Sunday, May 29, 2011

Friends for the Road

I am a couple of short days before I switch from being the intern at Nelson Covenant Church to taking up my role as member of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Canada's Summer Ministry Team. I'm a big fan of long titles.

It's a time of transition for me, but also many others at my church. Many are getting ready to leave and experience what God has for them outside the city limits of Nelson. I am very excited for them. I think one of the most important things that a young person can do is expand their world outside of their hometown. Especially one like Nelson or Minnedosa. I think that expanding our horizons is a part of expanding our perspectives, which is an important component of understanding ourselves, the world and our beliefs.

I do see that for some that there is much anxiousness about this next step. I can understand that. You are heading out into the world by yourself, with no one looking over your shoulder, you have to make decisions and you are without the familiarity of what has been home. You have to make a new home somehow.

In short, it can be intimidating to leave relationships behind.

We have spent time with these folk and have invested our hearts and trust with them. They know us and we know them. Even when the relationships they are leaving behind may be toxic for them, they fear leaving it because they are about to face the intimidating task of finding familiarity with others.

I suppose I have learned over the years was that yes, you may leave people behind, but now you have the opportunity to learn more people's stories and be challenged by new ideas and find that you can offer something that you bring with you.

One of my favourite lessons I learned from Covenant Bible College (God rest it's soul) is that throughout your life, you have friends for the journey and friends for the road. Friends for the journey are those who go with us for a long time, maybe all the way through life being at our side. Friends for the road are those who we have the pleasure of having with us for a short time. Maybe a couple of years, maybe for a ten minute ride on a bus. I think we often wish that all of our high school friends or hometown friends would be our friends for the journey, but I don't think that is a realistic or healthy expectation. We put too much on ourselves to build up relationships. And it becomes distressing to consider moving onto something different. We get wrapped up with trying to keep together what you have and it may even stunt the growth of those in the group to keep one moment in stasis.

However, if we realize that most of the people in our lives are friends for the road, we can find a richer interaction. That maybe we can, even for a brief moment in time, find a deep connection to those that we meet. It would also mean that the time we have with people is significant. We don't necessarily have years and years with people, but rather maybe we only have a little while.

Now, some of you may think, "Obviously, we only have a limited time with people" but although we understand that on a surface level, I don't know if we deeply understand it. You would see it most often when someone suddenly dies and people regret not saying the things they have felt about the person or regret not fixing a broken relationship.

Similarly, when we go into public, we could be that friend for the person who needs one. That the waitress who screws up your order needs for you to overlook it, because her life is filled with pain and the last thing she needs is a stranger to tear into her when she knows she messed up. You wouldn't ream out a friend like that, would you? Or maybe you can be the one that notices the guy on the street who no one else does and give him a compliment for his sweet kicks (do people still say that?). We could be their friend for the road.

I think one of the hardest lessons that a human can learn is moving on and knowing when to. When we want to lock everything down and fit what we want, we may find that we are actually killing the memory of it. That what we want to encourage people to do is grow and growth usually means we need room to do that. Whether that is physically space or emotional space.

So my encouragement to those of you intimidated by a big life change, whether it is you that is moving on or someone else close to you who is, is to make the most of your time that you have with them now. Don't be texting other people when you're with a friend. Tell people what you need to tell them. Don't wait too long to fix a broken relationship.

If you can start seeing the value of everyone's story, if you can worry less about having your friends with you for all time, if you can see the main thrust of human relationships should be growth, then you can start finding that peace when we lose people, whether it's temporarily or permanently.

I think the best thing that comes out of being willing to grow and experience a bigger world is that you can really see who your friends for the journey are. Those individuals who you truly miss and feel on a gut level their absence. Those individuals who, when once you see them again, you can pick things up again and know they still have your back. Those individuals who you love.

"Yes, I understand that every life must end, uh huh,
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, uh huh
Oh, I'm a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love,
Some folks just have one,
Yeah, others, they've got none, uh huh"
- "Just Breathe" from the Pearl Jam album "Backspacer"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cheat Codes and The Rapture

I will admit that I was one of the folk that made several jokes about the supposed Rapture that was predicted to happen this past weekend. I don't want to dwell on the ridiculousness of trying to predict such an event if you are using the Christian scriptures as your basis because they (as many, many people have pointed out) even state that Jesus does not even know when it will happen. I don't want to dwell on the how dangerous and foolish it is to promote such a prediction that lead others to sell everything and potentially ruining their own livelihoods. I don't want to dwell on how stupid these predictions make Christians look especially when they always are wrong.

I don't want to dwell on these things, because I think the bulk of Christians have already talked about all of the above things and moved on.

I want to talk about my own personal reservations about the Rapture and ultimately the afterlife. One of the reactions I saw a few times over the course of the weekend was one of a certain wish for the Rapture to come. Even fellow Christian skeptics of the predictions gave a sense of mourning that they weren't wrong. They wished that the Rapture had come despite them knowing it would not happen.

I get why people would want to be taken straight up to heaven without ever dying. You get to circumvent one of the scariest moments in everyone's life. You go from living in a broken world and go straight to Jesus! For some (probably most), the best part about being a Christian is heaven. Not me.

One reason I don't want to experience the Rapture is that I would feel like I am cheating. You know when you play video games and you're trying your best to play through an impossible game. You sometimes wish that you could just get to the end and so you find cheat codes to allow you to jump to the last level or give you infinite lives or all the weapons upgrades and then you breeze through the game. The thing is, at the end of it you are left with no sense of accomplishment. You didn't really beat the game. You got to see the ending. That's all. What makes beating a game an accomplishment is struggling through it and ultimately triumphing over it. I feel like the Rapture would be cheating in certain regard. I leave all the rest of the world to burn behind me and I get to go to heaven? That feels cheap, doesn't it?

It seems strange to me that billions of people have lived and died and then I would amongst the few that skipped the last part. I don't know if you can truly appreciate a life in heaven if you have not experienced death. Death is not to be feared, but known and overcome.

The other thing that makes me not want to be "raptured" is that I believe I would have this sense of "we need to go back". Like I would be trying to convince God to send me back and get more people. I think it would be like Abraham pleading with God to not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why? I do not really deserve heaven and I know it. Not just because it's taught like that, but because I feel like it's my duty to continue to be a part of a rescue effort until I am not longer able to help. I have been taught that the grace of God will deliver me, but I don't want to rest on that. It gives me this sense that I want to bring the good news to those still in chains, whatever that may look like. And if I know that I just left the world and I still have breath in my lungs, then I don't feel like I should be leaving. I want to be like those people who have been given much and would do anything to pay it back as feeble as it may be to do so.

Another main reason that this whole afterlife business bothers me is that it seems to be such a distracting force in our lives here. We have this mindset that "Well, this is all screwed up and I am a messed up person and everything will be just better once I...". It's the exact same thing I hear with people now who have broken relationships and addictions and they figure once they move to another town that they can start over and everything will be fixed as opposed to starting the process of changing themselves now. They continue to wallow in their addictions or continue to bend to the will of those who don't have their best interests at heart because they don't want to alienate their friends despite the reason that they want to leave is because of the same people. I see it with the wishing for Heaven. "Once I get to Heaven, everything will be put right" and then we stay put.

Probably the people best equipped to adjust to Heaven are those who are working to bring Heaven about here.

To be honest, I am not sold on Heaven. In terms of how great it will be. In my human mind, I can not conceive of a way of living forever would be awesome. I do believe that the afterlife will be as it should be. That God has it handled. Maybe He has something up His sleeve that will blow my mind. That'd be great. I will happily eat the words I just wrote because I also know that it is unknowable.

I would rather live as though I don't care about the reward. I would rather live as though I am living this one life. I would rather spend my life helping people out of the hell on earth that they experience. I would rather not wait for me to go to Heaven, but rather be apart of the work to bring Heaven to earth. That way, when I stand before God I have offered my best case before Him. Sure, I have screwed up and I don't measure up and Jesus will have to vouch for me, but hopefully I haven't just wasted the gifts given me.

And if it turns out that when I die, that is all and my soul disappears into the ether, at the least I will have already experienced Heaven and know that Heaven is real and have given people the same before I went.

"And it feels now
Just like heaven's coming down
Your soul shakes free
As its conscience hits the ground
These signs, this fate
Takes a path you didn't choose
Stay strong, keep faith
There's a change that's coming through
Hold on my love, hold on..."
- "Heaven Coming Down" from the Tea Party album "TRIPtych"

Friday, May 20, 2011

Single People are People, Too!

At the church, we are continuing the series on "This Changes Everything" in reference to how Jesus' resurrection changes various aspects of life. For instance, my sermon from a few weeks ago was about how the resurrection changed religion. This week, we are talking about marriage. I haven't done any videos for the last while and so I've been thinking about what I can do this week. I have an idea that I am sorting out to give a perspective on the whole thing.

A few weeks ago when I went to Vancouver, I was talking with some friends that I was friends with from Manitoba. We were talking about how marriage is such a major focus of Christians. My one friend lamented how the pressure is so great to get married so young that people frequently wind up stifling their development as a person and then think that the whole purpose of everything is create more kids. It sometimes leads them to marry right away and choose a person before they have matured enough to make such a serious commitment. It can lead them to broken marriages and then even splitting leaving them on there own the very first time and they suddenly realize that they have spent no time developing themselves as an individuals and they are lost.

My friend pointed out how strange and even offensive it is for us to even ask a married couple, "So, when are you having kids?" Personally, I don't have that hang up on the question, because it usually comes out of a place of the typical order of things when you are married and I think it's a natural question to ask, but I also see her point. Especially when it comes from someone who spends no time getting to know you otherwise. If the first question out of my mouth when I see someone I haven't seen for a long time is "So, now that you're married, when will we hear the pitter-patter of little feet?" that reinforces the idea that having children is the only way we become complete people.

This is what is screwed up in the perspective of marriage and in particular the Christian culture surrounding marriage. I fear that people are desperately hunting for someone who will be willing to marry them as though it will solve their problems. Or that it will validate them as a complete human. Or that you will miss on a critical and necessary aspect of life if you don't get married. Then, it extends into having children. That the best people in the world are mothers and fathers. Who cares if you discover the cure for cancer or lead a humanitarian organization or help poor people on a day to day basis? Being a parent trumps all of that. In particular a good Christian parent that makes sure their kid becomes a Christian as soon as they are able to form sentences.

As Christians, I hope we are careful with how we view being single. It seems like the only way for a Christian to be single and considered as valued as a rank and file pew member is be a monk or a nun or dying of typhoid fever in some far off country preaching the name of Jesus. Single people seemed to be viewed as misguided or lost or lacking something that will make them a complete person. It makes the role of single one of inferiority. I frequently see young adults (and I was in this group, too) scrambling to find a mate because they can finally take on their ultimate role as parent. There is no role better than parent according to Christian culture.

It sometimes comes across as single people have no insight into marriage or children. They are less than or not as advanced as the ones who do. It's seen when you hear from the new dad and they give you the new dad speech where it turns out that having a child changes everything. WHAT? You're telling me being responsible for this new life has somehow made your life different? I just assumed everything would be the same. But with a baby. I wouldn't know because I don't have kids, how could I ever figure out? I'm too dumb. You really got to have kids to understand that it's a big deal.

Don't get me wrong, of course there's some stuff I have never experienced and thus will never "truly" know, but that does not make me a lesser person.

Now, here's the thing. One's mother or father or spouse should be striving to be the best parent or spouse they can be. Leading you and guiding to be the best person you can be in the case of a parent and being a person that supports you and you support them so that way you have an ally in this tough life. A good parent is critical on an individual level. Spouses can be a great person to have along for what life has for us. Parents help shape our perspectives and we want to raise up good citizens. However, the role of parent or spouse itself is not the ultimate role one can have.

The premise that the best thing a person can be is to be married or to have kids is where things begin to break down because these things cannot live up to the expectations.

I believe that the ultimate role people can take on is one that everyone can choose to take on.

What is our ultimate role? To be a part of the ongoing process of putting things back to the way they should. Whatever that looks like. This premise does not require you to be married or single, woman or man, a doctor or a lawyer, to be from North America, or to be a certain ethnicity. This ultimate role is one that can and has spanned all time to all places, it's just are we going to embrace it? It is simple to understand. It is difficult to live. It is admirable to be.

I would call this role "Christ" or less controversially "Christ-like". Although making the goal "Christ-like" seems like we don't have to try as hard. Look, I get it, no one can be Christ but Jesus. Fine. But when kids say they want to be "Batman" they don't mean "Batman-like". Sure, they will never attain "Batmanhood" but at the very least, you will have a dark, brooding ankle-biter of justice. I'm off-track on this idea already adjunct to the main point of this blog.

The ultimate role of Christ is one that can be taken up in all circumstances and looks different for each person. Of course, we aren't in 1st century Israel, born to a Jewish family, working as a carpenter. That was Jesus. But the Christ role does not dictate those aspects. You follow?

If we should look into incorporating the Christ role into our lives as hard as we pursue the parent and spouse role, then you would see amazing things.

I think a good question for us to have is "What does the Christ role look like in my circumstances?" What would Christ look like as in 21st century British Columbia, born to a white family in Manitoba, working as an intern? What would Christ look like as a parent? Or a spouse? Or a single person.

Another way of saying it is that you strive to be the heroic version of yourself.

The goal of the single person is not to get married. The goal of the married person is not to have children. The goal of the parent is not to make sure your children get married and have kids. The goal of all people should be a redemptive force wherever and however we are.

This all said, I think marriage is still a wonderful thing. To dedicate yourself to another person and be lifelong allies committing to mutually help each other become their better selves is a great thing. It is however not the best way to live. Nor is being single the best way to live. Those roles are circumstantial. Being the best version of yourself is your ultimate role.

"I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them
Just for one day
We can be heroes
Just for one day"
- Title track from the David Bowie album "Heroes"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I may write something a little longer later, but I just wanted to post a link to my sermon that I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Sadly, the 24 clip was cut short. None the less, check it out if you have time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land

I have just gotten back from a bus trip that took 22 hours from Saskatoon. I was out for a good friend's wedding and I had to make the decision of paying an extra $200 to take a flight or take the bus ride. I had to go with making the financially wiser choice and go with the bus.

People were commenting that it must have been a terrible thing to do and I agree to a point. I just agree in the moment and it is true that I dislike the long bouts of sitting, however, it was ultimately really good. I was reminded of how much I actually enjoy the process of travelling from one place to another. The destination is the point I suppose, but I appreciate the period of moving from one place to another. I get to sit there and think. I get to listen to my music and reflect. I come up with ideas for the future.

The long bus ride allowed just for more time of doing that. It also provided a couple of experiences that I appreciated just as much as the actual wedding event. On the way out there, I had a few hours in Calgary and it just so happened that a friend there happened to have a shift at a store downtown and I got to see her and talk with her, when I haven't spoken to her in what has been far too long.

On the way back, I was in Calgary and I went to a local restaurant to get food and to read a theology book ("The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) when I encountered a couple of friendly strangers and we wound up talking about life and spirituality.

It seemed like these two encounters really encapsulates how I feel like in general. More and more I feel like a stranger in a strange land wherever I go. Even the people and places once familiar to me, have changed and evolved. While in Saskatoon, I was catching up with people and spending time with old friends and it was a little weird. There were moments where I felt like I didn't fit anymore. Other times, just the reality of people continuing to live their lives made me just realize how truly free I feel to continue to wander.

Let me explain that last sentence further. Some people, perhaps most people or even all people at different points in their life, see familiarity as prime importance. That we huddle up with people we like and build each other up and strengthen the community. We fear leaving because we will have wasted relationships that we had built. As a human race, we seek to cling. It's a good thing. It allows us to dig into each other's lives and hopefully help each other out (and pray it does not go the other way into gossip). We live together (and die alone because the Lost reference must be used). It's how societies work. It doesn't matter what cultural background you come from, their is always an interdependence somewhere in the culture. Some focus on familial connections or community connections or faith-based or tribe-based, but every culture has it.

In any culture, you are going to have deviants to the structure. I feel very much like one of the deviants outside of the community. I reminded fairly frequently that I am fine with that. Mostly circumstance has created it I suppose, but even people who are outside a community wish to be apart of it (except for those who are like me and embrace it as oppose to fight it).

That said, I understand the importance of community. I get why we do team exercises at camps. Sometimes it feels like I get the point better than those who believe that community is of the utmost importance and go all gung ho into team exercises. I get that we need connections to other people. We need to be grounded from our own headspace, imaginations, selfishness and pride.

However, I feel like I get that from conversing with people that I meet at a random restaurant or from touching base with folk on occasion. I learn from people and their experiences and what brings them to now. I find the more familiar I get with people, the more alien I feel around them.

There are exceptions to this. There are some individuals that I feel like I could spend all day with and I could see them the next day and not feel like it would be difficult, but in terms of bigger groups I would say that I don't get that chummy feeling that others get. I just kind of go along with it. I suppose it's closely related to how I feel like a town is a town is a town. I don't hate or love Minnedosa. Or Winnipeg. Or Nelson. Or Vancouver. I've been finding nationalism more and more weird.

In essence, it's like I fit everywhere, but I fit nowhere and I'm fine with that. The troubling thing is that others are not. They think there's something wrong. Maybe there is. I realize (and others have pointed out) that this would be very difficult to bring someone close to me, specifically someone that I could marry. This is the tension I feel because I would love an ally to go with me on my journey to bring hope and hold loosely onto the world, but not a lot of women (and people in general) are geared like me and I can't expect that out of them. It's likely, I either cave and join in (like I tried before) or I continue to wander.

Ultimately, I don't have an answer. I am not sure of what to do, but I also feel like I have bigger priorities anyway. I am not worrying about this. I am not looking for a solution. I am not even saying I will think like this forever. Maybe something will change everything.

"Like most babies smell like butter
His smell smelled like no other
He was born scentless and senseless
He was born a scentless apprentice"
- "Scentless Apprentice" from the Nirvana album "In Utero"

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Christian Trump Card

I have found a place to pause and reflect. It's been a little while since my last post but that's because April was crazy month for me. Since I last posted (which I did shortly after my show at the high school), I visited Vancouver and Victoria to see my friends the Hildebrandts and the Dwyers (it is strange to refer to peers as chunks of family like that) as well to see one of my favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt. Then I came back to film more sketches for my May 1st show, went on the local radio station to promote the show, went to a farewell party for my dear friend Annalea, I filmed and edited baptism videos for some of the youth as well as the entire baptism service (which I then edited like it were an episode of Lost, though I did not add a smoke monster), did my show (which had a low turnout because it was a Sunday night and it was the last day of the local fair, but actually went very well) and then spent the last week getting my sermon ready for this weekend. I applied for a BC driver's license (since I'm here for another year), voted in an election, avoided a royal wedding, and loosely followed the story of the end of a madman (and also rediscovered my love for parentheses).

Busy, in other words.

Throughout this whole process, I have had a few conversations with a variety of folk and for some reason the conversation would lead to a mentioning of a passage of the Bible from John 14. It's the one that Christians use frequently use and reference and has been for me one used flippantly and always explained weird. By the way, this is sort of a condensed version of my sermon because of the prevalent discussions that lead up to it. This discussion cuts to the heart of what has pained me in my Christianity because it feels like we have been fundamentally missing the point as Christians.

The phrase that I am referring to is when Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me". In some conversations, this was a part of the problem of Christianity that makes it exclusionary and for others this is why they will not look to anything but the Bible for Truth. 

While I was growing up, that's how it was taught to me. That phrase was always taken to mean, "You need to accept Jesus as your savior and that you need to ask for forgiveness." That bothered me on the basis that the statement to explain to Jesus' words took a leap in logic and connected dots that don't very obviously connect. However, I was always told that that's what it is and I figured that maybe I would understand later because I must just be stupid. It has been proven in the past, so I went along with it.

However, it never was resolved, instead it was used a Christian trump card.

Now, without repeating my whole sermon (which will hopefully be online in the next few days), I want to cut to the chase.

The problem, I believe, with the Judeo-Christian religions is that it focuses on the wrong idea. We generally take the point of doing the religion rituals and being forgiven is so that we are blameless before God and so He will give us a pass. So we do whatever it is that we need to do to be considered clean, holy, righteous, blameless in His eyes. In the Old Testament, it was giving sacrifices. In Christianity, it's "accepting Jesus into your heart"(whatever that means).

If the point were to be blameless and forgiven by God, then why does God get upset at the sacrifices given in Isaiah 1 or why does Jesus clear the temple and throw out all the people selling animals for sacrifices in the Gospels?

I think the idea is that forgiveness is not the point. It is about changing your ways to get on with what we are really here for. What are we here for? To make things the way they should be. Bringing order to chaos. This is God's will that you see again and again in the Bible. You see it with how nature works.

My one friend's problem with asking God for forgiveness is that it makes us think that when we ask God for forgiveness, we think that that's being forgiven. However, it misses what being forgiven is. Doing that doesn't change us. Frequently as Christians, we have short-circuited what the process of forgiveness is. It's not just having our sins wiped away, but it's actually about moving on. Putting our past behind us. Putting the wrong actions we have done and putting them in the past and moving on towards being better. Putting the wrong actions of others that hurt us in the past. Actions and words that say we are less than or worthless. If we can't put our past behind us, it becomes much more difficult to do what I believe is our goal which is putting things back the way they should be.

That's why when Jesus stood up against the religious leaders which had a system in place that actually discouraged people from changing with them earning money off the sacrifices and having a strict set of religious rules which would be impossible for a person to uphold, it would inevitably lead him to a death sentence. We frequently dwell on Jesus' death on the cross as a sacrifice for mankind's sins, but the other side of it is what led him to the cross. It was his fight for injustice and fight to bring about change in the lives of people that would allow them to come alongside the real goal of God which is to put things back the way they should be.

The Way, I believe, is the way of a becoming the sacrifice. Living in a way that strives to put things back together, the way they should be.

The Truth, I believe that Jesus was getting at, was that he was teaching from the same law as the Pharisees, but he was teaching what the real goal of the law and religion was.

The Life is the fact that when we can help in the ongoing redemptive work, then that's where life thrives. When relationships are mended. When mercy is given. When we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, defend the case of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. These bring life. To you, to people, to the world.

Unfortunately, Christians still fall in the trap of thinking the point is being blameless before God. It's just our sacrifice has been upgraded to Jesus. But the sacrifice is still meaningless to them.

Ironically, it means that when people take the phrase "the way, the truth, and the life" to mean we need to ask forgiveness of Jesus as our sacrifice they may actually have taken it the exact opposite way it meant to be taken.

UPDATE: I figured I should add a more complete end instead of leaving things sort of up in the air. Specifically, the idea of forgiveness. I still believe that forgiveness is important. I hinted at it half way through, where forgiveness is actually more than the mere asking for forgiveness, but it also involves changing and putting our past behind us.

I'll use the same example as I did at the end of my sermon. Christians talk a lot about being cleaned and being made "white as snow" or "having the slate wiped clean". However, being a clean slate is not the point of Christianity. Instead, I believe our slates (or lives for those unable to follow the metaphor) should state that:
'God is good'
'God is love'
'God is justice'
'God is mercy'
'God is working'
'Christ is the way, the truth, and the life'

However, if our slates are cluttered with the sins and lies of others or with our own past and our continuing sin, then it becomes much more difficult for our slates to say those things. We find life in the ongoing work of the world's redemption, but we need to put to death the sins of our past. 

"I watch the heavens and I find a calling
Something I can do to change what's coming
Stay close to me while the sky is falling
Don't wanna be left alone, don't wanna be alone

World's on fire and
It's more than I can handle
I'll tap into the water
I try to pull my ship
I try to bring more
More than I can handle
Bring it to the table
Bring what I am able"
- "World on Fire" from the Sarah McLachlan album "Afterglow"