\”Concepts create idols, only wonder grasps anything.\” – Gregory of Nyssa

Church

Bridge Nets, Meaning and the Co-curricular By Ron Fraser

Bridge NettingThis fall tens of thousands of young people have begun studies after high school. They have worked hard for this. Having won the prize of admission reserved for those disciplined in study, they will enter rich academic environments, richer then they have ever known, to pursue the promise of a good job.

They will find courses devoted to every question under the sun. But there is one question for which they will search in vain: the question of life’s meaning, of what one should care about besides a job and why, of what life and living is for.

I’ve been thinking about this vacuum recently. Western public education began with the notion that life’s most important questions are appropriate subjects for students to explore. This has all but disappeared. It is perhaps truer to say that what is most important in life has been collapsed, within education itself, to economics. Economic globalization of the last three decades or so has been the final squeeze to push questions of value and meaning out of formal learning. The disciplines with the oldest, deepest connection with these questions, the humanities, including the study of religion, have been badly weakened, even within secular universities. Research, the capacity to produce “true value” for new economic opportunity, is now king. Education is about commodities and the quantifiable. The question “What is life for?” is homeless here.

The loss of the quest for meaning has come at a staggering price. The September 2012 Maclean’s headlined Canadian students  feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal. Among other things it discussed the results of a 2011 survey of 1,600 University of Alberta students, where “about 51 percent reported that, within the past 12 months, they’d felt things were hopeless. Over half felt overwhelming anxiety. A shocking seven percent admitted they’d seriously considered suicide, and about one percent had attempted it.” Canadian universities don’t have a monopoly on these things. At Cornell University in New York, the solution for hopelessness and depression has been to install bridge netting under the seven bridges leading to campus to catch jumpers on their way to class. Sadly even the article itself reduced the problem to one of “mental health“. Mental health is serious stuff, and important to acknowledge and deal compassionately with. The issue though is complex. Hopelessness, depression, and anxiety has much to do with the conditions of life, like prior to a major assignment. There will, as the saying goes, “always be prayer in schools as long as there are exams.

Despite globalization, the quest for meaning persists. At one level it helps us cope. With a “why“, Victor Frankl observed, we can deal with any “how“. For Christians though, our longing for transcendence empowers us to invest in riches that can be enjoyed forever. The scriptures call it “hope in Christ” (1 Cor. 15).”Hoping in Christ” helps us to endure too. It also gives us the Model for living, a Christ shaped character, and a horizon far past the hollow promises of consumer culture, a reason to spend life for the sake of others.

Since questions for meaning are always questions of the spirit, and the right and proper subject of Christian education, it would be easy to say here “Hooray for Christian education!

However, life’s meaning is far more than “a question” of the spirit. It is rather a quest, a hunger of the spirit. That’s why not all churches or even places like ABC are automatically places of authentic spiritual food. Sometimes Christian institutions  bear a strange similarity to religious studies classrooms where information about God or belief systems is passed off as sufficient for Christian discipleship. Information however, while important and necessary, is hardly sufficient for becoming a follower of Jesus.

At the heart for our quest for meaning is Jesus who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you ‘Ten steps to walk in the Way.‘” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you the Truth.” He said, “I am the Truth.” He offers Himself. This of course matches our yearnings precisely. They are for Love Himself. Information is not enough for the quest!

Jesus knew all of this! He knew that what disciple-learners needed more than anything in their quest was a model of loving surrender to the Father. This was a lengthy process, even under the master Teacher! Along the way there were questions, doubts, fears, denials, prejudices, jealousies, and a host of other distractions. Their enemy was ours too: they thought that the “Way” was the way of privilege and power. All of them desert Him at one point. After three years of instructions they still think that (Acts 1:8). Throughout this jagged journey to learn Him, every moment was a teachable one. He never gives up on them.

Regardless of how that quest unfolded in particular cases, the common thread was that Jesus was always with them, entering life with them, challenging, encouraging, whittling away their self-preoccupation. All this to say that for Jesus curriculum was not enough. He longed for them to experience His inner life. His presence was key!

Dallas Willard puts it this way: “…spiritual formation rests on the indispensable foundation of death to self and cannot proceed except in so far as that foundation is being laid and sustained. You cannot follow Jesus from a distance. You do life with Him.” (Renovation of the Heart, Page 64)

The quest for meaning is satisfied through the challenging conversation and encounters where life’s big questions are faced honestly. In fact, our gospels are both declaration and a “working through” of the conversations about what it means to live for Someone else. Without those conversations, they wouldn’t exist! Peter Berger is correct: “Worldview hangs on the thin thread of conversation.

As they walked with him, Life seeped in. Jesus’ own dreams of a new, Other-oriented life took shape. They learned to serve by serving. They learned to love by loving. They learned to be loved, by being loved. Meaning arrived not by armchair philosophizing, but through fresh encounters with Life Himself. Jesus knew that the transformative turning points of life are already in the journey, not just in the synagogue.

It is easy, and so tempting, to think of what is done outside the classroom as unimportant. It is not. The stakes are too high, the consequences too stark, the possibilities for Others too rich, and the horizons of meaning to beautiful, to abandon the co-curricular.


Life Together: Living In and With the Community

Life Together

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to sit with a number of local leaders here in Calgary as we discussed the ways in which we could missionally live within each of our communities and seek Kingdom transformations within them. Listening to a number of speakers including Dan Meades of Vibrant Communities, Paul Sparks of The Parish Collective, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi; I had mixed feelings as to the movement of the church to truly address the full potentials of their abilities. Don’t get me wrong please, I see the church (or at least some churches) becoming more missional in their relevance and intentionality; I’m just not sure they’re willing to step fully out into doing it in a revolutionary impacting way.

In any case, Harv Matchullis asked a number of questions recently in which to further the dialogue we started a few weeks ago and I thought I would take the opportunity to explore them a bit here.

Tell us at least one key learning you took away from the event and how it has impacted your actions.

I’d like to think that we already are mindful of the needs within our community but, the honest truth is that I realize I spread our missional outreach far beyond our local context. The realities are that Expressions is a significantly small community made up of only 6 people at its core; most of which has dividing ties with other church communities and living within different neighbourhoods. Does this prevent us from being missional? No, there has been many missional activities to which we have engaged over the last few years including Mustard Seed involvements and our Mars Hill Adventures at the Body, Soul, and Spirit Expo. Yet, it’s one thing to which I recognized we were lacking while listening to the local leaders discuss what it means to do life together. We need to become more intentional and focused on our local impact and outreach.

This is something I continue to work on, pray for, and endeavour to engage. In some aspects I am attempting to network with others to try and identify some of the local needs. In other cases, I am in deep prayer that other local leadership might join within Expressions to try and build a community movement which can intentionally inspire community transformation within the reaches of our local SE neighbourhoods. To put it simply, we need more local people within our movement!

Tell us what you have done with your learning, or what you are planning/thinking of doing. (You might help spark/inform someone elses’ action plan).

Although I do not believe  my physical challenges are a full encompassment of my identity nor the sole calling of ministry I feel drawn too; I recognize a deep lacking of reaching out to those who have both physical and mental challenges in life. A few years back I remember talking with a local transport expert in City Hall and they estimated that 12%-16% of the city’s population was considered to have a disability in some form or way. Locally I see this number daily from Josh, a mentally challenged lot associate in Safeway, to a young greeter in our local Walmart who is in a wheelchair. Most people in our community will not recognize this but there is most likely someone living with a physical or mental challenge on every block in our SE neighbourhoods.

A few years back I started a ministry called Re:Genesis to try and build an environment where these people could gather and find encouragement, inspiration, and common life developments. I was unable to continue the group with a lack of finical support and local advocacy. Still, I would greatly like to resurrect this ministry and endeavour to bridge God’s Kingdom to those who face challenges in life within our local SE neighbourhoods!

To do this I recognize we would need a few things in place.

  1. Support and Advocacy to communicate the involvements of the group. – Newsletter Ads, word of mouth, local church leadership support.
  2. Financial Aid to support ministry. – Food supply, Ad campaigns, Space provisions.
  3. Space to Host Group. – Local Hall provision.
  4. Volunteers to support in set up and preparation both of space and meals.

This is perhaps just one endeavour to which I have thought of exploring. I also hope that I might be able to partner with other ministries so as to bring more leadership into Expressions movements.

“What ‘help’ would really help you move your idea/plan forward?  Is there anything we can do to help you think it through or find the help you need?”

This is perhaps the hardest question I’ve had to contemplate in relation to the Life Together Event.

To the local church in the McKenzie Town/Douglas Dale area: Do you have any space to which a small crowd of 15-30 people might be able to gather in that is wheelchair accessible?

To all those in church leadership: Would you share with all those in your congregations and local community who may face physical and mental/psychological challenges about this opportunity to connect in Re:Genesis?

To any and all leadership: Would you be willing to join within the Expressions movement to build community while seeking expressions of Jesus as Lord in life here in SE Calgary?

After Thoughts

These are perhaps just a few thoughts I’ve had over the past few weeks while contemplating the events within Life Together. I must admit to having many other thoughts as well which I just was not able to expand in here. Perhaps one though which I will touch on is the inspiration Paul Sparks brought with his example of communal living practices.

This is something which I think many of the church leadership in attendance seemed to dismiss to easily whether intentionally or not. Naheed Nenshi brought many things forward as to what we as a faith based organization could do within our communities (several of which I could write a whole other blog post on) yet; one particular one coalesced with Paul Sparks cohabitant living as Naheed spoke of the need for Secondary Sweats. Why are we so quick to dismiss our call as Christians to embody this coalescent practice of living? (Acts 2:42-47) Shane Claiborne said, ‎”Independence may be a cultural value, but it is not a gospel value and it does not work when the going gets tough. The gospel teaches us not independence but interdependence… community.”

I suppose this is where I feel the church becomes fearful of stepping out of traditional practices of independence and health and wealth views to personal living success to become a radical revolutionary force that stands out in the community. How can we encourage and inspire our local suburban followers of Christ to take in the local neighbours and embrace life together.

As I identified in the conference, within the suburban communities the locally identified people who are living in poverty are those who are working in the franchise corporations for minimal wages. Yet these people cannot afford to live within the communities to which they work! Because of this they spend long amounts of time traveling bus roots and train lines in an endeavour to spend just a few hours with their family’s before having to go to bed and repeat the whole process the next day. There is no time for personal spiritual development, no time for personal health practices, and no time to be living in a church community.

Dan Meades answer is to boycott these corporations in an effort to support local businesses and enforce higher wage policies. Quit frankly, local businesses do not exist in the suburban outreaches of the city and by boycotting the corporate business to force closer only forces the employee to travel to a further community to find work. When I questioned him on this his only answer is, “There will always be someone else who is selling the swifter.” In essence, the people who are working in these spaces will simply move on. If we are truly “taking in” the people within our local communities, displacement is not the answer!

I suppose what I am trying to say is that as followers of Jesus I think we need to spend some more time talking about what it means to be developing communities which cohabitate with one another. If these people and their families could not only work but live within the community that they serve, they would not only have more time with their family’s but also be able to engage and belong to a spiritually family which follows Christ within their local neighbourhood.

I suppose that’s all I’ve got for right now. :)


To Save a Life – Youth Event

To Save a Life


Expressions Statement of Faith – Any Thoughts?

Statement of Faith

This is a first draft to Expressions Statement of Faith. I would love to hear any constructive feed back from my tribe and readers!

Purpose/Mission

The Purpose and Mission for all of our members is Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community (Matt. 16:13-20). This mission is accomplished as we take the gospel message of Jesus into the relevant and daily life experiences we encounter both individually and as a community (Matt. 28:16-20).

Beliefs and Statement of Faith

  • We believe in one God in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Eph. 4:4-6; John 4:24; John 10:30)
  • We believe God is the creator of all that there is seen and not seen, understood and mysterious, questioned and answered. (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 42:5; John 1:3; Acts 17:24;26)
  • We believe in one Lordship over all things, places, contexts, and people through Jesus Christ as the son of God. (Matt. 16:16; John 1:14; 10:30; 14:6-7; Col. 1:18)
  • We believe Jesus suffered and died for our sins as he was crucified on the cross, that three days afterwards he was resurrected in body, that he ascended into heaven, and that he lives eternally at God’s right side. (Mark 16:19; John 20:17; Acts 1:9; Rom. 4:24b-25)
  • We believe that all people can find redemption, forgiveness, and righteousness through holistically enacted faith in Jesus Christ. (John 3:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:9-10; James 2:18)
  • We believe that the Bible is the whole and complete Word of God meant to equip, teach, and inspire all followers of its reading. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  • We believe in the unity of one church under Christ Jesus through Biblical Christian practices. (John 17:20-21)
  • We believe that all followers of Jesus are blessed and gifted according to the good works Christ calls them too through his Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:4; Gal. 5:22-24)
  • We believe in the full immersion baptism of all who hold these beliefs to be true as a physical commitment and representation of God’s grace before all his followers. (Acts 2:38; 41; 16: 31-33; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21)

Values

We each acknowledge ourselves being within our own unique contexts, experiences, history, and relationships but are united by Expressions Mission and Five Interlocking Values. As such we seek community by balancing a holistic practice of all said values within our faith and in everything we do.

Passionate SpiritualitySpiritual Reading (Scripture); Spiritual Speaking; Spiritual Breathing; and Spiritual Acting

Radical DiscipleshipInvitational Living; Incarnational Living; Infusional Living; Inspirational Living
(Please See (i)Living Covenant)

Authentic CommunityHospitality; Unconditional Acceptance; Intentionality; Relevant

Transformational MissionRecognize a Need; Collaborate; Acknowledge a Kingdom Relevance; Take Action

Holistic StewardshipPeople; Wealth/Materials; the Environment


Further Thoughts of Christian Plodding and the Dangers of Consumeristic Church

No Explanations Inside the Church

It seems in the past few years I have been confronted by a growing dichotomy which seems to be taking shape within our Christian Church. Set up between two frontlines the Missional and Emergent tribes seem to call for radical reformation while the more streamline and orthodox seem to take this as a personal attack claiming these thoughts as being a loss of accountability at best and at worst, borderline heresy. So which is it and where do we find God at work within it all? Most importantly… where does politics give way to Kingdom love?

Not that long ago a friend of mine quoted Kevin Deyoung from a blog post called ‘The Glory of Plodding’. He said, “What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risk taking plodders.” What an inspiring deliberation and yet I wonder; can you be a faithful, risk taking plodder without running the risk of cultural revolutionary reactions?

The Apostle Peter was a plodder too and while he stood before thousands of people he spoke from his heart, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) Much like Peter perhaps the plodders of our time have a dream in uncharted waters; and our visionaries are leading us towards a revolution – one which is counter cultural not counter Christological!

The dangers of consumeristic church are most definitely rooted in a lack of commitment and the spiritual cannibalistic practices of “what’s in it for me?” My fear is that this reality has become not just individualistic in practice but also corporately expressed through the ideological expectations of set ecclesiological mandates. Let’s face it, Christian accountability is something which is centered not on maintaining an existing ecclesiology but upon the commitment to the missionary plodding of sending all of Christ’s followers into the world united with an impassioned vision for God’s Kingdom drawing near to every fabric of life.

So what of love for God’s Kingdom? Richard Neuhaus once said, “It is easy to think that we love an abstract, spiritualized, de-historicized Church just as it is easy to love abstract, spiritualized, de-historicized people. In truth to love abstractions is not to love at all; it is but a sentimental attachment to our own whimsies.

In truth I can say I love God’s Kingdom but in so doing I am in love with God’s people; in all places, forms, traditions, and diversities. To not recognize the riches of this virtue brings heed to Jesus’ warning that, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” (Matt. 11:17)

Does the dichotomy between Missional/Emergent and Main Stream Church demand revolutionary mentality? I do not know but, in the words of Martin Luther King I’ve been hearing a lot lately… “I have a dream today!” Maybe the church itself should spend some time dreaming too.


Letters from the Fringe in Plodding

Compass

A close friend of mine recently wrote a post called ‘Plodding’ which I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few days. As such I’ve written a lettered response which I thought I would share for your dialogue too. Sometimes by our reading into others lives we too can find insight and a glimpse to life and faith which we did not expect.

It’s been hard trying to wait till now to get in on this conversation as this post has been on my mind the last few days. Between balancing a “steady job” and the health concerns of life in a wheelchair I’ve been slow to find the time to write.  I hope I’m not jumping in too late!

Just what do we mean here Brad by “leaving the church?” I mean are we talking about a specific event, building, and organization; or do we mean a community of people doing life together? It seems important to identify this because much of the unspoken realities in “service representation” that are mentioned in the linked article and conversation seem to pertain to a singular weekly event (VBS, greeting, Singing/choir, ect.).

If you ask me, “ecclesia” seems to be far more richer when understood as more closly connected to daily discipleship then being a matter of weekly attendance. After all, the kingdom of God is near (Luke 10:9b) whenever I enter any “door way” with a heart of adoration, a mind of focused learned attention, and a spirit of unrestrained joy! I am first and formost a FOLLOWER of Jesus in any and all contexts; in which I ENCOUNTER, EXPERIENCE, and REFLECT the church as a community of grace and unconditional acceptance.

Is everyone a “Rock Star” and Bono mentality? I hope not! But, what is the church doing to equip, develop, support, and build the leadership which might find itself on the fringes of so called stated “class” – white, middle class, married, and with two and a half children. Is Christian discipleship and expression solely based free of creative ingenuity to the marginalized and “un-classed”? If it is anything I think Jesus stood up for it was that HIS church would not be based upon demographics but upon personal confession! (Matt. 16:15-17)

I’ve read Kevin Deyoung’s book ‘Why We Love the Church’ and it has caused me to think deeply about my missional roots but I am bothered by his undertone to “Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church.” What is the church meant for if not to be born in spirituality (John 3:1-15) and deeply involved in community transformation and social justice (Matt. 5:1-13; Luke 4:18-19)? Is there meant to be a separation between church and para-church? I think not.

Ben, I think you are right in identifying this sense that our generation has sometimes abandoned our sense of “community” for consumerism in self gratification. It is important to plod towards a vision of discipleship and accountability. It is equally important that this accountability however hold more balance between daily active missional impulses, worshipful learnedness, and an attentiveness to graceful evangelism.

Are there meaningful “rights of passage” J? I think there are! Of course we need to guard against them being ideological and institutional but as I’ve learned from Deyoung before; there is merit in Baptism, the breaking of bread in Communion, and Spiritual Disciplines.

For some time now Brad as you know I have found myself on the fringes of church (organizational) acceptance. I often wonder has the church itself become lost in a state of complacent consumerist expectation. Does this demand revolutionary mentality? I do not know but, in the words of Martin Luther King I’ve been hearing a lot lately… “I have a dream today!” Maybe the church itself should spend some time dreaming too.

I suppose that’s all I have to say for now. What do you guy’s think?



Praying for Heart for Home in Haiti

Bonnie’s and my prayers are reaching out to our friends Ricot and Mandy Leon in Haiti after the earthquake yesturday. I pray for their safety, courage, and wisdom. Please Jesus let their faith be a light to the many in need there today. I ask that they might be strong in the face of disaster and that God might bring hope to their hearts, minds, and spirits!

Please visit: http://heartforhome.wordpress.com/


ESL Ministries in Calgary – Open Doors

Something I’d like us at MTC to look at in the coming months.


What Do I Value Most About MTC?

While in church this morning the question was asked “What do you value most about MTC?” It is a difficult question to answer when you consider the potentialities and many great qualities and values which are behind the MTC community. Which one is first and can we really limit just one to being primary and foremost? I don’t really think so. I suppose for the sake of answering the question though these are some of which standout in my mind.

I think first is the people which make up the MTC community itself. We have all come from different walks in life and we each express a richness (if I can say that) in character, talents/giftings, and wisdom which brings a diversity to who we are. In the same way we find a unity and equality not unlike the Acts 2 community in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44). I find the added question slipping into my mind, “How can we bring the diversity of that voice out in the midst of our gathering so that every eye might see and every heart find a voice and expression amongst us?”

Worship I think too is of great value and importance to us as a community and people. I don’t just mean the music at the start and ending of each Sunday morning service either although that is a wonderful expression of it. I mean the value of prayer that we have and the authentic ways in which we call out to Jesus in our gatherings; the strong hold to God’s Word in scripture; the times we have served our community at the Stampede Breakfast or in the community hall. I can’t help but reflect on our time at the Body, Soul, and Spirit Expo last September as we reached out to the many people there who so longed to know a God who really cared for them simply because he loved them and not because of any works or deeds which they were a part of. We were all touched by the works of Jesus and filled with awe (Acts 2:43). To me that is our worship at MTC!

Children and family ministries I think have always been at the fore front of MTC’s connection to the surrounding community. Whether it is Janet with the kids or Aaron with the youth; these ministries are always on the move! I must admit that Bonnie and I do not have any children but we have both always known that MTC’s strongest value is instilling a relationship between Jesus and the children of our community.

I won’t say much more but, both Bonnie and I are so grateful to have McKenzie Towne Church as our home and perhaps more importantly, as our family. Looking at the truest roots of what a church is, of what ecclesia is; we are a gathering of people and as any organic entity we are excited to see were Jesus will take us next and to see the many changes, growth, and experiential developments he brings us through in our walk of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13).


MTC Christmas Banquet

Last Sunday was a lot of fun and Bonnie and I enjoyed the time we had with our friends at MTC’s Christmas Banquet. I am no professional photographer but I think I captured some of the magical moments and I hope it keeps the Christmas Spirit high. I found Rodd’s story of the power of Christmas being found in the missional value of Emmanuel to be very moving and I couldn’t help but reflect on a story of my own when I encountered a stranger on the road to Vancouver a year and a half ago (Click Here for that Post).

Well anyways, here is some of the video and I must pass along my sincerest congratulations to Sean and his family at their reengagment!


What If Starbucks Used Church Marketing?

I found this in connection to a post on Beyond Relevance and thought it had some interesting ups and downs.


Gary Collins on Fundamentalism and Liberalism

Several months ago my pastor and friend Norm forwarded me a copy of Gary Collins newsletter which had an interesting comment regarding Emergent – Missional Churches and the tensions between Theological Liberalism and Fundamental Calvinism.

What do you think?

I have followed the emergent-emerging-missional church movement since its appearance only a few years ago. Initially its roots were evangelical but it has expanded in different directions ranging from hard-core Calvinism to a loose liberalism that appears to dismiss or redefine most basic tenets of Christian faith and biblical theology. There is a theological drift in many emergent circles, a lack of accountability, a hyper-criticism of traditional or seeker-sensitive megachurches, and sometimes an uncritical embrace of postmodern philosophies. But this is not true of all, despite the sometimes strong condemnation from a few traditional Christian leaders or professors. At its core, emergent churches, mostly with younger leaders and congregations, are working to reach a contemporary, mostly postmodern, generation for Christ. This is a generation of thirty-somethings and under who consider themselves spiritual and want to know about Jesus. But they are turned off by their perceptions of formal religion. They are described in books like UnChristian (by David Kinnaman), They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Dan Kimball), or I’m Fine with God…It’s Christians I Can’t Stand (Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz).

Along with therapeutic skills and Biblical knowledge, shouldn’t Christian counselors understand the cultural foundations of their counselees and the context in which their problems are embedded? Counselees under 35 or 40 have been raised in a generation saturated by the media, technologically sophisticated, skeptical of your expertise, interested in spirituality but resistant to anything that looks like formalized religion. Even so, they are open to spiritual issues. Counselors can and often do earn the respect and trust of these people but it helps if we are sensitive to their worldviews and able to understand that they may like our Jesus but not like our Christianity.


Visiting Mars Hill in Calgary: The Body, Soul, & Spirit Expo

Perhaps one of my favorite stories in Acts is of when Paul and Silas visit Athens and the home of the Olympics. Surrounded by their art, there architecture, culture, and the people who were in desperate need to seek a god to which was unknown to them; Paul brings a message of truth, of love, of acceptance, and makes an unknown god become a known God.

Even today his opening statement to the philosophers and teachers seems to reach through the fabric of time and speak to the people of Calgary and even the world as we know it.

“People of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed your many objects of worship, I found also an alter with this inscription, ‘To An Unknown God’.” – Acts 17:22-23

This coming Friday September 19th, 2008 through Sunday September 21st, 2008 the Body, Soul, and Spirit Expo will be coming to Calgary. As I picture the many people walking up and down the rows of different objects of worship and “temples to unknown gods” I cannot help but sense the calling of Jesus to follow in his footsteps as Paul did and live out the gospel message in the midst of these people.

That is why I would like to invite you to join us as we ‘Relax, Sit, & Pray’ with those who will be at the Body, Soul, and Spirit Expo that weekend. Come out with us as together we can Encounter, Experience, and find Expressions of Jesus in the midst of those who are seeking him most. Together we can bring the Way, the Truth, the Life, and a Light into a place where there once was darkness!!

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” – Acts 17:23


Renewed Meanings and Practices in Places of “Ecclesia”

In some sense of the meaning I think as a people we are still exploring this idea of “What is the church?” Maybe not so much as to the collective interpretations of its Biblical roots in the Koine Greek context of “ecclesia” (“gathering of people”) but perhaps in the ways context, culture, and community dynamics shape and express its significance and purpose as they encounter the living gospel.

In some ways I think this becomes a transcendent question which we must always ask just as we must always be willing to listen to the transcendent question of Jesus who asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20) . The church becomes a physical expression of both individual and communal belonging to the Lordship of Jesus, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and embedded into the DNA of Communal projection and incarnation! Some of you might recognize this statement as it is one of my favorite quotes however; even within the early forth century the church and Gregory of Nyssa recognized that, “Concepts create idols. Only wonder grasps anything.” (1 Cor. 13:9-12) It is these thoughts, these passions which tend to trigger my imagination in the wonderment of the ways the early Christians of the first and second century found church in the catacombs and market places; church in the synagogues and temples; church in the “living rooms” and “kitchens” of peoples homes! (Just some passages to ponder when reflecting on the “gathering of ecclesia” – Matt.13:2; 18:20; Mark 1:29-34; 2:2; John 10:22-24; Acts 10:23-27; 12:12)

Yes, ecclesia is a gathering of believers but it is also far more richer and deeper then that. It is an intermingling of believers engaging with non-believers with the intent of incarnationally being “little” Jesus’ in their community; and it is diverse in giftings, talents, spiritual and physical expressionisms. Ecclesia is the wonderment and amazement of seeing the story of God’s people living out his presence among us through our discipleship and relational following of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. To be a church in the midst of our community is to commit to the acknowledgement that, “They will know we are Christians by our ____________.” (Gal. 5:16-25) And not by our buildings, size, numbers, programs, and/or organizational/denominational/governmental status!

In answering the call to be a disciple of Jesus, I personally find the greatest meaning, purpose, and significance to “ecclesia” through the ways in which we enact as a community of believers the central core values which we find within our relationship’s to the “missio dei” (“character and essence of God”). Within MTC it is our five G’s and respectively in Bonnie’s and my heart as individual disciples; it is the five concentric values of Expressions.

As a church we become fully committed disciples to Jesus and our community through the embodiment of the 5 G’s. Yes, Expressions model has taken those values into a new context (a coffee shop) but in many ways I wanted you to see the relationship Expressions values has with MTC’s. As such I illustrated the 5 G’s below with the intent of crossing over there meanings and significance with that of the Expressions model.

Grace ——-> Authentic Community
Generosity —> Radical Stewardship
Groups ——> Transformational Mission
Growth ——> Holistic Living/Discipleship
Gifts ——–> Passionate Spirituality

When we met Tuesday, May 6th I briefly shared with you three identified areas to which Michael Frost describes the practices of “ecclesia” taking place. In brief they were the Home Place, the Work or Corporate Place, and the Third Place. All are valid and all find equal standing as quantifiable church gathering communities. In a diagram Frost articulates these areas using a pie chart which is divided into thirds. Hold on to this vision for a moment.

To also describe in brief, Alan Hirsch articulates the patterns of church being shaped through three distinctly different ideological perceptions. They are Bonded Set, Fuzzy Set, and Center Set Church dynamics. Most favorably he refers to the Centered Set church as one which remains missionally centered on its core values (i.e. – the 5 G’s and there relationship to mission) while extending outwards in all directions to reach all people within the community (both considered “in” the church and “outside” relationally). In appearance it seems chaotic however; with an anchored core God’s mission becomes gravitationally centripetal and is then always drawing people back to the central core value as an enactment of Lordship (i.e. – mission – to be disciples of Jesus). Illustratively he uses the picture of herding cats! You can’t tell them where to go but you can show them where the food is!

Personally, I noticed a distinct connection between both Frost’s and Hirsch’s ideas if you overlapped the two models. Frost’s Three Place settings became the chaotic landscape to which Hirsch’s Centered Set dynamics could be enacted and relationally connected. We can and should find/develop ecclesia in all three settings as it is defined through gathering and the core values and intention of being disciples of Jesus (i.e. – mission and the 5 G’s).

I realize this is a lot of “deep thinking” and I would love the opportunity to unpack it further with you personally if you would like. What I do want to try and address is the similarities Expressions model has with MTC as a church and perhaps, the different ways in which Bonnie and I dream of expressing them (pardon the pun). Is the Expressions model just a business? How can a Coffee shop be a church?

In the practical sense Expressions is hoped to be a non-profit organization shaped by a church board and centered on enacting its core values for the practices of ecclesia through Worship, Discipleship, and Mission. My hope is to find accountability and authority through starting its roots within our home here at MTC and sharing this vision with our friends and church family while we grow together.

With regards to its “charity” status; I have spoken at length with a number of government representatives about these ideas who have assured me that this is entirely possible provided the accounting and books are in accordance with such non-profit structures. Admittingly this is not my strong suite. As a side note I will refer you to the previously mentioned “non-profit” coffee shops I have already spoke about which are ‘FRWY’ (pronounced Free Way) in Hamilton, Ontario and ‘The Talkin’ Donkey’ in Vernon, B.C. In some sense, I implore you to check out FRWY’s website. If you really want to see how a coffee shop can be a church, I think they are an incredible example!

As for worship; the answer is yes! This is something which can be shaped by Expressions board as it grows however using FRWY’s example; they close the shop every Saturday and Sunday as they either hold functions, rent out to groups (non-profit or otherwise), and hold Worship services Sunday evenings! Creatively thinking I imagine we would do much the same things we do and can do in MTC such as Bible Study’s, Weddings, Baptism’s, missional out reach to the surrounding community through groups, and special events/holiday activities. Limitations to this creative thought patterns in expressions of discipleship both in MTC and Expressions becomes endless considering the nature of each individual’s personal encounter with the gospel and their relational bridges to those in the community. The challenge is in trying to stimulate those independent creative natures and develop their passions around them.

Differentially it becomes more difficult to answer. Yes, we will be supporting our ministry and facilitating our community through an environment which “sells” specialized coffee and possibly food throughout the week. We may be spatially smaller but when looking at FRWY that does not mean we must be especially small. FRWY used an old CIBC building and can facilitate probably up to 60-80 people. I’m not so sure this is necessarily different as I believe MTC can do this too however, it is hoped Expressions can reach out to the artistic crowds and as such be a host environment for those communities whether musical, poetic, or otherwise.

Can Expressions be a church? In short, my hope, my dream is YES IT CAN!!!


Aim Lower

My friend Janet at church this past Sunday shared an amazing video before describing her future trip to Africa and here hopes and dreams in children’s ministry. The intent was for how these principles apply to the children and youth dynamic. I however, could not help but pick up on the values these principles have with regards to missional focus, regardless of dynamics (or maybe it’s just the childish nature within me :) ).

Aim Lower

Quit simply it seems instinctively connected to that thought “We must lower the bar on professionalizing Church and raise the bar on Discipleship.”

Think Smaller

Typically we to often tend to measure the success of a church by the membership numbers which it sustains. Success becomes more of an over inflated under used corporate ego then it does a living out of the gospel’s missional focus to be Jesus within all contexts, cultures, and communal dynamics.

Thinking smaller means recognizing that it is the smaller acts of fulfilling needs which becomes an embodiment of the gospel message. Professionalism in the clerical sense is not a mandate but, the incarnational practices of the smaller groupings and individuals are what really allow the Holy Spirit to communicate that “the Kingdom of God is near”.

Give Up

Ideological principles of what the church is and what it should be have robbed the creative expressions to which the Holy Spirit has meant the Church to be. “Ecclesia” was never meant to be a franchised McChurch environment and was rather intended as a living expression to the embodiment and entity of Jesus being ever present both as Lord and communal sustainer.

Like most living organisms the church is rich with diversity and uniqueness in gifts, talents, and abilities. It breaths, moves, and grows within the different cultures, contexts, and communal dynamics to which it is introduced. By Giving Up the mandates of ideological principles and structures which do not hold the gospels truth at heart, we can embrace “new” ways which can effectively cross all barriers and articulate the Lordship of Jesus to all people.

Go Have a Cup of Coffee

This was perhaps a bias point in the video clip for me. I love being able to meet up with a friend or just someone new for a cup of coffee at a local shop! I think scripturally of Jesus’ call of the disciples as he collaborated with them where they were at. He went fishing, he went to their house parties, their dinner parties, and he walked and talked with them along the roads and market places.

Discipleship was a relational act of living with people not an initiation of rights and dogmatics. Go Have a Cup of Coffee is about relationally living with one another and engaging in a dialogue which constructively encountered the truth as a living entity.

Well anyways, here is the video:


Simple Acts of Kindness

This has quit possible been one of the most difficult weeks of my life. I feel completely and absolutely exhausted; not only physically but emotionally too. My wife Bonnie has dealt for several years with chronic infections and has been treated with so many antibiotics that her body now can no longer respond to these treatments. As such the doctors pursued surgery on Tuesday with the hopes of stopping the constant attacks of infection.

The follow up was appalling as she was discharged that day with the instructions that we were to contact Home Care for assistance. On the other side was Home Care stating that the hospital can only make the contact. And so the political burocratic circle begins. “No, it’s not our responsibility. It is their’s!” “No, I’m really sorry but, it’s not our responsibility either. It’s theirs!” Why does political paper work take more concern over the health and welfare of the human being? Does no one care for others anymore? Does no one care about my wife and I?!

It was a difficult moment and in truthfulness I was prepared to remove some heads. That is when some close friends of ours responded to our call. Geraldine is what I would call a 70 + year old marathon runner. No word of a lie she showed up on our door step with a box of freshly baked breads, home made soups, and a tin of cookies which were still warm from the oven. With tears coming down her checks she hugged us and said she was praying and felt a calling from Jesus to contact Anne who was a Home Care nurse in our church. Anne would be visiting us that afternoon (Thursday). Following Anne’s visit, Bonnie felt waves of relief as she promised to return this coming Sunday. It was the greatest news and blessing we could ever have received this past week!

The week has yet to finish out and Bonnie and I are still waiting to hear the results of some biopsies which they took during the procedure. However, I can honestly say that I have felt Jesus with us throughout this week. At times it has been extremely difficult but it is then that we have felt the simple acts of kindness which only faith could have provided us. The many emails we’ve been sent – Jesus wrote. The many phone calls we’ve answered – Jesus spoke. The simple acts of kindness which we have received – Jesus was there!!!

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones!”

Psalm 105


Patterns of Ideology and the Christian Church: Conception

Several months ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference at the First Christian Reform Church here in Calgary. I was looking forward to attending as Brian McLaren was going to speak on his new book ‘Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope’. Following the evenings events however, I found myself completely intrigued by the first speakers thought patterns and allegories to contemporary life.

Bob Goudzwaard is professor emeritus, at the Free University in Amsterdam. He was elected to the Dutch Parliament in the 1970′s and served for a time in a Christian policy research institute in The Hague. He is the author of numerous books including ‘Capitalism and Progress: A Diagnosis of Western Society’ and ‘Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crises’. It was the latter of these two books which I picked up that evening in the hopes of getting deeper into his thoughts and principles.

‘Hope in Troubled’ Times was a fascinating book into the needs and concerns for Global action and is packed full with conceptual pictures leading to rich and dynamic dialogues. That said, Bob Goudzwaard spends a great deal of time unpacking the patterns in which ideological practices have influenced the way we approach the many issues which confront human values and social constructs. Although not directly stating it in his writing, I could not help but make the connections of ideological patterns and the Christian Church.

Before delving into these thoughts though I think it should be appropriate for me to give a bit of a disclaimer. I am by no means an expert on ideologies or the history of the Christian Church. In honesty, I do not consider myself to be highly schooled or educated in these matters either. Many of these thoughts to which I share here are more rather an exploration of my own personal nature and relationship with the church and the desire to be authentic in the discipleship of Jesus and his followers. Please do not consider them authoritative by any measure!

With this in mind here are Bob Goudzwaard’s six elements to Ideology with my reflections to the Christian Church:

Conception

The first phase of each full fledged modern ideology is conception. In the conception phase, the conviction develops that a radical change or intervention is required. Certain concepts and ideas demand different, perhaps more offensive, content. People begin to reflect on the end they wish to attain, and they weigh the strategic and tactical means needed for reaching the end. In the conception phase more and more people accept the idea that a specific concrete goal must be achieved at all costs…

… Using the distortion of reigning norms and values, the ideology recruits disciples, and the critical moment arrives for potentially successful action. The highly charged, explosive moment for setting the ideology in motion has crystallized.” 

It is hard to imagine the state of unrest which most Hebrew Israelites would have been experiencing several thousand years ago as Caesar and the Roman Empire brought “peace” to the world through there military occupation and rulership in Palestine. Seeing daily reminders of the cost to that peace through the crucifixion of thousands of their people would no doubt scream for social, political, and cultural reform. Most assuredly against Roman and Greek Hellenism.

It seems interesting that many of the conceptions of that reform took many different view points within Jewish beliefs and hopes. Despite the strong calling of worshiping one God the Pharisee’s believed a Messiah would come providing that social reform happened within the Jewish community itself to a state of perceived moral perfection. The Zealots wanted reform through the over throw of Roman occupation; typically through violent confrontation. While others, such as the Essenes chose to withdraw from society all together as they created social communities out in the dessert country side free from the influences of the outer world’s contact. I can imagine sitting in the living room floor or at the kitchen table of a first century Jewish home and listening to the debate along with any combination of these needs and desires for social revolt and reformation.

In my own thoughts I think of the groups today who similarly resemble these first century factions. Ideologically many in the Christian church today believe there is a need to return to a specific moral code. That code is often determined by a world view which pictures the past, particularly the 1950′s and 60′s as an ideal moral state for social progress. Ironically this seems similar to the Pharisee’s of the first century. Amish have tended to segregate themselves from the social world believing it to be corrupt and enslaved to consumerist patterns (perhaps in some ways being right) which also is similar to the Essenes.

In some ways I can’t help but wonder about the Missional and Emergent groups which in essence are also attempts to conceive a “Kingdom” or church which is culturally relevant and centered on God’s Missio Dei. My own draw is for this reform in a holistic pattern also. The missional stand point is for the need of the Christian church to find greater roots in the way Jesus first conceived the essence of God’s Kingdom here on earth and the way he found Lordship over the hearts and minds of those who would follow him.

Jesus’ conception of God’s Kingdom and the implications of its social, moral, political, and cultural reformations seem to be eternal in nature so as to be relevant in all spaces and time. With that in mind, how then do we protect missional and emerging practices of that kingdom from becoming ideological themselves or influenced by social, political, and/or cultural bias’s?


Identifying Marketing Strategies of Competition and the Incarnational Approaches of Expressions

As you may already know Expressions has been a long time dream for me and I have been spending a good deal of time focusing my energies on writing a business plan to implement hopefully within the next year. In truth, I am nervous as to my adequacy in carrying out this dream as much of my character is describable as “highly relational” and business is not necessarily something I have been schooled in or have a lot of experience in.

With this in mind I would like to share a portion of Expressions Marketing Strategy with you in the hopes you will offer comments and critique it’s positive and negative projections. I have offered links within it as to ideas and principles which I have borrowed from others as well as incorporated from my own philosophies and beliefs. Please keep in mind that this is in my eyes not just a business but a ministry also in the hopes of bringing a relevant and living gospel to the southeast communities of Calgary.

MARKETING STRATEGY – DESCRIPTION OF KEY COMPETITORS

The major coffee shop providers for the south east quadrant of Calgary are predominantly the franchised or corporate movements of Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, or Second Cup. Their locations are usually targeted to high traffic shopping locations found both on 130th Avenue and the Douglas Glen shopping mall. Auburn Bay is a developing community and with the hospital and surrounding industrial complex, Expressions does anticipate one or more of them to be a competing factor.

These competitors predominantly focus their marketing through three streams. They are Visual Presence, Convenience, and Fast Service. Visual presence targets customers through the simplicity of publicizing the marketed logo in accessible visual avenues located within close proximity to the store itself. Convenience offers the customer quick access to a product which is dependably similar to the other locations considered associates of the franchise or corporation. Finally, fast service provides the customer with the product in a quick fashion ideally through either the provided store front or a drive through window at a cheep price.

With the projection of most reports in customer growth, Tim Horton’s is expected to continue to grow in demand with the major focus being on convenience. Although offering a number of products their main drawing point and focus is on the sale of coffee. Other products include baked goods, snack products, and home style lunches. Due to franchise partnerships and the demands created by them their products have diversified greatly and in appearance it seems they will continue to develop into more of a restaurant then a coffee house focused on community development.

MARKETING STRATEGY – ANALYSIS OF COMPETITIVE POSITION

Expressions intends to use an (i)ncarnational model of marketing both in product services and community development. By this Expressions means to focus on four avenues to connecting with customers and the local community. They are Presence, Proximity, Powerlessness, and Proclamation.

The practice of Presence is in some ways similar to that of the competition in that it uses the marketing logo image in strategic avenues of visual accessibility to draw the customers in. However, Expressions presence can also be visualized through community involvements such as participating with other social gatherings which are externally located from its central location. Through the sale of coffee mugs the marketed presence can also be brought into the home. Other avenues of presence can come through the visual invitation of mail outs, posters, and local news letter postings, giving advertising to Expressions community events along with product offerings.

Proximity becomes Expressions desire to enter the lives of the local people where they currently are involved and create a gravitational connection to those movements and that of Expressions. By that we mean to shape our involvements around the needs and cultural placements of local practices. Coffee Products and small baked goods/snacks will be offered according to the tastes of the customers. Likewise, Expressions community involvements both internal and external will be highly influenced by the customers social needs, dreams, passions, and social involvements. In many ways the practice of proximity is unique to Expressions compared with its competition as the intent is to serve the customer holistically rather then the products.

The element of powerlessness is intended to again focus on the needs and service to the customer through relational contact. We would like Expressions, its environmental spaces, and community groups to be open and usable by all regardless to the buying of products, beliefs, or social positions. Expressions does not wish to put parameters on anyone who is entering the store front and instead intends to build relational fronts first while then exposing them to the benefits of products and community involvements. In essence, Expressions is placing the power into the hands of the customer while remaining powerless in its self propagating agendas holding faith to the customer bringing sustainability to its developments.

Finally proclamation brings voice to the growth and developments of the Expressions movement. Following the establishment of a physical presence, creating a gravitational proximity to the local community and customers, and remaining open and inviting through states of powerlessness; Expressions can pursue marketing through the practice of proclamation. By nature as customers encounter the benefits and find good value in Expressions products and social involvements they will then tell others about its services and community. This can happen not only through invitation but also through the witnessing of local social activist groups which are involved with Expressions.


Thoughts of Rebirth from the Tree of Life

I used to spend my summers out in Cilliwack with my grandfather. Actually, he was the caretaker for the local girl guides camp and what teenage boy could refuse going out and helping his grandfather in such an adventurous endeavor but to look after those who would stay in such beautiful places!!

Hollow TreeI can remember many times heading into Vancouver and hanging out in Stanley Park with my uncles and grandfather after a day in the fish markets. These are memories which will always stay with me for the rest of my life. One of these memories is climbing around and inside this hollow old tree! I still remember what blew my mind the most was to fathom that this tree actually was just a little seedling trying to grow on the shores of BC during the time that Jesus walked the earth!!! Did you know that?

Recently the provincial authorities have been discussing the need to bring the tree down. It’s not that they do not recognize its beauty or the many that have personal memories of great significance which are centered around this tree. It simply is becoming too dangerous for it to remain in such a public position. It has saddened many in the communityto see this and some have attempted to petition the government to maintain the tree as a national landmark.

When things die, it is a time for mourning and emotions always take us back to the memories of old. The sad state to this tree’s standing is not so much the case of BC’s government not being willing to spend the funds necessary to brace it. Truth is, it is already being held by a number of guide lines and support structures which the parks department has put in place. The sadness comes when we reflect on the community’s unwillingness to find the beauty in God’s plan for natural creative rebirth within nature!

Metaphorically I have heard many pastors reflect on the hollow nature of this tree as being reflective to the dangers of the individual following Jesus with an outer appearance at the neglect of a truthful heart. But, what does this look like in the sense of community and corporate placements? What does the metaphor look like when considering the gathering of the church?

I think in some senses it is dangerous to consider the ideologically accepted norm to be eternally sustainable. Beauty IS what is in the heart – the memories, the community and social movements, the moment (space & time) – in the truest sense… the SPIRIT! That is something that cannot be replaced however nor is it something which can be eternally prolonged. Things change and social dynamics die.

We have something else though to fall back on which is promised through Jesus. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:25). We have the promise of rebirth. We have the promise of… Resurrection!!!

What are some of the resurrection stories or metaphors to which you have in your life?


Expressions Vision for the Future

Expressions is projected to be a missional endeavor into the S.E. corner of Calgary, Alberta. Its intention is to create a community where people can explore self expression in creative, dynamic, and constructive ways; embody a holistic identity; empower one another in their dreams, passions, and gifts/talents; and engage the world by seeking to make a difference within local transformational endeavors.

It is not meant to be a church by traditional understanding but is hoped to be the simpler, more intended picture of what the church was meant to be in a biblical perspective. Plainly stated, it is a gathering of people; a diverse and socially inclusive community which develops a kinship through the shared experiences and expressions of acceptance, purpose, patience, generosity, advocacy, accountability, hospitality, culture, civility, spirituality, and proximity with one another.

The community of Expressions then becomes a missionally directed entity which seeks to develop Passionate Spirituality, Holistic Incarnational Living, Intentional Community, Transformational Discipleship, and Radical Stewardship. Much of this missional perspective can be expected to come from the creative and imaginative expressions to which the community itself brings into existence. Expressions simply provides a centralized space to which each member can use as a launching pad of sorts for their own missional expressions of the above values.

The purpose and power behind allowing creativity and imagination to shape these values is probably best articulated by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in their book ‘The Shaping of Things to Come’; “This failure to make space for active creativity is a problem of organizational culture long before it is a problem of fact. Therefore it is a failure of leadership when imagination as a vital resource for mission and ministry is not truly valued… we need to cultivate imagination and creativity afresh in order to communicate meaningfully into the emergent cultural paradigm in the west.”

In essence this is what we hope for the average Expressions Community Member:

After seeing our sign on the side of the street one afternoon, he/she enters the Expressions atmosphere with the intent of finding a place to sit and enjoy a cup of espresso. He/She is greeted warmly by the staff and served promptly with great politeness at the serving counter.

After finding a comfortable chair and table he/she begins to take in the environment of Expressions. There is upbeat music playing softly in the background with the sweet smell of fresh coffee and perhaps a hint of incense in the air. There is a small open stage with sound equipment and a mounted flat screen T.V. on the side of it with video playing of natural scenery and wild animals. Beside the stage flickers a lighted fire place which was blowing warm air into the room.

To the left is a brightly colored wall with the words at the top saying “The use of the Mission Statement is dead and the Mantra has taken its place. The Mantra being Expressions of…” Then all around the wall were words such as Needs, Hope, Kindness, Hospitality, Friendship, Music, Talent, Environmentalism, Faith, Epiphany, and Health. Around these words were lots of pictures and posters articulating different groups which meet in Expressions and were socially active throughout the local community and the city of Calgary. There was contact info and in some cases, places to leave your name and information if you were interested in joining up with any of these groups.

It was also noticeable that the rest of the walls were filled with different art pieces with write ups beside them where local artists were selling pictures, art, and talents to those who entered Expressions. There was also book racks and book shelves with gift baskets, coffee mugs, cd’s, and books under all sorts of topics.

After a few minutes of sitting there sipping the hot espresso, he/she is approached by Erik or someone else who was in the shop and greeted with an introduction. Over the course of the next few minutes (maybe longer depending on the connection), a friendly relational conversation was shaped talking about what the Expressions Community was about and getting to know one another. Before leaving Erik (or whoever the other person is) hands him/her his card and invites the individual to return either for one of the evening events that was going on or for just another espresso and visit.

Over time it is hoped to build that relationship in the exploration and hope of that persons “expressions” becoming part of the community itself whether it was joining an existing group, or starting one of there own, or simply participating in the local events and presentations that happen in and with Expressions Coffee & Tea House.


Christmas at Expressions: Better Late then Never!

O.K. I know it is a little late. Between a new camera and my not knowing how to use it; it took a bit for me to figure out how to do this. Anyways, hope you enjoy the Christmas video!


Guy Kawasaki and The Art of the Start: A Fresh Look at Entrepreneurial Evangelism

O.K. O.K. I know at first it seems like an oxymoron. How can entrepreneurial endeavors have anything to do with evangelistic practices? Perhaps it is from a “secular” framework but I think we could learn a lot from some of the ideas Guy Kawasaki talks about in his book ‘The Art of the Start’! What do you think?

Here is a great video of Guy talking about some of the things he has learned over the past decade in business. Mac users BEWARE!!! Ha, ha!


Discussing Needs and Human Social Fabrics

Over the last month my friend Chris and I have been carrying on a dialogue regarding a number of issues related to group and social constructs within the Kingdom of God through the use of the Shapevine Community. It has been particularly in lightning for myself as I have been trying to picture these thought process in my own life and that of the Expressions Community.

Recently I have had the hope of continuing this dialogue here in Just Wondering… so that we might begin sharing this conversation with others who might like to join in and contribute to some of the thought patterns. Over the past few weeks I have found Chris to be full of wisdom and although I at times struggle to connect my own thoughts to the social processes we have discussed, I hope we have developed a friendship to which we each can learn from one another as we explore each others characters and passion to serve the community and Kingdom of God.

Bridging from the last post Chris left on Shapevine this is our continued conversation:

Here’s my best attempt at putting these things on paper. I teach this stuff, but always face-to-face, relying on body language to tell me when something I’m saying isn’t making sense. So, I’ll do my best here, and you can let me know if you have any questions.

What I’m hoping to share with you is a paradigm shift that I believe is fundamental to the “power-with” social structures presented in my writings on missional community and which I contrast to “power-over” social structures. These concepts may seem minor and ineffectual to you at first, and that’s okay. It took me 10 years from the first time I heard this stuff, until it completely “clicked” and when it did, let me tell you, my life has been turned upside down in the most wonderful ways that I could only explain as key to the work of incarnational ministry. I’m honored that you would allow me the space to offer this gift to you. It will take a lot of words for me to get it out there, so I understand if it takes you a while to respond and I once again thank you for bearing with me with this long-winded explanation. I hope you find it engaging!

***

One of my very wise friends once said to me that everywhere you go in the world, you will see people playing one of two games: The first game is called “Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?” It’s a game that we all know. And as we all know- it’s a game that never ends well. The game is based on the idea that if you want to instill change in another person, for your benefit or theirs, you use tactics of punishment, reward, shame, duty, coercion, judgement, manipulation, and guilt to get the other person to think like you and submit to your wishes. We all know that’s not a very fun game. This game is also called the “power-over” game, because the person that overpowers the other is the winner.

The second game is also a game of power. But in the second game, the power distribution is cooperative/collaborative rather than competitive. It’s called “How Can We Enrich One Another’s Lives?” This game is based on the idea that it’s much more enjoyable and authentic to give and receive freely rather than from coercion. It’s also based on the idea that if we are able to collaborate in the midst of conflicts and get to the root of what we are needing in that moment, we can come up with ways to enrich everyone’s life without anyone getting the short straw.

To understand these two games, it’s necessary to understand three basic components that are at the core of our humanity:
• needs,
• strategies
(to meet needs), and
• emotions (which indicate needs).

I think that we can both agree that, as humans, God created us with some basic needs:

Physical needs such as:
air, food, movement/exercise, rest/sleep, sexual expression, safety, shelter, touch, and water.

Needs for meaning such as:
awareness, celebration of life, challenge, clarity, competence, consciousness, contribution, creativity, discovery, efficacy, effectiveness, growth, hope, learning, mourning, participation, purpose, self-expression, stimulation, to matter, understanding, honesty, authenticity, integrity, presence, play, joy, humor, peace, beauty, communion, ease, equality, harmony, inspiration, and order.

Needs for autonomy such as:
choice, freedom, independence, space, and spontaneity.

Interdependence needs such as:
connection, acceptance, affection, appreciation, belonging, cooperation, communication, closeness, community, companionship, compassion, consideration, consistency, empathy, inclusion, intimacy, love, mutuality, nurturing, respect/self-respect, safety, security, stability, support, to know and be known, to see and be seen, to understand and be understood, trust, and warmth.

And finally, our spiritual needs-
to be in relationship with God, and to contribute to other’s relationship with God.

Quite simply- when our needs are being met, we are thriving as human beings, fulfilling our basic nature as God created us. When our needs are not being met, we wither away and die.

***

Everything we do in every moment of our lives, is an attempt to meet a need within us or another person. Think about it, what have you ever done that wasn’t in some way trying to meet a need? Even in our most unproductive moments, we are often trying to meet a need for rest, relief, or safety.

The way that God created us is elegant and beautiful. Since he gave us needs, he designed our bodies with a technology that tells us the state of our needs at any given moment. And that technology is our emotions. Emotions are like the dashboard lights on a car that say “check engine.” They indicate the state of our need’s metness and unmetness and move us to respond.

There are a whole series of emotions that come up when our needs ARE met, such as:
affectionate, amazed, amused, blissful, calm, cheerful, contented, elated, enthusiastic, exhilarated, free, friendly, glad, grateful, happy, hopeful, inspired, interested, joyous, loving, moved, optimistic, peaceful, refreshed, relaxed, satisfied, serene, thankful, thrilled, warm, wonderful, etc… just to name a few.

There are another series of emotions that come up when our needs are NOT being met, such as:
afraid, aggravated, agitated, angry, annoyed, anxious, bored, broken, concerned, confused, depressed, detached, disappointed, discouraged, exhausted, fearful, frustrated, gloomy, heavy, horrible, hurt, jealous, lazy, lonely, mournful, panicky, passive, sleepy, uncomfortable, uneasy, upset, withdrawn, worried, etc… again- just to name a few.

The problem is that our emotions are vague at best, and we may decide to take actions that don’t meet the needs that are causing the emotion. For example, we feel lonely, because we have a need for connection, so we decide to turn on the TV and it seems to pacify the lonely feeling. Success! (or so we think) We then develop a habit of going to the TV whenever we feel lonely, only to wonder why we are more and more unfulfilled with each passing day and that lonely feeling becomes a constant, dull hum in the back of our minds which we can never entirely escape.

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The key is to realize the difference between needs and strategies. Spending time with our best friend is not a need, but a strategy to meet the needs for connection, acceptance, affection, appreciation, etc… Smoking cigarettes is not a need, but a strategy that meets the need for comfort, while sacrificing the need for health. How we dress, how we talk, what friends we choose, what job we work at, what kind of car we drive, our political opinions, the books we read, lifestyle covenants, how we choose to invest our time and money, these are all strategies we come up with to meet needs. The power of distinguishing the two is that once we start to see our needs, and the needs of others, we can begin to find strategies that are purposely attempting to meet them, rather than arbitrarily pacifying emotions, or doing things because it’s “the right thing to do” or because we “have to” or “should” do something based on the demands or expectations of other people.

The realizations that I have made with needs, emotions, and strategies is significant in and of itself when it comes to being able to consciously thrive in the world, but there are further implications of this as well. When we realize that most of the world relates on a strategy-level, we might begin to realize that this results in not only our own unmet needs, but it is the cause of nearly all relational conflict. We approach people often by evaluating their strategies and determining if they are right or wrong. Then we face the decision of whether to confront their “wrongness” with our own “right” strategies. At that point, they have the choice to either submit or rebel. To submit, they would acknowledge that they are wrong and that you are right. To rebel, they would refuse to align with your strategies in favor of their own.

(As an illustration- Ask yourself if you really want your wife to do the dishes because it’s “the right thing to do”, and therefore do them out of obligation, or because she sees it as an opportunity to enrich your life and hers, and therefore does them with joy?)

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Some additional thoughts to chew on:

Hearing a “please” or a “thank you” in every difficult message

Everything people say and do to another person can always be boiled down to a “please” or a “thank you.” Those pleases and thank yous are always connected to a need, and if we have the eyes to see it, we can connect to any action or word and see it as an opportunity given to us to enrich a life, or an appreciation for an opportunity taken that did enrich life. That is a world of a difference from the right/wrong game that approaches every word and deed as a chance to manipulate through reward and punishment.

Selfishness / Selflessness / Self-FULL-ness

One of the big misunderstandings of “needs consciousness” is that it is selfish. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Strategy consciousness is in fact the paradigm where we find the dualism of selfishness and self-lessness. Selfishness is the attempt for a win/lose situation and it is the same as rebelling. Self-lessness is also attempting for a win/lose situation and it is the same as submitting. In both selfishness and self-fullness, the goal is win/lose, but the outcome is always lose/lose because it sets up a “my needs vs your needs” schema, which denies the “winner” of the opportunity to enrich the “loser’s” life.

The alternative is “self-FULLness.” Self-fullness is to attempt a win/win and it is the same as humility. Not the self-deprecating type of humility that is promoted in many churches today, but true, biblical humility, which is simply a full acknowledgement of what we are: human. Not God, but human. No less, and no more. Needs are one of the most powerful characteristics of humanity, because every one of us has the same needs, and no matter how different our strategies all might be, at the root of it all is a human with human needs. Needs are cross-cultural, cross-gender, the same for children as for adults. The only people that don’t have needs are dead people.

The difference between us humans in regards to needs, are the metness or unmetness, and aliveness or dormancy of those needs. A child, for instance, still has a need for sexual expression, but that need is dormant within them. Someone who is struggling for survival, lost in the wilderness, has a need for play just like the rest of us, but at that moment, it is not what’s most alive for them. For some people, the need for a relationship with God is dormant, but it is still there, and sooner or later will rise to the surface.

With regards to truth

Another misunderstanding of needs-consciousness is that it is relativistic in regards to the truth. This also, could not be farther from reality. Both the right/wrongers and the needs-conscious people believe in truth. The right/wrong thinkers attempt to over-simplify truth into two broad categories of right/wrong, good/bad, etc… The need-conscious people want to know what needs were met or not met in a particular situation. They recognize that most things deemed “good” have negative consequences and most things deemed “bad” have at least some positive consequences, and they want to have full information, and not an over-simplified generalization of the truth.

Empowerment

My definition of power is “the ability to unleash resources to meet needs.” The more money we have, the more resources we have to meet needs for shelter, food, and certain forms of play and comfort. In this way, money is power. The more friends we have, the more resources we have for support, comfort, empathy, connection, etc… In this way, having friends is power. The more education we have, the more resources we have for understanding, empathy, contribution to others, etc…. In this way, education is power. Money, friends, education,…. these are all resources to meet needs. When people fix their eyes on one particular way of making money, and don’t see the vast world of opportunity, they don’t have much power. When people put all their relational needs on one person, they are limiting their relational resources and therefore, don’t have much power. The way to empower people is to simply help them become aware of the needs they are trying to meet. When they take their eyes off of those limited number of strategies and resources, and become aware of needs, they can then see that the world is full of vast resources to meet their needs, which then opens up worlds of opportunity that can make creative, win/win strategies more possible, thus giving us peace on earth (or at least that’s the idea).

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In Summary

When we ask ourselves what’s wrong with a situation (like some of the situations you have described to me), we might rely on our gut to tell us, we might rely on the WWJD question or Bible verses taken out of context, we might rely on what will best avoid conflict with our spouse or friends, we might rely on what feels best in the moment, we might rely on what will make us most popular, the list goes on and on of ways that we come to know what to do with a wrong situation. And very seldom do all these voices ever agree, so be prepared for confusion.

When we ask ourselves what needs are and aren’t being met in a situation, all we need to do is get in touch with our needs, the needs of other people, and the needs of God and ask ourselves what needs are most alive for us all in the present moment, and if we can think of a better way to meet them if they’re not being met, and celebrate if they are!

So, whenever anything is troubling us, we can ask ourselves what’s wrong and how to make it right (if we want to be confused) or we can ask ourselves what needs aren’t being met (if we want to have the clarity to live authentically, effectively, and intimately with ourselves, others, and God.)

Well…. as much of a mouthful as that was, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! I tell you- I could write a book about this stuff. There really is a lot more. But I’m gonna stop there so I don’t overwhelm you with more than you can chew on.

Let me know what you think and if this resonates with you or not, and if you have any questions I’d be blessed to hear them!

Best regards,
Chris


Walking In a Good Friends Sandles

A good friend of mine recently posted a response on our ‘Expressions’ site related to his connection with Luke 10:1-12. I thought I would share it here too!

I just want to point out in my own experience and the way I grew up, I have seen too many Christians, including pastors who have miss-interrupt Luke 10:11 and have said something which does much harm than good. They have an attitude to think they are superior to the non-believer. That way they try to spread the Gospel and can only make people reject them more because of their own pride. They do not have enough understanding of the Gospel and they have no respect to people with other religion or people who ask questions.

When being asked about questions they do not understand and can not answer, they have a tendency to use hell to scare people or blame people of not having enough faith or make up some answer which can only fool little kids. Only in very little exceptional cases they are being honest to tell the truth that they do not totally understand the Gospel. When I look at these verses I can see the approach should be different.

1) The 72 people who are appointed are the people who know what they are doing. They not only know but they take action to give up their own personal interests to follow Jesus. They are the ones which are given power to perform miracles. And they are the ones who go without turning back. (They are not the “Christians” who use pride to cover up themselves, like to talk much but fail to have compassion and fail to have basic respect to non-believers.

I started to wonder why senior pastors like to hide in the church and talk but you never see them serve the people in need, like serving in seniors homes, muster seed, involved in cleaning the church building, reaching out to non-believers, Etc… When is the last time you were involved in those activities and seen any senior pastors from your church? Like you always see those Mormon young guys going door to door but you never see the pastors doing that…Same case in christen churches.

2) When the 72 entered the town, they don’t just talk their talk. They have compassion for people there. They help the people in need and perform miracle healings. They don’t just stay in the temple or church and do their talk. People are more likely to believe them because of their actions. They also take what ever people donate and live in what ever condition provided instead of lecturing people to give them their 10% and ask for money to build a big and fancy church building.

3) I found those words they said in verse 11 very unconstructive.

I also wonder if the 72 people are only allowed to say those things in verse 11 AFTER they perform those miracle healings. Honestly speaking, will you let 2 strangers stay in you home and provide them with food and hear some teaching which is new to you?
For me, following Jesus’ foot steps means trying to obey his teaching and do good works. It is about applying those teachings in everyday activities. Following those teachings when I have to make decisions. Asking myself what would Jesus want me to do in different cases rather than what should I do to maximize my personal gain. There are times which we don’t have to give anything up but there are also times we will have to give up our personal interests and put his interests first.

How can we make a difference in the world without first making a difference in ourselves first? Perhaps I should start with making a difference in improving myself and trying to serve people around me more. I don’t have a goal or agenda to change the world. I believe understanding and following Jesus’ teachings and being responsible for the things he put me in charge of is a life long assignment.


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