Humans Are Friends, Not Food!!

Everybody has got to eat!” That’s what I tell my wife every time she’s watching one of her nature shows and a wild animal starts stocking another. She gets so uptight and starts looking to change the channel. “Oh God, please let this [furry adorable little animal] escape this [mean @%&$ ugly beast]!” She’d look at me and say, “Don’t! I don’t want to hear it!” And then I’d get this grin on my face… “Everybody’s got to…”… “ERIK, I MEAN IT!!” 😀

My tribe has taken up Amos 6:1-8 as a dwelling passage for the next several weeks. Contemplating it today, Amos’ words remain highlighted in my minds eye, “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall… but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” I think of the significance to the acts of over indulgence and even lustful haste to which people would begin consuming the beasts before they are even out of the stall. Even more so, they neglect the hospitality of bringing the meal to the table in which to share with the likes of Joseph. Who is Joseph?! The outcast son of Jacob who found a home in… Egypt?!

Ellen Davis’ chapter on ‘Hosting God’s Power of Life and reflections on the story of Elijah seem to breath heavy over these images as I read them this past week. Focusing on the significances to open and unconditional hospitality while finding the greater need for equity and equality in all humanity regardless of culture, religion, or background; she graphically demonstrates how these examples and values still have significant impacts today.

I was particularly moved as Davis revealed in the story of how Elijah opened himself up to the plausible powers of death that killed this widows son, while he pleaded with God as to why he would kill him after his mother had done so much in care for him (2 Kings 4:18-37). Reflectively, it cast my thoughts on the past few visits our tribe has made to the local seniors home where they have been dealing with an influenza breakout and we willingly go into their home to lift spirits and pray for healing. While personally being fearful of infection, I deeply love spending time with these people – Gordon and his stories of veterinarian work, Annie and her memories of Newfoundland, Elvira as she stomps her feet to our singing like she’s back in her black Pentecostal church community! Even Gene, who I think is more interested in seeing my wife then he is me, brings a joy to my heart as he tells me about where he went out the past week with his social worker.

Everybody has got to eat.” Indeed! But not at the cost of, “fathers [who] shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons [who] shall eat their fathers.” (Ezek. 5:10) We must find the recognition of creating flesh and muscle on the dry bones of Joseph by entertaining the stranger and feeding those who are different from us! We must be willing to enter the places of marginalization and barrier for the sake of discovering commonality and mutual relational significance! We must learn that humans are friends, not food!!

Arrival & Ellen Davis’ Five Prophetic Perspectives

dimensional-alien-language-extraterrestrial-arrival-science-explained-discovery-reveal-exolinguistic-origin-signs-sound-ufology-spacetime-future-past-presentWith laughter and the sharing of this week’s events the tribe settled into our living room last night as we prepared to venture into the imaginative world of a good movie called Arrival. Snacks and drinks in hand, I love how the stories of film, fictional or otherwise, seem to stretch deep into the connective tissues of transcendent truths and the practicalities of today’s eminence.

Recently I’ve begun reading Ellen Davis’ book ‘Biblical Prophecy: Perspectives for Christian Theology, Discipleship, and Ministry‘. While for years I thought of the prophet as someone who spoke for God; it was in her first chapter that she opened me to the greater understanding that a prophet does not speak for God, as though he needs anyone to speak for him, rather they act as interpreters between God’s Word and the contextualized concrete realities we find ourselves in today.

At a given time,” Davis writes, “any Christian might assume either role: Huldah’s, of offering an interpretation, or Josiah’s, of listening to one; the apostle Paul suggests that every member of the church should be engaged on both sides of the interpretative process (see 1 Cor. 14:26–31).” Reflectively, you might expand the thought into the roles of disciple and apostle; we are both created and formed in the practices of listening and learning while also being sent apostolically to share and contribute into the revealing narrative story of life and its beauty.

With the lights dimmed and the Arrival beginning, it struck me that this is a movie about prophets! “Colonel,” Dr. Louise called for the soldier’s attention from the door, “When you talk with Donnelly, ask him the Sanskrit translation for the word ‘war’.” A few days later, Colonel Weber returned, “Gravisti. He says it means ‘an argument.’ What do you say it means?” Louise replied back, “A desire for more cows.” With the tensions of science and language, interpretation and and the perspective of the interpreter can have dramatic results as the movie would articulate.

So how does the practice of prophetic listening and interpreting take root in our life? Ellen Davis suggests five prophetic perspectives in biblical understanding.

1. The radical concreteness of prophetic expression, which both engages hearers in particular contexts and makes vivid God’s engagement with the world.

Life is such a beautiful thing! Sometimes I like just taking a few moments to close my eyes, take a deep breath in, and slowly let it out while allowing my senses to connect with everything that is around me. Its like a small moment in time where things seem to stand still and I hear things that I would have otherwise missed, smell the crispness in the cool air, and feel the closeness of the people as they walk around me. In a way, it’s like waking up and realizing I am not the center of the world, there are others who are a part of this story called life, and as we entangle with one another we become part of something bigger then just ourselves.

From time to time I think we need reminders like this; places and moments where the experience of God’s transcendent concrete presence reveals itself in the midst of our finite and eminent lives.

Similarly the character Ian Donnelly in Arrival experienced this truth as he expressed, “You know I’ve had my head tilted up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me the most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you.” Ian spent so much time searching for the mystical magic and beauty of life in the far reaches of science and space that he nearly missed the reality of its existence being right here in front of him.

2. The prophetic demand for moral, economic, and religious integrity in human communities (Israel or the church) and the recognition that human integrity in these several dimensions is fundamentally related to the God-given integrity of creation.

Creation and the role of humanity finds root within an integrity to the proper identity and purpose it was created in. Embracing a perspective that we are in fact part of a whole, places a responsibility upon us to act and perform with moral and ethical integrity to truths that bind us to all things.

Focused solely on the needs of nationalistic humanity, Colonel Weber in Arrival demands answers to the question of, “Why are they here?” “What purpose do they have?” He is unwilling to see the responsibility that he may have to greater humanity and perhaps, even towards the visitors themselves.

Opening Weber to this greater truth and responsibility, Dr. Louise pleads with him, “And ‘purpose’ requires an understanding of intent. We need to find out, do they make conscious choices or is their motivation so instinctive that they don’t understand a ‘why’ question at all. And-And biggest of all, we need to have enough vocabulary with them that we understand their answer.”

Humanity is just one dimensional part in the whole of creation. Our moral and ethical identity is tied not only to our own context and culture but to that of all creation. The prophetic perspective of interpreting this truth catalysis human identity in both the choices and actions we make today and in the relationship we have with the future.

3. Prophetic participation in the suffering of the vulnerable within the created order and the social order, and prophetic witnessing to the suffering of God.

Several years ago I can remember being in a conversation with a homeless man on the streets while waiting to enter the shelter for supper. He came up to me asking why I was in a wheelchair. I shared with him my story and explained that my life was forever changed by the car accident I was involved in but, I did not see the challenges I faced as being quantifiable to any one else’s.

In hearing me sharing this, he bent down and asked if it was ok that he prayed for me. I was a little taken back as I thought of his suffering in homelessness but I consented and he placed his hands on my legs and prayed.

For others to see the concrete reality of God’s presence, the prophet finds a greater perspective by practicing the open armed embrace of physical participation to others amidst their sufferings and struggling.

Stripping away the outer layers of the safety suit Louise was wearing, she stretched out her hand and placed it upon the barrier that was between her and the visitors. With a startling thud, the visitors reflected her greeting. “Now that’s a proper introduction.” Louise exclaims.

Sharing in the incarnational experience of embracing flesh on flesh, the prophetic perspective binds the joys and the sufferings of present realities with future hopes in all creation.

4. The prophet as the trusted friend of God, entrusted with a ministry of protest, prayer, healing, and reconciliation.

Is this the beginning of the movie?” David asked as the film’s opening narration in the living room of Louise’s house started. I chuckled a bit thinking about the philosophical undertones of the story and said, “Well, define the beginning David? It is the opening of the film, yes. But no, it’s not the beginning.

Ironically, in narrating Louise states, “But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.”

Seeing the movie completely, you begin to understand as flashes of Louise’s life reveal that they fold in on themselves so that what she sees in her future actually impacts that which is happening in the present, and perhaps even in her past; depending on your perspective.

Perhaps what most articulates this thought is when she realizes that the words the Chinese General would share with her in a future encounter would become detrimental to the present contexts she was currently in. She had the choice to act upon these realizations with the understanding that by doing so she would be protesting her current realities while possibly reconciling future potentialities.

This prophetic perspective calls humanity to both individually and communally act missionally in the present reality according to their understanding of transcendent potentialities in the future.

5. Prophetic witness to the theological significance of those who do not worship Israel’s God, which is potentially a witness of reconciliation.

Several days ago while watching a documentary on architecture I had a revelation to the thought that the prophetic perspective sees what the world calls an uncrossable barrier as a relational meeting place. While I think this thought could transcend into any theme or context, it perhaps at its core speaks to the way in which we might perceive diversity of thought in our society and social structures.

Colonel Weber in fear of the visitors states, “And remember what happened to the Aborigines. A more advanced race nearly wiped ’em out.” I laughed out laud when he said this. What makes him think humanity is either more advanced or capable then that of others? Where is he able to determine the motivations of others simply by the comparative acts of that which they are different from in current context?

Prophets more often then not are placed in situations and events that they are able to witness to and speak towards the relational implications of separation while working towards the breakdown of such barriers for the purpose of reconciled understanding and unified significance. Radically changing our perspective, prophetic presence takes that which is perceived to be an ending and makes it a new beginning.

‘The Shack’ ~ The Power of Story Telling

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.

I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.

– Papa

the-shack-movieIt has indeed been awhile since I first read Paul Young’s book ‘The Shack‘, several years ago. So when I received an invite to see the prescreening of the movie, I was eager to see how they might reflect the many scenes and chapters of the story since many of them are still vivid in my memory.

Stories have significant lasting power in them and although Paul Young’s ‘The Shack‘ is a fictional narrative, it holds some very strong transformative truths beneath the surface of his characters experiences. While many of my friends questioned why I would go to a “Christian” movie (many of them knowing that I’m not a fan of the cheesy acting, bad writing, poor theology, and unrealistic “bow tie” endings), I never saw this story as a “Christian” narrative.

The story centres on the experiences of Mackenzie, or “Mack” as he deals with the abduction and presumed murder of his little daughter. After receiving a strange invitation in the mail a year following his daughters disappearance, he returns to the mysterious shack where his daughters blood and dress was found, expecting to find maybe, the killer. Instead, he encounters a mysterious relationship he had long misplaced and through which would take him into the deepest questions he had longed to find answers in for years.

The Shack deals with significant questions around the Trinity, Forgiveness, Humility, Healing, Judgement, and others. But at its central core, it is Mack’s story as a whole that carriers all the weight to any truth the book or film has. Is his experiences true? Did he really meet Papa or God?

Like Mack, I too experienced the mysteries of a sort of “shack” after being in a car wreck many years ago (sorry, if this is a spoiler). In April of 1994 I was in a car accident that took the life of my mother and left me a C4/5 & T4 quadriplegic. I laid there in an ICU bed broken, heavily medicated, and on the brink of death. A pin hole of light appeared at the end of my bed and began to grow brighter. With an overwhelming sense of her presence in this light, I heard my mother’s voice, “You and your father will be alright.” I had no idea what she meant and I’m sure this is not “theologically sound”, but it didn’t matter; she was with me and I didn’t want her to leave.

My life experience has taught me that this encounter with my mother was not just a simple moment or event. It has great significance and power as she points to the reality that my story is to continue and have purpose in the relationships around me. Like Mack, I am to be part of God’s healing and reconciliation with others in the course of my life.

This is where I say the film lost its way to the power of Mack’s story and Paul Young’s characters. Opening his eyes in the hospital, Mack sees his friend and neighbour while slowly working the words out, “Where am I?” His friend responds, “Your in a hospital, Mack.” Mackenzie then here’s the story that he never made it to the shack in the woods. After blowing through a stop sign he was struck by a semi tractor and had been unconscious all weekend.

The book reflects on the pain Mack began to experience as he regained consciousness. And lets face it, nobody is struck by a semi and walks away from it. But the film seemed to fail to show this anguish and human reality. There was barely a scratch on Mack and the closing scenes were rather more of a quick tying up of the loose ends while he padded the bed and ushered his older daughter to sit with him as they spoke of overcoming the loss of missy.

Are the producers afraid to show weakness in the Christian character? Is restoration, redemption, and God’s healing only for the physically whole?

Jesus said that, “power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) Why then should we not see the power of Mackenzie’s story made perfect in the pain and anguish he chose to return to in the continuing presence of God’s healing work and reconciliation with his family?

No, if we are to be honest with the power of all our stories, all the moments, events, and “shacks” we encounter in our lives; we must embrace a reality of God’s perfection amidst our frailty. Like Mack having to dig up the horror of his buried little girl in the rocks, we must take up the cross of our own brokenness and trust that the power of our story telling comes not from our own appearances, but that of a living God journeying with us. Or in the words of Jesus as he spoke to Mack at the side of the lake, “It works better when we do this together.”

‘Silence’ ~ Stepping Onto A Faith Of Kenosis

(Spoiler Alert: This post contains depictions and stories from the film ‘Silence’.)

It has been some time since I was this hungry to see an upcoming film. For the last month I have been excitedly waiting for the movie ‘Silence’ to be released with more then an eager imagination to engage the story and dramatic scenes of cultural and religious reflection. With such an internal build up, it was ironic as we sat in the theatre following the show and I shared with my wife and friends that it was not at all what I had expected.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie was brilliant and it is easily one of my favourites to date. I can’t wait to be able to read the book this summer. But I had expected it to be an emotional rollercoaster for me and instead of pulling out the kleenex box I had tucked in my backpack (all while under the loving mockery of my wife), I found myself engrossed into theological intrigue and intellectual imaginative bliss!

Playing with the cultural dynamics of each of the characters and allowing my thoughts to focus on the themes and ritualistic scenes in the movie, my mind raced with questions, thoughts, imaginative metaphors and life like comparisons. What are sacraments and Holy Relics and what significances do they have in faith? Where does theosis or katharsis meet inner sanctification and authentic transformation? What is the gospel and how does it morph positively and negatively within time, space, and culture? What does it mean to be a “Christian” and how has its meaning changed since Jesus called his first disciples? Perhaps most of all, when and how do you embrace kenosis and the emptying of ones self for the sake of the other and what forms does it embrace?!

Perhaps in an ironic mirroring of characterization, I had become the Inquisitor?!

Sacramental Idolatry and Holy Relic Imagery

It’s really only a formality.” These were the encouraging words the priest Rodrigues heard from his Interpreter, played by Tadanobu Asano, as he was challenged to publicly denounce his Christian faith and step onto the clay tablet bearing the image of Jesus. The internal horror and anguish of such a task was unbearably written on Rodrigues face and yet I found myself questioning, what power or authority does this image have over him?! (Psalm 115:4-8)

Throughout the film the image of the sacraments within priestly duties and the giving of Holy Relics were dramatically highlighted as Christian markers of identity. Perhaps most strikingly we can see it in a scene where Rodrigues narrated his role in bestowing religious elements upon the Japanese villagers and finding himself short of materials, began giving the beads of his Rosary away as though each bead encompassed a redeeming significance to the holder.

Since the early church, images like the cross, the fish, and artistic depictions of Jesus have been used to tell the story of the gospel and create a cultural narrative of belonging through worship. But we cannot allow these depictions and Holy Relics to become graven images and objects of our worship. (Ex. 20:3-5) The story of the gospel internally carries the sacraments and relics of its past, but it can also embrace the reflection of new forms in the cultural narrative it is contextually a part of and being introduced. The sacraments and relics of today can be found in cultural arts and contemporary elements such as shared meals with friends, family members, and strangers. Perhaps instead of a fish signifying a disciple, one might find the other in a holy hug embrace. Or, while the symbolic representation of the cross projects a spirit of forgiveness, a person might find the sharing of a family heirloom while seeking reconciliation just as spiritually impactful.

The Despisal Of The Mokichi In All Of Us

mokichiBless me Father, for I have sinned!” It had to be maddening for Rodrigues as Mokichi repeatedly over and over would come to him smelling of filth, wrecked with the lack of personal care, and begging for a seemingly shallow desire for repentance and restoration. It was probably around the third time he would, in Judas like fashion, betray his friends and family that I felt this burning anger of despisal against him. Why would Rodrigues waste his time with this shallow character and man of seemingly no virtue?!

Wrestling with this disgust of Mokichi and his character I realized something; despite our rejection of his lack of virtue, our anguish over his constant betrayal and life of self serving drunkenness and filth… Isn’t there a little of Mokichi in all of us? This self preserving pride of seeking personal pleasure apart from others? This mind set of, “Well, nobody can be perfect“, and so we give into the little temptations of justified failures? All the while quick to repent and cry out in there public revealing, “Forgive me! I am weak and in need of your grace!

It is a belief that is captured in the early parts of the film that the Japanese people needed the priests so that they could impart the Word of God, present the sacraments of communion, and receive the confessions of the villagers so that forgiveness and restoration could then be given. The early church called this practice theosis or katharsis and while the outer actions of the priests were performed, it was believed the inner transformation would then take place.

Jesus uses a metaphor that dramatically reverses this process. While rebuking the Pharisees and Priests, Jesus tells them that they are cleaning the outside of the cup while leaving the inside still full of greed and self indulgence. Rather, they need to clean the inside of the cup so that the outside may also become clean. (Matt. 23:25-26)

Rodrigues would later not only forgive Mokichi, he would embrace him as part of his life and even thank him for always being there. By recognizing the Mokichi inside each of ourselves I ponder the journey of inner repentance, our wrestling with the self hatred and despisment of constant moral and practical failure, and our reliance for the need of our relationship with the Rodrigues’ in our life who grant mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Ironically you can almost see the reflective imagery that it is Jesus who becomes the priest that lastly embraces us, coarse and rough like the wood of the cross, and thanking us for always being there, always returning in the hopes that we might do better despite our weakness.

A Swampland Of Certain Glory & Kinds of Poisons

war-lordsThe price for your glory is their suffering.” These words seemed to echo as Inquisitor Inoue spoke them to Rodrigues. He would go on to compare Japan to a swampland and Christianity to that of a poison. But what is the Christianity that he is speaking of and who’s glory is he really reflecting upon?

While the character of Inquisitor Inoue is fictional, the times depicted in the movie are not. During the early 1600’s there was a Japanese puritan movement where the War Lord’s of Japan were asking the question, “What is a pure Japanese?” Then, hoping to maintain that ideology, they began persecuting and eradicating anything considered not Japanese, particularly the Christian church. Tens of thousands of Japanese Christians would be killed during this time and it was extremely dangerous  for missionaries to travel in the islands of Japan.

We might reverse the question of the Inquisitor however; what does it mean to be a pure Christian? While Rodrigues and the other Catholic priests that came to Japan brought a gospel proclaimed by the universal Christian church, it seemed rote with dogmatic doctrine and institutional teachings that were far from the words of justice, mercy, love, and forgiveness embodied in the story of Jesus. In many ways, the Christianity Rodrigues and the other priests brought was a movement of conquest driven by the pride of western self-righteousness and with the goal institutional glory.

Perhaps Rodrigues’ mentor and teacher, Father Ferreira, brought this point to the surface of his young protĂ©gĂ©’s heart as he spoke the words to him, “I do because you are just like me. You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as His. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don’t have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted.

In the same Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It is intriguing to think that Jesus used the words of “laying down one’s life” as appose to “death” or “dying”. Far simpler to understand the martyrdom of giving ones self over to death for the sake of those you love then to imagine the complexities of laying down ones life, ones hopes and beliefs, ones very identity, for the sake of those you love!

I wonder, were it you in that cell, what decision might have you made? Or perhaps the better question would be, who would you love most?!

Apostatizing And Stepping Onto A Faith Of Kenosis

Step on your Jesus! Apostatize yourself!” the Inquisitor Inoue challenges the priest Rodrigues. We’ve come full circle and now the words of the Interpreter rings out again, “It is really only a formality.” While the words of the Interpreter had us question the power and authority within the outer images and elements of the stone tablet, the words of the Inquisitor have us question the authority and power found within Rodrigues the individual.

To apostatize himself, Rodrigues would be publicly renouncing everything he stood for; not just his beliefs in Jesus, but his identity as a priest, his recognition of authority in and for the church, his western philosophical world views, and even ultimately, his own name! But just as we asked if the stone tablet that he was challenged to step on would have any authority or power over him, we can also ask, does any of the outer acts of renunciation he makes change the inner authority or power found within him?

The apostle Paul uses a word in Philippians 2 to describe a similar act; it is the word “kenosis“. It means to completely empty one self of all significance and meaning and he uses it in the depiction of the incarnation of Christ. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:1-11) It is as though God’s love for his creation was so great, he apostatized himself so that he might redeem us!

I found it so powerful to contemplate that all the time Rodrigues spent in the outer works of the Christian church he believed in, all the efforts and religious rituals he sacrificed himself too, and all the while in anguish over God’s seemingly silence to his labours; and yet it is in this moment of his public apostasy that the deafening voice of Christ speaks to him, “It is ok. I am here with you. It is for this moment that I died for you.” And then, without a sound Rodrigues seems to not step on the stone, but find himself on top of it.

It seems that the message of the movie ‘Silence‘ becomes heaviest when we are willing to contemplate that the authenticity of the Christian walk is not necessarily in the silence of our outer self serving institutional blind actions but in our willingness to apostatize ones self and step onto the deafening absolute complete submission of Christ’s authority and power through our own inner actions of kenosis for the sake of others!

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Cor. 12:9

Finding Blood, Fire and Smoky Mist In Today’s Wait For The Big Kahuna

smoky-mistBlood, fire and smoky mist (Joel 2:30), words which as Mark shares are rich in the metaphorical presence of spirituality and biblically spoken to the eminence of God in creation. I can’t dismiss the physicality of these elements in scripture. Was Joel speaking figuratively or literally? Does the timing have to be the same for them all? Are they telling of some real narrative recorded later in God’s story such as the blood and water pouring out from Christ’s chest? I don’t really know and it could also boil down to the semantics of questioning the definition of reality.

Still, I think there is a validity both metaphorically and physically to Joel’s words in the eschatological sense; or end to one world and the beginning of the other. This morning I spoke in my old college around the Wisdom of God revealed through the story of Job while dwelling in Job 38-42. Metaphorically these passages speak eschatologically into the new life Job would be living and I tied it to the point that ‘It’s not about who started it, it’s about who finishes it’. It is Job’s character of submitting everything he has, both the good and the bad (Job 2:10), that allows God to bring him into the newness of a man who, “girds up his loins before” (38:3) all of creation and declares God’s, “things to wonderful” (42:3), to mystifying, to amazing to be more then just about “me“!

Likewise, Jesus on the cross submits himself to God in the work of defeating sin while crying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) The world of brokenness, separation from God, the blindness of the Kingdom being present is removed and a new world is set in its place where we might live in the freedom of God’s promises multiplied through the Spirit’s gifting’s and catalyzing us into a the missio Dei while being in “awe” at the “wonders and signs” (Acts 2:43) manifesting themselves amidst us.

The church then, “moves in the world with humility, knowing that it is always being called to its own conversion as it attempts to embody the coming realities of the Kingdom.” (Mark, Pg. #15) A Kingdom where creation has “all things in common” (Acts 2:44), justice and righteousness is sought for all (2:45), and hospitality is given to everyone without reserve or indifference  (2:46).

I think a good question might be in that as we submit to God through the work of the apostles, how might we define “work“? While the Christian community embodies the metaphorical “Blood, fire and smoky mist” as signs to the presence of Christ’s Spirit through the discipling identity of communal prayer, breaking of bread, and dwelling in God’s Word; these terms must apostolically (Eph. 4) become engrained into all of life’s expressions, both personally and communally, so as not to become a, “self-aggrandizement of the church or individuals“, but shared with all as a, “participation in God’s coming kingdom.” (Mark Pg. #15) With all of creations participation in the coming Kingdom, success is not measured by fulness of the institution or the definition of doctrine, rather it is found in the willingness for embodying a Spirit of, “inclusion, participation, generosity, and attentiveness to the other.” (Mark Pg. #24)

It was in the movie ‘The Big Kahuna’ that the character Larry Mann (played by Kevin Spacey) mistakenly asked his cohorts, “Did you mention what line of industrial lubricants Jesus would have endorsed?” It was a question in search for his own self-aggrandizement or assurance of business success which had little to do with being in service for others. The search, or wait, for the entrance of “The Big Kahuna” had little to do with the “greatness” of Larry Mann or any of the other characters, and was more about their willingness to submit to their own insignificance for the sake of the greatness of others. Or, in the words of Phil Cooper (played by Danny Devito)…

I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.

I can’t help but reflect back on a thought I had a few weeks ago. Posting it on Facebook I wrote: “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist. The greatest trick that God ever played was convincing the devil that he was winning. Which trick are you playing?”

With the embrace of new life that we find in Christ, I think we often blind ourselves to the on going death that is taking place within ourselves simultaneously. Perhaps we think it as morbid or negative to do so but, we cannot separate the joys and freedoms of a resurrected eternal life from the ongoing cruciform life we live in today as temporal created beings. While the physical cross was embraced by Jesus on the hill of Golgotha in his 33rd year, he metaphorically clung to the cross through his entire life.

Living in this way, I think, is really a continuance of practicing a life of “awe and wonder” in the Spirit’s work. Assumedly, we have confused this practice to the witness to the “good” in life while leaving the “bad” to cast off, marginalize, or exclude from the soul’s journey. Revolutionarily, Jesus diverges this understanding by calling us not to act in judgement between the “good” and the “bad“, clean and unclean, holy and unholy, but allow ourselves to see all things as new. In some sense, we are to be in awe and wonder of sin and brokenness too, not judging it and excluding it from ourselves or the other, but rather submitting it as part of the redemptive process we go through both as personal and communal beings before God in community.

Returning to the question of, “Which trick are you playing?” If we are in the effort of trying to prove the devil’s existence, attempting to judge and articulate every nature of sin in creation by saving that which we think is good and excluding that which we deem as being bad, we will fail and ultimately find little meaning in life. But if we embrace the metaphorical cross of Jesus, loose ourselves to the wonder and awe of all things both good and bad, we will find a life of ultimate significance and deepest meaning. It is a life that gives into the Spirit of all things being, “not my will Father, but yours!”

“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.

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!