Wednesday, December 9, 2015

calling all the fearful, doubting, and confused

The Annunciation. Image from ncregister.com
I have been reading Father James Martin's excellent book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, which is a meditation on the life of Jesus based on Martin's memoirs of visiting the Holy Land intertwined with historical background and spiritual insights. When I came across his chapter on the Annunciation, appropriately titled "Yes!" I was surprised at how much Mary's experience resonated with me (not usually the case with Catholic portrayals of Mary). The story can be found in Luke 1:26-38. Go ahead and read it again. Martin suggests that Mary's story is our story, a window into our journey with God. Below are some of Martin's points mixed with my own thoughts. See if you find yourself anywhere in the story.

1. God initiates a conversation. Our spiritual journeys begin because God makes the first move, and they continue on because God keeps on moving. Perhaps we see an angel, or perhaps something unexpected happens, or perhaps someone speaks to us words that pierce our hearts, or perhaps we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Mary's case, a messenger from God greets her with these words: "Dearly loved one, endowed with grace. God is with you." Martin explains that the tense indicates that she is already full of grace. The angel does not confer it on her; it is something God has done. "Though Mary holds no great position ... and though she is most likely poor, and though as an unmarried woman she occupies a lowly state in society, God loves her - lavishly. Mary is the forerunner of all those in the Christian life who will be judged by human standards as unworthy of God's grace. But God has other ideas." [Martin, 35]. A gracious God generously bestows grace on the unlikeliest of people, of which I am one.
2. We fear. Mary was much perplexed and thoroughly shaken by the words of the messenger and wondered what they might mean. An unexpected encounter with the divine can be scary, Fear is a natural response. We fear we might be exposed or condemned or perhaps something difficult or impossible might be required of us. Or we might just die on the spot because we are in contact with holiness. Proverbs 9:10 tells us that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." If we are fearful when God comes near, we just might be on our way to becoming wise. But we can't remain fearful.
3. God reassures us and tells us what will be required of us. After telling Mary not to be afraid, the angel outlines the plan in basic terms: she is to give birth to the promised Messiah. It is all a little overwhelming and Mary can't quite comprehend how any of it is possible. It sounds so far-fetched.
4. We doubt. Mary asks, "How can this be since I am a virgin?" What Mary is admitting is that she is not up for the task, she does not have what it takes, she is under-qualified. When we doubt, when we are confused, it is usually because we are focused on our inadequacies and have taken our eyes off God's adequacy.
5. God points us to past experiences and helps us to trust. The angel directs Mary's attention to her cousin Elizabeth's miraculous conception in her old age. This was probably not news to Mary, but a simple reminder that God had done the impossible before and he could certainly do it again. It is important to remember the times when God has been faithful, when God has provided, when God has transformed pain into love and hope. In times of doubt and fear and confusion, we need to be reminded that God has a track record of being trustworthy. This is why I read the stories in the Bible over and over again. This is why I listen to the testimonies of others. And this is why I recall the goodness of God in my own life. It helps me remember that "the impossible is possible with God." (Luke 1:37, The Voice).
6. We say Yes. And because of this, we are able to bring into the world, with God's grace, something new. Mary's words, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word," are powerful. They reveal that she had a choice in the matter. The Holy Spirit was not going to rape her (excuse my graphic language). And despite the fact that she was living in a patriarchal society, Mary made her decision without appealing to a man. She didn't ask anyone for permission or advice, but gave her consent on her own initiative. Before she knew exactly how everything would play out, she said Yes. She didn't know her child would be threatened with death, she didn't know they would have to flee their homeland, she didn't know Jesus would be viewed as a political and religious rebel, she didn't know he would die a violent death. She would be a witness to great sadness, but she would also be witness to great joy as Jesus grew into his calling of teacher, healer, miracle-worker, peacemaker, and the visible presence of God on earth. In saying Yes, Mary took on the role of a slave, one serving at the pleasure of another, and because of this daring decision, Life and Light came into the world. We can make the same choice every day, to bring the light and life of God into the world by saying Yes.
7. God is silent. The angel leaves Mary and there is no more opportunity for her to ask questions and receive answers, at least not in a direct manner. What do we do when God is silent? Sometimes we forget this part of the story, the part where we feel alone and confused and less sure about God's call.
8. Time for faith. Mary had to trust that God would keep the promises made to her, even in times of waiting, suffering, pain, and uncertainty. At times, the angel's visit must have seemed so long ago and the words he spoke so distant and faint. Mary had to trust that God would be true to himself and bring salvation to the world, even when things didn't look very promising.
9. Time for action. After the angel left, Mary packed her bags and went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary surrounded herself with people who also believed that God could do the impossible (remember Zechariah's encounter with an angel?), who were also recipients of God's grace, who were also living in a mixture of faith and uncertainty, and together they encouraged each other and pondered the mysteries of God's love in action.
10. Time for worship. Mary's song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) is a beautiful poem calling to mind God's gracious promises to her and to Israel. God is the one who reverses the order of a power-driven society and lifts up the humble, embraces the poor, feeds the hungry, and plucks the most unlikely out of obscurity. Lovingkindness is at the forefront of God's saving, liberating action, and Mary celebrates its presence in her life, even before Jesus is born, before she witnesses any of his miracles, before he dies and is raised from the dead. Worship brings together the past, the present, and the future promises of God.

All of us have times when we are fearful, when we doubt, when we are confused. I had a bout of that just this afternoon. I suspect that those of us who study theology and/or serve the church are quite susceptible to this. Let us not be afraid. It is all part of the pilgrimage of faith where we learn to take the next step even though the path seems unclear, where we learn to lean on our fellow travelers when we are weary, where we remind ourselves that the faithfulness of God is evident all around us, and where we practice trusting and worshiping and acting and being part of a loving community until we get better at it,

Thanks, Mary, for showing us what it means to say be a servant of God in order that the world may see the beauty of Jesus. We join you and say together, Yes!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

snapshots of trust

Image result for climbing ladder of success
Image from immigrationimpact.com
Snapshot number one: 

Last week I was in Vancouver for a series of lectures at Regent College and St. Mark's College. After a few days of talks, meetings, and a chance to see good friends, I was back on a plane headed for home. Before we took off, the pilot announced that we would be flying through a weather system so the ride might get a bit bumpy. He assured us that it was not unsafe, and he had been back and forth across the country a number of times in the past 48 hours, and there didn't seem to be any way to avoid a bit of turbulence. He told us to be prepared for the seat belt sign to be on for a good portion of the trip.

Well, the seat belt sign did light up a bit during that flight, and there were some bumps and sudden dips along the way. I also heard the engines whining and then slowing down, which seemed a bit odd. I usually take my cue from the cabin crew, so since they appeared unconcerned about the uneven engine noise, I did not concern myself about it either. Near the end of the trip, the pilot's voice came over the speakers again. "What can I say? I knew it was coming, but I didn't think it would last that long. I changed altitude six times to try to make things a bit smoother, but it didn't seem to make much difference. However, we are through the worst of it and should arrive at our destination half an hour early. Thanks for flying with us." I was so impressed with the pilot's demeanour, especially the way he informed us about the situation and reassured us that everything was going to be okay, despite what it might feel like.

As we exited the plane, the pilot was standing outside the cockpit and I just had to say something: "Thank you! It was a great flight!" He was taken aback by my enthusiastic greeting and positive appraisal of the trip. He looked at me, puzzled, then asked, "It wasn't too bumpy for you?" I replied, "Not at all! It was great!" What I was trying to convey was that I found him to be a trustworthy person, that I had confidence in his abilities as a pilot, and that because of his calm and honest communication, he had dispelled any fears I might have had. He did not promise there would be no turbulence, but he did say he would get us to our destination safely, and I trusted him to accomplish that. It reminded me of these words written by Frederick Buechner: "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us."

Though things got bumpy and passengers were sometimes difficult and impatient, none of that really mattered much. Just because someone spilled tea on me didn't mean that the pilot had lost control. These things just happen sometimes. What mattered was that the pilot was going to get us where we needed to go. My trust was in him, not in a perfect flight or perfect passengers.

Snapshot number two:

In Genesis 28, we find a story in which Jacob is fleeing from his brother, Esau, who was threatening to kill him for stealing his blessing. Jacob is on the run (his mother having pointed him in the direction of relatives), not sure what lies ahead or how things will turn out. He goes to sleep and has a dream about a ladder which reaches from heaven to earth. Messengers of God are ascending and descending the ladder, and at the top of the ladder stands the Lord who speaks words of promise and blessing, assuring Jacob that one day he will come back to this land he is fleeing. Jacob awakens and says, "There is no doubt in my mind that the Eternal One is in this place - and I didn't even know it!" He renames the place (which is called Luz) to be known as Bethel which means "house of God." Then he makes a vow, stating that if God does what he has promised, taking care of him and bringing him back to his father's house, then the Eternal One will be his God, and of everything God gives him, he will give one-tenth back to God.

Trust is not passive. Sometimes we think of doing a "trust fall" and deduce that trust is all about going limp and letting someone else do all the work. In my experience, I have found that trust is hard work, more like climbing a ladder. It means letting go of one thing while reaching for something else. It means always moving on, taking the next step, and never giving up.

In this story of Jacob, I see five aspects of the hard work of trust:

1. Seeing God. Many times we cannot see God in our situations, especially if we are in times of uncertainty or peril. Unless we see God in those moments, we will not be able to trust him. The hard work of trust starts with searching for God in places where we feel abandoned or alone.

2. Renaming our situation. Once Jacob saw God, everything changed. He no longer thought of the place where he was camping as a random city on the journey, but as the dwelling place of God. Seeing God meant that he spoke differently about his situation. The hard work of trust asks us to rename our situation in the light of God's presence with us. Instead of identifying something as a place of uncertainty, depression, or fear, we can confidently say that it is a place where God is with us. It is the house of God.

3. Commitment to act and follow-through. After renaming his situation to reflect his confidence in God, Jacob acted. He set up a memorial stone so that he would not forget the encounter with God nor the promises God made. He made a vow to be faithful to God, made plans for the future, and then continued on his journey. The hard work of trust requires that we take action which includes making plans and following through on them.

4. Working toward reconciliation and completion. Assured that God would bring him back to his father's land and fulfill promises of blessing, Jacob endured twenty long years of working for a crooked relative, trusting that God was present in it all. And when it was finally time to return to his father's land, he humbly approached his brother, Esau, and they were reconciled. The hard work of trust means that we never lose sight of what God has called us to, and we actively work toward its completion. It also means that we are always involved in the work of reconciliation because this is what our reconciling God does.

5. Having open hands. Part of Jacob's trusting action was a determination to hold everything he received from God in open hands. In other words, he wanted to cultivate generosity instead of ownership. Jacob wasn't always successful at this, but his acknowledgment that the blessings he received were ultimately from God, and his vow to offer one-tenth of everything back to God, were a way of demonstrating that God was his provider. The hard work of trust means that we receive with open hands and give with open hands.

Trust may be hard work, but it is also powerful. It is not passivity or "I give up" thinking. Parker Palmer writes: "Who does not know that you can throw the best methods and the latest equipment, and a lot of money at people who do not trust each other and still get miserable results? Who does not know that people who trust each other and work well together can do exceptional work with less than adequate resources?" When we trust the Creator of the universe, we bind ourselves to God. When we develop trusting relationships, we bind ourselves to others. As a result, we are stronger, bigger, smarter, wiser, more creative, more resourceful, and more capable than we could ever be alone. The hard work of trust is the hard work of building community,

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.
(Proverbs 3, The Message)



Monday, October 5, 2015

cookies and questions: report from the CETA conference


This past weekend I participated in the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association's fall conference at Tyndale University in Toronto. I had never been to this particular conference before so did not know quite what to expect. I am happy to report that there were white chocolate macadamia nut cookies and pink lemonade. Theologically speaking, there were some things which were not surprising, such as a high percentage of males versus females and some fairly conservative interpretations of the gospel. But there were many refreshing, spacious places of encounter as well. I heard nine presentations at the conference. I offer you highlights from two of them:

1. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, "...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Rachel Tulloch brought attention to the fact that perhaps Jesus is not merely telling his listeners that they must go out and do good works, be his hands and feet, so to speak, but letting his followers know that he is present in the poor and marginalized. Too often we dole out charity from a position of power and superiority, assuming that we are the ones with the truth and the resources, and the poor, needy, and unsaved are lucky we came along. In this story, Jesus identifies with the needy. He is not the one giving out charity but receiving it. Rachel encouraged us to "see Jesus" in the needy before we try to "be Jesus" to them.

2. Another talk which got me thinking was James Harrichand's presentation on recovering the language of lament. He noted that 40% of the Psalms are individual laments, and yet, much of the evangelical Western church adopts a type of triumphalism which leaves no room for such language, no space to sit in suffering and silence and complaint, calling on God to hear our cries. We tend to rush right to pithy, trite platitudes meant to dispel disease instead of giving suffering and grief proper expression. Prayers which mingle together lament and praise, trust and doubt, are prayers which God welcomes. They can help us to create a space where, as James says, "people in distress are encouraged to tell their stories and express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and secure environment." Lament is where we get real with God and with each other, and in the process, move closer to hope.

I gave a talk at the end of the day on theological hospitality. It was an invitation to become more aware that we have a hospitable God who embraces us while we are still enemies, strangers, and sinners. My conclusion was this: "Because we have been graciously, undeservedly received by Jesus, we must open ourselves to others whom Jesus is also inviting, especially those who look, speak, act, think, and believe differently than we do. If we are to practice theological hospitality, we must become better listeners. We must cultivate spiritual hunger and humility, and we must stop being easily threatened. We must look for occasions to celebrate what unites us with others instead of pointing out what divides, and above all, we must acknowledge that the theological table is ultimately God’s, not ours. We are merely guests."

There were some very thoughtful questions after my presentation. One person asked why we are so inhospitable in our theological contexts. In other words, how did we get this way?  My response was that our heritage as Protestants might have something to do with it; our theological particulars were born out of protest to certain problematic traditions and practices in the church. In some ways, we continue to carry that identity, seeking to protect ourselves from theological error and protesting anything which appears to be a dilution of the gospel. In general, it is a reactive posture, not a loving posture. I am sure there are many other good answers to that question, but that was the best I could do on the spot. 

Another question was this: what can we do to become more hospitable? My answer was no doubt a bit too simple, but I replied that we need to become better listeners. By that I meant that we don't always need to voice our opinion or add our insight or knowledge to a particular situation. Sometimes we just need to shut up and listen. Let us give people the dignity of actually hearing them instead of simply using them as a jumping off point to spout off our agenda. There are times when we are to speak and there are times when we should be silent. Wisdom discerns between the two. Being silent can be an act of faith, trusting that God is able to speak to people in any number of ways and not just through us. The Holy Spirit is infinitely creative in communicating truth and love to each one of us. Every one who dabbles in theology, myself included, needs to be reminded of that on a regular basis.

Come, Holy Spirit. Reveal Jesus. Reveal the Father. Reveal your truth and love.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

go ahead, ask a question...

Image from likesuccess.com
This morning I attended a presentation on the topic of critical realism and how it connects theology and science. Basically, the presenter sought to develop a link between scientific theory (making deductions based on perceptions) and revelation (drawing conclusions about God from narratives). Though the topic is outside my area of study and much of the philosophical and scientific underpinning on the topic was lost on me, I enjoyed engaging with the basic ideas. The technical term for this type of knowing, of moving from evidence to hypothesis, of looking backwards from effect to cause, is abduction, and it relates closely to the theological notion of faith.

One of the most interesting comments that came out of the discussion around the table afterwords was an observation by one of the theology professors. He mentioned that some students from the Sciences indicated that in their classes, the theory of evolution is treated as dogma. Just as a reminder, dogma can be defined as, "a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true," therefore, something which cannot be questioned. Interestingly, this is a hardening of the meaning intended by its Greek origin (dokein) which means "opinion" and "seem good, think." These students complained that they were not allowed to question evolution in their science classes; therefore, they came to theology classes because there they were allowed to ask questions about origins.

The idea that theological study is a context in which one is allowed to ask questions is something which I believe we must be careful to protect, even while affirming certain core doctrines. It also brings us closer to the original meaning of dogma, especially when we practice communal discernment ("it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." Acts 15:28). The beauty of faith is not only its call to simplicity (our foundation is God alone), but its emphasis on humility (we know only in part). A tendency which we as teachers can have is to present doctrine as dogma that cannot be questioned, and this is not how it should not be. We who have had the revelation of God shine on our hearts and minds should never close ourselves off to that bright light, thinking that we have seen all there is to see and now know exactly how things go. I am not suggesting that we embrace every wind of theological change, but that we become better listeners to the questions that are being asked, especially regarding the sensitive issues of our time.

The divine character of God does not change. We can always affirm his goodness and his justice. But divine love, so unfathomable and vast, shows itself afresh and anew in the world, over and over again. Can we see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, even in forms unfamiliar to us? My prayer is that we can and will, every day of our lives.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Teaching children and children teaching

Image from developer.mozilla.org
One of the biggest challenges in our faith community is making space for and involving our kids in spiritual formation in a meaningful and appropriate way. A lot of our activities are geared toward adults and assume a pretty advanced ability to grasp abstract ideas. Since we don't yet have the resources to offer Children's Church every week, we decided to try an experiment for a few months: every fifth Sunday we have an Inverted Meeting. The basic idea is this: the whole gathering is accessible for children and there are a few tidbits thrown in for the adults (what usually happens is the reverse, hence the name, Inverted Sunday). As well, there are also plenty of opportunities for the adults to join in and help out. Re-thinking our Sunday morning gathering this way has been and still is a bit of a learning curve, I have to admit, but we are all discovering how to be together in a more equitable way. I believe we are also becoming a better community through it.

Just over a week ago we had our second Inverted Meeting. These meetings usually involve five elements: worship (giving gifts to God), prayer (talking with God about things that are on our hearts), a Bible story (learning about God), an activity (practicing what we learned), and communion (remembering what Jesus did for us). On this particular Sunday, I was assigned the Bible story, and since I am presently doing a series on the Decalogue, the scheduled topic for that day was. "Do not murder." I was tempted to abandon the topic and pick another story, but the Children's Church coordinator told me to stick with it. Okay, then. How do you talk with 2 - 7 years-olds about the prohibition against murder?

I decided that we had to start with life, so I told a truncated version of the story of Creation, how the Eternal God scooped dirt out of the ground, shaped it into a human being, and breathed life into it, making it a living soul. This breath is what makes us alive. I blew up a balloon to illustrate the difference between being lifeless and limp and being full of life, bouncy and buoyant. I told everyone that this breath is precious and we must protect it. Then I told the story of Cain and Abel, two brothers with different jobs who made two different sacrifices (one that is not pleasing to God and one that is pleasing to God). I talked about how angry Cain was when God did not like his sacrifice, but did accept Abel's sacrifice. Cain became so jealous of Abel that he led his brother into a field and killed him.

I had two volunteers acting out the parts of Cain and Abel, and both were holding inflated balloons to represent their aliveness. I said that when Cain killed his brother, he destroyed the breath of God in Abel, something very valuable and precious. Everyone knew what was coming, but I made sure to give a warning about the loud noise we would hear when Cain destroyed Abel's balloon. "Cover your ears!" I said.  I gave a countdown. I did every thing I could to prepare the kids (and the adults) for the impending destruction. And then Cain crushed Abel's balloon with a loud bang, and Abel fell to the ground. One of the young children (a visitor named N) reacted quite strongly, disturbed and upset by the whole thing. He was in the front row, so we all noticed. I stopped and apologised. Others explained that the person wasn't really dead, it was pretend. The child's parents comforted the young boy, but he would not be easily consoled. The young boy said he wanted to go, so his dad took him in his arms and they walked away from the scene.

I stood there and wondered, "What have I done?" I have traumatized a young child, that's what I have done. I looked toward the back of the room, where the young boy was pressed against his father's chest, and felt stabbed through the heart. This sweet, innocent child, so sensitive. And I began to tear up. Something about his reaction was so honest, so real, so pure. I stammered out words to this effect: "May we all be like this child. May violence and the destruction of another human being affect all of us this way. May we not be desensitized to the taking of human life." I saw a few people wiping their eyes. I composed myself and continued on with the Cain and Abel story: God punished Cain because he was dangerous, but did not take Cain's precious breath of life away, too. Instead, God protected Cain from others who might want to kill him out of revenge.

In Exodus 20 we have the commands Yahweh gave to the people of Israel. One of them is this: Do not murder. The Hebrew word retzach (kill or murder) has a broader meaning which includes being generally destructive and breaking things. In relation to this command, Jesus said: "Anyone who is angry with his brother will be judged for his anger. Anyone who taunts his friend, speaks contemptuously toward him, or calls him, 'Loser' or 'Fool' or 'Scum' will have to answer to the judge." (adapted from Matthew 5, The Voice). So, if we not supposed to break, dash to pieces, or destroy other people with our actions and our words, how are we supposed to act? Jesus tells us what to do: "My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends." The best way to show someone that you love them is not only to protect their breath of life, but to give them something really important. And the most important thing we have is our life, the breath of God. This is what Jesus did for all of us. He gave his life, he let himself be killed, so that we could keep breathing the breath of God. He did the opposite of what Cain did.

We followed the story with an activity where we moved into a large circle and were each given a piece of paper with a chocolate taped to it. We were instructed to write encouraging words or draw encouraging pictures. We then gave these gifts to the person next to us. I received a piece of paper from a parent/child team: a young girl named L had drawn a colourful, lopsided heart and the parent had written the sentence, "You are a blessing." That crooked heart, oh my (makes me touch my heart and sigh every time I think of it). Then we ate the body and blood of Jesus in family clusters, remembering his precious, loving gift, and prayed blessings on each other. Afterwards, N invited me to toss his balloon and chase him around his mother's legs. Which I did, of course.

It was a Sunday when the children taught us as much as we taught the children.
And a little child will lead them all. (Isaiah 11:6)


Monday, July 13, 2015

why do we go to conferences?

I wrote a bit about my experience at the Vineyard USA Conference in Columbus, Ohio this past week. Here is the post as it appeared originally on my personal blog. Sorry for the lack of specific theological content. 

Part of the crowd at Vineyard Columbus
Last week I attended the Vineyard Church USA national conference in Columbus, Ohio. Around 60 nations were represented and over 4000 people were present. I won't try to give you a rundown of the week or the speakers or their talks. Check out the video archives of the main sessions if you want to get a glimpse (only available for a limited time, I am told). The highlights for many of us were Thursday morning's talk by Dr. Charles A. Montgomery on breaking down barriers (it starts at 1:35) and the worship led by David Ruis and Noel Isaacs from Nepal on Thursday evening (a particularly poignant lament song starts at 1:03).

The stuff that happened on the platform, in many ways, was just a small part of the experience. God doesn't need a microphone to speak nor does he require a crowd in order to be present. Our loving God is with us in so many ways if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. I came to the conference believing that I had something to offer; whether it was a kind word, a smile, a word of wisdom, money, or a prayer. The idea that I was there to give more than I was there to receive meant that I had no expectations, really. I did not need anything supernatural and significant to happen, I did not need to meet any of the big name speakers, I did not need to get prayer for any troubling situation, I did not need to sit with all my friends, I did not need to see the sights of Columbus or stay up late or go to bed early. I was there to encourage, to help, and to say yes to others. I was there to be truly present to God and to others and felt no pressure to have the most awesome experience ever.

I brought gifts for our hosts, I distributed cards signed by our faith community, I stroked the dog, two cats, and numerous horses at the place we were staying. I greeted complete strangers throughout the week, I asked volunteers how they were doing, I said thank you over and over and over again, I directed people who were lost, I saved seats for people who were late, I told people they were beautiful, and I prayed for people. One of the most touching moments for me was when I discovered that a friend from Chicago (whom I had only met once when she visited Montreal a few years ago) was sitting two rows behind me. We found each other in the middle of the worship time and wept as we embraced tightly, our hearts overwhelmed by the spirit of Jesus so present and so precious in the other. 

On Wednesday, I was asked to give a 2 minute talk at a Society of Vineyard Scholars meeting on Thursday morning and of course I said yes. At that same meeting, I listened to people around a table sharing their most important theological questions. One confessed that there was virtually no theological discussion happening in his church. Another said he wanted to know how to engage with Orthodox Christians. A woman thought it was important to make room for the voices of children. It was an honour to hear what was on their hearts; seeing total strangers open up to each other in that setting humbled me, I had several people ask me about theological education and I tried to offer them encouragement and a possible way forward. The topic of same-sex attraction came up and I tried to listen well because everyone has a personal story. I also tried to keep the discussion from getting polarised around a few issues, but sought to bring it back to Jesus, back to God's story, back to our call to surrender all our desires to God, back to walking together in humility. I spoke to people who were discouraged and I listened, I prayed, I shared their burden in a small way, and I offered what little wisdom I had.

I received much as well: some people bought me chai tea and ice cream, other people provided yummy food and drink. People prayed for me, people spoke many encouraging words to me, a teenager gave up her bed for me, and people invited me to hang out with them. I ended up in unexpected and pleasant situations like backstage talking to musicians, in a horse barn watching a young girl practice her riding, on a patio late at night listening to Noel tell me about the situation in Nepal, and in the airport hearing a stranger's experience in Jerusalem. 

My goal in going was to give something of myself and to share the riches with which I have been blessed. Conferences like this can be a bit of a challenge to introverts like me, but most of the time I felt like I was floating on grace, able to joyously embrace each person I encountered and accept each situation which came my way. Giving is a richness in itself, it seems, because I never felt depleted or exhausted. Whether we are the ones who give or the ones who receive (or both), the goodness of God never runs out.

Monday, June 1, 2015

What's in a Name?

Image result for hello my name is
Image from pixshark.com
In our culture, a name is mostly a means of identification, but in biblical times, a named told you something about a person's identity, about who they were, about their character or destiny. The name which God gives when identifying himself to Moses is YHWH, a form of the Hebrew verb "to be" which basically translates to "I am who I am." Because in Hebrew the verb "to be" denotes activity which defines a subject, YHWH or I AM could also be translated to mean, "I will tell you who I am by what I do." This is why we find so many stories and also so many names of God in our sacred scriptures. They are all revealing more to us about this God, YHWH.

In our faith community I am working through a series on what is commonly know as the Ten Commandments, and yesterday we talked about what's in a name. Exodus 20:7 reads: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (New King James). Another translation reads: "Never use the name of Yahweh your Elohim carelessly. Yahweh will make sure that anyone who carelessly uses his name will be punished (Names of God Bible). The Hebrew word, shav, translated "in vain" in the NKJV, means emptiness, vanity, emptiness of speech, lying. If I were to attempt a modern, colloquial interpretation of this directive, it would go something like this: Do not empty out the holy significance, character,and authority of the name of YHWH. 

Basically, there are three ways in which people trivialize the name of YHWH. First is by perjury and swearing, both of which have to do with improper use of oaths. To willfully tell an untruth in court after having taken an oath (invoking the name of God) to tell the truth reveals what a low respect one has for the name of God. Swearing has a positive, promise-making sense, such as the oath to tell the truth in court, as well as a negative sense. The negative aspect of swearing relates to using offensive words when one speaks. Basically, it is taking a word which is positive and using it out of context in order to add emphasis, usually in a negative, disparaging way. In Quebec, curse words are primarily church words (tabernacle, the host, the chalice) which reflect Quebec's bitter history and disrespect for the Catholic church. 

The second way is through breaking a promise or oath made to God, such as when the Israelites repeatedly dishonoured the covenant God made with them. I won't go into any more detail on that. The third way is probably the most applicable to our contemporary context, and that is speaking words on behalf of God which he has not spoken. We can use God's name in a way which is contrary to his character, we can invoke God's authority when he has not given it, or we can misquote God, attributing our ideas and words to God in order to legitimize them. R.T. Kendall has some strong words on this topic. 

"One of the hardest habits for some of us to break is saying, 'God told me this' or 'Here is what the Lord showed me.' Is this truly a bad habit? Yes. In fact, I believe it's one of the worst claims perpetrated in churches today, despite being a clear violation of the third commandment... How do we misuse God's name when we claim He told us something? With out intent. Most often we mention Him for one reason: to elevate our own credibility. It is not His name we are thinking of, it is our reputation. Adding the weight of God's name to our words gives us authority and respectability. But the truth is, we're not thinking of God's name and glory when we do this - we're thinking of our own. ... We quote people when we speak to give our own words a higher standing, a greater level of underlying truthfulness. That is certainly why I quote Scripture. In the same way, if I quote St. Augustine or John Wesley, it is to make you feel that I have a greater measure of reliability on my side. But no one likes a name-dropper. They're not a popular type. If I told you I know Oral Roberts or Billy Graham or the pope, who would I be trying to make look good? Not them. It's no different with God." [1]

So how can we go about honouring the intent of the third commandment and not becoming name-droppers? For me, it is helpful to think about how I use the names of people I love and respect most. When I was in college, my roommate had an interesting expression every time things were going wrong or she was frustrated. She would exclaim, "Oh, Martha!" And not in a pleasant tone of voice. That happens to be my name, so I found myself wincing every time she said it. I wanted my name to be associated with joy and goodness, with love and friendship, with truth and honesty, not with disappointment and frustration. 

One interpretation of the directive to treat God's name with respect developed during Second Temple Judaism (about 515 BCE to 70 BCE) when temple leaders decided to place a taboo on pronouncing the name of God (YHWH) and instead, replaced it with Adonai (Lord) or HaShem (the name). This was meant to keep people from trivializing the name of YHWH, but does avoiding the name altogether fulfill the intent behind the command? I don't think so. Though I respect the gravity with which the Jewish tradition approaches the law, I believe the reaction is one based in fear and not love. It does not move one towards intimacy and relationship. Going back to the story of my swearing roommate, I didn't want her to stop using my name, I just wanted her to use it properly. Likewise, if I stopped calling my husband by name, that would be odd, and indicate that something might be amiss in our relationship. Sometimes I say his name in frustration (Argh, Dean forgot to put his dishes in the dishwasher again!). I don't like it when I do that. I want to speak Dean's name with love in my voice, reflecting his kindness and generosity and commitment to me, with a sense of our many years of friendship and delight in each other. 

So how should we use God's holy name? Lovingly, respectfully, with delight, with joy, never emptying it of its wonderful and rich nature, but being mindful of the character revealed in the name, remembering the acts done by the God of this name. Let us sing, pray, and shout to our God. Let us tell of his wonderful mercy and kindness, let us proclaim the good news of his love, and let us call on his name to help us when we are helpless. This is YHWH. Hallelujah!

Matte (Martha) from Montreal

[1] R. T. Kendall,"God Told Me... Really?" in Ministry Today. You can find the whole article here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

worship practice

Image result for practice


Theology is not black and white. It is not cut and dried, whatever that means (sounds a bit like beef jerky). For most of us, at some point, this supposed fuzziness becomes slightly problematic. We would prefer theological answers to be clear. Why can't the actions of God throughout history and the words written about God be more straightforward and obvious? But...sigh... this is not the case. I suppose this might be one of the reasons why worship can be difficult; worship primarily requires submission, not understanding.

I myself am in a season where I am discovering again what it means to worship the Most High God, especially communally. Sunday morning gatherings in my faith community are rarely an optimum time for me: I am usually tired and trying to juggle any number of things like hauling equipment, setting up, greeting people, rehearsing music, trying to get the right words on the screen, or preparing to give a talk. Musically speaking, the old songs seem a bit ragged and tired, and the new songs are too repetitive and, dare I say, maybe a bit trite? That's just my opinion.

But honestly, there will always be an excuse for why I find worshiping God difficult or uninteresting. Worship, when we honour someone or something with extravagant love and extreme submission, is not our natural posture. And yet, it is. (See, not cut and dried!) We were created to worship, to be in communion with the divine (see the creation story). Because we are dependent beings who long for intimacy with God and with each other, we are, in a way, always worshiping. We are always putting our longing and extravagant love out there. It might be for a new car or a bacon cheeseburger or some beautiful and talented person or a shiny golden calf, but we are always trying to give ourselves to someone or something.

But loving and submitting are hard. Really hard. Because they demand that we not be self-absorbed or self-reliant. When we worship God, we put ourselves in loving mode, in surrender mode, in listening and receiving mode. When we worship God, we unite ourselves with the activity of the kingdom of heaven (that's pretty cool!). Worshiping God keeps us honest and truthful as we bring praises, laments, cries for help, proclamations of God's will and ways, and stories of God's faithfulness to the community. Worship, like any spiritual discipline, is a creative skill which requires practice. We don't always do it well, but that doesn't make it any less valid or worthwhile. Loving someone is a daily exercise. Submitting to another means that we are constantly re-submitting ourselves.

This might all sound like a lot of work, like we have to dig deep to get our worship on (I heard that unfortunate phrase used on the radio this past week), but I believe worship is not first and foremost work; to me, it is more like a mirror. Because God has shown us love, we open ourselves up to him, and when we are in open, submitting mode, we experience more of the extravagant love that God has for us. Our natural response to this overwhelming, unending love is to worship, to reflect the love and glory of God back to him. Worship, in fact, is not something that we pull up out of our inner being; it is gratitude and affection fueled by the extravagant and overabundant love and mercy of our divine lover. In the process of reflecting God's glory and love back to him, we (and all of creation in some way) are touched by this glorious presence of holy love. Paradoxically, when we worship God, when we give glory to God, when we submit our own wills to the will of the Eternal One, often sacrificially, we become unexpected recipients, receiving so much more than we give. This is what extravagant love does.

So the fact that I have been finding communal worship rather uninspiring lately probably means that I need to practice putting myself in an open, loving, submissive posture before God. I can take on this posture of worship (love and submission) anytime, anywhere. No need for an inspiring song, perfectly executed vocals, or catchy lyrics. No need for circumstances to be ideal or my attitude to be perfect. I can simply turn my eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. [1]

[1] Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. Lyrics by Helen H. Lemmel, 1922.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

is theology helpful?

Image from radiofreebabylon.com
The ever candid and refreshing Anne Lamott recently wrote: "Now, two Sundays ago, I had two boys out of three in my youth group that same age [17], who have had brain cancer. One still has it. The other is blind in one eye. At a church with 30 regular members. Right?
(The first thing I am going to ask God when we meet face to face is, "What on EARTH could you have been thinking?". And He or She will know exactly who I am talking about, the many way-too-young who have died or had serious pain so far, in my 60 years here. Who have been raised by closet psychotics. "What was THAT all about?" God will say what God said to Job--"I'm God, and I don't have to explain. Plus, there is a zero chance you would understand. No offense. Rock on.”)
I always teach them that they are loved and chosen, no matter what; that God's got it, no matter how hard and unfair things seem; that all we have to do is take care of the poor, the hungry and thirsty, including ourselves, and give thanks for the tender mercies of our lives. I hugged them goodbye. I said, "Go get em."" [1]
In thinking about the nature of evil and all things horrible, we can soon find ourselves asking, "How in the world did it get this way when God started it off with goodness oozing out of every molecule?" It is a question that is not likely to be answered to our satisfaction, as Anne suggests. This makes me think that it might not be the best question for us to ask. Jon Stovell (Vineyard Canada theology guy) suggests that we might do better to ask a different question. Instead of "Why would a loving and omnipotent God allow evil in his creation?" he suggests that we ask, "Why did he put us into this world before he was done perfecting it?"Jon bases his question on the idea that while God gave creation a really good start in Genesis, it is not yet completed. We see the final fulfillment, the end of the story, the new creation is all its splendour, evident in the final chapters of Revelation. And the answer to this better question, Jon suggests, is this: "To help."[2] In Lamott's words:"All we have to do is take care of the poor, the hungry and thirsty, including ourselves, and give thanks for the tender mercies of our lives."
The recurring themes in the Bible do not revolve around how to make sense of life, nor around providing rational answers to philosophical questions, not even around understanding what God is doing (though we as theologians keep looking for that). The recurring themes have to do with chaos being reordered into goodness and beauty, suffering being infused with meaning and mercy, and death being transformed into new life. I don't understand it, but I can participate in it. And that is the point Anne and Jon are both making. We are here to help the helpless, speak words of comfort to the disconsolate, hug the unloved, and bring beauty and kindness wherever it is lacking in this world. Because that is what God does for us. And to me, that is the task of theology.
"Only a few can be learned, but all can be Christian, all can be devout, and - I shall boldly add - all can be theologians." - Desiderius Erasmus

Matte in Montreal

[1] Anne Lamott's Facebook page, March 23, 2015.
[2] Jon Stovell's Notebook: http://jon.stovell.info/notebook/on-human-suffering-and-the-problem-of-evil/, February 2, 2015.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Where's Jesus?

You've seen those children's books in which the challenge is to find the small, distinctive figure of Waldo in a highly-detailed, colourful illustration filled with dozens and dozens of people doing various activities. It's not as easy as it seems.  Following Jesus can be a bit like this sometimes, in my opinion. Jesus can be difficult to recognize in challenging, complex life situations that buzz with activity.

Image result for chichen itza
Image from travel.nationalgeographic.com
On a recent vacation to Mexico, Dean and I visited Chichen Itza, the most famous of the ancient Mayan ruins sites. Our tour guides informed us that the first century Mayan religion was characterized by the worship of multiple nature gods (snake, jaguar, sun, rain, corn, etc.). This highly sophisticated civilization established one of the first written languages, developed complex mathematics (including the concept of zero), engaged in elaborate astrological calculations pinpointing the equinoxes and planetary orbits, and built some of the most elaborate temples and structures all without metal tools of any sort. One of the most disturbing features of the Mayan religion was the incorporation of human sacrifice as a way of appeasing the gods and ensuring good crops. The clever incorporation of numerology, symbolism, and religious ritual in all their structures reveals an incredibly intricate system which fused astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, politics, sociology, and superstition in an effort to bring harmony between deities and humans and guarantee prosperity and longevity.

The crumbling buildings testify to the futility of it all. I found Chichen Itza to be a bit of a dark place, a sad place, a hopeless place. A place where it was hard to see Jesus. One of the most complex, sophisticated religious systems in human history could not save itself or its people. No amount of blood-letting, sacrifice, religious ritual, or human ingenuity could bring about the desired peace and prosperity.

The day after we returned from Mexico, I heard someone quoting from a book by Jack Klumpenhower entitled Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids. It brought my experience at Chichen Itza into perspective by showing me my own depraved tendency (as a teacher and budding theologian) to construct a moral system for others to follow instead of simply inviting them to an encounter with Jesus. I have not yet read the book myself, so let me offer a quote from the book cited in a review.

Typical religion is about doing what your god or gods require; it's following your beliefs and methods to achieve some goal or approval ... Let's  face it: Christianity is often packaged this way. Live a good life and things will go well for you. Find the right spiritual resources and you'll be blessed. Ask Jesus into your heart and you'll be saved. This is why many people say all religions are the same. In some sense, they're right. But Jesus didn't bring typical religion. He brought good news... The principle [of news] is, "Here's what happened, and it will change your life." News is not what you do, it's what someone else has done that affects you. The good news means you relate to God based on what Jesus has done for you, not what you've done to prove yourself worthy. If you are a believer, the good news says that God already accepts you fully - he's adopted you as his child - because you're joined to Jesus, who died on the cross for you. Yes, believing this means a changed life. Flat out. You'll have a hungry, iron grip on Jesus. You'll run after him forcefully. But you'll do it because you rest in him. All your effort to obey will be a response to what he's already done, never a performance to win his favor. There's no need for such scheming. No pressure. No false fronts.

The typical lesson for kids isn't like this. Instead, it tends to be what mine were for years - little more than a lecture about some way you ought to live for God. Such lessons create pressure and invite pretending. We've been dispensing good advice instead of good news. Eventually, kids will tire of our advice, no matter how good it might be. We'll wonder why they've rejected the good news, because we assumed they were well grounded in it. In fact, they never were. Although we told stories of Jesus and his free grace, we watered it down with self-effort - and that's what they heard.

The reviewer goes on to say that outward obedience without heart change is dangerous. Ouch! This is pretty much the same thing Jesus is saying in Luke 11 when he rebukes the religious leaders because of their fastidious attention to rituals and laws and their neglect to the things that really matter: justice and the love of God.

I believe one of the reasons why it was hard for me to see Jesus at Chichen Itza and why it is challenging to recognize Jesus in different situations in my life is because I am too preoccupied with other sights and sounds. My vision can be overwhelmed by darkness or confusion. My sight can be obscured by the values of this present culture. My mind can be distracted by the tasks that are always demanding my attention. My view can be distorted by mixed motives in my own heart and in the hearts of those around me, especially those whom I respect. And I can be blind because Jesus is often disguised in humble form, many times in my very own brokenness.

Like the blind man in Mark 8, I need Jesus to touch my eyes so that I can see him. I need a community of friends who will point me in Jesus' direction and who will approach Jesus on my behalf (intercede for me). I need to let Jesus take me away from the crowd. I want to let Jesus touch me in whatever way he chooses (even spit in my eyes). I want to let Jesus control the process of healing, learning, and transformation and not become demanding or impatient. I want to learn to stay with Jesus and let him touch me again and again and again until I can see him clearly.

Where's Jesus? Let me quote part of the prayer known as the Breastplate of St. Patrick.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me

This is my prayer today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pray and Break Bread

I came across an article a few weeks ago which described one of the pedagogical tools used by City Seminary of New York. City Seminary's focus is purposefully narrow: to provide "leadership development for urban ministry in New York, primarily in the city's ethnic and immigrant communities where Christianity is thriving." And one of the ways in which they engage their students with urban ministry is by making the city their classroom; in fact, Professor Emmanuel Katongole, a theologian originally from Uganda, says that, "The city is the seminary." The school's primary focus is "ground up" (valuing experience) instead of "top down" (students sitting in a class and taking notes from a learned scholar). The seminary emphasizes participation and communal settings within an academic setting. The students not only study theology, but learn about New York and its history, and spend time looking at global Christianity.

Green Spot Restaurant in Montreal
Image from mapoutine.ca
One of City Seminary's initiatives is called "Pray and Break Bread," a series of pilgrimages in which students travel to each borough in New York and spend a few hours there. They learn about the history, demographics, resources, and challenges of the area, they spend some time meditating on scriptures, then they break into small groups and wander around, praying as they go. They finish the time with a meal together at a local restaurant, offering reflections on their time walking the city. Rev. Mark Gornik, the pastor and scholar who launched City Seminary in 2003, remarks: "We're on the streets, learning from one another, having a great time together and sharing food. That is the seminary in a nutshell."

We at Vineyard Montreal pray for our city every week as we gather on Sunday mornings in a local downtown library. We have, on occasion, done prayer walks in our neighbourhood, but are always looking for fresh ways to engage more meaningfully with our city. The model of "Pray and Break Bread" gives us a framework to get on the ground in our city in a number of ways. When I mentioned the possibility of trying a "Pray and Break Bread" event, people in our faith community were enthusiastic about it. So enthusiastic that I immediately had two volunteers who said they would be willing to lead one. They will do some research on a particular neighbourhood in Montreal and present us with their findings, acting as tour guide as we walk around, praying for God's blessing and healing in general and for any people we encounter along the way. And they will select a local eatery where we can share food, support a local business, exchange reflections on our mini-pilgrimage, and experience being part of the neighbourhood for a few hours.

To me, this sounds a lot like the work of Jesus: walking with people, praying for people, eating with people, listening to people, talking to people, visiting people, bringing hope, healing, friendship, and good news wherever we go. Let us be good news for our city as we pray and break bread, whether informally in our day to day lives or in more intentional ways as demonstrated by City Seminary.

All quotations taken from the article by Bob Wells, "The Wonder of It All," in Faith and Leadership, December, 2009. You can read it here.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Defending my Thesis

Sorry for the radio silence. I expect that things will open up considerably next month. Tomorrow I will sit across from four examiners as I defend my doctoral thesis. My thesis is: A Theology of Social Engagement for Evangelicals: An Inaugurated-Enacted Eschatological Proposal. It is a Vineyard contribution to evangelical theology and a set of theological resources for developing better proposals for evangelical social engagement. I'll post some reflections on the whole process after. For now, I would love to feel the support of your prayers.

blessings,
Frank Emanuel - Vineyard ThoughtWorks

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Slow theology

Image from wikipedia.org
I came across an interesting television show this past week. It was produced by the Norwegian public television network, NRK, and it documented a cruise ship's journey up the coast of Norway. In its original form, it was a live broadcast lasting over 134 hours. That's 5.5 days, in case you are wondering. This little network had previously produced a documentary chronicling a real-time 7-hour train ride across Norway. Due to its surprising popularity, the producers immediately began planning the next marathon television event, this time a 5-day cruise. Due to its live component and regular updates via social and other media, the broadcast ended up including thousands of spectators and fans waving along the route.

This trend has become known as Slow TV, a genre of television coverage which follows an ordinary event from beginning to end without a break in the timeline.[1] It is mesmerising and immersive. I can testify to that, even though I have only watched small sections of the 134 plus hours of the cruise broadcast. There were 11 cameras in play so the scenery does change, but not with the quickness we are accustomed to in a half-hour television show or in the movie theatre. The producers kept the camera trained on a cow walking along the coast for 10 minutes. Mesmerising, I tell you.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about other "slow" trends like slow food (in contrast to fast food). The slow food movement encourages people to know where their food comes from and to take a more active and appreciative approach to food production and by doing so, support local ecosystems and traditions. So you start with apples grown in my mom's backyard, slice them up and put them in a pastry crust made with love in my mom's farm kitchen, add a few spices, some sugar, pop it in the oven, then serve it warm on a faded piece of vintage china at my mom's antique wooden table with a cup of tea. That's slow food. Or you can just go to McDonald's and order their mass-produced apple pie to go. Which would you rather enjoy?

Slow and fast come with their own value systems. Fast values mobility, slow values stability. Fast values efficiency, slow values relationships. Fast focuses on activity, slow prefers sustainability. Fast relies on mass produced products, slow values hand-made items.

Things like love, friendship, faithfulness, or wisdom all take a long time to develop. And they are supposed to. A declaration of love after knowing a person for less than an hour carries little weight, but this same statement after 50 years of marriage is awe-inspiring. Things of lasting value can't be rushed.

About a year ago, a book came out called Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. Authors John Pattison and C. Christopher Smith suggest that our faith communities should follow an incarnational instead of an attractional model. Instead of trying to get people to come to our church, we should be living as the church in our community. The focus is on the daily discipline of "deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and even our enemies." And that's slow going, you know it is. In her review of Slow Church, Leslie Leyland Fields offers this summary of the central idea of the book: "Churches should cultivate long-suffering with one another because God himself cultivated his people patiently, over generations. Anxiety over scarcity pervades our culture, feeding competitiveness rather than cooperation. But the church's generosity and hospitality are fed by a God of abundance. The Sabbath allows us to enter God's own time and economy, to 'pause our striving and start abiding.'"

The whole idea of slowing things down instead of hurrying things along is not a new idea. "Don't imagine, dear friends, that God's timetable is the same as ours; as the psalm says, for with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. Now the Lord is not slow about enacting his promise - slow is how some people want to characterize it - no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path and to turn toward God's. So, my friends, while we wait for the day of the Lord, work hard to live in peace, without flaw or blemish, and look at the patience of the Lord as your salvation." - 2 Peter 3:8-15. God's patience is our salvation. Hmmmmm.

Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. "The Holy Spirit produces a different kind of fruit: unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You won't find any law opposed to fruit like this. Those of us who belong to the Anointed One have crucified our old lives and put to death the flesh and all the lusts and desires that plague us. Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let's keep each step in perfect sync with God's Spirit. This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy." Galatians 5:22-26. Working together to create community. That certainly doesn't happen overnight.

Slow Church is what we do in Montreal. There is nothing flashy about our little group meeting week after week after week for years and years and years in locations all over the city, doing the same thing over and over and over again. We worship God, we pray for each other, we learn together, we try to form a bunch of rag-tag people into a community where everyone can feel safe and at home. It takes a long time to transform self-centred, frightened, proud, wounded, success-driven individuals into a group of friends who will stand beside each other through thick and thin, good and bad. It takes time because we have to establish new habits and build new pathways into our lives, ones that will keep us in step with the Spirit of Jesus. But God is patient.

So let us be patient as well. Let us practice a theology of slowness. Instead of agitation, let us practice patience. Instead of anxiety, let us practice peace. Instead of being quick to judge, let us practice longsuffering. Instead of being easily discouraged, let practice faithfulness. Instead of relying on our own abilities, let us practice living in Sabbath rest. Let us practice abiding and being present with Jesus. No rush.

Matte from Montreal

All biblical quotes from The Voice translation.
[1] If you want more information on Slow TV, here is a Ted Talk by Norwegian producer Thomas Hellum. And if you have the time, here is the link to the entire 134 hour coastal cruise broadcast.