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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.

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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.