As-Salaam Aliakum. So often I think we hear these words today and the hairs on the back of our necks rise as images from Paris, Syria, and Iraq flash in our minds. Is this not a Muslim greeting?!
Wa-Aliakum Salaam. I hear it shared in response while I sit in the barber’s chair at my local neighborhood men’s barber shop. Mo has cut my hair for the last 6 years and we have developed an amazing relationship. We’ve spoke about his family, his kids and there schooling, his 5-year-old son (now 8 years old) who is dealing with Leukemia. I passed along comfort and gave financially to his family while I told him of my prayers for him when he went through a massive heart attack a little over a year ago. And yes, we have deep discussions about faith, Jesus, and the stories of scripture both in the Bible and the Qur’an. Mo is a devoted Muslim and highly intelligent while being a deeply peace giving spiritual man. Yet even then, when I hear those words shared between him and an incoming customer; I think in the back of my head of the extremely sharp edged and pointed scissors in his hands!
Peace Be Unto You! What does it mean to be a peace keeper in a world that doesn’t understand the language of peace?! Where we allow images of violence and hatred and bigotry to shape the policies and reactions of our nations and even neighborhoods?! When our own online activities of typed out words, posted banners, and shared videos profess a great divide between our brother and us… our sister… according to the way we dress, worship, or seek meaning and purpose… All while in the face to face we are preaching a message of loving our neighbor as ourselves and smiling while waving at them from the safety of our rolled up car window!
And Unto You Peace! Over and over the passed few weeks my brother John’s words have spoken to me, “People want to know what you are for; not what you are against!” I know they have been borrowed from others but, there is something about the power of relationship that just bring those words in a tone, a pitch, that seems so more commanding from a brother who has ate at the same table as me, prayed while weeping over personal struggles, given of themselves to bring blessing to my life, and forgiven me for wrongs that no one else has ever known!
The language of a person of peace seems not to have a linguistic barrier that restricts it from culture, religion, our nationality. The language of peace is built upon the power and significance of our relationships to the other; no matter how different. It is a language of communal embrace!
May this be my meditative prayer for peace in the world over the coming weeks ahead… “I have said these things to you, that in me you will have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
I thought I’d begin this post with a bit of a story in my life.
I grew up in the church. Probably not the one you’re expecting. While not overly religious, my parents baptized me as an infant in the Catholic community they were a part of back in Hamilton Ontario. It would only be a few years later that my parents would divorce and my mother and I would move from Fort McMurray down to Calgary.
While divorce was not looked well upon in the Catholic denomination, particularly in the late ’70’s and ’80’s, my mother became involved with the Anglican Church cathedrals in downtown Calgary. There were many a choir practices to which she’d bring me I would spend my time as an adventuresome 4-5 year old exploring the “articulated tunnels” and the dark “catacombs” of these “long lost” church temples and cathedrals!! My imagination for the amazing stories that took place in these “ancient” buildings had no bounds!!
As I entered my school years, my mother enrolled me into the Catholic school system; while be accepted because of my catholic baptism, I could never understand why the would never allow me to participate in catholic sacraments during Mass simply because I was a part of an Anglican church and never participated in their First Communion cataclysm classes. It was all a bit prejudicial to me and I left the system the moment my mother gave me the option to go to public school in Junior High.
It was here that I really only found meaning in the church through youth groups and church camp retreats where my friends and I could hike, bike, tell ghost stories around the fire, and yes… sneak into the girls side of the camp late at night when we could slip out of the cabin unnoticed. :)
Of course, life does not always go the way we expect it to some times and my life dramatically changed in the mid ’90’s; April 23rd, 1994 to be precise. I was 15 and I was involved in a major car wreck. I will leave the details for another time but will say that on this day my life dramatically changed. My mother passed away and although having other family members around me, I would eventually end up living life on my own through a long hospital stay, a brief single apartment, and a group home experience before entering adulthood and my own living spaces. But this is a story about church.
The years following my accident I really was not involved in the church. There was no point. My friends had long left, as the person I was no longer was the same person I became; and my family had passed away and those left were at a distance while not really holding me to any accountability to such a belief or community. It wouldn’t be until several years later that while delving deep into the Martial Art philosophies I began to question the nature of this God I was raised to believe in and told stories about.
My girl friend at the time (later to be my wife ;) ), invited me to her church, a Four Square Full Gospel community in NE Calgary. A much different encounter with the church I grew up with as I’d roll my eyes to the old lady in the seats standing up and “prophesying” AGAIN to the falling apart of the church and of course the speaking “in tongues” until she became slain in the Spirit. I’d rock to the contemporary and upbeat music which was far different from the choir led hymnals of old, and of course I’d try to keep from jumping or falling out of my chair whenever Arnie would let out one of his yelps while giving his hour long or more sermons. It was here that Bonnie and I would get married.
Moving south, we found it easier to find a home in the local North American Baptist Church of our community in McKenzie Town. It was here that I in the most sincerest way was “born again”. There is a lot that could be said theologically about this term but it was a reality in my experience where the only way I can describe it is by saying that God became alive to me here and my faith was no longer just about social community and relational friendships but rather about a relationship I had with the God who created me. Through many intimate coffees with my good friend Humphrey and the shared meals with our small group, I was led into my theological studies at a local college called Alberta Bible College. It was here that Bonnie and I were baptized while giving testimonies in front of the congregation and Norm pouring water over our heads.
Drinking deeply from the theological waters of this college campus I began an introduction to the Churches of Christ and Christian Independent community. There was more then just deep intellectual conversations in classrooms and hallways of this institution; there was the amazing epiphanies I had while reconnecting to the deeper meanings of communion that I so misunderstood as a child in the liturgical expressions of Catholicism and Anglicanism; and there was also the tears and raised voices of debate as we discussed the implications of wrongful institutionalized beliefs about baptism and whether Bonnie and I were “damned for the fires of hell” because we were not fully immersed. I couldn’t help but see the parallels to my old feelings of rejection to the sacraments in the Catholic Church as a boy. It’s ironic when you consider Thomas Campbell’s original rejection of the Catholic’s sacramental practices around the Lord’s Table! ;)
Of course, this journey and story would not be complete without mentioning the visits I would make to my fathers Pentecostal community, Victory Church and the many conversations and debates we would get into on the theological understandings of healing. Even today I see the rather scared and damaging effects that journey has had on my dad and his wife. I’m thankful that even though that experience left them spiritual empty and abandoned, we are still here with them and as we listen, pray, and serve; we might be able to bring a restoration in time.
Today I serve in a House Church Movement supported by the Evangelical Missionary Churches of Canada and while I deeply struggle with the idea of denominational ties, I am greatly thankful to be a part of this community! While I do not think it is theologically “all correct”, I truly believe God is working through their endeavors to pursue His Kingdom at there utmost.
Why do I tell you this tail?! While it is riddled with holes, incomplete details, and of course still unfinished, I must confess that I have never been able to grasp the concept of the church being found in one singular denominational declaration or building institution. Church has always been a narrative journey for me and even more so, defined by the many memories and experiences of people, family and friends, who embody its impacts and works in my life and those around me.
I’m going to do something perhaps very dangerous here and say while I could leave you many quotes from Keifert’s and Mark’s writings, I think we will find those in many other posts and I’m sure I will use them in future also. I’d much rather leave you with a thought from my heart as to how we might define the church…
The church is not instituted into a singular doctrine, decree, or denomination – I think we’d all agree to this, if not at least in statement. I might even push Mark and say it is not solely in the pluralism and diversity of narrative experience. The church is the inner working of the Trinity through space and time while in relational polarity between humanities narrative exploration of his nature and the commonalities of ritual expressionism. I’m thinking to explain this more might take another few “300 word” posts! ;)
I could of course be completely wrong here and ultimately rewriting this whole post, hopefully before Thursday. But I felt led to share this while writing today and I’m putting my trust in His guidance. I hope this story meets you all well. Peace be with you!
I grew up in a musical household. My mother would play guitar in the living room and I would sit with her singing worship songs and camp tunes for hours. She used to love taking the break in between worship songs to sing ‘On Top of Spaghetti‘ with me; at least until I learned the alternative lyrics of ‘On Top of the School House‘! Some how whenever I broke into a different rift of words, the tune would sour and she’d stop playing. How important are the lyrics to the notes which are played along with them? Deeper still, must there be proper emotional response to the lyrics which go along with such notes?
Bevans and Shroeder reminded me of that early lesson in life with their analogy that, “Like a complex fugue or polyphonic motet, God’s unity is constituted by diversity and God’s diversity is rooted in unity of will and purpose; the church is the church inasmuch as it has been included in that harmony.” (Pg. #298) The lyrics of the church’s ecclesiology must be in the harmony and unity of the message to which it embodies or it ceases to be the church entirely! Nor can we void the internal depth of emotion to which that message is to be embraced as a missional community itself!
The contemplation of these last few months has brought a renewed vision to my heart and mind in the significance of a united harmony between the movements and ecclesiological practices of the individual believer and the church as a whole. Together we are on a mission which does not find significance in and of itself, but rather it points towards greater experiences of faith, hope, and love in the promise of a richer and fuller future. To use Bevans and Schroeder’s words, “Christians are incorporated into the divine life and experience a foretaste of the world’s destiny of full communion with God, with one another and with all of creation.” (pg. #299)
I’d be remised to say, like the small taste I had as a boy, I can’t wait for that day to sit with my mother again and sing praises to God; and I promise, I’ll get the lyrics right!
We crowded into a dark lit theatre as we awaited the beginning to the telling of an age old story filled with adventure, action, violence, love, mystery, and yes, even the miraculous!! As the lights went down it was clear, no one around us could be recognized for their beliefs, no ones theology was visible to the neighbour beside them let alone written on their sleeves. We truly were Nicodemus’s in exodus of reality to a world of a called people and the wrestling with a God called “I AM”!!
I love these moments, the ones where we can retreat into our imaginations, seek out the deeper questions and meanings of these cultural stories, and see how they shape our lives and who we are! Yet, when the lights all come back on, it seems like the chains of dogmatic judgements, theological and denominational boundaries, all creep back in to enslave us back to the Christian Right to which we are supposedly apart of; as though our lack of imagination, our literal word for word expectations, and our inability to “read between the lines“, some how sets us a part from the world as people of righteousness; as people who are superior to that of the “non-believer”. What a people of enslaved grotesque spirituality we have become!
Ridley Scott, in his film ‘Exodus – Gods and Kings’ has taken up the story of YHWH and his people once again. Yes, you heard right! It is not a story about Moses, Ramesses, or Pharaoh. It is a story about YHWH, the God named ‘IAM’, and the people he chose to call his own!! Hollywood got it right and it is the brilliance behind Scott’s film.
Sitting on the front opening to a house of a make believe king, Moses corrects an overseer to the Hebrew people who interprets the peoples name as meaning “One Who Fights With God” and rebukes him saying, “No, it means ‘One Who Wrestles With God’! There is a difference you know!” Ironically, historically this is what the Egyptian people did themselves with their gods as they appeased them through worship and sacrifice. To rebel against this was to fight their perceived powers; most often found in the natural elements of their culture. This is what the ten plagues was about! YHWH broke forth in showing His power by protecting his people while demolishing the gods of Egypt. Whether it was Osiris of the nile and the river of blood or Pharaoh himself pronouncing death to the first born; all of Egypts gods would fall to the greater power of YHWH, “I AM”, and his people. (Click Here to see the fall of Egypts gods to YHWH)
This paints an even deeper theme of wrestling that we find in the film. It wasn’t just the Hebrew people who wrestled with God; it was the Egyptians too! Who was this YHWH who held authority over their gods? Who were these Hebrew people, those called people of “I AM”? Who are they as a nation called Egypt, neighbours to YHWH’s called nation?
It wasn’t just Moses who sat on the shore of the Red Sea questioning God, “If I am not an Egyptian General, if not a deliverer, a messiah to the Hebrew people; who am I?” Ramesses too questioned his vocation and calling in the eyes of his creational identity. What are the issues a king is suppose to address – issues of glory, greatness, and inspiration or issues of legacy, death, and the altars of a tomb? From his own lips. “Am I a pharaoh who is to live as a Bedouin his hole life?” What contemplations that question may offer when you consider the coming 40 years Moses would spend roaming the dessert with the shadow of God in the midst of a Tabernacle moving from place to place!!
In Exodus 6:7 God speaks to his people and says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” What does it mean to truly know God?
The word “to know” in Hebrew is “yada“. Yet yada is to know in the most deepest way, the most intimate way, so that ones vocation, ones calling and characteristics, ones very identity is intertwined into that which they are in relationship of knowing. To yada God, to know “I AM”, is to be eternally wrestling with the very fabric of what he is doing in shaping your character, your personhood, your life. God is saying, “I AM in your work place!”, “I AM in your home!”, “I AM in your thoughts!”, “I AM in your marriage’s!”, “I AM in your friendships!”, “I AM in your churches!”, “I AM in your theatres!”, “I AM in your life!!”
Yes, this is a film of a great many of people who wrestle with God and the ways in which they encounter him. It is a wrestling that still happens today as we are confronted in dimly lit theatres and the oppression of the Christian Right’s cracking whip to resist wrestling with the one called “I AM” as apposed to the one called “I say”.
I’m sure, like me, there is much that you are wrestling with in Ridley Scott’s latest telling of Exodus; some of which may be fair. Yet let us wrestle with this freely as people who God has given a promised land of imagination, freedom of expression, creative artistic talents, and a living heart for the one true God. And to those who would turn a face of condemning judgement over those who dare to see beyond the confines of earthly empires and institutional structures; I say to you… LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at Canyon Creek Christian Fellowship on Sunday January 2nd, 2011 about Living for Potential while focusing on Matthew 5:48. Although feeling a little rusty, here is what I shared…
I starred blankly at the news screen as they described the story of a stranger who was listening and after hearing the faint cries of a baby, leapt into a garbage bin. After peeling away the layers of garbage they took off their shirt and wrapped it around a new born boy who with its umbilical cord still attached was rescued from the clutches of death. It wasn’t until later that the stranger would find out that he was not a stranger at all but the unexpecting father of the child.
Let’s face it; it’s a story we have all heard so many times before. We cry out in frustration, “What’s wrong with that person!” “How can they just not know…?”
A Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces is arrested and charged with sexual deviance, rape, murder, and other horrific charges. Teenagers are found gang raping teenagers in the school yard. And prostitution is legalized in certain states and provinces. It all seems so wrong, so decayed, so grotesque, so… Broken.
I was four years old when I was exposed to the realities of a broken world. My mother worked long days and would leave me at a day home behind our condo in SW Calgary. I remember the lady running the home would keep us locked in the basement all day exclaiming, “That’s where children belong.” Usually with a few “F” words in the mix.
It was here that the eldest daughter of the lady who ran the home began taking me with her to the darker corners of the basement. I don’t remember much, but I remember that I spent most of my childhood trying to hide it and make sure no one ever found out. Most importantly, I tried to make myself forget it ever happened because I thought it was my fault. I was Broken.
I was broken and because I was broken the world will never look the same to me again. The world has become a place of overt violence with battlefields in every marketing advertisement plastered on the billboards and storefronts in shopping malls and road ways; in snippets of film, movies, television, and commercials as they provocatively exploit the psyche of human relational conjecture; in the one liner jokes we so innocently speak to one another with; and in the headlines of news media leading to social judgements based upon the bias of social and personal exclusion from the stories context.
My Brokenness has caused me to become angry. Why can we not see the exploitation of human sexuality and relational identity as the violence which it truly is? Why has it become normal to treat human sexuality as a consumer product and individual right rather then a relational identity and spousal gift? I suppose the reality to which I found is that I am broken, just as everyone is has been broken. The world is Broken.
Jesus’ brother James gives us something we can use in our brokenness. He wrote and called us to, “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” and promised us that, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16-17)
I don’t have all the solutions to the broken realities of our world but I do believe James is right. We need to first recognize our own Brokenness; and once we’ve accepted that we need to expose it, confess it to those around us, and talk about it. When we can be open and real with one another about the struggles we have, the challenges and fears that are a part of our lives; we can be honest in the midst of communal grace and truly seek to transform those realities. Then we can see the real beauty, the real gifts God has placed in our lives.
Secondly, we need to pray for one another as well as ourselves. Speaking to God about our need for healing and openly asking for his hand in our broken reality brings an internal connectivity which reaches to the very depth of our created being as it was meant to be. In Jeremiah God speaks to us saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Lastly, we must live with grace for one another; accepting that we are all Broken in a reality to which none of us can ever fully understand, experience, or comprehend. Forgiveness is not always easy to work out but, judgment is never ours to make lest our own judgments come upon our own brokenness.
This world will never be the same to me as it will never be the same for you. I will pray for you though just as I pray for the Broken people which I wrote of in the beginning of this post. I hope you would do the same for me.