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Monthly Archives: July 2011

It’s rather mind-boggling to think of how time just progresses. On and on we go. There’s no stopping it or hitting pause. Life just happens and we make choices and adapt as we go.

This week has been a blur for me. Every day has been filled with eager anticipation and expectation. Christina and I are expecting our first child, a daughter named Charlotte. She was due this past Sunday, July 24th but she’s now 5 days late (she must take after her Pop). So, quite literally every day this week I’ve awoken with fresh hope for the day. Perhaps this will be the day we get to hold her?

Anyways, I was going back in the blog archives and reflecting on where we’ve been. Man, it’s been a crazy trip, even just the last 3 years. Take for example this blog post from July 28th, 2008, 3 years ago yesterday.

I was youth pastoring at the time. We had recently been out east with a group of students from our church (it was a great trip btw). More recently we had just finished our first ever sports camp for kids in the community. It’s a bit surreal looking at the people in the photograph. Back then we saw them each and every week. They were our community. Now, 3 years later, I hardly talk to any of them. It’s strange even looking at myself in that picture. I’ve changed a lot since then. I’ve experienced failures and success since that picture was taken. I’ve been through some significant “paradigm shifting” moments. I’m love my wife more honestly and deeply now than then.

Also at the time of this post we were still living in Aurora and just visiting Church in the Beach on occasion. This is so strange to talk about because since then CITB has become our community. These are the folks we live with now, that we see each and every week, that we experience joy and sadness with. To think of not being part of this community 3 years from now breaks my heart. We have significant, formative relationships here. One’s that I hope will last a lifetime. Reading what I wrote about CITB in that post from 3 years ago makes me chuckle a bit. I can hear the frustration in my tone. The pride. The reason for our visit to CITB that evening was to be commissioned for a trip to Europe with Greater Europe Mission. It was fantastic. We still have a really good relationship with GEM and I’ve been back once since. We also made some good friends from the US on that trip that we’ve stayed in contact with (despite the fact that they’re American). Last summer we met them in Chicago for a weekend and this summer they came up to Toronto to hang out with us. That same night we visited CITB we partied after because our Iranian friend Azita won her court case and was granted refugee status in Canada. We’re still friends with Azita today and I’ve learned much from her gentle, humble demeanor and her love for Jesus.

Anyways, that was all 3 years ago. Today we’re living in our second place in Toronto, with 3 other people. We’re about to be parents and on top of that I’m going into my 3rd (and final) year of seminary. The past few years at Wycliffe have also been incredible and I’ve met some amazing people, but that’s a blog for another day.

Whelp, I guess that’s it. I don’t know how this ended up becoming a post. I just started to think about that post from 3 years ago and began to write and, well, here we are.

Time is strange. So is change. Reminds me of a quote from John Henry Newman:

To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

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Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, says that effective leaders “have a clear, teachable leadership point of view and are willing to share it with, and teach it to others.”

Clear.

Teachable.

The following are 10 leadership traits according to Garry:

 1. Do what you say you’re going to do: Organizations don’t pay much attention to what we say. Organizations pay intense attention to what we do and the examples we set, particularly if the actions are inconsistent with the words. Any inconsistency is corrosive.

2. You are expected to be competent: Organizations expect their leaders to be competent and act with integrity. (I mean integrity in the broadest sense of the word to include team play and respect shown to subordinates).

3. Have high self-esteem and self worth: Leaders need to have a strong sense of self worth. This means the ability to accept failures and criticism, but without being so egotistical and hubristic that the person is not open to opinions of others. I’ve heard it said that good leaders have a level of self confidence that is slightly more than what is justified by the facts.

4. Leaders move forward: Leaders are not afraid to act with a sense of urgency. They pay attention to the details (not by micromanaging but by taking the occasional deep dive to test what they’re hearing).

5. Good judgment comes from healthy learning moments: Leaders exercise good judgment, usually a result of learning from mistakes. Our successes normally don’t bring with them the introspection that mistakes do. Good judgment is also a result of a wide variety of, e.g. international, experiences. Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment.

6. Leaders are connected, aware and tuned in: They outwardly act and display what they believe internally. Leaders are particularly tuned in to the people around them and to subtle behavioural clues. They read a room well. This is akin to a good sixth sense about how to act in foreign cultures. They listen well. They have high EQ.

7. Leaders value the gift of contrarians and resistors: Good leaders don’t like yes men and sycophants. They know these people will cause them to fail. They are not afraid of surrounding themselves with strong people.

8. Be a leader of hope: Leaders of hope have a belief that “this too will pass.” They keep the passion of their people and they exercise patience against panic. They gather the facts in a sense of calm.

9. Involve your people: Involve the people: The best ideas and greatest support will come when people are involved and contributing. In the end, every decision will be made by the person who can make the decision – an informed decision-maker has the people involved.

10. Always stay in servant leadership mode: Remember leaders are there to serve. The shepherd is there on behalf of the sheep – the sheep are not there on behalf of the shepherd. Note how in most of these a good quality, such as self confidence, becomes fatal when carried to excess.

Lot’s of important stuff here. I know “leadership” is a contested term in the Church world (and rightly so). However, that being said, I think there is a lot of good in the above list.

Thoughts?

The claim with which church proclamation steps forward and the expectation with which it is surrounded should not mislead us; it is always and always will be man’s word. It is also something more than this and quite different. When and where it pleases God, it is God’s own Word. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 §3.2.

Karl Barth penned the above words in regard to Church proclamation. Proclamation (the preaching of the Word) in the context of a Christian community is the formative event. This is true to a lesser extent, for example, in Catholicism where the sacraments are the formative event. What has always set Protestants apart (and should continue to do so) is the primacy of proclamation. For, we hold that proclamation is not merely man’s (sic) word. It is, without a doubt man’s word and cannot cease to be so. Thus, in one sense proclamation of the Word is human service. However, there is another sense “when and where it pleases God” in which proclamation is God’s “own Word” to the community of believers. This is why proclamation is the event for Protestants. It is that moment when we are confronted by God’s own Word and beckoned to obey. Yet, in affirming this we all too often forget that proclamation is an act of human service. These are and “always will be” our words. And so, inevitably, we end up being far too trusting of our own words. They become God’s Word because we say so. God’s Word is unassailable, thus, our words become unassailable (A different example of a similar confusion might be a Toronto Police officer who assumes that the power granted him by the city gives him the sort of authority that permits him to kick the shit out of homeless folks. Here is a situation where the officer is clearly confused about the sort of authority granted to someone in his position).

To the degree that [proclamation is human service], it is not an unassailable action whose authenticity is assured. Like all human action it is exposed to the question of its responsibility…Thus it is precisely in terms of its origin and basis, of the being of the Church, that Church proclamation, and with it the Church itself, is assailed and called in question…Because it is God’s service that Church proclamation seeks to be, it is God Himself and God alone who asks here and to whom response must be made here. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 §3.2.

Because proclamation is a human action it is to be held to account. It must be exposed to the question of its responsibility (is it really the responsibility of Toronto police to kick the shit out of homeless folks? In light of the real responsibility of Toronto police these sorts of actions must be exposed and held to account). Because proclamation claims to be God’s Word which gives birth to and forms the Church it must be “assailed and called in question”. Now, this happens all the time of course. People “outside” or opposed to the Church call into question her proclamation and then some. Yet, for Barth, there is a louder and more terrifying voice which calls Church proclamation to account, namely, the voice of God. Because proclamation seeks to be God’s own Word, God Himself (and He alone) is the one who “asks here and to whom response must be made here.”

And so the Church is burdened with this great responsibility. Of continually submitting ourselves to God and willingly allowing Him to call our words which claim to be His Word into question. This is the burning responsibility of the Church (I hear Hauerwas here). If this self-critique ceases to be the burning issue for the Church, “if the Church with its proclamation can feel secure before God,” then other responsibilities become the burning issue for us. When this occurs, when we begin to feel “secure before God” in our proclamation and other responsibilities become the burning issue then all of the opposition to Church proclamation from state, society, culture etc. “though not intrinsically justifiable, will be legitimate in relation to the Church” and will indeed become necessary criticism of the Church in its failure to be the Church (oh hey, there’s Hauerwas again!).

Our main concern must be our own proclamation. We must be conscious of this responsibility and be “seriously concerned about it”. It has always struck me as odd what we get our feathers ruffled over. Be it homosexuality, small/big government, cultural dis/engagement etc. many sermons preached from pulpits and many conversations had between (mostly) comfortable Christian folks portray the Church as under attack. The gays! Big government! Evolution! We consider these all serious opponents. This, to me, betrays just how self-assured we are. For, as Barth notes, it is only an “unconcerned and self-assured Church”, which is not assailed at it’s own centre (proclamation), that views these “opponents” as at all serious opponents. In other words, our first and foremost concern ought to be submitting ourselves before the God who examines and calls into question our proclamation. The attacks we ought to be concerned with come not from man, but from God.

The Church should fear God and not fear the world. But only if and as it fears God need it cease to fear the world. If it does not fear God, then it is not helped at all but genuinely endangered if it fears the world, listens to its opposition, considers its attitudes, and accepts all kinds of responsibilities towards it, no matter how necessary and justified may be the criticism it receives from this quarter. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 §3.2.

This, I think, raises a whole host of questions about everything from apologetic ministries to Christian lobby groups and poses a challenge to liberal Protestants and Christian Re-constructionists alike. When we fear the world and it’s perceived attacks on Christianity perhaps this is because we have ceased fearing God. May we fear God instead and realize that there is no need to fear the world. We are never “genuinely endangered” by the criticism we receive from the world. Rather, if we indeed fear God then perhaps this criticism can serve as a help. Perhaps we may even recognize God’s voice in these alien voices and be reminded of the burden of our particular ministry and all of the promise it thus entails. The Church that submits herself to God has little energy to spend defending herself against perceived threats. Conversely, the Church with energy to spend defending herself against perceived threats loses sight of her call to submit to and fear God alone.

 

Drawing by this nudist.

In this post I’d like to make an attempt to argue for infant baptism. Specifically, I want to counter some of the main evangelical arguments against that I outlined earlier in this post. Thus, the argument I want to make here consists of 3 main points: 1) A focus on the communal/relational nature of our faith, 2) grace, and 3) baptism as a real event.

1) Community over individual.
The evangelical community treats baptism as the public display of a decision made by a particular individual. To be baptized one must “own” their faith and make a cognitive “decision for Christ”. I would argue that the individualism so prevalent in this persuasion is rooted in Western (post) Enlightenment thinking wherein “the individual” became the preeminent being. Against this the Judeo-Christian faith is not an individualistic faith. While always personal it is never private. While we can really have a relationship with God this is a relationship that takes shape in a real community of believers rather than locked away in your bedroom with your bible (nothing against personal devotions here). Fundamentally as human beings we are not individuals. Our very being is constituted in relation (with God, others and the non-human creation). If then our very being is relational it is harmful to frame baptism with the individualism we inherit from the forefathers of Western thought.

I would argue instead that baptism is entrance into the people of God. While this is most evident in the NT we see it also has effect in the OT (i.e. 1 Cor 10:2). To be baptized is to be baptized into something. We descend in the water with Christ and in so doing participate in his death with him and with our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. When we come up out of the water we are raised with Christ and with those who have gone before us into the eschatological community which surrounds Jesus. As such, baptism is much like the eucharist in which we are consumed and become  a Body.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ,” (Gal 3:26-28).

2) Grace over cognition.
The evangelical community makes the content of one’s baptism their “decision for Christ”. Thus, what becomes important (and must come prior to baptism) is a cognitive decision that is made for Jesus (believe and be baptized!). Yet, in contrast with this view I find myself sympathetic with Luther on the matter of baptism. Luther viewed infant baptism as pure grace. For here is a tiny helpless infant, she cannot make any sort of cognitive decision for Christ nor can she publicly proclaim her faith yet she is initiated into the people of God. She could do nothing to earn this. Grace.

The Meeting House is doing a series at the moment in conversation with various Christian traditions. The first talk in this series was in conversation with Anglicanism and featured a dialogue between Bruxy and John Bowen (a prof of mine from Wycliffe). Bowen asked the question, “What if we think of baptism as the way you register in the school of Jesus Christ?” So, perhaps you enter the school of Jesus at 13, 25, 60. Naturally, you are baptized. But suppose you raise your child in this school from day 1? Why not baptize them as well? This is the view that I have become convinced of myself. Baptism is not the medal you get for crossing the finish line and arriving at all the right conclusions about Jesus. Rather, baptism is the gate through which you enter into the people of God and journey with them to discover and be formed by the God revealed in Christ Jesus.

My friend Jason gave this as a counter argument to the “cognitive decision” that evangelicals argue must come before baptism: “A related test case might be the baptism of mentally challenged people who are unable of making adult decisions. Do we baptize people who are incapable of uniting their faith with the water? Or do we baptize them as a sign that God’s love overcomes even this weakness?”

Baptism is not earned by confessing the right thing. Rather, baptism is entrance into a community where we learn to confess the right thing. Grace.

3) Real over symbolic.
Thus, where evangelicals speak of baptism as a symbolic action that points to the inward (real) faith of a particular individual I would argue that baptism is a real event (not just a symbol) and a real sacrament of God’s grace in our lives whereby we actually are baptized with Christ into his death and resurrection and actually are raised to new life in the midst of a community of resurrection. Baptism is thus important. It’s not simply one possible option that a cognitive individual can add on to their faith like adding power windows to the base model of your new car. Baptism is not just another possible choice at the buffet of religious goods and services. Baptism is, rather, a real event with real bearing in the life of faith.

In closing and in relation to all 3 points above consider this. Christian parents do not bring their children up neutrally. They do not bring them up so that one day they may make a decision (at age 16, obviously) and become part of the Body, rather, they bring them up as part of the Body. Faith is not merely a decision, it is a habit that you learn and children are capable of learning the habit of faith long before they ever “make a decision”. Thus, Christian families should baptize their children as infants because they are being enrolled in the school of Jesus from Day 1.

John Bowen published a book on the life of the Catholic missionary Vincent Donovan (actually the book was a collection of Donovan’s missionary letters). In some of his letters Donovan recalls how he would meet a new tribe (he was somewhere in the African continent) and teach them the faith for a year. Then, at the end of the year he would ask them to be baptized. Of course, there was a problem. You see, that old gentleman over there, well, he slept through 3/4 of the classes and that young girl over there, well, she ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. So everyone else could be baptized but not them. The chief of the tribe then approached Donovan and said something to the effect of, “Either you baptize us all or none of us will be baptized. We will help each other along.”

Thoughts?

ps – While I agree with all of this in theory the real church community that we are part of does not practice infant baptism, unfortunately. Since that is our community it looks like little Charlotte will be unable to be baptized although I hope that in the future denominations that hold to “believers baptism” will recognize that this does not necessarily require a “decision for Christ” on behalf of the person being baptized. Charlotte, despite the fact that you are fed from a breast and constantly poo yourself, despite the fact that you can’t decide what you want to do for the day let alone decide to follow Jesus, God’s grace is extended to you anyways. You are a part of God’s people and no decision could earn that reality for you.

Christina and I spent Monday-Wednesday this week at a friends cottage. On Tuesday evening we decided to venture into Peterborough for a film (prior to which I enjoyed an absolutely delicious Rochefort 10 for the first time). Due to a lack of choice we ended up settling on Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Needless to say, I was far more interested in seeing this than was Christina.

To be honest my hopes were not particularly high going in. I wasn’t expecting an intricate plot or complex and mysterious characters. I went into it expecting to see 2.5 hours of explosions and cool visual effects. On the surface, this is exactly what we got, a decent action packed summer popcorn flick. However, about two thirds of the way through the movie I began to pick up on something that left me feeling uneasy. I am no movie critic and I could be off on this but DOTM seemed eerily like a piece of American propaganda meant to prop up their (often oppressive) foreign policy.

For those with power, be they people or nations, stories play an important role. Particularly when it comes to propping up an oppressive state or empire stories serve to form the average citizen in the way of said empire. Citizens are told stories to shape the way they think and act, to remind them who are their friends and who are their enemies and so on. Film can be but one medium at the service of this (for a modern example of this see Dan’s blog on ‘Watching Batman with Zizek’).

The main plot in DOTM is that Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots are trying to stop the Decepticons (with the help of Autobot Sentinel Prime) from bringing their planet to earth. Essentially the Decepticons want to infiltrate earth (let’s be honest, it’s really all about the USA) and make US citizens their slaves. In order to avoid this the human race must join in the fight with the Autobots.

The point, for me, where the movie began to betray it’s pro-America storyline was when Optimus Prime (in his patriotic blue and red) says to Sentinel Prime, “Today, in the name of freedom, we take the battle to them!” Later in the same speech Optimus reminds Sentinel, “You were the one who taught me that freedom was everyones right.”

Freedom is everyones right! To be sure, this is freedom to pursue the good that each individual wants to pursue, unhindered (The American Dream). The Decepticon’s invasion of earth poses a threat to the freedom of earth’s citizens. So, before they can invade and rob us of our freedom we must take the battle to them. This is the noble pursuit of the Autobots and the humans that join them.

Towards the end of the film as Optimus is about to kill Sentinel he says, “You didn’t betray me, you betrayed yourself.” Sentinel joined the Decepticons in their plan to invade earth. Because he was sympathetic to the Decepticon cause he was a threat to freedom and thus “betrayed himself”. Optimus then reminds those surrounding him that there are “days when our allies turn against us.” No matter what happens we will continue to fight for freedom. Our allies may betray themselves and turn against us but even this will not stop our pursuit. All of this occurs as the camera pans across the destroyed city and focuses in on a single, tattered American flag.

Further, in the movie, Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots are the good guys. There is no question of this. Those who stand against them are bad guys, clearly. The Autobots will always do what is right and stand up for the good because they do it “for freedom!” as Optimus says. Those who disagree are traitors and will be done away with should they get in the way.

This is a powerful narrative. We are the good guys. They are the bad guys. These lines are drawn clearly in the sand. Since we are the good guys who value the good we can take whatever means necessary (tearing our enemies apart, taking the battle to them) to maintain our livelihood because we do it for freedom.

But what if things aren’t that clear-cut? The good are rarely “clearly” good and the bad are rarely “clearly” bad. Yet when it comes to “us” and “them”, we’re usually the good guys, aren’t we?

Then again, maybe it was just another action flick?