Monday, March 26, 2012

Lenten Reflection

Many of us are preparing for the coming Easter season. I'm sure many of us cannot wait until we can once again celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus. For my church this is the high point of our worship life together, in fact we have an annual Good Friday service which we'll see folks come to who we might not see any other time of the year. But before we move onto that, I think it is worthwhile to reflect on the Lenten season just a bit.

I recently heard a friend say that he was giving up Lent for Lent. That might sound cute but I think many Christians have done that already - and continue to do it yearly. I think the problem is that we do not understand what purpose the Lenten season serves in the worship life of our churches. 

The most common Lenten practice is fasting, that is giving up something that you value or enjoy for the forty days leading up to Good Friday. Some might not know that the traditional church sometimes takes Sundays off from the fasting - indicating that this is a labour unto God. So why would fasting be a labour?

The notion that fasting is costly is common enough. That it means giving up something that we treasure. But if it is also a labour - then something replaces the thing given up in the fast. I am suggesting that one of the purposes of Lent is to create a tradition of corporate prayer and reflection. That if we simply give up something then we are missing the most important part - the labour. 

I'm not suggesting that this labouring saves us - but I wonder if sometimes we hide behind the faith not works line and miss that according to James, real faith always manifests in works. The easy connection to labour is to replace the time spent enjoying the thing given up with time of reflection and prayer. But what if we got a bit more creative here. Try to think of what would be the Kingdom work that we can replace our sacrifice with? 

If I give up coffee for Lent, why not take the money I would have spent on coffee and invest it in education in the country where the beans are grown, often at a terrible cost to the farmers who grow them? Or why not take that money and invest it in protecting the rainforests that are being clear cut to grow more beans? 

If I give up TV for Lent, why not take the time I would have spent watching shows to play music for a local inner city mission? I love my entertainment as much as the next person, so why not share that joy with folks who really could use a bit of entertainment? Or why not take the time you would have watched shows to play board games with your family and friends - one of the things I've seen happen with Lent is that the new pattern or activity can become more important than the old one. And 40 days is just enough time to develop a new habit. 

I'm sure you all can come up with more examples. I wonder if you would like to share them with us, especially the ones you've already done. Let's think of Lent as a possibility, and opportunity to do good and not just a time to sacrifice.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ontario Region

Monday, March 19, 2012

good vs evil

Hello.  My name is Matte Downey and I am a thinker. (Hello, Matte!)  If you are reading this, you probably have some tendencies toward thinking yourself.  That's a good thing.  Thinking, to me, means that we look beyond what we see, hear, touch, experience, taste, or feel in order to ponder on a deeper or broader meaning.  It means that we stretch our necks and look past what we don't know, past what we think we know in order to catch a glimpse of the unknown.  Thinking and studying are two ways in which we can gain a better understanding of our world, our selves, and the grand mystery of God's love for all of the above.  In my experience, thinking is very closely related to inspired action; it can undergird transformation and change; at times it helps clarify revelation; and on occasion, it has stopped me from jumping to hasty and inadequate conclusions (thank goodness). 

I am privileged to be a participant in this national thoughtworks blog, a place where we can share thoughts, ideas, works in progress, resources, questions, lessons, and insights that might aid us in this journey of following Jesus together.  What I have written below is a snapshot of what studying does in my life.  Perhaps you will find some value in it.

A few weeks ago, I was reading some lectures given by theologian Bernard Lonergan in 1959 and quite enjoying them. It was like taking a nice, leisurely walk. One of the reasons it reminded me of a pleasant saunter in the forest on a spring day was because it gave me a break from reading the work of Paul Ricoeur. Monsieur Ricoeur's brilliant philosophical mind likes to dive into craterous valleys and leap atop spiky mountains while balancing plates on his head. At least that's what it feels like to me.

Anyway, I was enjoying my walk in the park with Lonergan as he discussed the subject of human good when I came upon the following paragraphs. Abruptly, the walk in the park ended as a huge crevice opened up before me regarding the concept of "good." Here is the quote:

"...the good is not apart from evil in this life. In his Enchiridion (Handbook), St Augustine made perhaps one of the most profound remarks in all his writings, and for that matter in the whole of theology, when he said that God could have created a world without any evil whatever, but thought it better to permit evil and draw good out of the evil.

We must not forget that what God wants, the world God foreknew from all eternity in all its details and freely chose according to his infinite wisdom and infinite goodness, is precisely the world in which we live, with all its details and all its aspects. This is what gives meaning to a phrase that might at times be considered trite: resignation to the will of God. God does not will any sin, either directly or indirectly. He wills only indirectly any privation or punishment. What he wills directly is the good, and only the good. Yet the good that God wills and freely chooses with infinite wisdom and infinite goodness is this world. It is a good, then, that is not apart from evil. It is a good that comes out of evil, that triumphs over evil." [1]

Dagnabit, Lonergan. Why'd you have to go and say that? Those are unsettling words! Don't you know that "good" is squeaky clean? Bright and shiny and oh so pure? Never been touched or soiled by dirty, filthy evil? It has never even looked at anything remotely un-good or for that matter thought about it? It has never acknowledged the existence of anything less than good, so glorious is its glory? Ah yes, the romantic idealist in me was popping up again. My concept of "good" was something so totally divorced from evil that it would never get its hands dirty. And fortunately, that is the same separatist image that Jesus shattered when he embraced full humanity.

"Good" deserves more credit than I have been giving it. It is much grander, much more gracious, and much more powerful than my sterile version of it. I had been thinking of a one-dimensional, fenced-in "good." Something that keeps itself apart from yuckiness and bad people, unsullied by evil and suffering. In fact, the "good" that Jesus showed us is a "good" that embraces all the yuckiness and suffering and evil and still remains good. How does it do that? I don't know. But I need it!

However, embracing this concept of "good" is troublesome. Lonergan introduces that bothersome phrase, "resignation to the will of God." I really, really want to stay in my spring forest, walking along with birds chirping and a soft breeze blowing, everything in a state of heavenly goodness. But once I acknowledge that this good God, in choosing to make a good world, chose this broken, imperfect mess around me, I become disillusioned. Where is my utopia? I want more than this! I want sweet candy goodness!

This meaty, sinewy, raw idea of goodness is difficult to take in. This earthy goodness bleeds and cries and dies, but somehow, this goodness remains undefeated. This goodness embraces suffering, opens its arms to death and injustice, pain and sorrow, and swallows it all. Digests it. Turns it from poison into food - food that strengthens it. In that case, evil can no longer be seen as the equal opposite of good. Instead, evil becomes part of the tapestry of a bigger good: a red thread of spilled blood, a scarred edge of healing, one string tied to another in a reconciliation knot. This tapestry of "good" is so much bigger than I had imagined. So much more colourful than my eyes are able to see. So much less fearful (shouldn't good run away from evil?) than I make it out to be; in fact, good knows no fear. It is deep and wide and broad, searching out the low and yucky, muddy places, just like the love of God.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see - how good God is. Psalm 34:8 (The Message)

1. Bernard Lonergan. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Topics in Education: the Cincinnati Lectures of 1959 on the Philosophy of Education. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, p. 29-30.

the photo: the back of a woven rug - a gift from my sister and bro-in-law who serve as teachers in Afghanistan

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You Are Here.

If you are reading this, then you have found the brand new home for the National ThoughtWorks Blog. We are excited to have you here.

Readers of the Ontario ThoughtWorks Blog will be happy to find all the old articles ported over for ease of searching. Our hope is that this blog will be a rich asset to your ministry. We aim to include articles that will inform, inspire, challenge, and even equip you to do the things that God desires from your life and ministry.

On this blog expect the following kinds of articles:

  • articles on approaches to mentoring and discipling 
  • reviews and discussions of books and tools that Vineyard folk (and others) have found helpful 
  • articles on upcoming training opportunities that you can get involved in 
  • reports from past events from folks who have attended 
  • and articles on theological work that is relevant to Vineyards in Canada

To serve you we have assembled a writing crew made up of great thinkers from Vineyards across Canada (and we are still interested in more writers if you want to join in). The goal is to have something new for you every Monday, just as we tried to do with the Ontario Regional blog. But here we will also include upcoming training/equipping events and links to important resources (such as the National ThoughtWorks Website.)  These links will be on separate pages accessed by the tabs at the top of this page.

Just as before, we still want you to participate with this blog. If you have an idea for a post or series - pitch it to us. Want to report on an event you attended - we would love to have you do that here. Want to comment and interact with the posts here, by all means. A blog is more than just info bytes - it is a community and a conversation. There is nothing more satisfying to a blogger than having a comment show that the message was helpful, or at least thought-worthy, for someone else. Another way to put this is, think of this blog as your blog. Jump in in whatever ways you like. And don't be surprised if I come after you at various gatherings to share your experiences and heart on this blog.

Oh and make sure you follow this blog, it is encouraging to see our community grow!

A quick note on commenting - there are lots of spammers out there so we do cull comments that seem like spam. In the comments, no questions are off limits - but we do ask that comments are always kept civil. Our purpose here is not to definitively solve the important debates that beset the Church today. However, we are more than willing to engage in the conversations that might help folks find their way through those debates. If you want to engage in deliberate theological conversation, especially conversation that goes beyond the mandate of this blog, then you really ought to join in the conversation at the Society for Vineyard Scholars facebook group. Over there you will find another great group of people who regularly tackle the important issues of our day.

OK, that is enough of an intro, expect our first article soon.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa, Ontario