Monthly Archives: April 2010

I’ve never been a huge football fan. I lightly follow it each season, enough to know what’s going on and who’s doing well and not-so-well. I do, however, remember Ricky Williams. When Ricky Williams, maybe one of the games best running-backs, first signed on with the Miami Dolphins he was incredible. Talented, gifted, athletic. He was like a poster boy at times. Then as years passed you heard rumors of marijuana and then seemingly out of no-where in 2004, 5 years after bursting into the NFL, he vanished. A few years later he popped up and played a strange year with the Toronto Argo’s as he was serving a ban from the NFL.

I was watching TV last night and this documentary about Williams came on on ESPN, ‘Run, Ricky, Run.’ Wow. I was really blown away. Maybe it’s just me but I see Christ all over this. The inner turmoil that Williams wrestles with is something that I find myself wrestling with: A general uneasiness with society and a longing for something much more beautiful and genuine. Anyways, if you ever get a chance to see it don’t turn it down. I only saw a bit of it last night but I’m really hoping I get another chance to watch the whole thing. Below is the trailer. I think one of the most captivating quotes from the trailer, for me, was: “I still don’t know as I sit here talking to you whether this is a product of him being bi-polar, or mentally ill, or it’s a product of him being the only sane person out there and the rest of us worshiping all the wrong things.”

The media really kicked the shit out of this poor guy. They painted it as if he was just some drug addict who chose drugs over a football career that people would die for. They painted him as this insane man who had lost touch. Obviously I don’t think it was this simple. Seeing this film, I saw a man who is deeply profound and hungry for something deeper. This isn’t something you see everyday. Don’t get me wrong, I think we all feel the need for something deeper, but it’s rare that we see someone in the media spotlight that is so open, honest, and humiliated in their pursuit of a more genuine, abundant life.

1. A Peculiar People.
Time and time again in the scriptures we are confronted with the fact that the pilgrim people of God are called to be a different sort of people. We are a people that are not of this world (Jn. 17:14, 16). Peter even refers to the people of God as aliens in a strange land, therefore, as aliens we ought to conduct ourselves in a very different manner (1Pe. 2:11; 2Pe. 1:4). In fact, Paul writes “that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace,” (2Cor. 1:12). Truly, Paul was an example of someone who lived in the world but was not of this world. His conduct in the world was holy and sincere and did not make much sense according to the wisdom of the world. How then is it that Paul ended up in prison under the watchful eye of the Romans (and later killed at their hands)? Perhaps he truly did live a life that was ‘set-apart.’
The Christian tradition which I grew up in (I would argue that the same thing applies for most of North American, especially evangelical, Christianity) tended to spiritualize holiness. What was holiness? Well to be holy was to do your devotions, pray, go to church, and to avoid any sort of “bad” behaviour (i.e. swearing, drinking, smoking, bad movies, secular music etc). The problem is that all of these things tend to relate to ones private spirituality. Generally, as a teen I was free to live life like your average North American teen provided I followed a couple of extra rules. This is precisely the problem. The church is all too often guilty of not actually living as aliens. Our material lives and desires are more often shaped by cultural values and norms than by scriptural ones. Our private spirituality often fails to inform and shape our public life together.
In this paper I would like to examine how Christians, as followers of Jesus, ought to inhabit and enact a wholly alternate way of life which is itself rooted in an alternate narrative of the world and its inhabitants. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus that the mystery of God’s will in Christ has been made known to us and it is this, that he will “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ,” (Eph. 1:10). This is revealing for a few reasons. First, to suggest the idea here of God’s reign Paul uses the word oikonomia which is about ordering and managing ones household. There is a particular order to life as God intends it to be, namely, abundantly fruitful for all. Secondly, Paul says that “all things” will be brought together under Christ. Jesus Christ is Lord of all and this means that the ordering of his household extends to all of creation. To paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, “there is no sphere of life over which Christ Jesus does not cry ‘mine.’”1 The church then, is called to embody and be the first fruits of a plan of reconciliation which extends to all of creation for “the whole world is mine,” proclaims the Lord (Ex. 19:5; Ps. 50:12). Hopefully we can begin to see how this de-privatizes our faith and thrusts it into the public square via the vehicle that is our daily life together. The believer then is called to be an oikonomos, a steward within the household of God, who extends the reign of God by making the love and presence of Christ incarnate in the world.
1.1 An economic space marked by the body of Christ.
It is impossible to avoid talking about economics at this point since the very word ‘economy’ is derived from the Greek oikonomia. Given then that our faith has dramatic implications for our daily lives together perhaps this is no where more evident than in our attitude towards our money and our stuff. Consequently, perhaps our failure to embody our faith is no where more evident than in our attitude towards these things. However, for many North American Christians (myself included in this mess) there is a massive disconnect between our faith and how we practice our economics. All too often we look to Bay St. for wisdom and guidance in financial matters when we need look no further than the crucified, risen, exalted and returning Messiah. The way of Bay St. is not the same as the way of the cross and if the church is to be faithful to her calling to be a “city on a hill”, an embodied witness of the good news for all of creation, then we need to allow the cross, and not Bay St., to shape our economic life together.
As has been hinted at already I would argue that the church is a community that enters and embodies an alternate way of life, a more abundant way of life, in order that we may be a witness in the midst of a world that is watching. In fact, to be a witness entails an alternate way, for “witness constitutes communities of praise, eucharistic communities, groups opposed to imperial accounts of what it means to be human.”2 I would also argue that if the church is to “order our house” differently then, fundamentally, this means practicing an economic life together that finds its roots in the cross and resurrection rather than Bay St. Namely, it is in the celebration and remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection in the Eucharist that Christians are taught how to consume rightly, by being consumed into the Body in order that we may become food for others. This proves to be a difficult endeavor for many Christians, however, since the narrative of the Eucharist finds itself in the midst of a plethora of other narratives about the world and our stuff. Perhaps the most powerful of these competing narratives is that of consumerism. Consumerism is a narrative of our relation to production, producers and products that is counter to the Judeo-Christian narrative of creation. It becomes problematic then when as North American Christians we allow our consumptive habits to be shaped and formed more by consumerism than by Christian practices such as the Eucharist.
Faith is not merely a private endeavor, what we do with our money and our stuff matters and should be directly informed by our relation to God. Dutch political-economist Bob Goudzwaard does a fantastic job of demonstrating much of what is wrong within the over-developed world and tries to point us in a new direction, towards an economy that flourishes for all. In addition, William Cavanaugh has much insight to offer in terms of economics and desire and how the Eucharist serves to shape both of these. In short then, Christians can no longer take current economic realities as givens and then seek out what a “Christian” stance might look like. Rather, we must recognize 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,”3 and that the church is called to foster such spaces in the world. In other words, the church is called to practice an economics of the Eucharist in which the narrative of consumerism is challenged and made a spectacle of on the cross. This will be nothing less than a challenge to the imperial economic and political practice of the Empire. Perhaps then we can begin to live the sort of holiness that imprisoned Paul.

As many of you will know in February I headed down to New Orleans to work with the Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana. In the words of my friend and brother Andrew, “This is the church-in-action, embracing its call and mission for others, as it helps to rebuild communities, still five years after they were devastated by Katrina.”

This is a group of folks who are rebuilding parts of New Orleans one home at a time. I can tell you, because I was there, this is some really great work. However, the ECSLA has yet to receive their grant funding and is in danger of having to shut down. They are currently working on 8 homes (one of which I was working on in February) and in order to even finish up these 8 homes they need to raise $60,000 by May 1st. That may seem like a large feat, but certainly it is possible if folks freely give what God has given to them. In fact, we have been given to so that we can give.

This is an opportunity where we must act as if God did not exist. We cannot rely on others to give or on God to pull off some sort of miracle. Rather, you and I must open our wallets and give generously.

I can tell you that the home I was working on is for a woman and her husband who is very ill. He suffered a stroke shortly after the hurricane and is currently living in a small trailer in their front yard. The kicker is, he is on heavy duty machinery to help him breath. In order for the machines to be plugged in they must unplug other appliances in their trailer including their fridge. These folks need to get into their home, and soon.

Please read this.

And please, give whatever you can right here.

Also, if you’re willing, please re-post this or send it to folks you might know.

Grace and peace.

I’d been wanting to see this movie ever since I first saw it advertised. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity until last evening but it was well worth the wait. I won’t bother summarizing the film, rather, I just highlight a few things that stuck out to me:

1) I love that Max’s time as King of the Wild Things parallels his real life back home. I was wondering the whole time if Carol was Max. There are certainly illusions: Max’s anger towards his sister which causes him to have a tantrum in her room. Rawr! For me this seemed a lot like the opening scene where we meet the WTs and Carol is spazzing out on peoples houses. Also, near the beginning we see Max alone in his bedroom and as the camera pans around we notice some of Max’s crafts: a big mountain village made of toilet paper rolls, little nest-like stick homes. Not only do the WTs live in nest-like stick homes but in Carol’s secret cave we see that he too has some very intricate model mountains. Notice also the fort full of furry stuffed animal friends that Max built in his bedroom. This is really similar to the fort he builds with the WTs on the island.

2) Other highlights for the film for me were: the appearance of the dog in the dessert; the self-conscious goat; the mocking laughter between Max and Judith as tensions were rising; Bob and Terry the owls (interrupting cow joke); the dirt clump fight (“Hey Douglas, get the goat. Knock his legs out.”); and the raccoon.

Finally, the visual’s in the film were stunning. Every shot was really great. And to top it all off, the musical score was wonderful!

All in all, a really great film that I would recommend.

Final grade: A.

If you are a Christian who feels at all called to leadership in ministry (or simply anyone who desires a healthier understanding) at some point in your life, then this is a discussion you will want to be involved in. The question of what sort of stance the church must take towards homosexuality is one that has torn the church apart (literally). Perhaps there is no bigger question for the church right now than this. I’ll be keeping up with these posts and I’d encourage you too also. To whet your appetite you can read this.

Grace and peace.

I’ve learned something over the past few years that I had not always realized but it’s of vital importance and it’s totally unavoidable because we all do it. Everyday. Intentionally or not. What I’m talking about here is interpretation. We can’t escape it. For our purposes here I’m particularly interested in the interpretation of scripture. “The Bible says so!” Perhaps you’ve heard someone say this (or perhaps you’ve said it yourself, I know I have). Nowadays when I hear Christians say this I kind of chuckle to myself, partly because I know what it’s like to be there and partly because I think it would be more accurate to say “my interpretation of the Bible says so!” Because, I mean, if we’re honest with ourselves nobody just reads the scriptures (or any text for that matter). We all interpret. In fact, it could be said that reading is interpreting and the two cannot be separated.

As a result there’s really no limit to the sorts of interpretations we can come up with. One of the things that we’ve learned from postmodern philosophers and psychologists is that there are no autonomous people. Rather, we are all shaped. Therefore, the ways in which one is shaped can/will influence the ways in which we hear and understand a particular text. Now in saying that there are a plethora of possible interpretations of a given text I’m not saying that all interpretations are of equal value. In fact, plain and simple, some interpretations are better interpretations. Again, I’m primarily concerned here with how we interpret the scriptures so perhaps looking at the scriptures will help us see this in a fresh light.

It’s no secret that Jesus subverted much Roman and Jewish thought. Here’s an example from the gospel of Matthew:

“At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’ so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him,” (Matthew 12:1-14, NRSV).
I don’t think there’s much debate as to what Jesus was doing here. It’s clear that he broke the law by working on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). But did Jesus sin by breaking the law? I don’t think anyone reading this will agree to that. This being the case how is it that Jesus could have broken the law without sinning? Better yet, is it possible that by breaking the law Jesus actually fulfilled the law? I think it’s an issue of interpretation. The Pharisees were the law keepers. They interpreted the law one way, literally. Therefore, when the scriptures say that we are forbidden to do any work on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14) God literally means that we should not work on the Sabbath and for the Pharisees this included any acts of healing. Then Jesus comes along and heals on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, because of their interpretation of the law, considered Jesus to be a law breaker and the scriptures say that they “went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” Yet Jesus was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21). The only way then that Jesus could have broken the law and been without sin is if he interpreted the law differently than the Pharisees did.

In the scriptures Jesus proclaims that he came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17). How do we then understand this in light of Jesus’ antics in Matthew 12? I think it must be said that Jesus fulfilled the law by breaking it. Again, this comes back to how Jesus interprets the law. If the Pharisees interpret the law by the book then how does Jesus interpret differently? A man once approached Jesus and asked him a tricky question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus responded, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” (Matt. 22:37-40). According to Jesus all of the law hangs on love. Love. Do this and you’ve fulfilled the entire law. At least according to Jesus. Oh, and Paul also: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’” (Gal. 5:14; see also Rom. 13:8).

And so the story goes, Jesus enters the synagogue where there is a crippled man. Now the law says that work is forbidden on the Sabbath. So what does Jesus do? He goes to work. According to Jesus the law is to love. Did Jesus break the law? Yes. But in breaking it he perfectly fulfilled it because love was the correct interpretation.

As Christians there are many ways we interpret the scriptures. Sometimes we do a terrible job while other times we get a glimpse of what it looks like to fulfill the law. Sadly, we often are guilty of interpreting the scriptures in a manner that allows us to treat ‘others’ as less-than-human, as less worthy of dignity and respect. In other words, sometimes we are so adamant that we keep the law that we lose sight of love. In seeking to keep the law we actually end up breaking the law. In these cases may we break the law in order to fulfill it. May we go out into the world as lawbreakers because sometimes that is the only way we can keep the law and thus remain faithful to Jesus. Perhaps it is only then that we will find ourselves close to the kingdom (Mark 12:34).

How ought we interpret then? Love. Sometimes it really is that simple.