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This is too good not to share. An excerpt:

“The root of the Hebrew word for glory means weight. In English, girth rhymes with mirth and worth. Everyone loves a fat man.

I remember as a child going to the beach with my uncles and my father. I can still see, glistening in the sun and surf, handsome padded expanses of back. I can still smell the unforgettable reek of salt, sweat and olive oil as I hung on great shoulders and rode fearlessly over the waves. But I am sure that now, if there are any such men left in the world, they are troubled about their weight—that their wives, their physicians and their friends are engaged in a vast and successful conspiracy to worry it off them.

It is the non-historical approach rampant. I remember my uncles as sacred groves, as places in my history, as anointed stones of the city of my being. But the diet-mongers see them only as abstract spaces. They inquire after their height—a dreadful irrelevancy to being with—and, after consultation with a table, they arrive at what they think should be their weight. They refuse the men themselves; they insist upon a diagram of humanity instead. They dwell only upon what they would like a man to conform to; they never come within a hundred miles of knowing what a man is. A curse on them all! If they had their way, there would not be an uncle in all the world worth having.

Ah, you say, but surely you are not about to allow the world to be overrun by fat? Does not even a love of men for themselves—does not even a priestly and historical offering of uncles—impose some canons, some standards? Of course it does. I have nothing against reasonable efforts to remain in human shape. I object to only two things: abstract definitions of that shape, and dieting as the means of achieving it.

The abstractions are wrong because, nine times out of ten, they are based only on fads, social or medical. No chart can tell you how fat my uncles should be. You must spend some time with them before you attempt so delicate an estimate. You must see them swim and dance and carry children on their backs; you must look at them for months of Sunday-night suppers, behold them at plates of braunschweiger and steins of beer, before you dare to decide anything as intimate to their history as their weight.

And the dieting is wrong because it is not priestly. It is a way of using food without using it, of bringing it into your history without letting it get involved with your history. It is non-historical eating. And it is pure fraud. Bring it down to cases. Take an uncle with an embarrassingly low metabolic rate: if he gets more than 1,800 calories a day, his weight goes up out of control. He puts himself in the hands of dietary experts. They oblige him with a program. It works. At 900 calories per diem he becomes an up-to-date, low-budget uncle. But, if you see him in a year, he will have put it all back on again. And why? Because no sane human being can stand living on 1,800 calories every day till the clap of doom. So he nibbles away for a while, and then in desperation surrenders himself to creamed lobster, mashed potatoes, and a proper string of double scotches. He is lost, and he knows it. He just gives up.

The only thing that can save him is historical eating—eating worthy of the priesthood of Adam—eating that alternates as it should between feast and fast. The dieter is a condemned man. Every feast is, ipso facto, a sin. He apologizes for eating my pâté; he abjectly acknowledges his guilt over my wife’s Cake à la Bennich. Good is evil to him, and bounty a burden. But if he would fast! If he would take no food on Wednesday—and none on Tuesday too, if he wills to reign like a king—what prodigies might he not perform at Thursday’s dinner; how, like a giant, go from course to course?

What a poor, benighted age we live in. How we deny ourselves all the sauces but the best. How little of what surrounds us is ever offered either by use or abstinence. And there is a secret. Fasting is an offering, too. The dieter says: Sweets are bad; I cannot have them ever. The faster says: Sweets are good; I will not take them now. The dieter is condemned to bitter bondage, to a life which dares not let food in. But the faster is a man preparing for a feast. His Lent leads to an Easter, and to mirth and weight of Glory.”

Robert Farrar Capon, An Offering of Uncles: The Priesthood of Adam & the Shape of the World (88-90).

I remember when I first met Yves, or “Frenchy” as he was affectionately known on the street.

We had just moved to Toronto and he used to sit outside the Rabba (the very first Rabba, that is) by our apartment chatting to folks who passed by, hoping for a little change. The first time I saw Yves I probably smiled, said “hi”, and tossed him some change. We got to know each other quickly, Yves and I. My wife and I developed a love for Yves, we would talk to and pray for him almost daily. He also developed a love for us and our dog. Yves and I spent more and more time together, ten minutes here, an hour there. We would talk, have lunch, walk. But we were from different worlds, Yves and I. He is from the streets. He wasn’t always from the streets but hard times hit when he turned to alcohol and his partner left him with their kid.

I was there when Yves had a reaction to some food a passerby had given him and I had to rummage through his backpack for his epi-pen which I thrust into his thigh. The paramedics showed up and he was alright, but not without harassing the very people that were there to help him (he was drunk). Yves was there the day we found out we were pregnant. He was also there the day we had our first ultrasound. I remember showing him the ultrasound on my phone and he nearly blew a gasket he was so excited. He jumped up and began shouting and laughing and gave me a big hug, right outside of Rabba. I was there when Yves got beat up pretty bad and had his few personal belongings taken from him by someone else on the street. At least it wasn’t the police that time. Being beaten and humiliated by those who are supposed to uphold justice, simply because you’re poor, drunk, and homeless, sounds humiliating. I was there the day Yves found out he had finally been offered an apartment through the Streets to Homes program. He had been waiting for that forever, it seemed. That was a good day.

We didn’t help Yves by giving him money. Although we did often loan him money. He always said he’d pay us back. We never really expected him to until one time he did actually pay us back. I think it was $20.00 or something. When we saw Yves we didn’t see a “need”, at least not any more or less so than when we looked at anyone else. And that’s the point, I think. If we helped Yves at all, and I think he helped us more, it was by seeing him as a human creature and treating him as such with love and dignity, even when his speech was so slurred you could hardly make out a word. We loved Yves, and we offered him our friendship which he received and offered us his in return.

I haven’t seen Yves in some time, probably close to a year. I hope he’s doing well.

 

*The photograph is of our first apartment in Toronto (building in the middle of the picture) that I found online. It was taken in 1976.

It’s been sometime since I’ve written anything here. Obviously my Euro predictions were a wee bit off. At any rate, here are a few updates that may/may not be of any interest.

(1) I graduated (or, convocated?)! Three years and a whole lot of reading and writing later and I am officially a graduate of Wycliffe College. My wife will heartily agree, no doubt, that these three years were hugely important for our family and me personally. Going into Wycliffe I was in a bit of a strange place mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Seminary isn’t for everyone, but for me it was just what I needed. I grew up in more ways than one and feel a renewed call to ordained ministry.

Wycliffe College Convocation (2012) – Can you spot me?

(2) On the note of ordained ministry, my family and I have been moving in recent months towards Anglicanism. Little known fact: I was baptized in the Church of Ireland and attended St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Newmarket, ON up until the age of about eleven. At the end of April we had Charlotte baptized at our local Anglican Church (St. Matthew’s Riverdale). A few weeks back I was officially received into the Anglican Communion by the laying on of hands from Bishop Mark MacDonald. I am also currently on a one year contract with St. Matthew’s as parish assistant in order that I may gain ministry experience in an Anglican context. All of this is, among other reasons, because I hope to apply for ordination with the Diocese of Toronto in 2013. This journey is, for me, anxiety laden in more than a few ways. I actually plan on writing a short series of blog posts over the summer documenting our journey towards Anglicanism and all of the things I’m concerned about along the way.

(3) We’re moving. As of August 1st we need to be out of the house. We finally found someone to move in and take our place (we have been living in intentional Christian community, of sorts, for the past year and a bit and needed to help find a person to take over our place in order to leave). Ideally we want to stay in the Riverdale/Leslieville neighbourhood as we love it here and our church community is here (not to mention my other job with the Philip Aziz Centre). It’s not looking promising at the moment but I’m still hoping we can find something in the next couple of weeks.

OK, that’s all for now. I’m going to attempt to post at least once a week over the summer to keep the creative juices flowing.

Peace y’all!

 

*The featured image is of St. Matthew’s Riverdale.

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.

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.

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).

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.