
(ontological) reality than violence – a concept that is fundamental for
Hauerwas, John Milbank and David Bentley Hart – is theologically
problematic and ethically impotent. But it is the way that Hauerwas
characterises a life narrated by nonviolence as one of profound boredom,
marked by the willingness to enjoy the trivial (he often likens the
life committed to nonviolence to watching baseball) that I find deeply
problematic. For he seems thereby to have accepted in advance the price
to be paid for becoming a beneficiary of this idolatrous peace: that we
abandon any kind of moral seriousness, renounce every ‘higher’ cause –
such a subordination of one’s life to the state, party or cause,
Hauerwas says, ‘is the character of totalitarian regimes’.

this point, isn’t Hauerwas pandering directly to the American obsession
with leisure? And further, is this depiction of the ethical life as one
which ‘takes time for the trivial’ not an uncanny reiteration of George
W. Bush’s urging of people to fight terrorism by continuing to indulge
in the excesses of the American way of life? Hauerwas thus unwittingly
confirms the accuracy of Slavoj Žižek’s recent observation, that ‘the
split between the First and Third World runs increasingly along the
lines of an opposition between leading a long, satisfying life full of
material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one’s life to some
transcendent cause. We in the West are immersed in stupid daily
pleasures, while Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything.’

now, more than ever, it is important to be reminded of Jesus’ words,
which war against this pseudo-peace – whether the bloody
peace-through-submission of the Pax Romana, or the indolent peace-through-sedation of our current Pax Americana:
‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell
you, but rather division!’ The intense conflict introduced by Jesus and
radicalised in his resurrection, cuts through every organic or ethnic
tie (family, nation, gender), leaving those who follow him alone and
unprotected in a world determined by self-interest. The apostle Paul
goes even further, locating this conflict at the level of the
Dawkinsian ‘selfish genes’ themselves – his term for which is ‘flesh’.
If there is any peace recognized by Christianity, it is this experience
of being profoundly disconnected within a world that knows only

But today, the Church has traded peace for leisure,
whoring after the trinkets of our pleasure economy and abandoning its
calling to risk everything for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Our Easter
declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is a manifesto for the only peace that
really counts. Will we have ears to hear?

My attempts at socially responsible gift giving…(Part 2)

This is getting fun for me. I again ventured out at lunch hour to shop for some socially responsible gifts. You can read the introduction here, and part one is here. But, before I go and tell you about today’s adventure, let me define some parameters as this endeavor continues to shape itself into a more formal exercise for me. Here are my guiding rules.

To buy gifts that are local and ecologically friendly (optimal scenario)
To buy non local but fairly traded merchandise

That’s about it. Those are my rules and if merchandise cannot meet these criteria, they will not make it as gifts from me.

I have been asking for ideas from readers about ways to give responsibly this Christmas. Carlos, a commenter on Toward Hope, offers a link to Living, a subsidiary of the Tear Fund in the UK. This site offers people the opportunity to give vouchers toward a selection of “aid gifts” that will benefit people in the third world, with the goal of ending world poverty. They are “Christians passionate about the local church bringing justice and transforming lives.” Go have a look see at the different areas you can contribute to and perhaps a loved one of yours will have the joy of helping to change lives.

On to my adventure today…

As I drove into work today, over lunch, I managed to head to Commercial Dive in Vancouver’s East Side to visit Ten Thousand Villages, a not-for-profit fair trade organization. Their policies are to deal directly with artisans around the world for product to resell. Each artisan is paid a fair living wage and the oft treacherous middle organizations, that often employ inhumane manufacturing processes, are removed from the equation. With over 160 retail stores in North America, there is sure to be one close to you. I decided to make the rounds there for some gifts.

The lady who greeted me was quite friendly and eager to explain the ins and outs of fair trade to me. There was a huge selection of merchandise and I settled on some fair trade chocolate, a wooden turtle puzzle for my son, and a little nativity set (we needed a new one) that our kids could safely play with. I think i will go back before my gift buying is over.

Right next door was a boutique children’s store that I wandered through. I was still looking for a toy for my daughter and decided on a German made, non toxic wooden memory game for her.

All in all it was a successful outing and I feel good about the nature of these gifts. Stay tuned for additional posts that will (I hope) inspire others toward creative gift buying.

Related: Here is an article about aid gift giving that might be a helpful read.

St Francis & Burma

Today in the traditional Church Calendar the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi is celebrated. St Francis, lover of creation, champion of justice, patron saint of animals, founded the Franciscan order. His famous prayer goes as follows:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

A History of the prayer

Today is also the International Bloggers’ Day for Burma. This day and the prayer above are fitting to consider in light of the violence and injustice that plague Burma. May we make space to remember, pray, and imagine how we might participate in the realization of Kingdom peace for the people of Burma.

Free Burma!

Technorati Tags: , , ,

A Community in my face…Part 2

As I spent my lunch hour yesterday writing about the community I walk past each day on my way to work, I had yet to pass them on my way home. As I left the train and made my way down the road toward my car, I could see the people congregating again in little circles, just as in the morning. I glanced over several times and could tell I was in the midst of a struggle. I was struggling between the desire to go home and be with my family, and the obvious niggling in me that was inviting me to experience a different world. I was losing. I went to my car and sat down for a minute. I came to the realization that the longer I sat the more I justified why not exploring this community was the best option. As one who loves Jesus and the community where I live, I made the decision to go and meet some people because I think it to be an injustice that people have no shelter.

I walked over and just said ‘Hi’. I met a small group of four people who were kind and delightful. They all had stories of hardship, addiction and bad luck. Most of them are from back east and have made their way here looking for a better life. One was a hockey player who had his sights set on making the NHL. They have odd jobs that don’t last too long because the reality of holding down a job when homeless is that it’s extremely difficult. There is a ministry called Night Shift that comes by every night to feed them dinner that they praised and were thankful for. I hung out for about 20 minutes and taking the opportunity to just listen and hear these people was, I hope, a step in learning more about this community and the Kingdom.

After leaving this conversation, I had this strange sense in me that I had just hung out with Christ.

I need to find a blanket for Casper.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A Community in my face…

Poverty 10 06.Jpg (Jpeg Image, 445X296 Pixels)

Each morning I get up in the wee hours, prepare myself for work and make my way to the train station where I park my car before the 40 minute trip into downtown. I park on the street beside a vacant lot that is a smattering of trees and unkept grass. Upon first glance, anyone will realize this is an abandoned lot. On an adjacent street, one riddled with syringes and roaming prostitutes, there is the local food bank which is frequented often by the needy. This is the marginalized centre of Whalley, in the city of Surrey. It is wrought with discomfort, brokenness, and violent crime. The people here are considered by societies standards, the dregs. Although I live in an somewhat well kept neighbourhood, this place is a five minute drive from home.

Since the summer weather is nicely lingering and offering mild days, lately I have noticed a community forming in the vacant lot that I park next to. There are about 15 people that call this abandoned lot home. I am confronted by them daily, not in a ‘harassing’ way (perhaps only harassing to my comfort), but in a way that has troubled me since I have begun exploring how God works in each moment of my day. The simple question, “What are you saying, God?“, if offered to each situation in life, can have serious implications for faithfulness.

People ignore the humans (that’s right, humans) that struggle through life in this park. Some pass them by thinking “You’ve made your own bed, you deserve this.” How Karmic such statements are. Others don’t even notice that these are someone’s earthly and heavenly children. As I pass, always in a rush to get to work on time, these sentiments make their way out of my heart as well. Then I realize that were Jesus here today in person, these would be the ones he would wake up beside to the sunshine, or rain, of the morning. They are the “least of these” Jesus talked about. These are the ones who would jive to hearing that he too didn’t have a place to rest his head. These are the ones that would be drawn to the one who identified with them through the incarnation.

Where does that leave me today? Troubled. Why? because I know that as Christians we are to implement the plan of reconciliation that Jesus fulfilled and instigated on the cross. To say the least, I am challenged. I am challenged to the point where I want to shake myself (or be shaken) out of this slumber of day-to-day getting along, and make my life here a reflection of God. Because I know he cares for those I tend to sheepishly pass by.

I am also inspired. Our mission groups are gearing up for a journey into discernment as well. Through this we want to eagerly hear God’s invitation to us to act justly and love mercy in our neighbourhood. My question of; ‘How is God inviting us to embody his love here?‘, is lingering as I write.

Perhaps my discomfort is a sign of God’s attempt to reach send me?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Loss of Lament: The Devil Pulled a Fast one…

1-26-07 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

The more I attempt from the inside to get a read on the world we are immersed in (however futile that may be), the more I realize the loss of lament in our culture. It’s darn hard to grieve! When hit with tragedy, we are conditioned to move past the problem via distraction instead of working through the issue appropriately and biblically. I think the devil pulled a fast one.

The cultural stories we find ourselves in press us into a “never let them see you sweat” mindset that subtly co-opts us into the “only the strong survive” world. Given little opportunity to grieve well, our cultural symbols and practices for this hardly compare to the richness of lament we find in scripture. Think of Job. Here was a man who was beset by tragedy. What did his mourning look like? It was light years ahead of how we grieve in the West today. Embracing weakness is not prized in our day and it’s costing us big time. Somehow, I think the devil pulled a fast one.

What makes this so? I think it has something to do with the consciousness we are overwhelmed by. This consciousness tells us to live for the moment. We have been craftily shaped into consumers who have bought into the myth that materialism will satisfy any woe. For some reason, killing God with the secular dream has not only conditioned the most potent consumer market ever, it has also created the greatest fear of that which we cannot control; death. It’s no wonder why we invest so much in avoiding death, regardless of how much we are surrounded by it at every turn in the media. We take comfort knowing that it’s all make believe. Somewhere, I think the devil pulled a fast one.

So why would the devil pick on our capacity to lament? I have learned to never underestimate his craftiness on matters of deceit. He did it (is doing it) because without lament we lack the capacity for true repentance and identification with the God who suffers. Without lament we are handicapped in our love and words like ‘compassion’ and ‘poverty of spirit’ carry little weight outside of their ability to be trite sentiment. The loss of lament stifles our capacity for justice and compassion and dismantles what was supposed to be a highly potent, world-changing, movement of Jesus followers into a religious system that worships idols of success, strength, and entertainment. The lack of lament is the ingredient the enemy needs to cement our hearts into a stoney numbness and nullify genuine, continuous, conversion.

The other day I quoted Brueggemann. He was going on about Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”. He reveals the challenge of this scripture to us by saying:

“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.”

Perhaps worst of all, the loss of lament has caused us to turn away from the riches of the Kingdom that come when we begin to feel in this world with the heart of the Father. It is only then, when we have mourned with God, that we can begin seeing with the eyes of the Spirit and acting with the hands of Jesus for His Kingdom. As I reflect, I think the devil pulled a fast one.

[image credit: chrismaverick]

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

10 Tips for Living the Incarnation…[Plus One]

[UPDATE: Brant Hansen initially left a comment this post expressing perhaps what might be one of the most important and prophetic tips/practices for living the incarnation these days in the West. I asked him to elaborate a little and his latest, well written blog post hits the mark. In a world marked by lives rushing at an unsustainable frenetic pace, simplicity, or as he calls his post “Here’s to Nothing“, can ironically accomplish the most benefit for the Kingdom. Brant’s examples of how he and his family live this out practically are worth consideration. Consider it the 11th tip and Check it out! More tips are welcome, leave a comment and let us know what you think.]

As a way to express much of what has been stirring in me lately, I have decided to give my top 10 tips for living incarnationally. This list is by no means exhaustive, but consists of my reflections on some important elements for the task. They are a result of my experience and experimentation of trying to embody the gospel in our neighbourhood. In some ways our community has explored and experienced many of these to a good degree; in other ways, we are just scratching the surface of what incarnational living means. In no particular order:

1. Attentive Listening: The art of listening is becoming increasingly important for what it means to live incarnationally. Appropriate listening is grounded in a robust understanding of Pneumatology that believes, in addition to the oft overemphasized personal experience, that the Holy Spirit is active, working, leading, and inviting the church into mission. Our ideas and plans can often override the still small voice that gently invites us into unexpected and new adventures. Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in the book of Acts is a good story to identify with for the importance of listening to live incarnationally. As the Spirit promises to lead us into all truth, we trust that God will reveal the injustice and oppression in our midst so that we can respond appropriately.

2. Formative Practices: Living in a rhythm that includes formative spiritual practices is vital to remain intimately connected to God. This is the Contemplative way. Seeking union with God and to see God in all things allows for greater freedom to reflect the image of God to others, understand His good an pleasing will, and it gives us a greater awareness of reality. Walking in closeness through disciplined practices of prayer, listening, scripture reading, Examen, discipleship, and fasting prepares the us for works of service that are pleasing to God and shapes us into a Gospel storied people.

3. Proximity: As Jesus localized himself in the incarnation, so too must the church localize in order to reflect most vividly the image of God. Without local relationships, the fullness of community seems somewhat lacking. People are transported everywhere through vehicles, the telephone, and the internet in convenient and practical ways. But at what cost? In the midst of the connectedness we have through technology, there is still a great longing for local relationship and the gift of presence. Being proximate with our relationships is vital if we are to express a full embodiment of what Biblical community is. So go for walks. Build relationships. Let people see you and know you are there.

4. Holistic Gospel Proclamation: Who are we and what are we about? These are vital questions about ourselves to understand and unless we have embraced the holistic gospel that includes the restoration of all creation, we run the risk of dualistic spirituality that settles for getting people to believe things about Jesus to get to heavn. Proclaiming the gospel invites people to walk alongside God in this world to help put it to rights. If we are to see the values of a community transformed, proclamation of a renewed heaven and earth and not just going to heaven are a vital component. Furthermore, inviting people into the restorative work of the church under the Lordship of Jesus is the most complete embodiment of the gospel. So we must ensure that we preach the full message and not just part of it.

5. Patience: Relationships take time. Gone are the days of thinking drive-by gospel presentations to win souls actually works anymore. Incarnation happens through the fabric of life involvement with others. That is why it is difficult to say how long it will take to transform a neighbourhood. The Gospel needs to take root and the most influential and effective way for this to happen is through long term relationships of trust to be established. So be patient and recognize that we are here for the long haul.

6. Generosity: Living with a deep theological generosity is both prophetic and attractive to a culture that is socialized into a hoarding mentality of scarcity. The fear of “not having” and the false human end our consumeristic culture preaches leaves people thinking charity and generosity consist merely of giving spare change or junk away. So be generous with all you have. Give without expecting repayment and share. The reality is that there is too much to go around in most cases and the freedom the Gospel invites us to live is one of an open hand toward possessions and not a closed fist. I am convinced it takes a living example of generosity to convince someone that the perceived freedom of consumption and materialistic pursuit is actually a form of slavery.

7. Advocacy: Following in the footsteps of Jesus means siding with the oppressed. Not only an identification with them, but an advocacy for them is what Kingdom living means. For if we believe that God is putting the world to rights, then we believe our place in that reconciliatory task is to deal with oppressiveness and injustice that systemically operates in our community. Go and involve yourself with local groups that already have a leg up on some issues, or start a grass roots movement. Offer to help and always be prepared to give an answer when people ask you why.

8. Hospitality: Relationships deepen in the home. Sharing a meal is an opportunity to allow the stranger to become a friend. As we welcome people into our home we welcome them into our hearts and allow them to freely be who they are. This requires us to become less and seek not our own desire to be known, but to desire first to know, understand, and appreciate the other. It is a posture of gentleness that reserves judgement and seeks only to love. Hospitality creates space for relationships to flourish and deepen.

9. Reading the Culture: This is perhaps one of the most important tasks for the church these days. To read the culture and understand how we are socialized as part of it is crucial to discern appropriate demonstration of the Gospel. The world and its messages that shape us today are nothing less than subversive and if we fail to understand the cultural forces and values that shape us we become scripted unawarely by them. So pay attention to media, to the stories people in your community tell and live by, to the news and to the things people constantly buy into. You’ll be better off for it and the opportunities for powerful and prophetic incarnation increase when we are aware of the stories our culture tells.

10. Pathos: Why do we even attempt to commit our lives to traveling the narrow road described in the points above? It is a response to the unending and faithful love of God alone! The love of God is the beginning of all incarnation. A response filled with passion and fueled by the Spirit comes out of our experience of conversion. Our experience of conversion is enabled by our willingness to embrace pathos. It must not stop with our initial coming to Christ, we must always have a real view of ourselves and our need for God as we grow in Him. In addition, none of this is attainable unless our hearts are in line with God’s and weep alongside His against the injustice, brokenness, and sorrow that plague what it means to live the human experience separated from God. We must resist thinking everything is OK and take seriously the suffering among us so that those who do suffer are not perceived as normal and expected fixtures of our community, but seen as Christ himself suffering. Compassion is born out of embracing pathos. Do we weep over our city as Jesus did over Jerusalem?

So what do you think? What other tips for incarnational living can you recommend. What is your tip and why?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crossing the Road for One Another

“We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics.

There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbours.”

~Henri Nouwen

Picking up on two previous posts, here and here, Nouwen cements for us that being a Kingdom neighbour requires that we cross figurative roads of hostility that separate people from each other and God. Blessed are the peacemakers! Regardless of gender, orientation, race, religion, or lifestyle, we are called to cross the road and turn hostility into hospitality. Doing so is an enactment of the incarnation where God came close to us in Jesus. Let’s avoid being too preoccupied with our own pursuits and make ourselves available for crossing roads of division in our neighbourhoods. Let’s also remember that we cross roads in response to God’s great love that came near to us in Jesus.

What roads in your community need crossing?

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

The Bishop weighs in on the topic of ecclesiology…

I my last interview with Bishop Larry Newineskin, he was quite provocative with his comment when I asked what he thinks of ecclesiology. His response, “I think every church should have one“, has turned the heads of scholars, theologians, nuns, and mega-church pastors alike. I’ve been bombarded with emails, letters, and bricks through my window asking for clarity form the Bishop. Minds great and small are inquiring to know what the great Bishop meant when he said; “I think every church should have one.”

I managed to find the Bishop after a long search hidden in an undisclosed location, penning his latest and great theological work; “How I Became Bishop and What that Exactly Means: A venture into the heart of a sharp, theological mind

We pick up the conversation…

JS: Bishop, you intrigued many with your comment that you think every church should have an ecclesiology. Please help us understand, for the sake of bibles and church buildings, what you mean?

BLN: Right, yes….every church should have an ecclesiology…I do recall saying that to you.

JS: What does that mean?

BLN: It’s about the Trinity, silly!

JS: OK, Bishop…tell us more.

BLN: The church, you see, is about bearing the image of the Trinity.

JS: Wow, that’s profound. Tell us more.

BLN: So often our culturally acclimated churches develop a cloistered ecclesiology that uses Jesus as a pietistic role model that helps people stop swearing, drinking, chewing, and going with girls who doing. But in that they miss the whole mission of God, the Trinity. Of course, piety is a component or attribute of God, but it is only one of many. When we broaden our understanding of God we take into consideration that mission is central to who God is along with attributes of community, servant hood, mutuality, sacrifice, generosity, humor, partying, gratitude, interdependence and so forth. What happens is that we take the niceties only to neglect the necessaries to be a faithful church. So, some churches develop their structures to support a cultural makeover for people (surface transformation), but don’t teach believers their ontological new identity as missionary for the change of systemic injustice and proclamation that Jesus is Lord not only over private affairs, but in the public realm as well. If the church was more faithful to a Trinitarian image, she would look quite different and be a public, redemptive force and not just some institution that caters to the private affairs of individual spirituality. When the Trinity shapes us, it’s a public affair that claims the whole of life. And so much of this has to do with the twisted view of eschatology we discussed in our last conversation.

JS: Why do you think this misunderstanding by the church happens, Bishop?

BLN: psuedo-anti-interdenominationalistically speaking, it’s because the church has lost it’s zest and fervor for mission and focused its expansion efforts through a cloistered and culturally formed institution still bound in the Constantinianism fantasy of Church being in a place of privilege within culture. Rather than allowing the central aspect of mission to inform structures in our post-christendom context, the Church clings to Christendom ideas of institution and still fantasizes that people will come on a Sunday. Not so anymore. I’d bet my mitre and sacerdotal authority that in places where the church is growing rapidly in the West under attractional, Constantinian assumptions, ecclesiology is so entrenched in consumeristic impulses to the point of massive gospel reductionism. So it remains tacit that mission sould inform ecclesiology, and not vice versa as in love-centred mission we are bearing the most resemblance to the person and purpose of Christ as embodiment of the Trinity. Rather than mission being a satellite program of the church, it becomes the organizing principle of it and as the main focus is announcing and demonstrating the Kingdom of God…kind of like Jesus did.

JS: So, what does that look like here on earth, Bishop?

BLN: You’re asking me for a model, aren’t you, you little pragmatist.

JS: Uh, no, not really. I just want something to chew on a bit, I’m afraid I can’t fly as high as you do sometimes….and, o.k., you got me…I want a model.

BLN: In that case, for the hoi polloi like yourself, let me dumb this down a bit. When a church assumes a responsive posture toward the Spirit which is already “out there” and at work in the world, the church begins to identify those things that grieve God. It takes huge discernment and we need to learn how to pay attention in a world that stupidifies everyone with that devil, the television. But as the church responds to the Spirit, she begins to act justly and love mercy and gets mobilized around a band of disciples serving in local neighbourhoods. At that point, it will become clear how the church ought to set herself up to facilitate the expression of this new missional life. So the only advice I will give you here is this: Start little experiments and see what happens. Oh, and just do it! Oh, and it’s about discipleship as well.

JS: Thanks Bishop, I’ve learned a lot from you today. I’m going to go and start giving some of this stuff legs in my neighbourhood.

BLN: Good, somebody has to

JS: Cool, let me chew on all this valuable stuff.

BLN: chew on it…I’m not sure if I can repeat what I just said. Now let me go back to penning my greatest work.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

The People Formerly Known as Passive (or TPFKAP)

Out of the depths of our apathy we cried to the Lord and asked that He rescue us from this lethargic, passive slumber. It was only by His Spirit stirring in us (the ones you would least expect) that we even became aware of our numbness. We are tired and fed up with our own blindness to the issues that break our Missional God’s heart. We are the ones who are stirred to mourn with God when we read Amos 6:1-7. Not only do we mourn for the less fortunate ones that our society brushes aside to the broken-dream boulevard, but we also mourn because we are part of the problem. Our way – the very fabric of society that we participate in – is flawed and contributes to the marginalization, oppression, and exploitation of the poor. Oh God, how did we not see our complicity in this?

We will no longer allow our society to socialize us into its status-quo Royal Numbness. Everything is not OK. We are realizing how much our culture has imposed its a-musement onto our faith. This has shaped us into passive Christians who ignore suffering while pawning it off as someone else’s problem. We are seeing this for the first time and it is breaking our hearts. We are tired of being passive.

You see, we were once known as a people who sat passively as Christian food was fed to us, and for us, one point at a time. We thought this Christian thing was all about what we could get to help us live better, nicer, surfacy-moral, Western lives. Boy, were we mistaken. You see, it just dawned on us that we were organizing ourselves around the principle of having our spiritual needs met. We wanted to coast through this life locked and loaded with our salvation to ensure we end up on the right side of the celestial tracks. We didn’t want too much change because that would risk our comfortable lives. We have taken a stand and chosen to wake up from this deadly slumber. No more impotent, passive faith for us. We are now the people formerly known as passive.

We have decided to pay attention. When we wake up each day we step into the Kingdom afresh and intentionally choose to see this world through Holy Spirit eyes. A strange thing has happened since: we have begun to feel this world with God’s heart and we now desire to work in this world as God’s hands. Our actions are a direct response to the realization of how much God loves us. We are aware that this has implications for every area of our lives; for it will question what we watch on TV (or even why we watch it), where and why we shop, who we will spend our time with, what we read, how we act outside of church walls, and every other element of our lives. We are tired of casting a blank stare when someone asks us to share how God has worked in our lives this week. Now, every moment for us is an active exploration of God’s presence and will. Yes folks, we are the people formerly known as passive. We are awake and living lives of discernment eager to respond to the invitation from our missional God.

We remember things. We intently make it our priority to Examen our lives regularly. We take Spiritual Formation and Discipleship and Listening and Mission seriously. We are learning daily through our experiences more about ourselves and God and most importantly, what he is up to in our neighbourhood. This is revelationary! Because we have learned to listen to the still small voice. We are seeing things more clearly and we are no longer passive. Not only can we point out with ease what grieves God in our community, we can imagine with vivid imagery how we can work with God to change things systemically. For the first time in our lives, our imaginations are ripe and ready to dream the great Patmos dream for our neighbourhood. Our eyes and minds are focused and ready to ferret out the interplay between heaven and earth overlapping. For we have learned to pay attention. We are the people formerly known as passive.

Inspired by Bill’s Original TPFKATC

and the others followed:

Part Two (Grace)

Part Three (Jamie)

Part Four (John)

Part Five (Greg)

Part Six (Heidi)

Part Seven (Lyn)

And I guess this one by me is Part Eight

[UPDATE: Bill Kinnon pointed out to me that Brother Maynard has made his own two contributions to this popular meme (TPFSilent & TPFLabled). It seems that my entry is somewhere near the twentieth in this TPFKA theme. I will link up to others as I discover more of them.]

[2nd Update: Brother Maynard has supplied us with additional links in the TPFKA series of posts]

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Loving a Neighbourhood: Chronicles of Incarnation Part 2

On Thursday night, my wife, kids, and I wandered through our neighbourhood after dinner. It was about 7:15 pm and the evening was sunny and warm. Our hope was to encounter people on our stroll to talk with and listen to. We didn’t get much further than our driveway before we began a conversation with our immediate neighbour. Her and her husband have their house up for sale as they are moving to a senior’s community that will make life easier for them in their old age. They are but a few remaining original owners in this neighbourhood that was established in the 50’s. They are a very nice Christian couple that have been warm and inviting since we’ve lived here. I found out that they have an offer on their home and the subjects will be removed on Monday. It is almost certain that we will be welcoming new, Sikh neighbours. I have many friends who are Sikh and their families model community in a way that frankly put’s some Christian communities to shame. I welcome the opportunity for dialogue and new friendships.

This is all indicative of how our neighbourhood is changing as we are moving from hegemony to ethnic diversity at a rapid pace. Many of these changes (especially ethnic) have impacted existing (caucasian) residents and caused many to respond in a way that seeks to protect and preserve the ‘old’ way of life that is familiar. This is evident in the large community turn out to protest the proposal for a Khalsa School in the vicinity. It is also evident in the aftermath of large number of homes put up for sale after the approval for the proposal by city council. Some are retrenching into a defensive posture toward change and others are fleeing further into the suburbs to a new life. This all reflects a subtle but powerful narrative or fear and suspicion that is shaping the lives of people in our neighbourhood; a narrative that has largely moved the church in the West to retrench with its actions as well.

These changes in our neighbourhood are reflected ecclesially as well. We learned from our neighbour that the Oak Avenue united Church down the street (50 years of ministry) was just sold off because of a dying congregation. With a new Sikh Temple going up with the Khalsa School, and the decay of old Christian congregations, it is evident that we need to move away from evangelistic practices based on the assumption that people in our community have some Christian memory. Many in fact will not/do not and the statistics are swinging further in that direction. What will be needed are ecclesial structures and missional practices that can incarnate the gospel cross-culturally. Alan Hirsh’s work The Forgotten Ways explains the cultural and paradigmatic shifts we are confronted with quite well.

Well, we made it out of our driveway and proceeded on our adventure. Down the road from our house we met a nice couple (older than us) that have lived in this neighbourhood for twenty years. They are moving as well. Over the last number of years they have invested much time into the community association that has sought the architectural and residential preservation of this neighbourhood. When I inquired as to why they are moving, they mentioned that they have too much stuff and need more space. This is not an uncommon reason for people to move these days. The accumulation of stuff seems central to the way society is shaping us as people. I am not surprised at such a response when I consider the amount of money and effort put into marketing so people will keep buying and buying. Again, here is a subtle but powerful narrative that is shaping many people among us. Buy more stuff and you will be happy.

The above two encounters leave me wondering at what mission in this neighbourhood could look like. On the one hand we have the fears and suspicion to different people groups (including the church), and on the other, we have the enormous cultural feature of materialism that promises people a happy ending via accumulation. How might the church in this neighbourhood seek to engage with the gospel the fears, suspicion, and materialism that slowly erode humanity further from who we were all created to be? In addition, as we believe that God is already at work outside of us in the other, what is He saying to us through these experiences and what is he inviting us into?

These questions are the focus of our prayers for now.

I haven’t touched on some of the critical and more visible issues yet like poverty, prostitution and drugs, and I will do so in time as this journey unfolds.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Random links of interest…

  • All right, this is how academics make other academics laugh. Ben and Kim confess…you may miss half of what they are talking about (like I did), but what I caught made me laugh.
  • 10 propositions on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am inspired by this man
  • On the Rooftops: Theological proclamations
  • A brilliant article from Out of Ur by David Fitch about justice and its importance for us who say we follow Jesus. Here is a snippet:
  • If we read the accounts of justice in Ezekiel 18:5-9, Isa 58:3-7, Amos 5:21-24, Micah 3, this kind of righteousness, both vertical and horizontal, is at the core of what justice means for the Hebrew mind of the OT. We therefore should engage in practices of horizontal reconciliation for one another and those outside in our neighborhoods before we go trailblazing on the national political scene.”

Read Part one of his Justice article HERE

  • More of David Fitch here on 10 Reasons you know Christendom is over
  • And in other news almost everybody in the world has heard Paul Potts sing Nessun Dorma. The car phone salesman can sing. This is a case of something beautiful in the place you would least expect. I guess that’s what we are hoping to come from the church too…
  • Erika has posted a wonderful benediction that should in actuality be a good thing for us…

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

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?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Learning Experience…

Andrew, a friend of mine at work, is moving to Ontario on Thursday and gave me permission to blog about our conversation today. Over the last two years,we have built a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. He is not a believer, but we have had the privilege of spiritual conversation at times. We have talked about big issues in the world and what an appropriate response should be and why. Andrew has always been open for dialogue and that is something I have come to respect greatly about him.

Today we had a coffee together in the morning and our conversation moved toward his experience of church growing up. We share a similar story in that regard. It is an experience that consisted of going because we had to for some foreign spiritual reason that connected little to the lives we were living in the real world. This led us on paths in life that left little room for church.

In our discussion I mentioned that Scott wants to interview me about my thoughts on practices that can lead to missional engagement for a new church in a community. I described to him what I think the task of the church should be: that is, to gather in a local community and listen for how God is inviting his people to participate in the healing of all creation by way of acting justly and loving mercy. It is more complex than this, but the gist of it was that we need to go into communities not with a religious agenda for attracting people to consume religious goods, but with a conviction to listen and a heart to see relationships, people, places, and systems be restored to God and one another. This is part and parcel to announcing the Kingdom of God.

I asked Andrew if that idea of church was appealing, as it is a far cry from what we grew up knowing the church to be. I asked him if he would oblige if someone invited him to participate in acts of compassion, mercy and justice in a community. His response to me was intriguing. First, he could identify with those issues as something inherent in all of us as humans. We all long for justice and so forth. Secondly, he said that participating would depend on who was inviting him. If someone was to invite him with a hidden agenda other than the mutual respect of friendship, he would feel put off. I can understand this, as many times Christians befriend non believers on conditional terms that they become Christians and if they don’t, then the feelings change. He said he would be willing if people would respect his friendship with them regardless of his future choices. He is appreciative of the desire of Christians to see others come to know the love that God has for them.

What did I learn? I learned that our only agenda must be love for others as a response to God’s love for us. An unconditional love for others opens us up to God working through us to draw people to himself. If we come to relationships with the only premise to elicit a conversion (it is OK to desire that friends come to know Christ), we not only flirt with issues of control, but also come off as not genuine. This does not; however, take away from the importance of being intentional with relationships. May we learn to trust the God that wooed us to draw others to himself by our faithfulness to love as God loves; unconditionally.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,