Friday, August 31, 2007

Warm Street

It’s a profoundly simply thing. Read about what happens when my good mate Steve hears that his company, Qantas, is about to replace all of it’s woolen blankets for their first class cabins. Steve lives just out of Sydney’s CBD and volunteers at a local food van that serves a great meal to men and women who sleep on the streets. Steve has seen a glimpse of how cold the men and women he serves must get on Sydney’s streets at night if you don’t have a warm cosy bed like he does. In a simple act of compassion and solidarity, Steve and his volunteers have brought some warmth to some of the cold men and women on Sydney’s Streets.

“Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done”
Matthew 6:10

Sunday, August 26, 2007

family time: Vancouver Island

One of the reason’s we wanted to do our studies in North America, was to be closer to Jess’ family in California and Idaho. While the family isn’t just down the street from Vancouver, we have done really well at spending some good quality time with them over the past year.

This week, we have had the joy of having Jess’ grandparents visit, Clyde and Sue arrived in Vancouver off a cruise ship from Alaska. We had a great few days together out on Vancouver Island: taking in picturesque Victoria; enjoying High Tea at The Empress Hotel; stopping to smell the roses at The Butchart Gardens; and driving through Chemainus, the world’s largest outdoor art gallery. The ferry trip there and back through the gulf islands was also very beautiful. Enjoy some of the pics:

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Building Intentional Christian Communities

The second summer course that we took (read about the first) was Building Christian Communities with Aussie Prof, Charles Ringma.

We started out considering the different ways that you could go about building a theology of Christian community: using the trinity, church or a Christ-centred approach as a base, developing a theology from New Testament perspectives (eg Acts 2 & 4) or looking at the tradition of historical Christian communities. The conclusion was, there is no theological, biblical or historical justification that a Christian community should exist in only one form. In reality, the theology around Christian communities is built on a conglomerate of the mentioned influences.

Throughout the course, we looked at the communities of: early Christianity, the Monastics, Anabaptists, Amish, Moravians, Contemporary House Churches, cluster living communities and Latin America’s Base Ecclesial Communities. Questions we wrestled with were: can the local church congregation fulfil the role of Christian community, as the Bible describes it, in our modern, fast-paced western society? Or do we need to consider establishing Intentional Christian Communities that complement and grow out of the institutionalised church?

Part of our assessment involved visiting an Intentional Christian Community and writing a reflection paper that also offered a critique of the community we visited. For a radically secular part of the world, Vancouver is home to several rich Christian communities, including: Regent College, L’Abri and A Rocha. As L’Abri was closed due to construction work, Jess and I chose to visit A Rocha: Christians in Conservation.

A Rocha is not your typical Christian community or ministry. There are A Rocha communities in 17 countries (with Australia on the way) that are located in important environmental eco-systems. The British Columbia community is based near the Little Campbell River, an area that is key for migrating bird populations and spawning Salmon. One of A Rocha’s key goals here, is improving the water quality in the River and Bay so the bird and fish life will flourish here, in this ecosystem.

In pursuing this goal, A Rocha has been able to build relationships with other conservation organizations and their members, the local community and representatives of different government departments. A Rocha also acts to educate people about the environment and in particular the impact of environmental abuse locally. School children, churches and random people off the streets come to visit, learn and participate in various projects. A Rocha attracts people of all religions, and particularly people with a more developed environmental concern. At A Rocha the conflict between Christianity and Science is at peace with scientific work playing a key and demonstrated role in creation care, which is a wonderful counter witness to the historical neglect of the environment by the church.

At the core of A Rocha Canada is an intentional Christian community, made up of a fluctuating staff of 15-20 people including long-term staff and short-term interns. Short term interns don’t have to profess a commitment to Christ, but do have to be willing to live in Christian community. We heard several stories of relationships that have developed from living with people and conversations about the gospel that take place in the context of planting local species on the river banks or picking fruit and veggies from the community garden. These conversations and relationships aren’t limited to the interns, they take place with many of the regular volunteers that spend time at A Rocha. It’s encouraging to see a natural Christian witness growing out of the shared concern of the staff and visitors at A Rocha, it offers us an alternate view of missional activity, maybe a more natural and relational one too.

Some heavy-hitters within the Anglican church in England, from where A Rocha sprouted, have crystallised why our stewardship of the earth, in which God has given us to tender, is so important. John Stott, an avid bird watcher, writes in the introduction to the founder of A Rocha’s book, “Can ecological involvement properly be included under the heading of “mission”? Yes, it can and should. For mission embraces everything Christ sends his people into the world to do, service as well as evangelism”. Alistair McGrath is also a regular speaker at A Rocha conferences.

I really like what A Rocha is doing in parts of the third world that are more vulnerable to deteriorating ecosystems than we rich westerners are. In Ghana, A Rocha has implemented a micro-enterprise program, which has provided 296 beehives to effectively harvest the honey from the aggressive wild African bees. Previously, the locals would set natural hives on fire in order to extract the honey. This practise led to many out-of-control fires that unnecessarily burnt large areas of the savannah. The beehives have helped the 98 locals involved by increasing their profits by 140%, valuable extra income in Ghana.

Friday, August 17, 2007

the ride of Goliath, the power of www

Almost 5000 people have viewed my YouTube Video of the Goliath roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in LA. It's a great ride, used to be the world's tallest and the first drop is amazing! Although, as those who were at my pre-wedding day bash will testify, X is even better and was worth the 3 hour wait!

My question is, who are the 4887 people who have viewed my video? Are they those coaster nuts who travel across America and the world chasing bigger and better thrills doing some reconnaissance? Or are they people with too much time chasing thrills on the internet at home? Either way, it shows that the www is a powerful medium to share, publish and broadcast anything.

Look out for brother-in-law Matt and cousin-in-law Mark (as well as Jess and myself). What you don't get to see is how sick I was when I got off after concentrating on holding the camera through the G-force turns and drops. Enjoy the ride ...

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Cross and the Kingdom

Salvation is a favourite topic of Evangelicals. The Gospel in a word. The point of the cross. We are pretty clear on what we are saved from - our personal sins that separate us from God. Thanks to the cross, we are able to have a relationship with God. Ideally, we are sanctified a bit along the way. Then we die and go to Heaven.

This is the way I learned the gospel. This is the way I have explained the Gospel to others. I don’t believe this any more.

Through the journey of the last ten years, it seems to me that this Gospel summary is hardly Gospel at all; rather it is a myopic picture of the smallest aspect of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s purposes for the cosmos. Salvation, personal and corporate, in the narratives of Israel and the teachings of Jesus is a far more complicated and all-encompassing idea than just providing atonement, propitiation, satisfaction, and any other polysyllabic theological word on behalf of my personal sins.

The brokenness of this world is hard to miss. We know that all creation groans, longing to be freed from the mess, repaired, recreated. It is into this larger context of brokenness that our personal sins fit. No one sins in a vacuum - in all our actions we are simultaneously responsible agents and victims of other people’s sins, structural sin, cosmic brokenness. Being victims does not absolve our personal responsibility but neither does freedom-of-choice negate the real sin and evil of the world around us. It is into this complicated and messed-up world that we hear the message of the prophets and Jesus himself - the in-breaking Kingdom of God.

From Jesus’ parables, we know that the Kingdom is a kingdom of grace, of turning the current order upside-down and setting things right that have gone very, very wrong. With the exception of one notable group, Jesus’ gaze toward others is one of grace and mercy. We see this in the woman who weeps over his feet in the house of Simon. We see it in his many healings of lepers. We see it in his casting out of demons (which interestingly also often lack a mention of the individuals sin). We see it in his calling of Levi and those he eats with that evening. We see it in Zacchaeus. We see it in the woman caught in adultery. Why does Jesus see these people with compassion? Not all of these individuals came to Jesus broken and repentant - some did like the prostitute, some became repentant like Zacchaeus, others were brought against their will and show no sign of anguish over their sin like the woman caught in adultery. And yet, in Jesus all found compassion, healing, and freedom.

When we look at each of these examples and consider the setting, the social circumstances, and the societal structures, we see that no one existed in isolation, committing their personal sins apart from the larger system of brokenness. Matthew and Zacchaeus both were making a living working for the empire, making money in the way that tax-collectors did. Yes, it is wrong to defraud people, but the entire system of empire and oppressive taxation is also wrong. The prostitute and the woman caught in adultery were both wrong in their sexual decisions but so were the men who employed, objectified, and abandoned them, as was the social system that offered no opportunity for women without family. Only the Pharisees and religious authorities seem to provoke Jesus’ anger - interestingly enough, they are the ones who are concerned with personal purity and piety and who are responsible for at least some of the societal systems that condemn, oppress, and alienate.

Let’s consider a modern example. A 14-year-old Christian girl has a distant and verbally abusive single mother and doesn’t know her father. In her search for love, she sleeps with her year-10 boyfriend and becomes pregnant. Afraid to tell anyone, she has an abortion. When that relationship comes to an end, she continues to have sexual relationships with other men, and eventually, due to disappointment and frustration, women. Is she sinning in having sex with all these people? Did she sin in having an abortion? What if she was raped by her uncle rather than sleeping with her boyfriend; does that change our attitude toward her? Does it change the nature of her sin? These are the real complexities among which all our actions take place and among which our sins are committed. It begs the question, is her personal sin really the biggest problem here or is it the dysfunctional family and society in which she lives that fosters alienation and abuse?

The cross is truly the way of forgiveness and freedom, but it is much bigger than my personal sin. Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus makes it clear that his work is for the world, the cosmos. Jesus’ death is to fix for the brokenness of the whole mess and to provide the means of freedom, restoration and wholeness for the whole world. We often forget that forgiveness happened in the Old Testament - there is no evidence in Law or the prophets, and certainly not in the poetry, that the forgiveness that YHWH gave his people throughout the history of Israel wasn’t real forgiveness. But this forgiveness didn’t change their very nature as human beings. What Jesus’ death offers is freedom from sin, which makes us a totally different order of human – we are recreated humans, and that is evidenced as we are filled with and empowered by the very spirit of YHWH himself.

Over the past ten years, I’m beginning to see that the cross is about the complete undermining of the current world order, it is the sacrifice to redeem it all, to restore completely our systems, our societies, our relationships, ourselves. It is this revolutionary and comprehensive grace, freedom, and restoration that is the heart and character of the Kingdom of God. In the same way that we cringe at the “Christian” who uses grace as a means for “sin to abound” so we ought to cringe at the “Christian” who uses grace as a means of personal salvation, failing to engage in the radical restoration for the cosmos as a whole. As we, filled with the Holy Spirit, become formed into the image of Jesus, we get to partner with God in bringing his freedom and his restoring, recreating Holy Spirit to all the broken systems, oppressive structures, and exploitative practices that keep all of creation, even those created in the very image of God, in slavery.

Our job, friends, is not to continue affirming the fallen-ness of things but to usher in the Kingdom of God, the restored, recreated, upside-down new heaven and new earth for which Jesus gave his life and which he guarantees in his resurrection.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Solidarity, Resistance, Liberation: The Way of God in the World?

[WARNING: Not a quick or light read. But hopefully a worthwhile one]

This was the name of the Regent summer school course that we took with Steve when he visited. It was probably the most unique and eye-opening course we have taken! Instead of meeting at Regent College, in its somewhat plush, renovated and air-conditioned building, we started off meeting in a downtown legal office with a spectacular view of the mountains. This was quite deliberate as the first two bible passages we explored were positioned around those who have power over those who don’t. As we sat in our reclining leather chairs, we read the Joseph Narrative in Genesis.

Depending on what you choose to focus on, you can make Joseph out to be a good or a bad character. A few snapshots: Joseph alienates his brothers by boldly re-telling his dreams predicting his power to the point Jacob has to rebuke him for it (G 37:10); Joseph makes slaves of the Egyptians and Israelites because they are desperate for food (G 47:21); Joseph plays tricks on his brothers, e.g. planting the silver cup in the sack (G 44); after Jacob’s death, the brothers instinct is to fear Joseph (G 50:15). Joseph is someone who knows how to move into a position of power and privilege, and gains power with his father, Potiphar, the jailor and Pharaoh. Early on “the Lord was with Joseph” in these ‘promotions’ (see G 39), but that favour drops out of the text after this point. God did use Joseph to save the Israelites from starving, but does that mean we should emulate an oppressor like Joseph? In the end, are you left with a picture of Joseph as a God-fearing Israelite or someone who has adopted Egypt’s powerful and enslaving ways? Or is Joseph a good Israelite who saves his people from starvation by chaining them to slavery?

The next day, we found ourselves in a very different location. The corner of Main and Hastings in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside is the centre point of Canada’s poorest and most problematic postcode. Homelessness, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, street prostitution and petty crime don’t hide in the back-alley’s here – they surround you on the street. In many ways, this is where Vancouver’s enslaved live and try to survive. While some of these people are enslaved by poor choices, others are enslaved by circumstance (abusive families, historical racial prejudice, low wages, no affordable housing – circumstances as uncontrollable as a famine in Canaan). As we crammed ourselves into a stuffy, overcrowded room with no windows we read the early chapters of the Moses narrative in Exodus that directly follow the Joseph narrative.

The Israelites are still enslaved thanks to Joseph, but they were fruitful and filled the land (E 1:7). Out of fear of being overrun the Egyptian King oppresses the Israelites, but they continue to grow (E 1:8-14). Plan B, the King employs a plan of national genocide to stop the Israelites taking over (E 1:16). Enter Moses, a child who should have fallen victim to the genocide, but instead grows up in Pharaoh’s household (E 2:1-16). One day, Moses goes out and sees where his own people were and the slave labour they endured. The oppression Moses sees has such an impact on him, he kills an Egyptian that is beating an Israelite (E 2:11) and the result is he flees to a foreign country (E 2:15). Years pass, yet the Israelites are still enslaved and God is concerned for his people (E 2:23-25). ‘The tears of the oppressed’ are again heard by God and he sends Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (E 3:7-10).

In contrast to Joseph who climbs the ladder from powerlessness to power, Moses walks (or runs?) away from his place of privilege in the Egyptian royal household. With some convincing from God, Moses in an act of solidarity goes back to his people in Egypt. The request to “let my people go” is denied, and so at the age of 80, God sends Moses to announce his resistance to Pharaoh by delivering the 10 plagues. After Egypt is decimated, God brings liberation to his people and allows them to escape to the desert, bringing the red-sea crashing down on Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Solidarity, Resistance, Liberation. The way God rescues his people out of slavery in Egypt!

Is this the way God in the world today?

The louder and longer heard voices in my life have not emphasised a God, who through his people, would seek to transform the power structures of our societies and our planet that enslave people. Instead, God is shown to be someone who transforms individual lives by bringing them salvation from sin, some level of sanctification and potentially but not always some personal or family spiritual healing and transformation. All wonderful and valuable things!
But, are we cheapening the freedom that Jesus paid in blood for us to have?

The following quote is something I read earlier in the year from an interview in Christianity Today, it wasn’t used in the course. I’m not sure N.T. Wright is advocating a Liberation Theology here, but his comments do point towards how the church has devalued the good news Jesus came to bring.

“For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human being and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery.
… that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You in turn can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ themselves, with working for God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. …
The key to mission is always worship. You can only be reflecting the love of God into the world out of overflowing self-giving love. The more you look at that God and celebrate that love, the more you have to be reflecting that overflowing self-giving love into the world.”

There is only one guy at Regent qualified to teach this course. Read more about Dave Diewert and his life spent in Solidarity, Resistance and Liberation.

Please add a comment or critique and share what you think.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Grade 12 Houseboat Trip

We have just returned from a great week on a houseboat trip with this year's school leavers from St John’s Shaughnessy. Jess and I fulfilled the role of drivers, cooks, speakers, leaders and boat captains. Ken & Julie Moser, the Youth Ministers, are bringing to St John’s what they brought to Christ Church St Ives in the Whitsunday’s trip. For those unfamiliar with the “Whit”, the formula is pretty simple… take the Grade 12’ers (who have just finished school) to a spectacular place for a week of good times, great fellowship, rest, relaxation and some time reflecting on the journey of faith in Jesus Christ so far, and the road ahead together.

Lake Koocanusa in British Columbia (near the Albert and Montana borders, close to Fernie) was the spectacular location. The lake was full of fresh, clean, turquoise, refreshing water and was surrounded by sandy beaches, pine trees and mountain vistas. We cruised around the lake on 2 Daydreamer houseboats for 4 glorious days where lazy mornings, lots of swimming, fishing, eating and being together was the agenda. Jumping/diving/sliding/back-flipping off the boat and cliff jumping (including a 70 foot jump!) were also part of the daily action. We lit campfires on shore and spoke about the importance being intentional with our faith, decision making and building Christian community.

A great part of the trip was driving around BC. We got to see some of BC's Glacier National Park and the Okanagan area. Everywhere we drove, we found spectacular mountain peaks, stunning lakes, rivers and streams, pine trees galore, and long and winding railways. This is an impressive part of the world!

Thank you to the Grade 12’ers for having us share in their adventure and to Ken & Julie for inviting us to be part of it. It was a blessed week!