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Monthly Archives: February 2011

My friend Beth mentioned to me recently that The Flaming Lips had released a new track on Valentine’s Day. This isn’t particularly interesting news or anything, however, what is interesting is the way in which they did it. The song, called “Two Blobs F**king”, was released in the form of “12 individual tracks that ultimately create one complete song.” You can read more about it here. The idea behind this is that you must find 11 other people with phones or computers and only then, together, can you hear the song in all it’s wonder.This got me thinking about the sort of community the church is. 

One of the primary analogies used to describe the church in scripture is a body. Now, the body is made up of many parts. If you were to disassemble a human body (is this too morbid?!) and lay out each individual part on a large table you would not have a body. Rather, you would have a collection of items that together would form a body but apart are simply a rather unpleasant sight to behold. Each part of the body has a particular telos, a goal or an end, towards which it works.

Back to The Lips for a moment. The statement on their website read that these were “12 individual tracks”. Are they though? From the 17th C. onwards the term “individual(ism)” took on connotations of separateness. So, these 12 tracks, are they individual? I would argue no for the simple fact that they were created and recorded to be played together. The Lips did not intend for these tracks to be played by themselves. For me to sit alone in my house some evening and play 1 of the 12 tracks on my own private phone would be to miss the point. Heck, for me to sit at home and play all 12 tracks consecutively would be to miss the point. Heck, for me to sit at home with 1 computer and 11 phones and play all 12 tracks together, even if I could achieve perfect unison, would still be to miss the point. The point is to get a bunch of people together and each take a particular track. Only then, playing together in unison, are we able to capture what The Lips had in mind.

This is why being a part of a local church body is never an option for a Christian. To be a Christian and to refuse to commit to a local community of faith is to sit at home in your basement playing 1 of 12 tracks to the song. It just doesn’t sound good. In order for the full richness of the song to be enjoyed you must join with others. A few concluding remarks:

Every person is unique and has particular gifts. What is your gift? If you know what it is, how are you using that to join in on the incredible melody that is the church? If you do not know what it is, find out what it is and do it well, not for yourself but for others.

Unique does not equal individual. You are unique, you are a particular person, but you are not an individual. You were never meant to follow Christ Jesus on your own. Why? Well, because you’re just not equipped to go at it alone. And the beauty that results from journeying with and building up others far exceeds any brave and heroic attempt to fly solo. Admit that you’re weak. Admit that you need. You need others, and others need you. Are you part of a church? Please note, I don’t mean are you part of th Church, capital “C”. I mean are you part of a *local community of faith? Have you committed to wading through the messiness that is life together, on a regular basis, with a group of other folks that you live near and can see throughout the week? If not, know that this is how you’re meant to live. Find somewhere local where you can worship and submit to the preaching of the word and where you can be a part of developing fruitful community.

Who knew that The Flaming Lips could teach us so much about what it means to be the church in a particular location? There is a magnificent piece of music that has been written, and continues to be written each day. Are you in-tune with those who are trying to play along with you? Are you in-tune with the composition itself?

ps – I’ll save you the 10 seconds on Google, here’s a link to The Lips’ youtube site where you can find the 12 tracks.

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God wills that the human creature laud and praise him in a different way than the sun, the moon, and the stars. From the human creature God wants not only an echo, but an answer to his love. God wills that the human creature be united to him as a person, and therefore in the relative independence of the created “I”. God wills that the human creature’s answer of love be more than a return of his gift — such a naked return of what has been received would still be no gift of love. Rather, God wills that this return of his gift be governed and permeated by the personal act of free self-surrender. God wills that the human creature actually take with his own hand, receive into his own personal centre, the gift of the divine life and love received from the Creator, and return it to the giver thus enriched by the act of personal affirmation and governed by the personal self of the human creature.

Peter Brunner as quoted by David Yeago in Apostolic Faith.

They said they found you on the 20th floor, sleeping in the hallway. By the time I saw you I was stepping out of the elevator in our building’s lobby and there you were, sprawled out on the floor. The lobby was packed with firemen and paramedics, building security (4 of them, you must have posed a real threat) and curious onlookers. As I walked past you on my way out the door I heard you mutter something incoherent. It sounded agonizing.

By the time I came back 10 minutes later you were in the same spot. As I stood and waited for the elevator I overheard a couple of the firemen chuckle to one other. To them you were probably just another Aboriginal junkie, worthless, equivalent to the pigeons that defecate all over the sidewalk outside our building. Perhaps equivalent to the shit itself. But as security scribbled furiously in their notepads and the paramedics tried to ask you questions (“So, whatcha been drinking tonight?”…really?) I couldn’t help but wonder how you got here.

Not how you ended up here, in the lobby of an apartment building, but how you ended up here on the streets of Toronto fucked out of your mind. I cannot begin to imagine how you’ve suffered. Born into a people that have been marginalized and shit upon, some of whom still do not have access to clean drinking water or nutritious food (in a developed country in the 21st century?! But this is no time for a rant against the capitalist Empire). I cannot imagine the toll that your addictions have taken on you, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I cannot begin to imagine the sort of dehumanizing things people have made you do, how you’ve been taken advantage of and used for others gain.

I’ll be damned if your Creator does not look upon you with the greatest amount of dignity. I’ll be damned if to Him you are not infinitely valuable and beautiful. I’ll be damned if He is not with you in your suffering and, hell, if He’s not on your side then He’s not much at all.

I guess I don’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything after all. But if there’s one thing I know it’s that this suffering which you now endure (this suffering which could very well end in death) is a suffering that is fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and one day you will know that glory.

Anyways, the elevator arrived eventually. I got on, hit the button to my floor and the doors closed. I went home and you went, well, I don’t know where you went.

*The featured image above is Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Annunciation (1898).

With regard to sharing the life of God, there is no significant difference between the greatest of geniuses and a fetus, a Down’s Syndrome child, or a sufferer from senile dementia. If some human bodies and souls are so damaged that human capacity is never able ever to flower, or if that capacity is at some point destroyed or collapses, the God who is able to raise up the dead will not in the end be frustrated by such contingencies.

– David Yeago.

Amen.

The following is a short homily that I delivered during a class @ Wycliffe College on Wednesday, February 2, 2011. The short paragraph highlighted in asterisks was not in the original sermon but was later added to clarify any concern that people may have had about me given my opening example.

__________

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom,* but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written,
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’—
10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

What is it to be wise? I am part of a community of recovering addicts that meets every Tuesday evening. While in many ways we resemble a traditional 12-step program the goal of Spiritual Journey is not sobriety. “Foolishness!” “How can a 12-step program not have sobriety as its end?” Rather, the goal of Spiritual Journey is to connect with God, to know and be known. Sobriety may be a result of this. Now, the point of me raising this here is that the wisdom of Spiritual Journey is quite unlike the prevailing wisdom of our modern Western culture. The wisdom of the 12-steps begins with Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over our addictions-that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Success is impossible in Spiritual Journey if our first utterance is not “I am powerless.” In a culture where power is coveted and respected, where imperfections are blasted with UV rays, injected with Botox or rectified by getting a good education and satisfying career, we proclaim that we are powerless. In a culture where we manage our lives with day timers and iPhone’s, and where busyness is akin to success, we proclaim that our lives are unmanageable. In a culture where dependance is weakness and “you can make it on your own”, we proclaim that we are indeed weak and unable to make it. For 12-steppers this is the beginning of wisdom.

*Now, before you go worrying about me I should let you know that I myself am not actually in recovery from any particular narcotic. While I would argue that everyone is an addict (including myself), I am not part of this community because I myself am struggling with matters of substance abuse but rather because I seek to journey with those who do. I should also note that this is a community of mutual transformation and is for me one of the more formative communities that I am a part of.*

Paul confronts us in the second chapter of 1 Corinthians with the “mystery of God”. Life is full of mystery. At the moment my wife and I are in the midst of our second pregnancy. Within the last few weeks we have seen the ultrasound and listened to the babies little heartbeat. The fact that there is a human being developing in Christina’s womb right now is something I can hardly comprehend. Life’s mysteries – birth, death, love, beauty and more – often point us towards a deeper mystery yet, God. Paul is writing this letter to a community of believers many of whom were Jews, not far from Athens the centre of Greek philosophy and thought. Greeks had very particular ideas about how to access this deep, divine mystery. Jews already understood themselves to have been invited into the life of God so they saw no need to get to the heart of the divine mystery, yet they wrestled with this in other ways.

Jesus, says Paul, is the clue to history. In the particular person of Jesus of Nazareth God’s past, present and future collide and are unveiled. The mystery of God is revealed in Christ crucified, an odd claim to be sure. According to popular human wisdom the gospel, Christ crucified, is utter foolishness, void of wisdom. But this is the wisdom of God: That the power of God is hidden in the foolishness of the cross. In the unjust suffering and death of a poor first-century Palestinian Jew, in the naked body of yet another “failed” Messiah figure hanging on a Roman cross, the One True God of Israel and the nations is hidden. Who would ever think to look for the secret to all things, the mystery of God, hanging on a hill outside Jerusalem? Paul realizes the foolishness – the utter absurdity – of this claim. Near the beginning of the letter he has already said “the message about the cross is foolishness,” (1:18). Paul realizes that their proclamation sounds absurd (1:21) and so he comes not with eloquent words and a charismatic personality, but in weakness, fear and much trembling.

Yet this is powerful. Paul did not have to rely on charisma and talent. He did not have to rely on a rigorous apologetical ministry or a fashionable means of presentation. Inherent to the gospel is the power of God that is able to penetrate our hearts and minds and bring about real transformation. When peoples lives intersect with the gospel something happens. As folks who are being trained for ordained ministry in traditional parishes, or to be involved in development work around the globe, or to go out on a limb with a Fresh Expression of church may we resist the temptation to place our hope in our own gifts, abilities or education. For as talented and educated as we may be we will never be talented or educated enough to present the foolishness of the gospel to the world as wisdom. May we trust rather that the gospel contains within it the power of God to bring about His purposes in and for the world. As a result of this, when we see people come to faith their faith will not rest on us and our abilities and wisdom but on the power of God which raised Christ Jesus from the dead.

The gospel is foolishness to the world, yes, but to the mature, to those with eyes and ears to see and hear, it is wisdom. To be sure, this is not the wisdom of modern Western culture. No, that is a wisdom that would have all-together avoided suffering and death. That is a wisdom that would have come in full force to overthrow the oppressors. No, this is the wisdom of the Triune God and the world doesn’t get it for if they did they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory,” (2:8), says Paul. Left to our own devices our eyes are unable to see, our ears unable to hear, our hearts unable even to conceive the wisdom of God. Left to our own devices we might think that wisdom lies in getting a rigorous theological education or learning how to preach a solid sermon. Left to our own devices we might prefer the path of comfort and security that comes from the privilege of being well-to-do educated folk. Surely, this is a better road than one marked with suffering and oppression. Surely us educated elites and the Bay St. power-brokers are wiser than the poor and oppressed who look for hidden treasure in dumpsters in downtown Toronto, or who huff gasoline and glue on northern reserves, or who struggle to feed their children and live in aging high-rise apartments on the outer suburbs of the downtown core where they once dwelled but became homeless due to gentrification. If God is hidden there in the suffering of Christ then surely He is present with those who suffer now. In our work and ministry we are not only accountable to God but to those who suffer and are oppressed, those who bear the marks of Christ’s suffering this day. But to travel this road in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, this is not wise. There is nothing in it for you or I. There are no pay raises or glamourous award ceremonies, none of that worldly wisdom.

It is only by the Spirit of God that the foolishness of God can appear as wisdom, and it is just that, true wisdom. The Holy Spirit, being fully and beautifully God, reveals to us the deepness of God’s own wisdom: that Christ crucified is the wisdom of God, that Christ raised is the power of God. I remember one day when I was younger my mother discovered my sisters journal. Let’s just say there was some incriminating evidence written in there that my sister had not intended for my mother to behold. There were secrets hidden there. The Holy Spirit is a bit like God’s journal, for it is by the Spirit that we are “let in” on the mystery of God. This very same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead in power is now ours. Having been poured out upon us we are able to understand the “mystery of God”: That hidden in a life of suffering and an agonizing death there is a God who is for us. There is a God who has done for us what we were powerless and unable to do for ourselves. There is a God who made all things from “no thing” and refuses to stay at a distance. This is a God who gets His hands dirty, who ends up on a cross by the hand of His own creatures. This is the God of not only Jews but of Greeks. This is a foolish God. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1:18). There is no distinction, “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him,” (Rom. 10:12). In Christ we are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, straight or queer, but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord and all who call on His name will be saved.