This 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.
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.
- Support and Advocacy to communicate the involvements of the group. – Newsletter Ads, word of mouth, local church leadership support.
- Financial Aid to support ministry. – Food supply, Ad campaigns, Space provisions.
- Space to Host Group. – Local Hall provision.
- 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?
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. :)
This is a first draft to Expressions Statement of Faith. I would love to hear any constructive feed back from my tribe and readers!
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)
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 Spirituality—Spiritual Reading (Scripture); Spiritual Speaking; Spiritual Breathing; and Spiritual Acting
Radical Discipleship—Invitational Living; Incarnational Living; Infusional Living; Inspirational Living
(Please See (i)Living Covenant)
Authentic Community—Hospitality; Unconditional Acceptance; Intentionality; Relevant
Transformational Mission—Recognize a Need; Collaborate; Acknowledge a Kingdom Relevance; Take Action
Holistic Stewardship—People; Wealth/Materials; the Environment
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.
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?
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!
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