Lighted Wall

“What Is A House Church?” ~ Vision Proper For The Tribe of Expressions

What is a House Church?” This is probably the most common question I get asked when people hear that I am a House Church leader in The Edge. I think one of the common mistakes we make in answering comes when we see House Churches as a model rather then an organic community of people. We say, “We are trying to…”

  • “… be like the 1st century house churches.”
  • “… be less organizational.”
  • “… just do life with friends and family.”
  • “… do church smaller within our homes and living rooms.”
  • “… be a simple small group.”

Family on MissionWhen we really look at what being a house church is, our intentions are not to follow a model or even past example, it is really to be a closely knit spiritual family who are covenanted in the mission of God together! We are a 21st century gathering of people who wish to live as Christ within the Kingdom of God as it reveals itself in our homes, neighbourhoods, and surrounding communities!! We can call ourselves a tribe when we find ourselves interlinked in the journey of shared discipleship with one another in the desire to be like Jesus in the world today!

In any house church, there is always two shaping perceptions which catalyze their movement – their Vision Proper and the Practical Community Rhythms they create around it. A tribe’s vision proper, as Dave Rhodes expresses[1], is really the ideals and hopes they see God calling them towards. It is “the way things are meant to be” and the essential building blocks which we perceive to be in any Christian discipling community. The practical community rhythms created around that vision are really the mission statement, values, strategies, and measures each tribe begins to create and practice that move them towards that calling. In the simplest terms, the first addresses the question, “What is God calling us to, or saying to us?“; while the second speaks to the question “What are we going to do about it?

As part of the Edge House Church Movement, the Expressions Tribe follows a vision proper to which every house church in its membership strives towards. We believe ‘To Live Is Christ‘ (Phil. 1:21) and that we seek to live that out through Loving God, Loving People, and Making Disciples. But we also recognize the autonomous contexts and cultures to which each house church may find themselves in through their own unique local community and the language to which they find meaningful. In this way, the Expressions Tribe has found their own reflection of The Edge’s vision through the mission of ‘Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community‘, practiced through the practical community rhythms of Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living. While we will look at these practical community rhythms in future posts, this post is really looking at the vision proper for Expressions and the essential building blocks or mDNA (Missional DNA) we look for in our lives as disciples.

Five Irreducible Minimums

In his greater work ‘The Forgotten Ways‘, Alan Hirsch identifies five irreducible minimums to a missional movement. As he shares, these five minimums should be present in any gathering tribe to bring purpose and significance to their movement. Expressions has found these minimums as reflective in our own mDNA as a house church with the hopes of others embracing them as essential to their own growth in identity as House Church’s who are a part of God’s calling.

It is important to realize that these minimums are ideal in there expression, which is why they are part of our vision proper and seen as the hopes we feel called by God to grow in as we journey through both personal and communal discipleship. In no way is any of our members expected to be perfect in expressing or practicing all the minimums or essentials in perfect balance. They are simply visional goals we can strive towards in balance as the practice of each can bring fruitful growth both to our personal lives and the community we are a part of.

Centred on Jesus ~ ‘Expressions of Jesus as Lord’

Jesus is LordAt its deepest core Expressions seeks to centre its mission on ‘Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community’. It is here that all our tribal movement begins. Jesus is calling all of us to answer the question of “Who do you say that I am?[2] The answers to which we give are not so much in the words we share or the spoken statements we make but rather shown in the lives we live and the community which we journey with. It is an identity we take up in which we hope to become more like Jesus in everything we do. As Leslie Newbigin states, “The confession ‘Jesus is Lord’ implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world – its philosophy, its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people. The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.[3]

It is important to note however that as God’s creation we are not in possession of that mission on our own but rather that God’s mission possesses us. We do not start with the church being that which defines our missional identity but rather the character, life, and being of Jesus is the central identifying bases for everything we do as a church community. By this I mean that it is not our mission to fulfill every desired wish we ourselves have for this world but rather it is God’s mission we are to witness and proclaim to the world as we participate in it. A man named Christopher Wright wrote it in the words that, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission.[4]

When Expressions missional center is on ‘Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community‘, we find ourselves propelled outwards into the world while imitating Jesus in everything we do through the practical understanding and acting out of something we call (I)Living ~ Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living. How exactly can we do this? What practical steps can we take in acting these rhythms out? This will be explored in future posts but first, let’s briefly look at the vision proper for these three practical rhythms.

Worship ~ ‘Invitational Living’

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.[5] You cannot help but hear Jesus’ words and be drawn into there focus on righteous worship through Loving God and responding to His Invitation when hearing His commandment. But why did Jesus start with the word “love”?

Love in practice is meant to be more then just an expression of individual personal affection towards another as we reflect its passionate nature in heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is a relational tension that is felt and encountered between people as it binds them together holistically through shared experiences in life. These moments of binding tension articulate the boundaries of any relationship as well as the freedoms, expressions, and practices within it. While we grow to recognize our desires and tensions in responding to God’s invitation, we find personal and communal ways of expressing and showing that practice through Listening, Learning, and Living in obedience to His voice and presence as we encounter Him amidst our daily lives.

By creating environments, spaces, and practices of Invitational Living we are in the hopes of finding sanctuaries to which God can commune with us in, “a place of reflection and renewal, where you can listen to yourself away from the dance floor and the blare of the music, where you can reaffirm your deeper sense of self and purpose.”[6]

Mission ~ ‘Incarnational Living’

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.[7] Words which drive us to Love People unconditionally and not just those who we recognize, but all people regardless of their differences. Embracing a life of Incarnating the likeness of Jesus within ourselves we strive in every moment to live in servanthood towards self stewardship and for others through renewing, reconciling, and resurrecting the significance of all relationships and creation. It is our experience in this practice that we recognize, “most people needed to feel a sense of belonging before they believed. And they needed acceptance before they could even begin to understand what repentance or transformation might look like. When you invite the messiness of broken humanity, you also invite amazing grace.[8]

Incarnational LivingAt first glance, loving our neighbour seems like a second command that Jesus is giving us following his first to love God. Yet in actuality Jesus really sees them as one complete direction. We cannot fully love God and recognize His invitation without loving our neighbours and his creation too by incarnating and reflecting His image within ourselves. In essence, understanding God in Word is only one side of the coin while loving people in action and incarnated deed is the other.

Renewing our minds and bodies with those parts of our lives that have been marginalized or often forgotten about leads us to the very far reaches of our personal and social identities. As we engage and enflesh a sense of Christ-likeness within these relationships, we embody a holistic act of Reconciliation to the other in the hopes of bringing a lasting experience of Resurrection and restoration to newness of life in ourselves and the community we are a part of.

Discipleship ~ ‘Inspirational Living’

Being a part of God’s mission also has the deeper calling to “make disciples of all nations“.[9] Living an Inspirational life we strive to Invest and challenge others to enter a covenant of discipleship with us as we seek to become more like Jesus together, Involving and intertwining themselves as a living gospel into a world where the Kingdom of God and His authority has drawn near, while continuing to Inspire others who have not heard God’s calling and story. It is as Pat Keifert writes, “about initiating persons into the reign of God through evangelism and a deliberate spiritual journey that takes [them] from being Seekers (consumers of religion as commodity) to being disciples of Jesus.[10]

The life of discipleship in the Expressions Tribe takes on a radical meaning which is often missed in the traditional church. We do not look for people to join us in simple membership but rather we seek those who are willing to engage with us in the discipleship journey of ‘Imitating Jesus‘ in all of life through their own expressions of Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living! As Hirsch states, “For the follower of Jesus, discipleship is not the first step toward a promising career. It is in itself the fulfilment of his or her destiny.[11]

A Covenant Community

Expressions I LivingThe gathering of any Christian missional community must find itself united through more then just common affiliation and/or curriculum. These four essentials or irreducible minimums in balance come together to form the fifth essential which as a whole is a communal responsibility towards each other that becomes more an accountability to each member then just a relaxed tie that can be broken simply by “not showing up” or ceasing to attend. As Alan Hirsch points out, “A church is formed people not by people just hanging out together, but ones bound together in a distinctive bound. There is a certain obligation toward one another formed around a covenant.[12]

It is true that being in covenant cannot be considered lightly in significance. But, that is the point! Our relationships in being a part of God’s mission is of great significance both to God and each other! The bounds formed between tribal members become intertwined both personally and communally. In some sense, we become a family as Jesus shared, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.[13]

The language to describe this bound is difficult to find but, I think Desmond Tutu touched on it when he wrote about the African understanding of ubuntu. He shares that:

“My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.” It is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”[14]

Covenantal life is not always easy but it is also the catalyst for the movement of any one tribe or house church and its members. In its best expression a tribal covenant is practiced by every member both personally and as a community while it details some of the practicalities and strategies of all four of the other vision proper essentials. There is much more that can be shared and conversed about in the way of covenant living being shaped through practical community rhythms which we will explore in a separate post towards the end of our journey.

Conclusion ~ Creating a Space For Tribal Gathering and Future Discussions

Knowing that a House Church is defined by the presence of these five essentials and the people who put them into practice helps us to see that the church is never defined by the building in which it gathers, but rather what its members bring to the gathering itself. Whether these people gather in a park, a community centre, a theatre, a mall, a coffee shop or restaurant, or the living room of someone’s home is not what is important. At the very heart of these community’s and tribe’s that we call a “House Church” is a named identity not because they gather in a house but because they exist as a household, a family unit that has been called and sent into God’s mission together.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ~ Joshua 24:15

With a vision proper now laid out for the Expressions Tribe and an understanding of what it is God is calling us to, we are ready to turn to the practical community rhythms which shape how we live it out. Over the next series of posts we will explore some of the practical ways we might be able to fulfill these five essentials. While we see Covenant Living being the essential which ties it all together, we’ll first look at the formation of a mission statement and Expressions declaration ‘Seeking Expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community‘, followed by our rhythms of Invitational, Incarnational, and Inspirational Living.

While I’ve tried to keep this post in the simplest language I could, I realize there may still be questions on its points. So ask away! Let’s keep the dialogue going and whether it is over coffee in person or in a comment below, I hope together we can follow Jesus as Lord in every expression His mission takes!!

[1] http://100movements.com/framing-the-future/

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Matt. 16:13-20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] Newbigin, Leslie. The Open Secret: An Introduction Into The Theology of Mission. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), Kindle LOC #232.

[4] Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), Kindle LOC #155.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mk 12:29–30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] Heifetz, Ronald A., and Martin Linsky. Leadership On the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading. (Boston, Massatusses: Harvard Business School Press, 2002) Kindle LOC #3111

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mk 12:31). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] Hirsch, Deb. Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2015) Kindle LOC #159.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Matt. 28:19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[10] Keifert, Patrick. We Are Here Now: A Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery, (St. Paul, Minnesota: Church Innovations Institute, 2006), Pg. 126.

[11] Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006) Pg. #103.

[12] Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006) Pg. #40-41.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Lk 8:21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[14] Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness:. (New York: Doubleday, 1999) Kindle LOC #431.

Christianity and Islam

Islam: A Christian Encounter

Introduction ~ Preparations and Entering the Mosque

muslim-communityOut of the three planned visitations, this was perhaps the one I most looked forward too. I have developed a number of relationships in my community with Muslims and while through conversations I have learned much, this was an opportunity to speak with an Imam and experience a place of worship in their community. Sadly, out of the three, this became rather one of the most disappointing experiences.

I spoke several weeks ago with my barber and friend Mo, who is a Muslim, about visiting a mosque and he was able to get me a phone number to the Islamic school here in Calgary where they have prayer services every Friday between 1 pm and 2 pm. Phoning ahead, I contacted them this past week and arranged to attend their prayer service this past Friday. They were open to me being there and even expressed an invitation to stay and experience a funeral that was planned for after the service but, they seemed apprehensive on the phone and so I questioned them if it was still ok to visit. They confirmed and I prepared to attend.

Arriving at the mosque, it became apparent that their parking lot was rather full and there were not really any accessible spots. As a result, I ended up parking two and a half blocks away at a government building while wheeling there and “j-walking/wheeling” across the street to get to the mosque.

There really weren’t a lot of directions to the ramp and those around didn’t really offer much help but, I was able to soon access the ramp up to the doors and as I entered the foyer, there was an elderly gentleman standing in front of me dressed in a suit. He wasn’t really a tall man and he was obviously Middle Eastern in ethnicity. I don’t think he really expected me and may have been wondering if I was lost as he just stood there looking at me for a moment. Finally he approached me and spoke something in Arabic. “I’m sorry sir,” I explained, “I don’t speak Arabic.” He smiled and nodded saying, “It’s ok, I speak.”

I explained who I was and why I was there and he offered to help me into the prayer hall. With the crowd of shoes around, I asked if I should take my shoes off. He said yes and bent over to help me take them off but, the Imam had come over and interjected while asking me who I was again. I explained and he said not to worry about my shoes and I could just go right in. After saying something in Arabic to the older man again, the gentleman took me into the hall and found me a place along the far south side wall.

Becoming Familiar With the Environment

The hall was really not all that big. It was obviously used as a gym space for the school as you could see a set of facing basketball nets on the north and south sides. Thin prayer rugs had been rolled out over the entire floor space however and with an archway in the center front of the eastern wall and what looked like a pulpit with a banister beside it, this space looked very much like a place of prayer and devotion. On the eastern wall was three Arabic symbols of calligraphy which I could not understand but imagine they are referring to Allah in some form of way. There was also a number of banners around the room depicting more Arabic writing and words which resembled values such as ‘Honesty’, ‘Cooperation’, and others.

There were no chairs and as only men were allowed in this space, the floor was quickly filling in with congregants in age of 6 years old and up. Most sat on the floor while some of the elder group would take up chairs along the wall. Some would just be sitting on the floor with their cell phones while others were praying and bowing their heads to the floor.

This is when it began to get uncomfortable. While there was probably close to 400 people now filling in the space, a middle eastern man wearing a medical mask over his beard (his mouth was still exposed) came and sat right next too me. He was praying quietly to himself, rocking in the chair next to me while clicking on an electronic device that was wrapped around his finger and resembled an “attendance counter”, all while checking his watch every 5 to 10 minutes and rubbing his chest.

Now I was trying very hard not to profile this gentleman but, with the events that are going on in the world today, Calgary being known as one of the environments in which “home grown terrorists” and ISIS militants have been developed, and the thoughts of this mosque lacking Nathan’s police security, I began to feel rather exposed and uncomfortable. I lowered my head and began to try and breath meditatively while praying for God’s peace and attention to why I was there. Slowly, I was able to put this distraction to the background of my thoughts.

Service Begins and the Imam’s Message

Soon a man stood up at the front and everyone else stood up in rows. The gentleman at the front began to melodically shout in Arabic what I interpreted as a liturgical Islamic prayer. Everyone followed in response and bowed. This continued for a few minutes with the bowing and kneeling to a prone position with their heads to the ground until everyone sat back down and the Imam step up into the pulpit looking stand.

Much of the Imam’s message was in Arabic but he did share a degree of points in English so that I could understand some of it. What I really noticed however was that his tone and shouting made the communication seem more like a rebuke or scolding upon the congregants. I thought to myself that I don’t think this is just a Islamic experience as I compared it to a “fire and brimstone” message within a Christian church. Still, as a new comer, it felt rather uncomfortable while also my fellow seat mate continued his prayers, time checks, chest rubbing, and “number clicking”.

Domes of WorshipFrom the English I gathered that the Imam began by exclaiming we are to not be concerned of the events of the past, but rather see the present as a time to prepare for the future. From there he touched on “not taking what was not ours to take”, nor stealing, and story of an Imam or Islamic leader that was only paid 72 cents a day, and that although “we” might not agree with Shi’ite leadership, we might learn from their position.

Looking about the congregation, there seemed to be a few who had their cell phones out videoing the Imam speaking. I wondered if this was a regular practice or if the Imam’s rather abrasive preaching tone was receiving a congregational reaction and response.

Closing Prayers and Leaving

When he had finished his message, everyone stood again while in rows. There was more melodic prayers that were chanted from the front with the communal response and bows. Then everyone began to file out the western doors. With the crowds, I thought I would wait in the hall and see if anyone might speak with me. Sadly, no one came up to me or seemed interested in talking while I also sensed what seemed like a communal tension “in the air”.

Reflecting on the afternoon and what seemed like an obvious labeling of myself as an “outsider”, I thought it best just to leave at that point. Slowly making my way out the doors, no one really stopped me or spoke to me and I made my way back to my vehicle and left.

Mo and an Uplifting Conversation

After the events of the Friday prayer service at the mosque, I was eager to visit with my Muslim barber and friend. So the next day I stopped by the barber shop and Mo was in. Over the course of the next hour and a half, Mo cut my hair while we conversed over the experience and the questions that I was left with. I’ve known the guys in this shop for some time and over the years they have shared their stories with me from immigrating from Iraq and Lebanon, to there faith and Islamic backgrounds, and the health and family. It was really great to be able to share openly with them as a group of community friends.

Mo admits that he does not attend the mosque frequently and often puts more time towards his family then the mosque. Yet he is wise in the Islamic faith as he shares often with me regarding Quran writing and Islamic beliefs. This day would be perhaps the greatest depth of conversation we’ve had to date in those regards.

We spoke about the Islamic understanding of the Holy Spirit – that Allah/God is one and no other being, particularly created being, can be God. Yet the Holy Spirit is more like an angel that is a servant of God. This left us comparing the similarity to the Jews understanding of Shekhinah.

Touching on the Abrahamic traditions, we spoke about whether he believed Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God. He shared that he felt we do and that as a Muslim he needs to see Allah’s love for all people regardless of their belief. I compared it to the Christian understanding of the imago Dei.

Mo and I chatted for so long that I didn’t even realize the time and Bonnie was messaging me to return as our tribe was coming over that evening to watch the movie ‘Spotlight’ and talk about it. Still, I felt greatly uplifted by Mo’s willingness to talk and he encouraged me to contact the Imam again. I told him about the fact that as a Christian my deepest desire is to reflect the imago Christi and while I’m not sure he recognizes it this way but, perhaps he was reflecting a form of the imago Mohammad and if he was an example, I’d really like to get to know this man named Mohammed more!

 

Christ and Buddha

Jodo Shinshu Buddhism: A Christian Encounter

The Comforts of Home ~ Entering the Temple

Buddhist TempleDriving over to the Calgary Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple[1] I wasn’t quite sure what I would encounter. I knew that Buddhism has many different expressions and I wasn’t sure whether this community would be a full cultural emersion into eastern practices or if it would be a blend of eastern and western philosophies.

Arriving, I quickly noticed that it had recently been renovated and was very architecturally appealing. Later I would get to speak with one of the elder members of the temple who explained that the house was actually 100 years old and had only recently been renovated into the temple that it now is. There was a ramp that allowed access as I wheeled up to a wooden covered front entrance way and a wide front door which a kind lady greeted me at and held open for me to enter.

With a small front foyer entrance, there was a place to hang our coats with a staircase off to the right. It was explained to me that they often host lunches and community events in the lower basement. They had an elevator off to the other side but, I didn’t go down as the service was about to begin.

Inside the worship area at the back was a partitioned area where you could place your shoes and grab a “liturgical” book with chants and teachings. At the center of the patrician was about a 3’ high statue of Buddha wearing a rather bowl shaped hat that covered his eyes. While access was challenging due to the restrictions of my chair, I began to clearly recognize the Japanese influences on the interior decorations. Having spent many years training in a Japanese Aikido Dojo, it was an environment very familiar to me and I felt comfortable knowing my way around.

Ken, the assistant sensei, greeted me and guided my way around to a side entrance while he pulled a chair away to make space for me to sit in the main worship area. Looking to the front I could see an altar with another standing gold Buddha that had its hand extended out. Above it was hanging a golden chandelier of sorts that later was explained to me to be symbolic of a “heaven” of sorts or “nirvana” to which Buddha resides just beneath. Before the Buddha on the altar were two candles and a red apple that was placed on a gold stand (later I’ll share more on the apple). There were then two chairs and knee high Japanese tables in front of them to which the sensei’s James and Ken would sit following their entrance.

It was a cozy space and with about 20 of us in the hall, we could easily see and hear everything that was going on and enter the discussions during Ken’s teaching time. Without the formalities and pomp, you might say it was a Buddhist House Church!

Meditation, Chanting, and Teachings ~ The Harmonization of Communal Homage

Buddhist AltarWith the ringing of a bell, the two sensei’s (James and Ken) entered from behind the altar and briefly bowed towards the east side of the altar. Sitting down facing each other from either side of the altar they had us sit in silence for a few minutes for meditative reflection and then clasped their hands together in a prayerful manner and bowed again to the Buddha on the altar reciting a liturgy of respect along with the same actions by the rest of the congregation.

Ken stood up and introduced himself as James’s assistant and welcomed everyone. To be honest, I found it hard to find the authenticity in some of this experience as in my past practices of the Aikido Hombu Dojo, I was used to being around Japanese senseis that also spoke in Japanese as well. As James and Ken were not ethnically from Japan and were white westerners, it felt odd to me. In any case, Ken then had us turn the liturgy book to the homage for the ‘Three Treasure’.[2] It was all written in English and the congregation read the homage aloud.

Following the first homage, the congregation then read through the ‘Noble Eight-fold Path’ together.[3] These were predominantly a set of living principles one is committed to in remaining noble and virtuous to themselves and others. Comparatively I thought of them as being simpler forms of the virtues in Budo[4] or the Ten Commandments[5] in Judaism and the Beatitudes[6] in Jesus’ teachings on the Mount of Olives.

Over the next half hour the congregation followed several chants[7] much like the singing of hymns in the church. While Ken and James would lead the congregation into the chant, the rest would join in further into the practice. Notes and the pronunciations were in the liturgy book and once you settled into it, it was easy to follow along. At first it seemed to be rather broken in rhythm and synchronization but the further into the chanting, it seemed to begin to harmonize amidst all the congregations’ vocalizations. There seemed to be much like a unification that took place between each of the practitioners that eventually felt rather calming to me as an observer.

Ken also took a short amount of time to give a sort of conversational lesson. It wasn’t so much a sermon as it was an exploration of questions to the congregation into the proposed subject of “self” and how we find meaning in it. It felt a little disjointed as though he was having troubles articulating what he wanted to share but, in essence, Ken was addressing issues of understanding the self through levels of confidence, values for ourselves and others opinions, and the implications of having to much self which then becomes selfishness.

Remaining quiet out of respect, I felt the gospel leading my thoughts into the social understanding that we are known to ourselves only because we are first known by another. Particularly, it felt as though it would have been easy to enter the conversation with a question of “who first knew us?”

There were so many great conversations I remember having in my Aikido dojo in similar fashions; still, I remained quiet and following his teaching, Ken had everyone crowd together for a communal selfie picture before dismissing them.

Beautiful People and the Intertwining of the Communal Self

Rolling PinAfter the service, an older gentleman who was extremely friendly greeted me. We had a fantastic conversation as he shared a bit about the history of the temple and that the Buddhist community had been meeting in this house since 1980. He also shared a bit about the history of Buddhism here in Calgary as there has been a community of practitioners here since 1905. He stated that it was the first organized religion in the area although I found that hard to believe. I will most definitely need to look into this however as a narrative to YYC!

James and I also spoke for a while as he shared about the significance of the apple in front of the Buddha. He shared how it was customary to have an offering before the Buddha and traditionally it was a bowl of cooked rice. However, being that he didn’t cook rice all the time, he chose to westernize the expression with an apple. James also rationalized the gesture as that Buddha was a sensei (teacher) and as such, you bring an apple to your teacher in the hopes of good grades. All I could hear in the back of my mind was the irony of the image of the “forbidden fruit” being used as an offering and Paul’s words in Acts 17:25 that God does not need the service of human hands.

Leaving the temple everyone seemed enthusiastic for me to return. Although carefully making sure to have accessibility in their new building, it seems I was the first person in a wheelchair to come there. I was very grateful for their well wishes and while exiting was greeted by a young man named Chris.

Chris overheard me talking with James about my past in the martial arts and was intrigued. We spent the next 20 minutes on the way to the parking lot chatting and it turned out he knew an old friend from my Aikido dojo. We shared our experiences in the arts and said our good bye’s.

There was much I felt lacking spiritually in the morning’s events but there was also something about the thematic understandings of being known and the intertwining of both relationships and common desires for purpose, significance, virtue, and respect. I can’t say that I feel compelled to return to the temple for the reasons that I feel it wrong to have an image of creation before me in worship and I found myself restrained to bow to an idol.

Still, I feel compelled to bring the gospel and the conversation of the Kingdom into the realities of the virtues spoken of and I know that it is only going to happen through relational presence and the practice of proximity. As I have written and shared before, “How close or how far we find ourselves from any one person, place, or time is not as important as how we engage the possibility of movement towards or further away from them.[8] If it is not noticed yet, let me be open in saying, I have a heart for this culture and a love for these beautiful people. I do not yet know how God may bring this to be but, this experience has reminded me that I must seek and find a way to reengage with this community. To not do so would mean to have too much focus on my… self!

[1] http://calgary-buddhist.ab.ca/?doing_wp_cron=1456346280.3109951019287109375000

[2] http://www.bcc.ca/readings/three_treasures.html

[3] http://www.bcc.ca/buddhism/fournobletruthsandeightfoldpath.html

[4] http://www.mainlinebudo.com/?p=180

[5] http://lifehopeandtruth.com/bible/10-commandments/the-ten-commandments/10-commandments-list/

[6] http://www.loyolapress.com/the-beatitudes.htm

[7] http://www.bcc.ca/jodoshinshu/chanting.html

[8] https://iamjustwondering.net/2008/02/03/in-proximity-to-spirituality-where-do-you-find-yourself-gravitating-too/

Judaism

Judaism: A Christian Encounter

Entering the Gate ~ Finding a Common Beauty in the Temple

Entering the GateI can’t honestly say what I expected to find when I drove to the Temple B’nai Tivah building. From past books that I have read, it seemed I understood Jewish synagogues to be rather stark and bare when it came to artistic expression, as it was an effort of their community to not have any “graven image” be upon their walls. That said, what I found in the temple was a rich environment of artistic work and cultural expression!

Moving my way through the hallways I found beautiful paintings and artwork on the walls depicting different storylines from the Torah. One particular painting grabbed my attention with what looked like a tree that was on fire and a man standing next to it. My mind instantly gravitated to the story of Moses and the burning bush while reminding me of the words. “You are standing on Holy Ground!

There was a smaller kind of foyer room to which I entered that had cheese and wine for those coming to the Friday evening Shabbat. Jenny was quite hospitable and offered to get some wine for my wife and I. We politely declined and moved towards the synagogue itself.

After Jenny gave us a liturgy book and traditional yamakas to place upon our heads in respect, we entered the synagogue. To the far north end was a giant cloth curtain that had patches sown into it depicting a Israeli or middle eastern town of the early centuries. On the south wall, to which the door was, there were rows and rows of liturgy books and Torah’s. The back west wall was a number of plaques and engraved names. It was later when Jenny would explain; family would place the names of loved ones who have since past away on the wall and on the anniversary of there passing, they would have a small light that would come on by their names. On the front eastern wall was a beautifully textured and artistically colored brick wall, meant to be reflective to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Set in the middle of this prayerful wall was what Jenny called “the ark”; a wooden cabinet like structure that had frosted glass doors on it and the Hebrew engravings of the Ten Commandments. I was puzzled why it wouldn’t be the Shema and later questioned the Rabbi about it. There was also an alter set in front of it.

Overhead was a number of giant tent like structures with pictures of the Davidic Star and half moons. Jenny explained they were not so much umbrellas as they were giant yamakas. It was a beautiful setting to worship in!

Shabbat Shirah and the Celebration of the Fruits of the Vine

Much of the liturgy that the evening Shabbat worshiped in was sung as apposed to just recited. It was absolutely enchanting to listen to the Hebrew chorus as I followed along in the liturgy. They would have the Hebrew written on each page, starting from the back cover and moving towards the front. Beside the Hebrew though, would be the pronunciation of the Hebrew as well as the English translation. It reminded me much of my Anglican upbringing.

At the end of the evening service, they passed around a number of cups with grape juice in them (I suppose the wine from earlier ran out! – Where is Jesus when you need him?!😉 ). They gave a blessing and we all drank them. Jenny would explain that the significance was in the gratitude of the good fruits we receive from the vine. They closed the service in a communal blessing as everyone joined hands and we recited the Hebrew chorus.

As I had learned earlier in the week, I was eager to return in the Saturday morning so as to hear the Torah reading with the Rabbi’s “Interpretation” of the text. The Shabbat was much the same but, as they brought the Torah out, I was amazed how they paraded it around the synagogue and after everyone (including me as the old man carrying it instructed) had touched the “dressings” of the scroll and kissed their hands, they returned it to the front where they ceremonially undressed the scroll and placed it on the alter.

This Shabbat’s reading came from Exodus 15 and focused on the Israelites complaining in the dessert for the lack of water. Following in the Torah that was given to me (written in Hebrew with the pronunciation and English on the sides of the page), they would afterwards all sit and to my excitement, the Rabbi lead a time of discussion around the text.

With questions of redemption, the forgetfulness of God’s past miracles, and human self-responsibility, it was extremely difficult to keep myself composed and not interject. Out of respect, I chose to remain silent. Reflecting back, I think of the silence Jesus gave before his accusers. Still, I was enthralled as this was reflective to the same experiences I practiced in leading our House Church through scriptural discipleship!

Similar to the Friday evening Shabbat, the service would close with a loaf of bread being passed around and torn from. A blessing for the fruits of the vine was given and we took part in eating the bread.

Conversations with the Rabbi and a Divine Appointment with the Torah Essays

The conversations my wife and I had with the congregation on the Friday evening was very hospitable. Jenny and others were more then helpful, friendly, and open to questioning. I knew how nervous my wife Bonnie was however, and so I chose not to prod too much.

Following the morning Shabbat, I decided to be a little more inquisitive in my conversations. I learned a great deal from Jenny and the others, including the reasons for remembering the dead, the beliefs around “no resurrection” and after life (I’m imagining a remaining mark from the Pharisees), and a little around Jewish hermeneutics even! I didn’t get completely bold until I spoke with the Rabbi.

Meeting the Rabbi, I think it is important to point out that the Rabbi was a woman. As Reformed Jews, she explained some of the history to the first female Bar mitzvah in the 1940’s to the recent acceptance of woman as Rabbi’s in the Reformed temples. Still, there is few of them.

There is many other points I could discuss in our conversation however, I think I’d like to just point out the dialogue we had on Jesus. By this point I figured the worst that would happen is they would throw me out so, I asked the Rabbi, with the morning’s conversation centering on the miracles God performed in the Exodus, how do they recognize the identity of Jesus considering the miracles he had done? (Now you know why my wife elbows me in the side when I start getting anxious in such gatherings and says to me “Shut Up!!”😉 ) Her reply was I quote, “Ah yes, Jesus the good little Jewish boy.” I think she said it that way to see if she could get a reaction out of me because she paused for a moment afterwards and just looked at me.

After a moment she openly discussed the viewpoint that Christianity was a religion that was created by people who wanted to follow a Messiah of their own beliefs and they used Jesus for this but, Jesus himself never wanted to create a religion. She also pointed out that it has only been in recent years that this question would even be discussed and in the older congregants of the temple, this would not even be open for discussion. I respectfully thanked her and left the temple.

I would be remised not to mention something I see as a divine appointment that occurred in the Saturday morning Shabbat. Arriving early, I decided to look through the Torah while sitting in the synagogue. Flipping it open I found a number of “essays” that were interspaced into the text. They were somewhat of a commentary to the writings. Anyways, it was only in a few page uncalculated page flips that I landed on an essay titled ‘The Muslim Traditions’. While the title being in the Jewish Torah was enough to grab my attention, it was the beginning of the essay that truly intrigued me. It started by giving a commentary to the life of Paul and how out of a disillusion with the Jews being able to fulfill the law, he created Christianity out of a Jewish interpretation of grace!

It would go on to discuss Mohammad and the rise of Islam but this belief in Paul starting Christianity completely perplexed me. I did ask the Rabbi about it in the form of “Why not Matthew, John, or even Peter?”; and she squeamishly admitted she did not know about this essay and avoided the conversation. Still, I am amazed by God’s leading to this understanding of the Reformed Jews and perplexed at the same time by the justification of such an interpretation.

Conclusion ~ Revelations to All Authority and Power Given Unto the Messiah

This was truly an amazing experience and a beautiful weekend of worship to our awesome and powerful… Adonai!! With a rich and articulate culture, I recognize a deeply spiritual people in the Reformed Judeo community of the Temple B’nai Tikvah.

At the same time, I cannot help but see and recognize the deeply imprinted markers of Jesus being the Messiah to which they seek. From the liturgy singing of redemptions work and the crying of Isaiah in the deaf hearing, the blind seeing, and the captives being set free; truly the Messiah has come!! In the conversations of the Torah in seeking “living water” and the miracles of past that point to a trusted future founded in the resurrection of Christ!! And perhaps in the greatest of emphasis, the communal blessings of the provided good fruits of the vine, I see the body broken before me and the blood poured out for the many… in the forgiveness of sin!! Praise Adonai!!

Jesus stood, resurrected from the dead, tall before his disciples and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18) Truly I witnessed this in the community of Temple B’nai Tikvah! May they be blessed by the revelation of his authority as Adonai brings them sight. May they be blessed by the present touch and holy kiss of the Word made flesh as Adonai brings them its hearing. And may they eternally experience the goodness of the fruits of the Spirit as Adonai dwells amidst them.

A Missional Hermeneutic Pt. #1 – Hearing and Understanding the Voice of God

Listening to GodIn the very deepest parts of our human nature, it is our desire to know, hear, and understand the voice of our creator. After all, we were created in his image and in that reflection he spoke to us and blessed us saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.[1] But fruitfulness and dominion need meaning and understanding and this is why hermeneutics are so important as without them, we are left in a pit of noise, deafened by our own ignorance and arrogant pride.

For this reason I am reflecting on the importance of understanding a missional hermeneutic to the Christian Holy scriptures, the different approaches taken, and how I might see my hermeneutic taking shape in understanding the Word of God.

As George Hunsberger describes, a hermeneutical understanding has for a long time been discussed and yet no formal practice or consensus has been agreed upon. He states that,

On the one hand, there seemed to be some sharp differences emerging between the various proposals being made about what a missional hermeneutic is. As both participant and observer, it seemed to me that we had not achieved a uniform definition, and perhaps not even a uniform way to pose the question.[2]

Of course if we are to truly understand the question of hermeneutics, we must be willing to ask who the inquisitor is. For what reason was scripture written? And in what way do we understand God’s existence in writing such texts?

Perhaps in a similar way, this is the same approach Mark Love was purposing in his Paper ‘Missional Interpretations’ as he writes:

“It is my contention that anything that passes for a missional hermeneutic should focus on the use of the text in communities pursuing the questions, “To what is God calling us?” and “With whom are we to share in God’s mission?” These questions are properly framed when hermeneutics is defined less around the relationship between reader and text, and more around the relationship between God and text. By this, I mean that both the biblical testimonies concerning the identity of God and the actual phenomenon of Scripture must be brought into meaningful relationship. In other words, “who is God?” and “how can this particular collection of texts correspond to God’s identity?” are the orienting questions that frame a missional hermeneutic.”[3]

It is because of these questions that it is so important to understand and define a missional hermeneutic so that through there exploration, we might know greater how to hear the Words of our creator through the text of Christian scripture and how they speak amidst our own daily lives.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ge 1:28). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] George R. Hunsberger, “Proposal for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping a Conversation,”, 309-310.

[3] Mark Love, “Missional Interpretation: The Encounter of a Holy God through a Living Text,” (Paper presented at Rochester College, Rochester, MI., 1.

A Deep Gaze Into Missional Theology and The Eschatological Gleanings From Them ~ Conclusion

God's GloryAs Christ followers find themselves entwined into the triunity of a relational understanding to the Trinity, the imago Dei and the imago Christi are catalyzed into a divine collision between the Kingdom of God and the world. While being elected into the apostolic community of “sent ones”, they are released into a revolutional eternal life of the missio Dei.

We embrace this new identity not by our own deserving, nor by any of our own works, but as N. T. Wright states, “We are committed to describing the world not just as it should be, not just as it is, but as—by God’s grace alone![1]

It is our confession that, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.[2] May all glory be his!!

[1] Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010) Kindle LOC #3465.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 4:4–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

A Deep Gaze Into Missional Theology and The Eschatological Gleanings From Them ~ Pt. #5 ~ Fun Houses and the True Identity of the Ekklesia

Funny MirrorsAs a boy I used to love going to the local fair and exploring the fun houses and the glass maze. I would sometimes spend hours feeling my way through the glass and mirrors till I reached the top of the house and the maze broke way to a large open room filled with funny mirrors. They were curved and warped so that when I stood in front of them they would distort my image and I’d look really short and fat or tall and super skinny. I’d laugh with my friends, point at their funny images, and strike poses for my own amusement.

Looking back, there was a certain degree of reality within those moments in the fun houses. Paul shares with the church in Corinth that, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”[1] He was articulating that as we grow in the maturity of Christ, we do not fully comprehend all that the Kingdom of God wishes us to see and as such we need the relationship of likeminded disciples around us who can be, “a sign, instrument, and foretaste of the reign of God.”[2] This is the birthplace for ekklesia.

Ekklesia being a Greek word comprised of two sub-words; Ek which means “out”, and Klesia which means “called”. Together they mean the “called out ones” and it is often referring to the church.[3] The church therefore is found through the binding together of disciples as they naturally form covenant bonds of communal mutual rhythms in life. As Wright articulates it, “it comes about as people worship the God in whose image they are made, as they follow the Lord who bore their sins and rose from the dead, as they are indwelt by his Spirit and thereby given new life, a new way of life, a new zest for life.[4]

The role of the church is not in its own service but rather for the benefit of the whole world. “The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience,” Wright continues, “not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun.[5] The expression of Jesus as Lord can of course be diverse and numerousas it spreads across the imaginations and creative landscapes of Jesus’ followers.

In his book ‘The Mission of God’s People’, Christopher Wright points to a recognized loss where the church in the last course of history has seemed to of misplaced its understanding of being the “sent ones” into the world and instead interpreted election to be about self gratification and aggrandizement. Closing in my thoughts to the understanding of the church’s identity I’d like to share his prophetic insight as we reimagine what it means to be God’s true ekklesia and “sent ones” to the world. He writes:

“Election of one is not the rejection of the rest, but ultimately for their benefit. It is as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of their number to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is not so that she alone gets saved, but that she is able to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued. ‘Election’ in such a case is an instrumental choice of one for the sake of many.

In the same way, God’s election of Israel is instrumental in God’s mission for all nations. Election needs to be seen as a doctrine of mission, not a calculus for the arithmetic of salvation. If we are to speak of being chosen, of being among God’s elect, it is to say that, like Abraham, we are chosen for the sake of God’s plan that the nations of the world come to enjoy the blessing of Abraham (which is exactly how Paul describes the effect of God’s redemption of Israel through Christ in Gal. 3:14).”[6]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Co 13:11–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Newbigin, Leslie. The Open Secret: An Introduction Into The Theology of Mission. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995) Kindle LOC #1520

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_4u8TRorUw

[4] Wright, N. T. Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. (New York, New York: Harper Collins, 2008.) Kindle LOC #3591.

[5] Wright, N. T. Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. (New York, New York: Harper Collins, 2008.) Kindle LOC #3510

[6] Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010) Kindle LOC #1089.