Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Brief Interlude of Art in the Midst of Heavy Posts

The last couple of posts have been heavies. No lie. So here's a slight change of pace with some recommendations from the realm of film, music, and literature.

1. French Cinema
The two of the best films I've watched so far this year have been from our friends in France. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly is utterly beautiful, and I challenge anyone to not be inspired to create after watching it. Tell No One has everything a good thriller could ask for: Intriguing plot with seemingly endless twists, excellent cinematography, incredible acting, and the feeling that it would be even better with a second viewing.

2. Canada, Iceland, and Compilations
I just purchased the new Constantines album this week, and I'm kicking myself for not getting it earlier. Our Age seems to be the best cut on the disc, and if you buy it on iTunes now, you can get an additional EP with alternate versions of some of their old and new songs (it's 5.99 right now!). As well, Sigur Ros got roped into a Take Away Show, and the results are awesome.

Finally, my roommate bought the Dark Was The Night double disc compilation, and it's been playing non-stop at our place ever since. Please, please, please give it a listen! Very, very good!

3. Books to Read
I haven't been reading many books lately. I've just been working on my own stories as of late. I guess I'll recommend that you read my stories one day when they get published.

Alright, I'm gone for a week of new staff training. Take these recommendations and run with them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

T.P.O.T.S.W.W.T.T.W.O.A.: Part 2

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

When I was in high school, a ‘sign’ of maturity amongst fellow youth groupers was the ability to begin to argue theology. This always came down to one pivotal argument: Calvin vs. Arminius. The arguing went days, weeks, months, and so forth. The you-can-lose-your-salvation crowd would say you can walk away from faith, while the once-saved-always-saved would emphasize the ‘saved by grace/faith not works’ notions to the fullest. Since those days, I have grown increasingly tired of the argument, especially since my views on salvation have drastically changed from then (salvation is not a commodity to be owned). I thought these arguments would stay in the past, but I remember catching up with an old friend a year ago, and he adamantly stuck to his guns by continuing to state that right belief in this area was pivotal.

I bring up these old arguments because they are key to something I see in this passage. I have been wrestling as of late with the importance of applying scripture in my life. I have loved studying scripture in community for the past four years, but in some ways I have found that it can amount to little more than those arguments in high school. Back then it was the pursuit of right knowledge that made us argue, and today it can be the same scene, but different environment. It has become apparent to me that unless we are finding ways to apply what we learn in scripture, then we are wasting our time reading old pieces of paper.

If I thought the first section upped the ante, well this takes it a step further. The whole saved by faith not works line can be such a cop out, because I know many people who in their mind believe they have faith, but that faith has no tangible expression (once again, this is a wide-yet-precarious road I walk down daily). They can go to university, or church, and pursue understanding there, but it remains just that: a collection of understandings. But where is the fruit? Works must – I repeat MUST – extend forth from our transformative moments with God, otherwise we’re taking the gift we’re getting and trampling it like swine trampling pearls, or like a recipient of a lung transplant chain-smoking.

This culture has embraced the notion of faith being private, but what a farce that is: to limit the divine to personal interactions and hoarding all the fruits and benefits for one’s self. A tree bears fruit to feeds others, not itself. And if a tree’s fruits aren’t feeding others, then the fruit rots on the branches and falls uselessly to the ground.

Do we often examine our lives and ask the following: Where is our fruit? What kind of fruit do we bear? Who are our false prophets leading us astray? I find it interesting that the image of the sheep would have brought up the image of Israel as God’s flock, so these false prophets spoken of probably looked like they were of Israel, but really we’re leading people onto another path. So what “Christianese-gimmicks” do we let others convince us of that take us off the hard path. I can think of a couple, but I’ll let the interpretation lie in other hands.

There’s a ton of self-reflection and assessment required out of these readings, and I think it is great/ridiculously humbling.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Part Of The Sermon Where We're Told To Watch Our Asses: Part 1

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

I’ve come across this passage numerous times in the last month, and I can’t seem to shake it. It scares the crap out of me because of how unsettling it is. It’s this constant reality check, and usually it will catch you strolling along the wide path. I’ve been talking a lot lately about choosing between two kingdoms, and this is it in a nutshell.

I can’t tell you how easy it is to believe that because of some sacrifice and tough life decisions I’ve made, I’m safely on the narrow path that will bring life. Man, there are so many times I trick myself into thinking I’m there, but I’m really on the other path. I just spent a whole chunk of time getting irritated around someone’s watering down of the narrow gate image, and then realized that the faults I saw in the other person’s journey were faults I didn’t want to see in mine. Perhaps that’s why the log and speck in the eye comments come from Jesus right before this. See how quick we can jump onto that wide path when we think we’re walking the narrow one?

One of the greatest lies I’ve ever heard is this: When you become a Christian everything gets better/easier in your life. You find me a ‘legitimate’ precedent for that anywhere in scripture and I’ll take you to the Keg for lunch. We buy this lie because we don’t want to be challenged/stretched/grown. We want to find that comfortable place in faith where we get a ticket to heaven, and ride things out until then. Call me blunt, but that sounds like the wide gate to me. I can say this however: living this faith out kills me every day as I am forced to confront pain, have awkward conversations with people, and spend my time doing things I don’t always want to do. But this upside is this: I get the reward of having hope, of seeing pain healed, of seeing broken relationships slowly restored, of seeing people feel valued, and that’s far more rewarding now than a comfortable life on cruise control offers.

I won’t lie. I’m also confused by this narrow gate image because it makes the kingdom of God seem like this thing that’s incredibly hard to get into, but some of the beautiful parables about it, like the parable of the banquet feast, show the opposite type of image: the gates are flung open and all are welcome to rush in. Perplexing no? For a while, with big questions like this I would chalk it up to yet another “mystery of God” that we’re supposed to spend our time “journeying” through. How post-modern of me. But by chalking it up, what I’m really doing is shirking my responsibility to wrestle with it, and believe that some truth will be revealed. Often I don’t; I just resign myself to journeying, unsure of any destination I’m journeying towards.

This could go on for hours folks. No lie. I spent three hours journaling about this yesterday, and a long while working on it tonight. I was afraid to write this because I feared that the zeal that has consumed me for this passage would put people off, and I’d finally become the religious nut I’ve sworn to never become. You can view me like that if you want, I don’t really care at this point. All I can really say is that this Sermon on the Mount is pretty revolutionary, and the ante keeps getting upped the deeper I get into it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I Work With Students

Today I am sitting in my favourite coffee shop doing some much needed reflection on some difficult scripture studies I’ve been in lately (don’t worry, there will be a big post on them later). Sometimes when I’m here I can’t help but overhear conversations that are taking place around, and today is no exception. There are two young women sitting ridiculously close to me (their table is mere inches form me) talking about relationships, morality, and lifestyle decisions.

Here are some of the gems I’ve overheard (not exactly verbatim, but the gist):

-I don’t want to get married. The notion of commitment is ridiculous. Perhaps I would consider an open marriage, or common law, but I would never commit myself to someone. I want to be open to find someone better when they come around.

-There is no such thing as right and wrong. There’s good and bad, but no right and wrong. People have such deluded understandings of morality. People need to think more like me.

-I want to live the life that I want until I’m 37, and then I want to adopt a teenager, because they are the ones that need stable environments. I could definitely offer that. I would never adopt a newborn because it’s way too much responsibility.

-You know what I miss? Breakfast keggers.

-The only things guys our age want are people to eat food with, watch TV with, and have the occasional intellectual conversation with. That’s why I’m not into relationships.

There have been so many points in time when I’ve wanted to jump in and say “Wow, you are selling yourself short of so much,” or “Sorry to interrupt, but I completely disagree with so much of what you’re saying.” But I can’t now because they just got up and left.

These are the dreams of so many students, and many of them are self-interested. Comments like the adoption one wear the guise of caring and selflessness, but lets be honest, it’s playing up the desire to nurture but only if its convenient. I don’t think the notion of unconditional love exists in this world.

This is the world I feel called to, because I have partaken in these dreams, and have seen the shallow underbelly of it all. I don’t do it from a place of complete understanding, but from one of wrestling with two very different dreams each day: the Kingdom of God dream and the dreams of the kingdoms of this culture. I don’t always choose into the Kingdom of God, but when I do it is transformative and beautiful, and compels me to strive for it more and more. And as I strive, I long to invite more and more people into discovering it for themselves.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Weekend Full of Stories

Went to see Guys and Dolls. It was fantastic!

Get an email saying that the short faith story I thought I was sharing at church this Sunday was indeed supposed to be replacing the sermon for all three services. I have no time to write anything up before now and then. Then I had an important coffee chat before heading off to Stouffville for a leadership-training weekend for GTA students. I was introduced to some of the students I’ll get to know next year. Barely slept Friday night because I was tossing and turning on the tiles of a change room floor. Gotta love retreats.

Start the day tired, but spend some really great time diving into the beginning of the story of Moses in Exodus. His fears, feelings of displacement, and identity issues resonate profoundly both with students and myself in the present time. When this is over at 3 o’clock, I rush with some other staff to a wedding shower. The shower was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I could be there. I was rooting for a guy named Jeff in the newlywed game, but then he called Obama and Ignatieff commies, so revisionist history tells me I was rooting for Frank all along.

When this is over, I rush back to Hamilton, jot down some quick thoughts about what I could say in the morning, before remembering the part in Exodus earlier that day when God says he’ll give Moses the words to say. Rather than shirk that responsibility like Moses does, I decide to let God take control of what I’m going to say in the morning. I go to bed at 11 o’clock.

I must have been extremely tired, because I didn’t hear the car slam into the telephone pole outside my window at 2 o’clock in the morning, but I sure did hear the emergency crews that came immediately. The flashing lights in my window force me to get up and see what’s going on. A car drove straight into the pole. Some people went to the hospital, but I think it was more for bruises and smoke-inhalation from the airbags. I still cannot believe the initial crash didn’t wake me. It took place literally 8 feet from my basement bedroom window.

While outside seeing the hustle and bustle of the emergency crews, I met one of the upstairs neighbours in the building who I haven’t met. It’s actually the first person I’ve officially met, and much friendlier than other people in the building. She says she enjoys hearing the piano being played in our apartment (and I thought it was a nuisance). When things start to quiet down we go back inside, and I go to bed. But the tow truck comes around 3:30, and it’s beeping while backing up keeps me awake. I’m sure I finally fell asleep at 4 o’clock.

Wake up at 7 o’clock, shower, grab a quick bowl of cereal, and rush off to church. I share my now-much-longer faith story with all three services, and God kicks butt by giving me the words to say. It felt great being able to share my story with the people I usually meet with at the 9:30 service, and there were no nerves whatsoever for that service. I feel safe and open in that context, and I found it very meaningful to be able to share my personal story with those I’ve come to know as family over the past year.Now I’m home in the apartment, and hopefully going to get some rest. I’ll be hearing from Pastor Pillow at the Bedside Baptist this afternoon, but I thought I should write this all down before I forgot about it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Scarlet Oak

I've been listening to a bunch of albums recently that would definitely be unpopular to the top 40 radio the kids seem to be listening to these days, but I'm loving it anyways. One is Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, and Buena Vista Social Club's self titled album is the other. The first has made me appreciate the value of a well told story over banjos, violins, washboards, and a whole plethora of other instruments, and the latter one has reintroduced me to the power of myth and meaning. I was reading the lyric translations for the some of their songs, and one in particular stood out to me about a love story between and girl and a tree.

So now, as strange is it may be, I find myself moving on from writing about car accidents to a love story between a scarlet oak tree and a young girl. Perhaps I'll throw the first couple of paragraphs up here in a bit.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Vision

I just came from a pretty remarkable weekend discussing vision. Why was it remarkable? Because I was able to confront my own misgivings around vision, and was invited into participating in a new vision that is extremely challenging yet exciting to embrace.

Our good friend Isaiah here had vision (see chapter 61) - one that was fulfilled hundreds of years later in someone's reading of it. And if it was fulfilled thousands of years ago, what's stopping us from getting on board with it? Maybe we think it's not really going to happen, or it's a pipe dream, or we're more comfortable limiting the scope of it. It's a pretty stellar vision - a film if you may - that is offered to us in 3-D, but so often I think we're content to watch it in 2-D... in black and white... with no sound... like it's a silent film... a silent film that is so silent that we don't let anyone else hear it, let alone see it.

I'm excited because of the future direction that Inter-Varsity is going in Canada. I can safely admit that I have settled for a maintaining mentality, or limited growth mentality, or even worse, a being-faithful-in-inevitable-decline-mentality, for a long long time. Not anymore though.

I'm excited for an insane challenge for growth that seems impossible. If I'm giving my life to this thing, I think I better be giving myself to something that is crazy, risky, and unattainable to the common eye. If not, and I'm just doing this to feel good about myself or "stay-the-course" in the best way possible, then it's a waste of all of our time. This is going to be tough, but there is joy going into it.

Danny Ocean had a vision for busting 3 casinos on fight night. That's piddly in comparison to what I'm going for. Yes, I just made a cheesy reference to Ocean's Eleven. But it's legit. So is what I'm going for.