Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Events

One of the resources ThoughtWorks would like to provide is information on what events are coming up. There are a few we think are worth noting. Academic events where you can engage with theologians. Training events that we think will help equip you or your congregation to do great things for God. And events from our movement in Canada - like the annual prayer summit and the upcoming national celebration.

If you have an event that fits one of those categories - no matter how small - why not let us know so we can help get the word out. It is always better when we do things together.

Frank Emanuel, Ontario ThoughtWorks rep.

Monday, January 20, 2014


It has been a difficult week. Yesterday I attended a beautiful memorial service for a really tortured soul. This past week brought news of two passings that have been greatly on my mind. Through it I have been hearing God speak something quite clearly, but that doesn't make any of this easier. Let me tell you about my friend Colin Benner first.

I met Colin and Denise, they are inseparable in my mind in many ways as I admire the depth of their relationship and have been praying a lot for Denise and the greatness of her loss, I met them quite a few years back when they were trying to reconnect with their old friends Jim and Mary Rennicks. Jim and Mary had the Ottawa Vineyard before we started Freedom, and I was part of that church in the beginning and in the final years. So happenstance landed Colin and Denise into our livingroom one afternoon where we encountered two people who seemed seated in the very grace of God. You know a meeting is significant when someone begins singing encouragements over you as Colin did that day. When Colin and Denise came to work with a struggling Vineyard church in Kanata I was overjoyed.

As I got to know Colin and Denise better I was privileged with seeing first hand their gifting at restoring faith communities to health. I had been hearing of how they had done this all over the world. I certainly felt blessed by their work here, not just with the local congregation they nurtured, but with the region as well. Colin has this laid back, grace filled air that, I believe, allowed him to speak into situations prophetically and profoundly. Wise too, this week I feel like I could have used his wisdom - and in some strange way I think I have experienced it despite his passing beyond the veil.

Colin was my friend. I don't say that glibly. We actually talked about the idea of what is friendship. I know he knew the real struggles that ministry could sometimes bring. He shared his frustrations and pain with me. And he always had an ear to hear mine. I have lots of people that I respect and admire - but few of them are also real friends. My life is richer because Colin was my friend.

Denise posted a link to an important blog post from Colin called Footprints in Your Life. In this post Colin encourages us to not wait until someone has passed to tell them how important they were to you. The wisdom of this was driven home yesterday at Amanda's memorial. There was a large crowd gathered to mourn Amanda's passing. Amanda, as I mentioned, was a tortured soul. She transitioned genders later on in life and found herself exiled from the Christian communities that have always been important to her. Tragically Amanda took her own life last week. Talking with a mutual friend at the memorial he was in tears realizing just how many people came out to show their love for Amanda. His lament was that Amanda was not there to see just how much support there was for her, how many people cared for her. The echo of Colin's encouragement was not lost on me.

Last night when Sharon and I were preparing to pray for those Colin and Amanda have left behind we talked about this idea of not waiting to encourage. It is something we've actually always tried to do. We decided last night to redouble our efforts - especially as a family (which seems to be the first place we slack on such things) - to encourage people while they are with us. Read Colin's blog post, you will be glad you did. Hold those you love closer today and encourage those whose passing would leave a gap in your life. Thank you for your wisdom Colin. Amanda I'm glad your pain is now over. Rest well my friends.

Monday, January 13, 2014

the gift of teaching

Kloster Kappel, Switzerland. Location of my conference
I just returned from an academic conference in Switzerland entitled Sacrality and Materiality. Like any conference of this sort, it featured several scholars (in this case, most of them were from Europe) who are well-known in their field and a bunch of us who are still working at it. I was scheduled to present my paper on mysticism at the end of the second day, so I had a full day and a half to listen and learn before I got a chance to speak. The first night at dinner I sat beside a noted scholar, one who writes textbooks for the course that I teach, and after my conversation with this very knowledgeable man, I wanted to go to my room and rip up my paper. I was sure that anything I had to say would sound like babbling idiocy, especially in contrast to the brilliant scholars people would have heard by the time my turn rolled around. Since a rewrite was out of the question, I spent some time lying awake that night concocting an introduction which would explain why I had written such an inadequate and unsophisticated essay, one which would prepare my poor listeners for the weak words and badly composed arguments which were to follow.

I usually have mixed feeling when I give a talk, whether it is in an academic setting, a church meeting, or any other public forum. What seemed wise and true the day before often appears ill thought-out and malformed right before I am ready to offer it to others. I know from experience that these sensations are mostly a form of paranoia, fear raising its ugly head making me question why I ever thought I had something to offer in the first place. These are the times when I have to remind myself that teaching is all about the gift. I am not talking primarily about teaching as a spiritual gift which is bestowed on us by the Holy Spirit, though that is certainly an important and necessary reality for the follower of Jesus. Instead, I am referring to the importance of viewing the occasion of teaching as a gift which we are generously bestowing on others. Here are some reasons why I believe this is so vital.

1. Giving a gift means that we offer it freely without expectation of a return. It is a gift, not an exchange. We do not need someone to affirm how great it was or tell us what a wonderful teacher we are.  We just need to give the best gift we can and do so in a generous and unselfish manner.
2. Giving a gift is not an investment. Giving a gift means that we cannot make demands on how people use what we have given them. We cannot follow them around to make sure they are using what we have given them in the way we envision it should be used. Giving a gift means that we let it go. It is no longer ours. What we have given others can be misquoted, misused, discarded, contradicted, or ridiculed. It may also be respected, pondered, invested wisely, or responsibly added to. None of that is our concern. Once we give the gift, it is out of our hands.
3. Giving a gift means that the reactions of people have limited affect on us. This protects us from getting all proud when people shower us with compliments and ooohs and aaahs. It also keeps us from being devastated when there are angry and critical responses.  We must remember that to a great extent, how people respond to our offering is outside of our purview.
4. Giving a gift means that we make it beautiful and don't do a sloppy job. We carefully craft it, we make sure it is appropriate for the intended recipients, we meticulously wrap it for presentation, and then we send it forth. We do our best, we give our best, and then it is out of our hands.
5. However, giving a gift is not an excuse for being irresponsible. If possible, it is important to take note of how people receive our gift. If I have taped the wrapping on too tightly and made it difficult to access, I need to change that for future gift-givings. If the gift crumbles apart in the receiver's hands, I need to be more attentive to making it cohesive. If people leave their gifts unopened, perhaps I have been forceful instead of generous and invitational, or it might have been bad timing for that particular gift, or people might have been satiated or overwhelmed with other gifts. Where there is no perceived need or desire, it is difficult to give something to someone.

My ultimate example for gift-giving is God's generous offer of love, friendship, forgiveness, mercy, life and so much more. Too often I ignore or misuse these gifts and yet, he keeps on giving. My transformation into a generous person comes from being around his divine generosity.

Many have asked me how my presentation went in Switzerland. I can tell you that I did not stumble over my words too much, the PowerPoint did not malfunction, I stayed well within the time limits, and there was no earthquake during my talk. Afterwards, no one chased me out of the room with a stick, and  I received a few comments which indicated that people had heard at least some of what I said. The gift, imperfect as it may have been, was generously given, and I am content with that.