Archive

Monthly Archives: May 2008

so it’s official. christina and i are heading to europe for 3 weeks in august. i had hinted towards this in a post a little earlier but we were waiting on the church to clear us to go, and that happened today! we’ll be flying out of toronto on august 1st and we’ll be returning on the 24th.

we’re going to be hosted over there by a ministry called Greater Europe Mission (GEM) and we’re going with a a team of about 14, most of whom are from toronto. we fly into Paris for a couple of days and then fly from Paris to Vienna, Austria, hop on a bus and cross the border where we’ll be staying for just under a week in Sopron, the second largest city in Hungary. while there we’ll be attending a conference for all of GEMs church planters across europe and we’ll be staying at the hotel fagus, which looks crazy! after the conference we’ll be flying back to Paris where we’ll spend 2 weeks walking the streets of the city and checking out different ministries that are going on there. for christina and myself, this entire trip is free…we don’t have to pay a dime! so obviously we’re super excited for this opportunity which we feel is going to be very beneficial. we’re excited to travel, to learn and to serve others!

so how in the world did we get this opportunity? well my friend Paul is a pastor in the city of toronto and he is actually one of the team leaders. he invited us to come and be a part of the team at no cost. wow. thanks paul, and thanks GEM! oh and thanks God!

PEACE!

Advertisements

this is nothing new. people have been talking about this for along time, however, i’m beginning to experience it for myself. so here it is.

if you live anywhere in the developed world, like myself, you know what it’s like to walk into a mall. shops of all sorts and sizes. they are renovating the mall close to my apartment to add in new stores. we have shops that sell 50 different kinds of popcorn, shops that sell clothes for big ladies and small ladies, shops for skater kids and kids that want to be in the next abercrombie commercial, sports shops, jewelery shops, nutrition shops, zellers and restaurants. if you like yoga, go lulu. TVs? try the sony store. whatever you want, it’s there. clothes, food, gadgets and books. all under one roof. all you have to do is show up with your family or friends and stroll down the halls, stopping in at the shops you like and purchasing whatever you want. give me what i want.

and, if you live anywhere in the developed world, like myself, you know that this attitude isn’t reserved for the mall. people are completely detached from products, people and places and they have this notion that whatever they want, they can get. just go out and buy it. out with the old, in with the new. when you live like this, it effects all aspects of your life. so what happens when you go to church?

well, if you live anywhere in the developed world and go to church, like myself, you know what it’s like to see church become yet another commodity. next time you meet a churchgoer ask them, “why do you go to your particular church?” in all likely hood they will probably go on about some sort of program for their kids or the great worship or the preaching or the 3-ply toilet paper. is this healthy? is this church? when you attend a particular church because of what that church can offer you, aren’t you just strolling around the mall? but the problem is, this isn’t the mall, this is a community of faith. the problems with this consumer mentality when it comes to church is that it never ends! maybe you attend your church because they have a great kids program. well suppose the childrens minister leaves and you hear of another church across town that has an even better kids program. “let’s go there!”

my point is simply this, church isn’t meant to be another thing that you consume. can we be honest and call this what it is? it’s selfish, it’s self-centered and it’s not reflective of the renewal of one’s mind. when we gather as a community of faith, we gather not to consume, but to be consumed. we gather with the hope that Christ will consume us, all of our strengths and our failings, and that he will in turn, send us out to be consumed by others. so it’s not about great programs or crappy programs, it’s about committing yourself to the Body and playing your part, whatever that is. it’s about dying to yourself and your own crappy desires and being renewed by the Spirit so that you can learn to desire rightly. it’s about realizing that you are important to the local Body, even if you’re the body part that releases excrement.

church is all about consumption. just not the kind we’re used to in the developed world. so lay down your life, pick up your cross and be consumed by Christ so that you can become food for others.

grace and peace.

jt.

“What is truly radical about this passage is not that God rewards those who help the poor; what is truly radical is that Jesus identifies himself with the poor. The pain of the hungry person is the pain of Christ, and it is thus also the pain of anyone who is a member of the body of Christ. If we are identified with Christ, who identifies himself with the suffering of all, then what is called for is more than just charity. The very distinction between what is mine and what is yours breaks down in the body of Christ. We are not to consider ourselves as absolute owners of our stuff, who then occasionally graciously bestow charity on the less fortunate. In the body of Christ, your pain is my pain, and my stuff is available to be communicated to you in your need, as Aquinas says. In the consumption of the Eucharist, we cease to be merely “the other” to each other. In the Eucharist, Christi is gift, giver, and recipient; we are simultaneously fed and become food for others,” – William T. Cavanaugh (Being Consumed, p. 56), on Matthew 25:31-46.

Last year I wrote a post about the need to enter into relationship with poverty/the marginalized. In light of Scripture, as Cavanaugh points out, we see that Jesus identifies himself with the poor: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” This is all the more reason why charity can do nothing for the marginalized. You cannot love the marginalized unless you enter in to relationship with the marginalized, and in so doing, you will enter into relationship with Jesus.

In fact, let’s do away with charity all together. In the kingdom, there ought to be no need for charity. As Aquinas puts it, “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need,” (Summa, II-II.66.2.).

grace and peace.

jt.

I’ve just begun reading William T. Cavanaugh’s latest book, Being Consumed. Cavanaugh begins by stating that those Christians who understand that what we do with our money and our stuff  “should be directly informed by how we relate to God,” often remain in a reactive posture towards economics. In other words, we tend to take current economic realities as givens and then figure out what our stance ought to be on these givens. However, Cavanaugh argues that, “Christians themselves are called to create concrete alternative practices that open up a different kind of economic space—the space marked by the body of Christ,” (Cavanaugh, viii).

In the first chapter, ‘Freedom and Unfreedom’, Cavanaugh argues against Milton Friedmans idea that transactions are free insofar as they are “bi-laterally voluntary and informed,” and free from external coercion (Cavanaugh, 2). In other words, the typical idea of freedom is pursuing whatever you want without interference from others. However, as Cavanaugh points out, Augustine (where Cavanaugh gets most of his argument from in the opening chapter) has a much more complex view of freedom. Freedom, “is not simply a negative freedom from, but a freedom for, a capacity to achieve certain worthwhile goals. All of those goals are taken up into the one overriding telos of human life, the return to God,” (Cavanaugh, 7-8). Therefore, freedom is about being wrapped up in the will of God, the condition of human freedom. Autonomy has no place here.

So, freedom isn’t simple freedom from something, but it is freedom for something. This for, this telos of all human life, is our return to God where all of humanity will flourish. Coming back to desire, there is such thing as true desires and false desires. We all know this. We all know what it’s like to really desire something and then find out that it is an empty desire. We desire loads of things, however, our one true desire is for God. When surrounded by a sea of desire we need a telos (or an end) to tell the difference between true and false desires. This telos, as stated, is our return to God where all of humanity will flourish. This will inform our decisions and enable us to tell the difference between true and false desire. If a desire leads towards the flourishing of humanity then it is a good and right desire. However, if not, then the desire ought to be regarded as false. We need to know whether our will is moved toward a good end or not. “The key to true freedom is not just following whatever desires we happen to have, but cultivating the right desires,” (Cavanaugh, 11).

We must ask ourselves why we desire. Desiring with no good other than desire itself is to desire arbitrarily. “To desire with no telos, no connection to the objective end of desire, is to desire nothing and to become nothing,” (Cavanaugh, 14). In other words, sometimes we have urges to desire things at the bottom end of the scale of good, and in so doing we abandon the higher and supreme goods, that is God, his law and his truth, (Augustine, Confessions, p.30). Cavanaugh gives the following example: In America, an addiction to shopping claims more than 10% of the population, and 20% of women (more than drugs and alcohol combined). A person buys something trying to fill the hole “and once the shopper purchases the thing, it turns into a nothing, and she has to head back to the mall to continue the search. With no objective ends to guide the search, her search is literally endless,” (Cavanaugh, 15).

Augustine argues for objective ends to guide our will, so who is to say what those ends are? We must know that some goods are objectively better than other goods or the movement of our will can only be arbitrary. For the majority of the population it is marketing/advertising or large corporations that guides their wills. This is unfair because there is an imbalance of power here between the marketer and the consumer (Thereby ruling the exchange unfree, even by Friedman’s standards). You can see the problems that arise here. However, what ought to guide our wills is a positive view of freedom that takes into account the good ends of human life.

Finally, there is a link between property and freedom. Aquinas argues that the ownership of property is natural to human beings and allows them to develop their own capacities. Hilaire Belloc argues that property is thus essential to human freedom, however, he does not argue that the ownership of property is about power, rather, that property has an end, which is to serve the common good (Cavanaugh, 29). As Aquinas argues, the universal destination of all material goods is in God. We should regard property as a gift from God, a gift that is only valid if we use it for the benefit of others. Thus, Aquinas sanctions private ownership only insofar as it is put to its proper end, which is the good of all: “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need,” (Aquinas, Summa, II-II.66.2).

So, as we make exchanges that we call free, let us call to account a truer understanding of freedom. Do our exchanges lead towards the flourishing of life on earth? I leave you with these two quotes:

“The key point is that the freedom of each economic exchange is subject to judgment based on a positive account of freedom, which must take into account the good ends of human life,” (Cavanaugh, 26).

“What is most important is the direct embodiment of free economic practices. From a Christian point of view, the churches should take an active role in fostering economic practices that are consonant with the true ends of creation. This requires promoting economic practices that maintain close connections among capital, labor, and communities, so that real communal discernment of the good can take place. Those are the spaces in which true freedom can flourish,” (Cavanaugh, 32).

Grace and Peace.

jt.

“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves,” Romans 14:22.

Paul is a wiser man than I am. Of that, we can all be sure. In chapters 14 and 15 of his letter to the Church in Rome (of course there wouldn’t have been chapters in his letter) Paul writes about the weak and the strong. He goes on and on about eating meat and most readers understand Paul here. There was a debate going on in Rome. Animals were offered as sacrifices to many gods. After the sacrifice the meat was taken an sold. Some Christians in Rome would purchase this meat and eat it. Other Christians objected because this was meat that had been offered up to idols. As you can see, problematic. The faith of some allows them to eat meat while the faith of others does not allow for this. In the meantime, however, they are all of one body so they must remain united as opposed to allowing division to come into their midst. From 14:1-15:13 Paul address this issue. Here are a couple of thoughts pulled from this portion of the letter:

1) The faith of those who eat only vegetables is described as “weak” (14:1, 2).

2) This issue, of eating meat offered to idols, is not as clear cut as some people may think. Paul says that these are “disputable matters” (14:1).

3) There ought not be any condemnation placed on others from either party (those who eat meat or those who do not) because each are accepted by God (14:3).

4) Both the eating of meat and the abstinence of eating meat can be done unto the Lord (14:6).

5) In “disputable matters” we ought not look down upon or judge others for, “we will all stand before God’s judgement seat” (14:10).

6) Clearly, meat is not unclean in and of itself (14:14). However, if you regard it as unclean, then for you, it is unclean (relativism!..only kidding!).

7) The issue here is not about whether it is ok to eat meat or not. The issue is about not putting a “stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (14:13).

8.) “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love” (14:15).

9) Not all that is spoken of as evil is evil, for good things can be spoken of as evil (14:16).

10) God’s kingdom is about “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (14:17). Therefore, any action that brings division and unrest could be seen as unwise.

11) Abstaining from good things that can be spoken of as evil for the sake of your brother is pleasing to God (14:18).

12) We ought to make every effort possible to do what leads towards peace and mutual edification (14:19).

13) Eating food that is “clean” is foolish if it hurts someone else and doing so can hurt (read: “destroy”) the work of God (14:20). It would be better to not partake than to cause someone else to stumble (14:21).

14) If you think it’s ok to eat meat offered to idols then do so, but keep this to yourself (14:22).

My reason for writing this is because there are a number of activities that I participate in that are “clean” and good but could be “spoken of as evil.” There are others who may look at a particular thing I do and pass judgment upon me because they think of that given activity as evil. The reality here is that this activity is not evil and that this persons faith is weak.

For a long time I’ve looked at a situation like this and said, “well so what? Who cares what they think? There is nothing wrong with this action so I’ll continue doing it regardless of what they think, since their faith is weaker, and in time they will grow in their faith and see that there really is no issue here.”

However, I’m starting to wonder if that is a very compassionate response.

The issue here is not about right or wrong. It’s not about whether or not something is clean or unclean, good or evil. The issue here is love. Am I loving the other? Am I loving them more than myself? The issue here is unity. Am I making every effort to keep peace and edify the other?

The faith of others can be weak. When this is the case, I am called simply to “bear with the failings of the weak and not to please [myself]” (15:1). I am called to please my neighbour and to build him up (15:2).

There have been times, especially recently when I’ve been condemned because of certain choices I make. These are good, clean choices but to some they do not appear to be good and clean. Do I care about these people? Do I love them enough to bear with their failings instead of pleasing myself? Because that’s what this is all about. It’s not about being right or wrong when it comes to disputable matters. It’s about loving others enough to deny yourself, even of good clean things.

This doesn’t mean that I think these issues are wrong. I still think they are good and clean but I will keep these between myself and God (and those who also enjoy to partake!) because “blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (14:22).

Paul sums it up nicely: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please outselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself…” Romans 15:1-3a.

Just remember, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love” (14:15).

So, if you enjoy eating meat, fire up the BBQ! Just keep the party in your backyard with those who also like meat!

Thoughts?

peace.

jt.