Archive

Monthly Archives: January 2011

**Picture caption: “I changed my mind!”

Four weeks to the day and Christina and I (along with Aisling, Stephen and Ejay) will be sitting in our new house, probably with some friends, pizza and beer after a solid moving day.

I’ve only mentioned it briefly on the ole bloggerino here, so for those who might not know, after many months of thoughtful consideration and prayer we’re moving in with 3 other people in order that we might try and pursue some sort of intentional community together. No doubt this will be the source of lots of material to reflect on here. We found the neighbourhood. We found the house. And by tomorrow (or so it feels) we’ll be there. Just thrown into the deep end not really knowing how to swim. In between floundering and flapping about for our lives we may try and make a swim for the side of the pool. Steal someones water wings. Grab on to someone else. Who knows? I feel like we’re fairly well prepared mentally but none of us really know what we’re doing. We’re really just trusting that the voice in our head that told us this might be a good idea was God and not the taco’s from the night before.

I’m somewhat terrified. Terrified of opposition. Terrified of conflict. Terrified of total-and-utter-self-implosion-hollywood-fireball-of-death failure. Yet part of me (probably the stupid part that prefers to learn the hard way) is excited and ready to welcome opposition. Welcome conflict. Welcome even failure. For in all of these things we will be presented with opportunities to make decisions. In all of these things we will be presented with opportunities to act in love, offer grace, be reconciled to one another, practice resurrection. In all of these things we will be presented with opportunities to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus our Lord. In all of these things the kingdom of God is just waiting to burst forth. So bring it.

We definitely need people praying for us.

Pray we don’t kill each other. Pray we abide in grace. Pray for our neighbourhood, Riverdale. Pray for the people that make up the fabric of that community: neighbours, business owners, street folk, the local crazies. Pray that God gives us eyes and ears to see and hear what He is doing. Pray we’re quick to love, til it hurts.

I read a prayer today, attributed to Ignatius of Loyola. I’ll leave you with that:

Teach us, Good Lord

To serve thee as Thou deservest;

To give and not to count the cost;

To fight and not to heed the wounds;

To labour and not to ask for any reward,

save that of knowing that we do thy will.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

In my Systematic Theology class we have begun to study creation. Mangina recently noted (briefly) that there are three important heresies with respect to the doctrine of creation. Two of these in particular are pretty rampant in the church, practically if not theoretically. The first of these is Gnosticism.

In my experience amongst Western Evangelicalism Gnosticism is essentially a pillar of the faith (I know I’m generalizing here and not everyone will have the same experience, nevertheless, I’m sure you can identify what I’m talking about in your own experience).

Now I won’t delve too deeply into Gnosticism here. To totally oversimplify (and to serve our purposes here), that Gnosticism has infiltrated the Church is evident in that many Christians believe the material world to be evil. Creation is a problem (in some ways creation is the Fall). So, for these Christians salvation = escape from the material world. For these Christians, our hope is in being raptured out of this world to be with Christ in Heaven. The earth is merely a temporary home. Our real home is “in Heaven”. If you don’t believe that this sort of Gnostic belief is rampant in the Church then walk into most any Evangelical church in Canada and ask a few folks what happens to us when we die. Undoubtedly the top answer will be something along the lines of “going to Heaven”. Yet this is a concept that is totally foreign to the Scriptures. No where in the Old or New Testament is there talk of “going to Heaven when you die”. “But what about the thief on the cross?” someone will ask. Jesus said nothing to him about joining him in Heaven but being with him in “paradise”. In light of the Biblical witness we would be mistaken to think that paradise = heaven.

Now, to be sure, I believe that when we die we are “present with the Lord.” However, I would qualify this by saying that this is not our final “resting state” if you will. Creation is necessarily material. Being human is *necessarily* a material reality. If you die and live in some sort of immaterial bliss for eternity then you’re no longer human, yet, God created you to be human. God created you to be material. In the Incarnation the material creation is affirmed and in the BODILY resurrection of Christ Jesus from the grave the material creation is redeemed and set right. Our hope is not that one day we’ll get the hell out of here and meet Jesus in the sky (which by the way is not at all attractive to me personally). No, our hope is that one day God’s kingdom will finally break through INTO THIS WORLD in all of its fullness and wonder. It is significant that the Bible does not come to a close with humanity going up to heaven but with heaven coming down to be wed to earth (Revelation 21).

One might ask, “does it really matter what we believe about creation?” to which I would respond, “hell yes it does!” What you believe about creation has massive implications for how you will live your life right now. I won’t get into this here but perhaps it’s a conversation worth exploring in the comments section if anyone feels so led.

What might be the practical implications of believing that our hope is that we will one day get out of here to be with Jesus vs. our hope being that one day the Kingdom will finally and fully break into this world and all things will finally be made new?

Some of you may know that for the past while I’ve been working/volunteering with an organization here in Toronto called the Philip Aziz Centre (PAC). From the website:

Philip Aziz was an art teacher living in Toronto who died of an AIDS related illness in 1991. Due to the stigma related to AIDS he lived alone and isolated with his illness.  In the final year of his life Philip found the spiritual, emotional and practical support along with acceptance, faith and love, amidst a caring church community in downtown Toronto.  He bequeathed his estate to “Church in the City” with the request that his gift be used to begin a hospice that would offer the same type of unconditional love and support he received, to others living with the challenges of a life-limiting illness.  Philip Aziz Centre continues this legacy of love, support and compassion, through trained volunteers and staff who are committed to helping make a difficult life journey more meaningful and manageable for persons facing a life-limiting illness.

My experience with PAC has been varied. For almost a year now I have been volunteering with a particular client, a gentleman living with AIDS. This past summer I was hired and came on staff to help out around the office and get some hands on training in the area of chaplaincy/spiritual care. That was a great experience and I’m still meeting with a young boy from that time. Now that I am back at school I’m down to one day a week with PAC helping them in regards to the next big and exciting step along the way, namely, the opening of Toronto’s first Children’s Hospice.

Currently, families in Toronto have only two options for their sick children, house or hospital. Emily’s House will serve as a middle ground between the two with the comfort of a home environment and all of the medical/technical advancements and professionalism of a children’s hospital. This home will be the first of it’s kind in Toronto and one of six in Canada. Programs will include respite care for family caregivers, acute end of life care, pain and symptom management, transitional care and spiritual, grief and bereavement support.

The new Home will be in the wonderful Governor’s House (Heritage building) at the Don Jail (Broadview/Gerrard). There will be a beautiful addition built on the back of the existing structure to meet the necessary standards. Additionally, the surrounding area will be public park space giving the Home a “house in the park” feel. The Home will be managed by professional staff with round the clock supervision. Check out our recent article in the Toronto Star about Emily’s House!

All in all this will be a fantastic addition to the city of Toronto and a place of beauty and hope in the midst of extremely difficult life circumstances.

And guess what? You can play a part in making this happen!

For the rest of the month of January at 100 LCBO’s across the GTA you can make donations to the Home. So why not take that extra fiver and put it to some good use?!

If you feel so urged to give directly to PAC you can do so here and by specifying that you want to donate towards Emily’s House you can rest assured that every penny will help build this great place.

BABIES!

So, Christina and I are pregnant (technically she’s pregnant). We’re expecting our little one to arrive on July 26th.

Christina’s sister Katelyn is getting married two weeks before the baby and my sister Jessica is getting married the first week of September. All in all, a fantastic summer awaits!

Exciting times.

http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1125919467?bctid=738215119001

The above commercial never made it to TV. In fact, it is now near impossible to find online even. It has been pulled from YouTube as well as numerous other hosting sites. Many people are pissed off about it. Is it blasphemous?

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. Is this taking things too far?

It certainly cuts close to the bone doesn’t it? Personally, I think it’s rather brilliant in it’s satirical take on what many churches become (marketing machines concerned with getting people in the doors, because people = money; faith as commodity etc.).

Thoughts?

Over the last 2-3 years there has been a particular theme that has had a tremendous amount of impact on my thinking and has/is (I hope) shaping my life accordingly.

Grace.

Grace is hard to pin down, though we often think we have is sequestered. Then we begin to talk and in our attempts to describe grace we begin to realize it’s out of our grasp. Describing grace is a bit like Barth’s description of theology as tracing a bird in flight: as soon as you have a particular image of the bird it has already flown off and the image has changed.

Grace is surprising. If there is one thing I can be certain about when it comes to grace it is that. It’s surprising because it’s big enough to include those we would rather not include (We look around the banquet table only to realize we’re surrounded by folks we never would have invited!). And yet, it’s also surprising because it’s elusive enough that we’re never really able to lay claim to it (grace is not something you own, like an iPod or a Costco membership).

Grace is a gift given. It is God’s doing. As my professor Joseph Mangina said, grace can be “summed up with a verb that has God as its subject. God creates. God rules. God overcomes evil and sin. God calls the church into being. God justifies and sanctifies. God makes all things new.”

I can hear the objections already. But what what about us? What about our responsibility? A gift cannot be enjoyed unless it is first received! We humans are so quick to want to have something to do with grace. We so desire to be able to claim some sort of responsibility for it (“I responded and thus received God’s grace!”). I can’t help but think this is putting the cart before the horse. Grace is much bigger than the forgiveness of sins (although this is certainly an important, if not central, aspect). Grace is the fact that you’re breathing right now. Grace is the fact that you’re able to participate in this strange mystery we call life: “God is gracious all across the board. It is all grace,” (Mangina).

Now, to be sure, grace beckons us to respond, as Mangina stresses, “While grace does not depend on our response (if it did, it would not be grace), it certainly cries out for our response–it demands to be “lived into,” to be inhabited, so that it more and more comes to define who and what we are.” Grace demands our response because it is only by grace that we are able to be shaped and formed into the sort of humans we are meant to be. If God is the potter then grace is the potter’s wheel, and thus we are formed. In fact, part of God’s graciousness is that His kingdom, as He has so chosen, can be furthered here on earth by our participation and obedience to His will. And so, becoming human is a process. We must learn to be God’s creatures.

I am still learning to respond appropriately. I often chose death rather than life, my own way rather than the way of grace. Yet, I think I am becoming more thankful. Surely, as Mangina notes, this is where we ought to be led: “The Christian life, in short, is radically marked by gratitude–a continual discovering of how our lives are constituted by gifts.”

I will leave you with the following quote from The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas:

Not only is knowledge of self tied to knowledge of God, but we know ourselves truthfully only when we know ourselves in relation to God. We know who we are only when we can place our selves–locate our stories–within God’s story.

This is the basis for the extraordinary Christian claim that we participate morally in God’s life. For our God is a God who wills to include us within his life. This is what we mean when we say, in shorthand as it were, that God is a God of grace. Such shorthand can be dangerous if it is mistaken for the suggestion that our relationship with God has an immediacy that makes the journey of the self with God irrelevant. Grace is not an eternal moment above history rendering history irrelevant; rather it is God’s choice to be a Lord whose kingdom is furthered by our concrete obedience through which we acquire a history befitting our nature as God’s creatures.

To learn to be God’s creature’s, means we must learn to recognize that our existence and the existence of the universe itself is a gift. It is a gift that God wills to have our lives contribute to the eschatological purposes for creation. As creatures we cannot hope to return to God a gift of such magnitude. But we can respond with a willingness to receive. To learn to be God’s creature, to accept the gift, is to learn to be at home in God’s world. Just as we seek to make a guest feel “at home” in our home, so God seeks to have us feel “at home” by providnig us with the opportunity to appropriate the gift in the terms it was given–that is, gratuitously (p.27).

It was my friends birthday last night and she decided to throw a little shindig. Namely, she put on an art show at a little gallery in Kensington Market here in Toronto. The show consisted of most poems and photographs that she took. Loads of her friends and family showed up and it was a great night. I liked one of her short poems in particular and I thought I’d share it here (hope that’s OK Beth!).

In Zeno’s Paradox.

each of us wears the weight of our own lives.

choice and chance build around us a certain space.

we live together but are never fully known.

Beth's show.

The last line struck me in particular as it’s something I’ve been thinking a bit about lately. “We live together but are never fully known.” I know this is essentially unavoidable but part of me can’t help but lament this truth. I like to be idealistic and think we can reach a point in our communities where we really come to know each other as we are. I don’t think it’s that we intentionally hide from one another (although this certainly is true at times isn’t it?). I think rather, it’s that we don’t even know ourselves. According to the Scriptures it would seem that God is the only one who truly knows us. It is He and He alone who is able to see into the darkness of our hearts. To Him, there is no darkness for everything that is true about ourselves is brought to light and exposed. It’s a bit terrifying to think that there are things within me that even I am unaware of. I mean, even the me that I know sometimes scares the hell out of me. I like to think there are certain things that I am just not capable of but I’m not sure I have the confidence to say “I’ll never do X”.

There’s times when it is hard to find anything redeemable in me. Even the good I do is so often only done for my own advantage. The good I do more often than not has selfish motivations even if at the very least the motivation is to make me feel good about myself. Then there are the times when I get a glimpse at what’s hidden in the darkness of my heart and it can be frightening. I want to live a more human life but I am so often caught up in the dehumanizing, death-dealing ways of myself. I do not even want to begin to think about what else is hidden in the darkness of my heart but I know that there are things there that even I am unaware of. I realize this is all rather somber and fatalistic, sorry for that. Jon Foreman has a song titled Equally Skilled. Here are the lyrics:

How miserable I am
I feel like a fruit picker who arrives here after the harvest
There’s nothing here at all
There’s nothing at all here that could placate my hunger

The godly people are all gone
There’s not one honest soul left alive here on the planet
We’re all murderers and thieves
Settin’ traps here for even our brothers

And both of our hands are equally skilled
At doing evil, equally skilled
At bribing the judges, equally skilled
At perverting justice, both of our hands, both of our hands

The day of justice comes
And is even now swiftly arriving
Don’t trust anyone at all
Not your best friend or even your wife

For the son hates the father
The daughter despises even her mother
Look your enemies are right
Right in the room of your very household

And both of their hands are equally skilled
At doing evil, equally skilled
At bribing the judges, equally skilled
At perverting justice, both of their hands, both of their hands

No, don’t gloat over me
For though I fall, though I fall, I will rise again
Though I sit here in darkness
The Lord, the Lord alone, He will be my light

I will be patient as the Lord
Punishes me for the wrongs I’ve done against Him
After that He’ll take my case
Bringing me to light and to justice for all I have suffered

And both of His hands are equally skilled
At ruining evil, equally skilled
At loving the loveless, equally skilled
Administering justice, both of His hands

Both of His hands are equally skilled
At showing me mercy, equally skilled
At loving the loveless, equally skilled
Administering justice, both of His hands, both of His hands

Both of my hands are equally skilled

at doing evil,

bribing the judges,

perverting justice.

“We’re all murderers and thieves.”

Trust no one.

But God, God is patient.

He disciplines and takes our case,

“bringing us to light”.

And both of His hands are equally skilled

at ruining evil,

administering justice,

showing me mercy.

Though we sit here in darkness,

not even knowing ourselves,

the Lord alone will be our light.

Oh happy day!

About a week or so ago I came across a deal I just could not refuse.

Karl Barth is regarded by many as one of the (if not the) most influential theologians of the 19th/20th centuries. His main work, Church Dogmatics, is a 9,000 word epic and retails for somewhere around $1,000 in hardcover. Well, I received a tip and ended up finding the entire Church Dogmatics in hard cover on sale for $99. That’s a savings of 90%. So, it sort of goes without saying that I had to get it.

This will be a long term reading project but I’m already excited to begin.

If you’re at all interested in theology and thinking about our common faith it would be hard to go wrong with Barth. 9,000 words may seem intimidating, but I’d recommend finding yourself a copy of x. At 155 pages it is a lot more manageable and hey, Stanley Hauerwas named it as one of the most important little books of theology. Here’s a little sample for y’all:

“The heart of the object of Christian faith is the word of the act in which God from all eternity willed to become man in Jesus Christ for our good, did become man in time for our good, and will be and remain man in eternity for our good. This work of the Son of God includes in itself the work of the Father as its presupposition and the work of the Holy Spirit as its consequence,” (65).

I remember that at a certain church I used to be involved with we would give out grocery store gift cards to folks that came in looking for money. The pastor was always interested in sitting down and chatting with the people before actually handing over anything of monetary value. Now this can of course be a good thing depending on the motives of the pastor. However, the reason why the pastor would want to sit down and chat with the individual would be to suss out whether or not the church was being “taken advantage of”.

I’ve heard this sentiment a good bit recently. We assume that charity is a generally a good thing but that it can be taken advantage of. And so we find ourselves in a conundrum. We want to be charitable of course, because this will help us to feel good about ourselves and will massage our consciences so that we feel we actually give a shit about folks other than ourselves. Charity = good. But damn the bastard that ever try to take advantage of me and my charity. The charity I offer is valuable and is not to be trampled upon. If I’m being charitable to you then you damn well better be grateful and may God help you if you think of taking advantage of my kindness. And so we’re charitable, to a degree, so long as our dignity remains intact. So long as people realize that we’re not just some sort of goodwill vending machines that dispense love and goodness for free. No sir, our charity comes with expectations. And this all works well for us, especially since, for the most part, our bourgeois Western Christianity trains us to ignore the cost of the gospel.

But of course, this talk of “making sure we’re not taken advantage of” comes into conflict with the gospel. Now, I’m not suggesting that love ought to look the same in every situation. I believe we’re to be wise and in this sense there’s no need to treat everyone exactly the same. Some folks out there genuinely have impure motives and desire to take advantage of the love/kindness of others. However, if we’re seeking to follow Christ Jesus we can never from the outset decide that we will not be taken advantage of. Take 1 Corinthians 13 for example. A passage that is usually read at most weddings and has become rather sentimental:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, (1 Cor. 13: 4-7).

One blogger remarked that in light of this scripture, love is fucking stupid. Sure, we love those who are in need because it helps us feel good about ourselves. It helps us feel like we actually love folks other than ourselves. Yet, in reality, this “love” is merely something that props up a particular image of ourselves, that we care for the poor and oppressed, that we are generous and charitable folks. But perhaps it’s worth thinking about the consequences of bracketing our “love for others” with “we will not be taken advantage of.” Love is patient? Does not dishonour others? Is not self-seeking? Keeps no record of wrongs? Always trusts? Always perseveres? Always hedges its bets in order to protect itself? Hell no. To be sure, the love that Christ Jesus calls us to is a love that leads to the cross. It’s a love that ends in death. And the way there is no parade. It’s a love that is abandoned, trampled upon, spat at. It’s a love that claims nothing for itself. In short, if we love as the gospel demands we do then we can be sure that we’ll be taken advantage of. We don’t like this of course, because we like to think we’re entitled to respect and gratitude. I mean if there’s one thing we can know about Jesus it’s that he was never taken advantage of.

What do you think? Am I off base here? Am I just being an ass?

Can we truly love others while being concern about protecting ourselves and making sure we don’t get taken advantage of?

I’m part of a community of addicts that meet on Tuesday evenings here in Toronto. This has already been one of the most formative experiences I’ve had and I’m looking forward to (and terrified of) the next 20 weeks or so. The difference between our room and other 12 step rooms is that our room is centred on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, this week we began step three which is traditionally worded, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” In our room we have intentionally changed the wording of step three to, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” We dropped the “as we understood Him” because we’re not just interested in submitting our lives to any old deity. Rather, we’re interested in submitting our lives to the One True God of the Gospel as He has revealed Himself in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. And so, the name of our group is Spiritual Journey. The goal of Spiritual Journey is not sobriety, but rather, to connect with Jesus (sobriety may or may not be another result of this). This is a place where the gospel is planted and takes root.

There are folks in our community that are at all different stages of life. Some have come through their substance addictions and are now professing Christians (although many have mentioned they wouldn’t feel comfortable in a church…Tuesday evenings are church for us). Others are in detox centres right now. However, there is one thing that everyone one of us in there has in common and that is we have all reached the end of our ropes, so to speak. Everyone in our community is there because we are desperate. Some of us have been in an out of treatment centres. Others have been in and out of jail. Some have lost everything. Others have attempted to take their own lives. Many have committed unspeakable acts and have reached the pinnacle of dehumanizing behaviour as slaves to various substances. In fact, this is a theme that has come up over the past number of weeks, that in the insanity of our addictions we become less human.

Perhaps you’re reading this and you wouldn’t identify as an addict. The reality is, we’re all addicts. There are very real things in each of our lives that we have lost control of, that we are powerless to. It may not be crack cocaine or alcohol maybe instead it’s lust (of all sorts) or anger or pride. I’m not trying to trivialize substance addictions here, rather, I’m suggesting that there are real ways in which we are all powerless.

The first step in 12 step is, “we admitted we were powerless over our addictions – that our lives had become unmanageable.” The language that we use in Spiritual Journey is that of sanity. Addictions literally make us insane and unreasonable. “Powerless”. “Unmanageable”. These are things we generally hate to admit. Humans are the sort of folk who would much rather think they have their shit together. One of the reasons why submitting our lives to Christ is so difficult is because we must first admit that we are “powerless” and that our lives are “unmanageable”. We have a hard time with this because most of us live bourgeois lives and like to think we’re really not all that “powerless”. That we sort of do a pretty good job of life. But in reality, each and everyone one of us is corrupted to the core. We engaged in activities each day that are dehumanizing, to ourselves and others. We have no idea what it means to really love another because our ideas of love are so utterly bastardized.

Last night I sat and listened as my friend who is currently in detox shared that just 8 weeks ago he had no idea God had any interest in speaking to him (or having anything to do with his life). But today, 8 weeks later, my friend is truly a different man. He shared how he now realizes that all along God was trying to speak to him in different ways but that he just “never had the ears to hear Him” (his words). Now, he is devouring the scriptures and anything else he can get his hands on. His desire for the knowledge of God is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time and just 8 weeks ago he was at the end of his rope, checking himself into detox.

Another man who has submitted his life to Christ shared that most of the people he meets in 12 step groups are becoming “born again Christians” (his words). Yet, many of these folks you probably won’t see in your church on Sunday morning singing sentimental songs to Jesus. Rather, these are people who have *actually* realized that they are powerless and insane. Our middle-class Christianity actually works against ever coming to this realization in many ways. I would venture to say that most folks in churches on Sunday morning never come to know each other “as sinners” (Bonhoeffer). Most of us struggle with admitting we’re utterly powerless and helpless (and I’m not talking about the condescending bullshit we spout off that we’re [theoretically] “sinful” and “depraved”. No, I’m talking about coming to the realization of just how utterly messed up we all are). However, until we come to this place we can never truly follow in the way of Jesus. And so truly, the crack addicts and prostitutes, the heroine junkies and the hustlers are entering the kingdom of God ahead of Christians. Why? Because they know the way of righteousness. They have come to the end of themselves.

And so we end with a parable of Jesus (Matthew 21:28-32):

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.