Saturday, September 24, 2011

Favorite Lyrics #5: Until The End Of The World

"The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt." - Bono

Haven't seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you Y
ou were talking about the end of the world

I took the money I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart were acting like it was The end of the world

In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy said you'd wait 'til the end of the world

- U2

One Church

Over the course of the past several weeks I've been catching up on the weekly video podcast from The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario. Their summer series, entitled One Church, has looked at the similarities and differences among a variety of Christian denominations. The great thing about the series is that they didn't just talk about the other traditions behind their backs so to speak, but they actually invited representatives from each denomination to have a discussion about their history and distinctive interpretations of scripture, as well as an opportunity to share a short message with the congregation. Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House, introduces each session by focusing on the need for us to learn from one another, to take a "learning posture" as he puts it, so we can understand where our distinctives lie without becoming hostile or defensive about our own positions. Not only have I learned more about church history than I ever did in BIble College, but I have gained a far greater love for my brothers and sisters in other church traditions.

It has long troubled me how easy it is for we in the church to say I'm right and you're wrong, therefore I can dismiss you and your traditions outright. What an incredibly arrogant position to find yourself in! And yet, it's not that many years ago I found myself in the same place. I grew up in a conservative evangelical church which I am incredibly thankful for, because they pointed me toward Jesus and His saving sacrifice to bring me into right relationship with God. That being said, they also instilled a sense that any other denomination was not to be entirely trusted or perhaps even avoided altogether for fear of falling prey to their "heresy". As a result, I spent most of my life suspicious of everyone from Catholics on one end of the spectrum to Pentecostals on the other, believing they somehow were so misguided in their ways as to be dangerous for those of us who were pursuing the true way of Christ. Were I living in Biblical times I would repent in sackcloth and ashes for my pride, but since this is 2011, I'll simply say "sorry dudes, I was wrong."

As you will soon discover if you listen to the conversations from the One Church series, there are far more similarities than differences between Christians and those points on which we disagree are, for the most part, not central to the core beliefs of the faith. For example, as a relatively new anabaptist I take an egalitarian view of women in leadership while the more traditional evangelical denominations would ascribe to a complementarian view. I believe I am right based on my reading of scripture while a more conservative believer would say I am wrong based on their reading of scripture. We can agree to disagree on a point like this while still loving each other because at the core, we both believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Besides, as Bruxy says in one of the podcasts, "I believe I'm right and you're wrong...but I could be wrong." That is the proper position to take when it comes to the non-essentails of the faith.

While I attend a Mennonite Brethren church, I've come to realize over the past few years, that I am a Christian first and foremost. I quite admire the Catholic focus on liturgy and reverence for God, while at the same time, I have come to love the vibrancy and freedom that my Pentecostal friends bring to their faith. I've had my mind challenged by some incredible Anglican scholars and I've had some powerful supernatural encounters with God that only my Charismatic friends would appreciate. Right now, the Anabaptist tradition seems to fit me best, but ultimately, I want to be known as one who follows Christ above all else, regardless of which particular Christian stream I happen to be swimming in at a particular moment. As long as Jesus is at the very centre, then I'm all in.

If you have ever wondered why there are so many denominations or perhaps you can't figure out why us church folks can't get along, I'd highly recommend you take a listen to this series. Like me, you might discover we're not that different after all. The denominations addressed, in order are:

1. Anglican
2. Brethren in Christ
3. Salvation Army
4. Presbyterian
5. Catholic
6. Pentecostal
7. United Church
8. Harvest Bible Fellowship

Click here to go to the Meeting House teaching page or The Meeting House VideoCast for the iTunes page.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Can't Stand Hypocrites...

I can't stand hypocrites...and by the way...I am one.

As a matter of fact, I think we are all hypocrites to some degree. We all say things with our mouths that we don't follow up on with our lives. This truth has been brought home to me this week as I've been considering my response to the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Yes, my wife and I did make a donation to help with famine relief (which I was sure to send it in before the September 16 deadline for the Canadian government to match my donation.) But then I turn on the TV and see the thousands upon thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes, who have watched their children die, who have been shot at and raped by Somali militants, and I it enough?

As I write this, I'm sitting in a comfortable home, with my breakfast to one side of the computer and a coffee to the other. I'm full, I'm warm, and I'm safely tucked away in my suburban neighbourhood where the biggest threat of late has been a pair of skunks skulking silently around the shrubs at night. There are literally thousands of dollars of technology all around me, my bookshelves are filled to overflowing, and I have so many clothes I have to switch them in and out of my cupboard for winter and summer. How do I reconcile my lifestyle in light of the hundreds of scriptures that tell me I need to care for the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of my faith?

Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. (Luke 12:33)

Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. (Matthew 5:42)

Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. (Isaiah 58:10)

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister[a] in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? (1 John 3:17)

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. (James 2:14-17)

Those are just a few examples. Some would say there are over 3000 verses in the Bible that talk about the poor, our responsibility to care for them, and how believers are to use their money and possessions. There are those who would try to contextualize these verses (and some of them do have very specific applications), but generally speaking, those are the same people who would extrapolate an entire doctrinal position based on a verse or two. As I read the scriptures, there's no denying it: God wants us to act. That being said, to what degree do I act?

I'm thinking of going out to buy a new pair of shoes tonight, even though I have lots of shoes already. I just don't have these shoes. I want them. Does my want overrule the need of the millions of children who don't own even one pair of shoes? If the answer is yes, then I am a hypocrite based upon the words of scripture. Truthfully though, I'll probably end up buying the shoes. What compounds the problem is that, in my role at World Vision, I engage people every day, encouraging them to donate, to run a fundraising campaign, to advocate in some way on behalf of the poor. The old adage "do as I say not as I do" seems to come into play here and yet, based on the struggle I'm experiencing, I think slowly but surely I am taking baby steps to becoming less hypocritical. I see God stretching me in all kinds of new ways to make my life less about me and more about Him with the natural extension being that it is more about those in need.

God help me stay on that path and not turn back to spending all of my money on me. My cupboard can't take any more crowding and neither can my soul.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"There's been a plane crash in New York..."

Those were the first words I heard in relation to the attacks on the United States ten years ago today. At the time I worked for a small company with only seven or eight employees. The owner's father would often drop by the shop to say hi or bring in some treats from a local German bakery. On the morning of September 11, 2001 he had just heard a report on the car radio that a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and popped in to ask if we'd heard about it yet. While certainly tragic, it didn't sound like there was any suspicion of wrongdoing at that point. The oldies radio station that was on in the office hadn't said a word about the "accident" yet so we all went back to our desks to get on with the day's work.

It was shortly after the second plane crashed into the south tower at 9:03 AM that the DJ on the station broke in to give the news of what had happened and we all looked at each other with an immediate sense that this day would be like no other. It wasn't long before someone (it was either the owner of the business or his father) brought in a small TV for us to watch what was happening. There was no cable in the small office so we stood, mostly silent, watching the day's events unfold through the snowy haze of the small screen.

While the rest of the day was a bit of a blur - an attack on the Pentagon...a plane down in Pennsylvania...rumours of other planes being hijacked all across the U.S...all commercial flights being grounded - one moment in particular remans very clear for me. When the first tower collapsed I very clearly recall one of my coworkers having a bit of an emotional meltdown as he stomped through the warehouse cursing at the as yet unknown attackers and repeating over and over again that things will never be the same. Little did we know at that moment just how right he was.

I also remember leaving work early to go home and spend the night with my wife, glued to the TV set just like everyone else. As we watched the planes crash into those towers over and over again, the smoke billowing up into the clear blue sky, and the implosion that rained paper and dust on the streets below, there was a palpable sense of fear running through both of us. What was going on? Why was this happening? Could it happen in Canada? Was there more to come? Do we need to be afraid of the Muslim neighbours who live down the hall? Should we be calling our relatives? Do we know anyone in New York? Is the church getting together to pray?

That last question was perhaps the most difficult one of all. We were scared. We wanted to be surrounded by our church community. We wanted to be with them to pray, to support each other, to cry together. To do what the body of Christ is supposed to do at times like that. Sadly, the church we were attending at the time was silent. There were no phone calls. There was no prayer gathering that night, or the next, or the next. There was a brief mention of the tragedy the following Sunday and a prayer during the scheduled prayer time, but that was it.

All of us were and continue to be affected by 9/11 in some way. We all have our own unique stories of what that day was like and what we were doing at the exact moment we heard the tragic news. For me (and my wife), the greatest impact was the decision to find a new church to call home. In the aftermath of that fateful Tuesday morning I had never felt so hurt, lost, or confused by a church in my life. A small price to pay I realize compared to the immense loss of life that had taken place, not to mention the loss of a way of life. But it was clearly time for us to find a church who knew how to care when people were hurting, who knew how to open their doors - and their arms - to embrace its people at the time of their greatest need. We found that church and have found in ourselves the ability to open our own hearts as well to the pain and suffering we see around us every day.

No church is perfect and certainly no individual is perfect, but I am convinced that in our time of greatest need, our God is perfect and knows exactly what we need to find healing and rest. Ultimately, security can't be found in better airport screening or in better policing tactics, but only in the arms of a Saviour who gave his all so that we could find peace.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Kids or Commodities?

I watched the story of Amanda Lindhout on CBC a few nights ago (you can see the story here). In case you are unaware of Lindhout's ordeal, she was a freelance
journalist working in Somalia in 2008 when she was kidnapped, beaten, and tortured by her captors for 15 months.
She was only freed when her family paid an undisclosed amount as a ransom. She recently returned, CBC cameras in tow, to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where tens of thousands of Somalian refugees - mostly women and children - are seeking relief from the drought and famine that has devastated the southern part of the country (as well as parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.) After coming home, Lindhout decided to start a charity to help educate the girls of Somalia. It's a moving and courageous story, particularly after all she endured in that country. So why did the feature leave me feeling so hollow?

I can't seem to put my finger on it, but there was a sense that Amanda Lindhout's purpose in revisiting Somalia and starting the charity is to somehow help...Amanda Lindhout. I don't know her personally, so obviously I'm making some assumptions, but too often I've seen people working in the charitable sector for the entirely wrong reasons. Perhaps I'm being too altruistic, and goodness knows my motives are not always pure, but ultimately, working for a charity should be about the people you are assisting and not your own goals. Working for a non-profit myself, I far too often hear people talking about getting their numbers, beating the competition, or referring to child sponsorships as "inventory" to be sold. It both sickens and saddens me, and the worst part of all is I found myself playing that same game just a few nights ago.

Some good friends decided to sponsor two children - one through World Vision and one through Compassion Canada. My first reaction (which I kept internalized) was, "why would you sponsor through them?" As if, Compassion's concern for kids is somehow less dignified than World Vision's concern for kids (there are some significant operational differences but that is not for this post.) My second reaction (not internalized), was, "that's great! Let me give you my code to make sure I get credit for the sponsorship." Ugh. I found myself caught in the same numbers game that I complain about in my co-workers. Yes, I need my "numbers" in order to keep my job. Just like any for-profit business, if I don't produce, then it makes sense to ask me to move on. But there is something different, dare I say something holy, about our work. We are not selling just another commodity. I'm not asking people to buy more widgets. I'm asking them to participate in the restoration of a life and a community. It's not about me, it's about the children we support, and ultimately it's about the fulfillment of the good news of the gospel.

I'm thankful my friends sponsored two children. That's huge! The fact that they were motivated to change the life of two children is what really matters, not whether they went through me, World Vision, Compassion Canada, or another organization. They are responding to the call of God on every believer to care for "the least of these brothers and sisters" (Matthew 25) and that's worth celebrating.