I am sick to death of causes and fighting for them.

I’m sick to death of fighting for things. There, I’ve said it.

I’ve stood on the same picket lines as many of you have and held the same sign and fought the same battle… and gotten nowhere at all. We haven’t toppled the abortion edifice. We haven’t changed many (or even any) minds. Look: it isn’t doing any good. We’re not making any progress here.

We live in a post-Christian culture. We really do. It’s no good pretending that the culture we live in is on some sort of axis, about to tip, and if we pull really hard maybe we can make things swing back our way.

The political and social means are out of our hands now. We’re the fringe. We’re the minority. In those realms, our time is past. This is the way it is; get over it already.

It’s time to move on to something worthwhile. Something transformative. It’s time to jettison these old tired ideas that Jesus’ will can be legislated. It’s time to get back to the core of our mission here.

I like to ask this question: How does change come about? What happens when you change your mind? What makes you do that?

For me, I change my mind when I am persuaded to do so; this can take a long time, but like Paul, I can faithfully say that I have been persuaded that Jesus is the Christ. Yet in order to be persuaded of that, I had to hear about it. In order to hear about it, someone had to say it. And in order for someone to say it, they had to believe, but also personify what they believed.

It took a community of believers deeply interested in living the truth to convince me that it was in fact the truth. You know what? I don’t think this is uncommon.

When I changed my mind, I changed my lifestyle. When I changed my mind, a bunch of old stuff went out the window. I got some new perspectives.

There is this dialectic between the heart and the mind, as I see it. If we think something, our actions probably follow; if we act a certain way, our minds follow as well.

This is why I think politics and social change, though important, will never advance the faith. They reach only a certain part of a person. A sign that says that abortion is evil, which it is, does nothing to persuade a heart that life is sacred and it is our duty to protect the weakest members of our society. A sign simple says what it says. A law is meant to be broken. A government agency is a faceless agent of change.

Heart and mind change will do the trick, though. Would a nation of Christian people simply accept abortion as a right? Or that gayness is acceptable or even desirable? Or whatever other issue you could name?

So, yes, I’m sick to death of fighting for things. Is it okay that I simply want to live a life of love instead? I want to love my wife, I want to love my church, I want to love my neighbour, and I want to love God. If that makes me some sort of hippie liberal reject, so be it. I have good company, I think, with Jesus and all.

Abortion

I don’t think I’ve ever addressed this issue on my blog before. Let me fix that now.

Abortion is abhorrent. Especially late-term and partial-birth abortion. At that stage of pregnancy you can’t mistake it: This is a baby. It moves on its own. It has a brain, a heart, nerves, blood, and all the stuff of life.

Early term abortion is a bit different, depending on how early you’re talking. You can say that sperm plus egg equals human with a soul, but of course you can’t really build a convincing scriptural case from that. The only passages that really speak to the issue are poetic passages that approach it tangentially while speaking to something else. Again, not convincing.

Ironically for modern Christians, I think their case is built more on science than on scripture. I say this because — and this is a whole other post — modern Christians are become increasingly science-phobic as science attacks the creation poem found in Genesis 1.

We can see inside a womb like never before. We can view the stages of pregnancy with at least a certain amount of clarity.

In any case, we can say definitively that the life of the body is in the blood. One of the central narratives of the Jewish law is that blood is sacred. So we can say that a human child in the womb is alive (and thus has a soul) when it has blood in its veins. This is a crude rule of thumb, but it seems pretty solid.

Still, abortion is abhorrent and just plain wrong. But it’s also mind-boggling. In a world chock-full of devices and methods and medications to prevent pregnancy, how does someone still get pregnant by accident? You have to either be wilfully ignorant or be the victim of a cruel confluence of extremely unlikely events. (Watch Laura and I be the victims of a cruel confluence of events because I said that!) There should be no need for abortion these days. Women may have the right to choose a contraceptive, but they should not have the right to choose to kill a person. Women do not simply arbitrarily get to pick when they feel their baby is a human.

If you get pregnant and you don’t want to be pregnant, at least live with the consequences and give the child up for adoption or something like that.

Bullet Points for Monday Morning

  • Chris asks a good question via Twitter: Is there a way to do church without burning leaders out? I think the answer comes back to something Joel Main and I talked about the other week. There are different ways to do church. We assume that church always revolves around a couple guys, but is that really how it has to work? What if the church is more of a collaborative environment where more people get involved? And what if instead of creating programs and activities with the implicit goal of getting people involved in peripheral matters, why not embed them at the heart of the whole thing? Of course the quality will go down as people with varying talent levels get involved, but church isn’t a stage show or some kind of theatre. Maybe sacrificing some polish would be a good thing. If it spared people’s marriages and drew people in and made authentic community.
  • I’m beginning to hate the word “authentic”. It’s so over-used — and by me, too, yes — that the word itself seems inauthentic. Which makes me wonder if what we mean when we say “authentic” is actually just “cool”. That thing that as soon as it become mainstream becomes uncool. Or unauthentic.
  • There are people I usually like a great deal who turn into raging idiots around politics. They become incensed that “their party” is being “attacked” and so they go on the offensive and “defend” them. This is true of both Republicans and Democrats, both Liberals and Conservatives, but it seems to be worse with those who mix religion and politics. More to the point, people who genuinely believe that the Republican party is another arm for the body of Christ seem to get more upset when their precious idol is under attack. I don’t know why this is. I know and respect many Republicans and Democrats who don’t do this. I know many who are measured and rational. But there’s always a few who seem to think they’re helping. But they’re not. They’re making arses of themselves.
  • Today I’m going to have some sort of burger for lunch. But because I took public transit — which really isn’t public, as I still had to pay for it: Why do I have to pay for public transit but not public healthcare? — I’ll have to walk there. I need an hour lunch break for exactly that reason.
  • I went to Nick’s profession of faith yesterday. It strikes me that before any of us go after the Catholic church for whatever doctrinal failings that branch of Christendom may espouse, we should clean up our own houses first. Especially when we’re still perpetuating a bunch of baroque rituals whose purposes are exemplary but whose roots are not in scripture. Even when you know the rituals aren’t grounded in scripture, and you can say as much. You can know what you like and say what you like but what you do is what matters. If you tacitly or implicitly put something on the level of scripture, you have absolutely no right to speak up against those who do so vocally and in the open.
  • I am hungry!
  • Laura and I went into Toronto for a while on Saturday and just walked around for a long time. It was fun: We don’t go to Toronto enough, it seems, even though we live on the border of Mississauga and Toronto. All this to say that one day I would very much like to live in downtown Toronto. Maybe not something as posh as Queen’s Quay, but something close to everything. It’s a grand city. Or, as Torontonians seem to blather on about, it’s a world-class city.
  • And that’s it folks! Also, I hope Obama wins. He’s the lesser of two evils, and I’m a great fan of rhetoric. Ever since I watched the West Wing, it seems, and developed a peripatetic crush on Aaron Sorkin.

Things I think about whilst doing dishes… part the second.

  • Here we go again!
  • One of the great tragedies of the modern church is that we’ve for the most part lost the language of covenant. We still have some of the ideas. But there’s hope. Imagine, if you will, the power of context and the power of covenant wedded to each other; perhaps this is an unholy union of the ancient and the post-modern, but which covenant doesn’t have context? The church and God in the context of his schema of salvation; the covenant of marriage in the context of God and the church’s covenant; these are powerful concepts.
  • Share the Well is — and I hate to say this, as much as love Long Line of Leavers — probably the best Caedmon’s Call album ever. So many years and I still love CC. It’s true. I’ve listened to them longer than I’ve been a Christian.
  • I’ve heard it said that if God seems distant it’s probably because you’ve drawn away; the implicit assumption is, of course, that God is static and that he always wants to be close. In light of scripture, does this seem true? Are there not many people in scripture who were desperate to draw close to God only to find him still distant? I think when we talk about God we need to remember that he’s also a person, or a Person if you will, who has thoughts higher than ours and a plan greater than we can understand. God’s not static. He moves, we move, it’s the grand danse (as you may have heard said). If God seems distant and you don’t understand why — if you want to draw near and nothing happens — all you can say is that there is a reason. It’s almost blase in its simplicity. But there is a reason. Sometimes you don’t get to understand, sometimes you do, but there’s always a reason.
  • It’s hard to synthesise the appalling poverty most of the world labours in and the almost limitless prosperity we enjoy. The question is, of course, at what point does prosperity become a curse? This very blog begs ask that question: I have enough money to buy a computer and enough free time to contribute this ocean of dross that is the internet. How much time do I spend feeding the hungry and how much time do I spend feeding my own various hungers? How much should I?
  • Candace is getting baptised on Saturday, which is totally awesome. Baptisms are amazing things, no matter which side of the spectrum you fall on. It’s a powerful symbol no matter how you look on it. I’m a paedobatist by preference, but anyone who fulfils God’s command to baptise is terrific in my books. I have a special bit of confusion for “Reformed Baptist” (decide which side you’re on, you freaks!) who seem to have forgotten that Reformed theology leads inexorably to the baptism of children, but hey, it’s all good.
  • It seems to me that a little introspection and self-knowledge is a good thing, but a http://www.aldaily.com/lot leads to confusion. Maybe it’s because people function on a sort of quantum level: You measure yourself enough and you change. Then you have to start over again and it becomes a full-time occupation. And not a fun one.
  • Beer is proof that God loves us; dentist are proof he can change his mind.
  • I’m less three teeth, by the way.
  • You ever have it where you say, “It can’t get any better than this?” and then it does? Yeah. I got that. It’s called marriage. I’m an incurable optimist, it’s true.
  • This is probably the best thing I have in my feeds.
  • It seems every nation has its legacy to overcome. US, India, China, all the big ones.

Surprised by Surprised by Hope

In reading N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, I’ve (thus far) drawn together a bunch of strings in my own thought that I hadn’t really put together. This surprises me because I was not at all expecting this book to do that.

In the last few years I’ve harboured a suspicion that most popular Christian thought about the kingdom of heaven is simply missing the point. The seminal moment for me was reading Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus, which tried very hard to weld together the ideas that God’s kingdom is about saving souls, yes, but also about making the world a better place. Now, if McLaren got there by saying “I am not a Platonist, I am post-modern, I am trying to re-envision the true meaning of the church”, and if N. T. Wright got there by saying “I am not a Platonist, I am orthodox, I am trying to re-discover the true meaning of the church”, there’s something to be said about looking differently at the physical world and what comes after it and what that means for today. And where McLaren offers a compelling vision, N. T. Wright provides a brilliant theological underpinning for the whole idea.

Take for instance the miracles of Jesus. We often — and I’m as guilty of this as anyone — suppose that Jesus’ miracles are signs that point to his authority as the Messiah. Then we stop there. Of course they are that, but they are also more. They’re woven into God’s story, the story that we often skim over while calling the kingdom of heaven something else entirely. Jesus’ miracles are directly related to his saying that the kingdom of heaven was there right then, and look what happens when the kingdom of heaven enters the world: spiritual healing, yes, but also physical healing. The language of scripture is absolutely, starkly clear on this: your sins are forgiven, your body is made whole, you are saved. As N. T. Wright points out, our ingrained division between spiritual salvation and physical salvation didn’t really occur to the early church, and they weren’t really bothered by both being part of the same ball of wax.

The point is, when the kingdom of heaven is here, healing happens. This is both spiritual and physical healing because when Jesus rose from the dead he didn’t simply redefine death as something that happens to release you from your earthly body so that you can spend eternity as a disembodied soul in paradise. He conquered death. His resurrection is a sure promise that death itself will one day die, but also that in death dying we will reclaim the sort of physicality we were meant to have.

I believe this is part of God’s story, a story that has so many times bewildered Israel, and I’m firmly convinced will bewilder the church as well: we have signposts pointing into a bright mist, but we don’t know exactly how things will turn out. God’s story seems to be a tale of flowering, of outgrowth. Every time we think we’ve got the whole thing down pat, God grows something amazing and new and unforeseen and barely hinted at out of our familiar surroundings. Take the children of Israel. We know in retrospect that they are the seed from which the entire world will be fed, but for them the ultimate question was “How is God going to save Israel?” God comes along and says, “I’m not going to. I’m going to cause an outgrowth from you that will save the world, and in that, you will also be saved.”

It’s the same for us. We ask, “How is God going to save our immortal souls and bring us to heaven?” God comes along and says, “I’m not going to. I’m going to grow from you the kingdom of heaven on earth that will eventually transform the world, and in that, you will be transformed.”

Which of course means that what we do now, in this world, has significance. What we do here is not all doomed to be cast away, to be burned, and to be no more after we die or after Christ returns to earth. No, the opposite is in fact true: what we do here matters because what we do here effects who we are are what we will do eternally. It makes me quite happy to think that one day, when I receive a glorified body and am living in the earth made new with the New Jerusalem’s grand appearance, I am going to be writing poetry there too. My hope is that I will be much better at it then than I am now. My confidence is that I’ll still enjoy it then as much as I do now.

But this whole train of thought also underpins the whole idea of the Missional Church. The idea that we must be God’s hands and feet in our community derives from the fact that when we help people by giving them food and clothes and credit counselling and HIV/AIDS relief, and when I steward God’s creation by recycling and attempting to be sustainable and spewing less carbon into the air, I am fulfilling part of God’s mission on earth, that I am really being a member of the kingdom of heaven.

It’s bothered me for a long time that the vanguard of evangelicalism seems to be simply co-opting their secular liberal counterparts’ fashionable concern for this world without knowing why exactly they’re doing it. (Not to mention those who don’t like it because it smells a bit like those dirty Christian liberals who’ve converted Jesus into a mascot for world change.) But here are the underpinnings. This is the engine that drives the whole thing. If one day we are going to rise physically and inhabit this physical world, when heaven and earth are made new and the New Jerusalem (a picture of the fullness of the kingdom of heaven, and heaven itself, natch) meets up with earth, our labours now matter. It makes sense of Paul urging people to labour in Christ, and makes sense out of our post-modern urgency to do something, anything, about the state of the word our liberal secularist forefathers left us in.

It’s all there. The great flowering of the church is when we are resurrected and glorified and then go about doing exactly what we’re supposed to do exactly the way we’re supposed to do it. That’s the bright fog: all I can say is that it will be sometime in the future, and that it will absolutely blow my and your mind.

In the meantime, we have our mandate. We are the kingdom of heaven, right here and right now, and we are called to bring healing into a very, very broken world. And not just one kind of healing, but a holistic healing that not only prepares the soul for glory, but the body as well.

Theology: First resort of the gun-shy.

Cerebral theology can be an escape route, I think. It’s a lot harder to get the home crowd riled up about predestination, for example, than about knocking off the gossip, or being a light in the community, or what is the difference between conscience and preference.

I’m not saying that anybody’s trying to avoid anything on purpose; people just do this by nature. Unless you’re a sociopath like me, you probably don’t want to stir the pot or disturb the peace. What better way to do that than by ignoring tricky real-life issues and sticking to the tried and true dictums of theology passed down from the fathers? There’s nothing safer than a precept filtered through the scrutiny of those great men.

You’d have to be crazy to disagree with that.

Try to make me live like Christ in a pagan culture by eschewing their value system, though, and you’ll have to take me kicking and screaming to the bank. Even then you’ll probably only get my pocket change.

Sometimes I think this is because we don’t really get a whole bunch of things. Like for instance if I believe that the end times are right now, I am first of all on the edge of being a crazy person with a sign, but this is also going to change the way I live and see the world. If I believe that humans have free will and can freely choose this than and the other thing, this is going to change the way I live and see the world. Theology affects things. It effects things, too, now that I think about how that word is spelled.

I imagine you could show this connection by doing this progression: Scripture –> Theology –> How To –> Vision. That seems simple enough, for people that like formulas.

Sunday’s Assorted Grab-Bag of Thoughts

I have something like three topics in my head, none of which would make a proper blog post on its own; I think if I roll them all up into one big post it’ll go much better, and I’ll probably end up remembering that one last nagging thought I think I thought but can’t remember thinking, though at some point I thought I thought that thought and forgot that thought, you see.

* * *

Normally, I’m okay with James MacDonald. He’s generally a decent preacher, and I’ve had opportunity to be blessed by a number of the things he’s said. On Saturday I caught a snippet of a sermon he did on post-modernism, a snippet that I’m going to go on to criticise mercilessly. I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t like criticising, just to be nice, because I generally do analyse things in my head. This is no exception.

I’m well acquainted with the art of making a straw-man and then tearing it down: it’s a useful skill in certain circumstances. For instance, showing people what a straw-man is. Making a straw-man out of post-modernism, saying it’s all about relativism and denying truth claims, etc, is disingenuous at best, and outright dishonest at worst. The only way someone could come to such a conclusion is if he had never, ever actually joined the conversation and instead sat in the bleachers and listened to the hecklers.

Any post-modern worth his salt will admit that right now post-modernism is a tag applied to a whole bunch of junk, all of which is unified by the undeniable supposition that modernism is no longer good enough to meet today’s challenges. In short, modernism is broke. When modernism first burst onto the scene — or I should say evolved out of the Middle Age’s chaotic ruins — I’m sure the first generation considering themselves modern had no idea what that even meant. It took hundreds of years for the philosophy to coalesce. It took a long time to look down and see where the world had planted its feet. And even modernity as a definition fails to capture every facet of modern thought: after all this time we’re not quite sure where we stand.

I’m sure the first generation to question the King’s divine right to rule raised a few eyebrows. The first generations to question rationalisation, alienation, commodification, decontextualization, individualism, chaos, and industrialism should raise a few eyebrows too.

But the post-modernism as a philosophy, as a way of life, is in its infancy. Mocking its shortcomings or even its perceived shortcomings is like making fun of a budding artist’s paintings. It’s not in good taste, and it smacks of pure meanness.

Besides, no post-modernist will say that 2 + 2 does not equal 4. But if you can’t see the difference between that and saying that truth claims are contextual, that narrative matters, and that not everything can be measured and sorted into a list, then you’re the one who deserves a good mocking. It’s not hard to make straw-men for modern American churches — pastored by a Canadian or not — especially when they cater to a rich middle-class audience by tickling their ears while explaining why they’re better than those dirty post-moderns. Thank you, Lord, that I am not like them, that I believe in truth claims! (See what I did there?)

That said, I don’t consider myself post-modern. I don’t think it’d be a good idea, as it seems to be every good Evangelical’s whipping boy lately. I have, however, read books by Brian McLaren and Donald Miller, and see a lot of good in them. Though I fear I’ve said too much…

* * *

Today’s message reminded me that there’s quite a difference between hearing the stories of Jesus and hearing lists of attributes of Jesus. Maybe it’s just me, but I can list facts all day and no one will give a toss (facts are by their very nature boring; even documentary film-makers understand this). Novels and poetry and stories and songs aren’t simply entertainment, they’re also communicative mechanisms.

Once, when was a lot younger than I am today, I started volunteering at a soup kitchen. My motives weren’t that great, I suppose, as it gave me an excuse to not attend one service of a church I had begun to dislike quite a lot. But I still did it, and I think that counts for something. Most of the people that came there were pretty much the dregs of society. I was trying to think of them as noble and loved and the sort of people that Jesus would have had a meal with or maybe healed of something, but I had hard time seeing them as anything but very smelly and dirty. I honestly didn’t like myself for feeling this way, but I just couldn’t get past it. To me they were just people who needed a bath.

Then this one guy — he looked about fifty years old — sat down at this badly tuned piano, pulled out a sheaf of dog-eared music, and played. And man, could he play. I presume to play keys a bit here and there, but nothing, nothing like this man. Later the staff told me he was a hardcore alcoholic, that he had destroyed his life with booze, and I’m sure this was very true. Yet it seemed to me that amidst all that brokenness there was this indestructible beauty that simply couldn’t be kept in.

I don’t how he did it, but this man helped me as much as I helped him. I gave him a meal, true, but he gave me the ability to see past the surface into the inherent nobility that is contained in each person’s soul, whether that person is a redneck or is homeless or is a soccer mom or is an annoying television preacher with bad hair.

Sometimes I tell this story to people to show them that there is beauty even in ashes, that there is joy in an alcoholic’s music, something like that. I suppose I could simply tell them that, or maybe make a slide with some bullet points, but it isn’t the same, is it?

* * *

Laura and I just got back from celebrating our six month anniversary. It’s flown by! In that time, we’ve had no major problems or even any major fights. My mum thinks this is because we’re essentially still honeymooning. I like to think it’s God’s grace. See, I’m much more spiritual than my mum, though of course I’m not. She’s got me beat by a good kilometre or two.

We stayed at a local hotel, since local hotels cost a fair bit less than non-local hotels, and feasted on Elliot House food. Both were excellent. We even had a whirlpool bathtub. I made it too hot to get into when I first drew the bath. I’m stupid like that, but you can see how my wife is long-suffering.

It’s still odd to say “my wife”. My wife. Yep, still odd.

Elsewhere in thought.

I think everyone has probably met that girl, the one who’s obsessed with marriage, who thinks her life will magically make sense or something if only she could get married. Guys can smell that kind of girl a mile off and I can’t remember a single guy who enjoyed the scent. It was off-putting. There’s something wrong with these kinds of people.

Guys don’t want their women to be crazy about getting married or any of that hoopla. Most of the guys I know can just barely tolerate the commotion or the expense. Guys want their women to be crazy about them. I want my wife to be crazy about me.

Sometimes I think God must feel like a dude surrounded by a bunch of chicks who really want to get married. Sure, they want the best groom available, but pretty much anything will do. He must wonder why we call it so many different names like fulfilment and making the most of life and being all that you can be.

From what I read in scripture, God doesn’t want people to be crazy about being fulfilled. He wants people to be crazy about him. He wants the church to be crazy about him, for his wife to be crazy about her husband. And, if I’m honest with myself, my emotions are pretty much everywhere else, and I don’t think I’m along on this one.

Giving, pt. 2

A short point, here. Churches are called to be a light and salt in this world. This is not an ambiguous suggestion; it’s a clear command. There’s no fancy theological hand-waving that can conceal the facts as they stand.

Bring to bear the parable of the minas (or talents, or cash deposits, or whatever you like to call it) on the issue and you have a pretty damning condemnation of inwardly-focused churches.

Like a selfish person, an inwardly-focused church is more concerned with itself than with the world at large, when the world at large is the very thing Jesus came to redeem.

A little thing about faith.

On Monday, Laura and I read from Romans, where Paul talks about Abraham and faith. Or belief, as the Old Testament would call it. The strange this is the emphasis Paul puts on the order of events in Abraham’s life. Was he circumcised and thus made a child of God, or was he made a child of God and then circumcised?

Obviously he believed and then the evidence followed. Faith, and then works. But first of all, faith. It’s amazing, really, how this idea of faith is so radically important to the congruity of the scriptures, and to the congruity of our day-to-day experiences. I get the sense that the scriptures speak of faith the way you and I might talk about electricity: without it, we’re essentially dead hunks of metal and plastic. With it, we’re alive, moving, aware of the world as it really is.

And, like electricity, there’s a source. Faith comes from God. Faith goes to God. It’s a feedback loop that should never end, if only to show his glory.