Disparity Today

August 13, 2011


from The Globe and Mail


from The Big Picture

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Some Book Recommendations

August 13, 2009

A pastor must read.

I didn’t grow up around books. I’ve heard of childhoods where homes were filled with books, cracking open the mind (and hearts) to imagined worlds, truth and beauty. This wasn’t my childhood. My brother and I watched Don Cherry with my dad, playing hockey with ping pongs and paddles (I had a pretty good kick save).

But being who I am, shaped by God for what I now do, I can’t not read. It’s a requirement, actually. Not just to “get a degree” but as I’ve learned pastors must know words, what they mean, how they work together, how to re-define words and so redeem them, or see redemption through them.

Eugene Peterson, who has been influential in shaping my pastoral identity, makes this observation that pastors are like poets (from The Contemplative Pastor).

Poets are not primarily trying to tell us, or get us, to do something. By attending to words with playful discipline (or disciplined playfulness), they draw us into deeper respect both for words and for the reality they set before us.

Pastors are also in the word business. We preach, teach, and counsel using words. People often pay particular attention on the chance that God may be using our words to speak to them. We have a responsibility to use words accurately and well. But it isn’t easy. We live in a world where words are used carelessly by some, cunningly by others.

I read now, when I can. And when I can’t, I try to force myself to read. I read mostly Christian authors, because I know I still must be shaped by the wisdom they’ve gained from their walks, their reflection. I need to learn more, and grow. And, truth be told, I can’t not read because I simply don’t know it all.

Recently I’ve been asked for book recommendations. And all these requests come from a personal desire to grow deeper, spiritually. Below is a snapshot of an email that I just wrote to a brother in Christ seeking to grow by reading. This person is a self-proclaimed “non-reader,” and so I encouraged him that I was once one of those too.

Discipleship Essentials by Greg Ogden
This is more like a “bible study,” or material for group study. As the title suggests, it covers the basics of discipleship. I know you know most of these things (glance at the table of contents), but we always need to keep learning how to grow in each of these areas. I strongly recommend going through this book with either people in your fellowship, or a small group of committed guys.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson
I love this book, and have recommended this to a lot of people. Peterson never writes “how to do…” spirituality (or how to grow spiritually). He has a way with words that describes what the spiritual life looks like, and draws you into it…creating a desire to do it, live it. Peterson, who paraphrased the Bible into The Message (which Bono reads), and who had worked as a pastor for nearly 30 years, is deeply rooted in Scripture. I appreciate this about him. So, this book follows the outline of the Ascent Psalms (Psalm 120-134) and highlights key terms and concepts for the Christian. To get a good idea of what the book is about, read the opening chapter: Discipleship. I highly recommend this.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Originally not a book, but a series of radio shows broadcast in England on the BBC, Lewis’ intent was to make a plausible case for Christianity. It’s a classic–and one of the most popular Christian books–on apologetics. If you have already read Narnia (you should also, if you haven’t), you must read Mere Christianity.

Listening to God in Times of Choice: The Art of Discerning God’s Will by Gordon Smith
The more I speak with young adults like yourself, the more I hear (and am reminded of my own journey) for guidance in making big decisions in life. I know you’re in the middle of thinking this through, and to be sure, you will keep having these big decisions to make. This book has been helpful to me in this regard. It’s clear and lays out practical and effective ways to listen to God’s voice. There are many other books that speak on the same subject, so keep your eye out for these, if this strikes a chord with you.

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen
This is the shortest of all the books I’m mentioning here, but its impact on me is still reverberating. Especially as you’re discerning God’s call on you to serve in specific ways, I would say this is a must. If you want to grow as a Christian leader, heed the words of Nouwen closely. He writes simply. And his reflections will not be what you expect from a “leadership” book. No 1-2-3 steps on how to get people to follow you, but a powerful reminder of humble, Christ-like, Christ-centred, servant-like leadership.

Question: If someone asked you what books could shape them spiritually, what would you recommend?

Children as Children

November 12, 2008

children at the puppet theatre - paris.jpg

I love this photo.

It’s taken by a photo journalist named Alfred Eisenstaedt whose probably best known for this photo. The photo of the children, above, was taken in Paris at a puppet show just as the dragon was being slain.

The expression of each child in this photo is wonderful.

The girl with her right arm outstretched is trying to tell the dragon (or the slayer) something.
The girl in front of her is freaking. I can hear her screaming, all the way from 1963.
The boy at the far left can’t bear to listen, but must keep watching.
The girl just under the outstretched arm looks like she just had one of her lower molars taken out.
The girl at the far right–the one with the glasses and dark hair–reminds me of this guy.
And my favourite: the girl just right of centre, at the front, with her arm around her friend…priceless. Simply priceless.

Children are so full of wonder and delight. I suppose that’s why I like this photo so much. Each child responds to the world before them differently, but each response, each reaction is real. There’s nothing holding them back; they are who they are. If they’re unhappy, they’ll cry. If they’re glad, they’ll smile. My nephew the other day broke out in a heart-wrenching, red-faced, waterfall-of-tears cry. Why? Because there was no more ice cream. Ha! (I have it on video; I know, I’m cruel)

This photo also resonates with me because I’ve been reading this neat book called The Mystery of the Child by Martin E. Marty. I haven’t finished it, so I can’t comment about the whole book…but Marty’s argument fascinates me. Here’s his thesis:

…the provision of care for children will proceed on a radically revised and improved basis if instead of seeing the child first as a problem faced with a complex of problems, we see her as a mystery surrounded by mystery. The need to deal with problems will, of course, be pressing in the case of every child, but if this need dominates the thoughts and actions of those who provide care, much of the wonder and joy of relating to children will be shrouded or even lost.

Marty spends the whole book describing and defining what he means by mystery. And though I’ve not read the entire book yet, I get it. I know what he’s getting at. Children are better at wonder and mystery, than adults are…and I think this is a bit of what Jesus meant when he said we must all become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).

I’ll probably post more thoughts on this book in the future, but I should say now it is changing the way I think about my work with youth and also the way I think about parenting. No, I’m not becoming a parent soon. But I look forward to it, and what Marty advises actually excites me even more about children and relating to children.

If you like the photo (above) also, you’ll like this too.

Kayaking at Deep Cove

August 5, 2008


[credit photos 1, 4 & 5 to jo]

All summer Jo had wanted to go kayaking. Monday, we finally went!

I don’t usually jump at the first suggestion of any outdoor activity. I don’t know what it is. I quite like sports, but I don’t like sweating it out in the hot sun. I would rather stay cool, and smelling nice(r).

But…was I glad to finally go kayaking with Jo yesterday! It was a beautiful day. We already had a ‘full’ day: lunch with my parents and nephew, essential wedding dress shopping–for next year(!), light pasta dinner at Anton’s–without lining up–woo hoo. And last on our list of things to do…kayaking at Deep Cove.

Jo and I had kayaked before, in Hawaii. But that was three years ago. Water activity in Hawaii seems natural. Here in Canada…seems chilly-ish. But, nonetheless, I was so very glad we went.

The first thing we noticed were the waterfront houses. Not what we expected (I thought “the mountains,” “nature,” the “trees” would be what would strike us). There were so many of these large, retreat-like houses just hanging on the edge of craggy rocks. All of them had a private dock. There were either kayaks resting upside down, or medium sized motor boats tethered to these weathered wooden docks. Or both. Many of these houses, just a few paddles from the kayak rental beach, were multi-storied, had custom built staircases that winded down about 50 feet from the back porch to the water. They looked steep, but sturdy. One house, about 100 feet up, had a garage or entrance at the top of the cliff, with a glass elevator shaft about the length of two floors. I imagined the breathtaking view from the elevator across Indian Arm.

I suppose what surprised me was that there were houses like these not far from where I lived. I wondered how many other Vancouverites, having lived their entire lives in the city, have never known there were homes with such beautiful, natural, year-round surroundings. I come to places like this maybe once a year! That’s what struck me, as we navigated our way along the this shore. Just around the corner of the busy Inlet was this other world, this coastal haven nestled in the tall trees on the edge of North Vancouver. I wondered, do the people living here ever get tired of something so beautiful?

Near the end of our two hour rental, as the sun was sliding behind some range of mountains, the waters calmed and the sea water on our arms stopped evaporating. It became cool, but not cold. The noise of the jet boats and jet skis subsided, while we noticed friends and families gathering on porches enjoying salad and company. I enjoyed the smell of bbq.

On our 45-minute-non-stop-rush back to the rental beach, I finally saw what I was expecting. The calm, silky waters on which we were gliding immediately brought to mind, and heart, the Revelation vision of the heavenly throne, before which was what seemed like “a sea of glass, clear as crystal” (Revelation 4:6). It was smooth. Its movement was fluid. Though it seemed like a liquid window, I didn’t hesitate with my oar, knowing the reflection of the faint moonlight would not shatter, but simply absorb. This sea of glass carried me. A sense of peace flooded me. The joy of God visited me.

And for this, I’m so thankful.

Glory to God.

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea…

Haven’t written on this since last year. And before that, it’s been awhile.

I’ve been following my usual line-up of blogs. Some news, some friends, some reflections.

This reflection by Brett McCracken resonates so much with what has been on my mind and heart lately, I simply had to jot it down. So where else but here? (This is where I’m almost there, wherever there is.)

His reflection on Easter Saturday, or Holy Saturday, hits the wavelength I’m on, personally, and I think others too. Sunday is glorious. Friday is terrible. But what about Saturday, this “in-between?” How do we make sense of this day, this time, this tension? McCracken cites and pushes me to consider art (I like and understand film most) and how the tension of this Saturday gives umphh to art. He says, “embodying ‘Saturday’ is the highest calling of art: Saturday is where we live.”

Whenever Lost in Translation, Sufjan, The Thin Red Line and Easter are mentioned in one thought, I suppose it gets my attention.

AIDS and me

December 5, 2006

A confession: I haven’t cared about people with AIDS as much as I feel I should.

I came across these two videos online, and it got me thinking more. How do/can/should I respond?

God, grant me a compassion that reflects yours, for people suffering because of AIDS.

12 min photo story of men, women and children in Africa (by MediaStorm)

2.5 min report by TIME: “New Hope for Kids with AIDS”

The title of this post comes from an earlier post of mine reflecting on a passage by Nouwen in his book, In the Name of Jesus.

I’m tracking-back, because in that post, my friend left a question (as a comment) that has found a home in my head for a couple of months. A question I left unanswered.

In the post, I reflected on a thought by Nouwen who said that the Christian leader is not about upward mobility, but about downward mobility. What Nouwen is saying, as I understood it is, “Don’t simply stop at looking to climb the ladder…but look to climb down it.”

My friend asked, “So what does this look like?”

I started a reply, but I erased it after half a paragraph because I realized I didn’t know exactly what that looked like. That was odd. I realized what Nouwen was saying, but I couldn’t define it, picture it, see it–especially as it plays out in my life. My friend didn’t ask me how it looked in my life…but I eventually took it as a question about my life. The question went unanswered.

But today I came across “a conversation” with an old theologian that has helped me at least to give frame to what this downard mobility idea might look like.
He was asked…

Q: God has led you through many triumphs and trials. What have you learned about knowing His works and ways? What have you discovered about God that still thrills your soul?

His answer was…

A: I realize that all of my Christian life from beginning to end is His gift of grace. I’m still a sinner and I can only live by being forgiven by the mercy of God day to day. That has become a bigger and bigger thought for me. As I look over the 62 years I’ve been a Christian, one of the great things that God has been teaching me the whole time from start to finish—and is teaching me still—is that Christians grow down, downward into humility rather than upward into any form of achievement or success. If God gives achievement and success, those are His gifts and we should be thankful. But, if we are going to talk about growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ that all of us are called to pursue, the thing to grasp is that growing in grace, growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, is growing downward into humility in which one claims less and less for oneself. We become more insistent in saying, “Look, it’s entirely God’s grace to me. It isn’t in the least my effort, my volunteering, my performance. Anything that I’ve managed to do right is by His grace.”

This helped.

What does the downward mobility of a Christian leader (for any Christian!) look like?  Humility.  That is it.  Giving God glory for everything for it is entirely his grace on us.

All praise goes to God, because “all…life from beginning to end is His gift of grace.”

And who is this downward growing theologian? J.I. Packer, who knows a thing or two about knowing God.

welcome emma

October 13, 2006

Welcome Emma!

Instantly my life is changed.

She’s only 7lbs. and 49 hours old, but she’s changed my life instantly. And I didn’t quite expect it to be like this.

Even though we’ve all expected her and prepared for her, I’m floored by this immediate sense of joy and wonder and love in her arriving, in her. So small. So alive. So warm. I can’t explain it. I love her.

This is odd. I’ve not experienced these kind of feelings for another person before. Sure and new–and so instantly. Perhaps it’s the rush of seeing her for the first time, holding her for the first time, smelling her for the first time. Maybe it’s that she is the first of the next generation in both[!] our families–she’s certainly special in that way. Or, maybe it’s because she is simply sheer gift, all grace.

I think that might be it.

I love babies not just because they are cute, but because they remind that life is gift, all grace. Her soft toes, beautifully made. Her searching and widening eyes, delicately formed. Her voice–even her crying voice–wonderously tuned. All about her little body reminds that I, and her, and all others also, are made wonderfully in His image. In her smallness and weakness, in her natural neediness, she reminds of all my longings for God. And I need–I must–at at all times remember that my life, like Emma’s, is sheer gift, all grace. It’s a mystery made less a mystery.

That’s why I love babies and newborns. That’s why I love my new niece.

Welcome Emma.

God bless you and keep you all the days of your life.

wisdom from buechner

September 29, 2006

Snobs

Snobs are people who look down on other people, but that does not justify our looking down on them. Who can say what dark fears of being inferior lurk behind their superior airs or what they suffer in private for the slights they dish out in public?

Don’t look down on them for looking down on us. Look at them, instead, as friends we don’t know yet and who don’t yet know what they are missing in not knowing us.

That last bit sounds just a tinge snobby, no? =)  (Dote! That’s snobby of me to point that out!)

My reflection:

“Don’t point at a snob without first looking at the big door-knob of a snob that you are.”

(hopefully the last snobbish) wisdom from a recovering snob-a-holic

missional church basics

September 28, 2006

A pertinent question asked for quite some time, but also a question that many churches I know of (including mine!) are asking: What in the World is the Missional Church? Jonathan Leeman writes a pretty thorough article answering this very question. Here’s an excerpt:

[The church] doesn’t exist to draw people to itself and merely perpetuate its own institutional life, as was professedly the case throughout the history of “Christendom.” Rather, the church exists to proclaim the kingdom of God among men and women. By the same token, the unbiblical and church-centered language of “expanding” or “building” the kingdom of God is dropped, and the more biblical, God-centered language of “seeking,” “receiving,” or “entering” God’s kingdom is adopted.

Conversion is not just a profession of faith in Christ. Salvation is not only the rescue of the individual’s soul from the threat of God’s retribution. The gospel is not merely the news of what God has done in Christ to pardon individual sinners. [8] Rather, the gospel, salvation, and conversion are construed much more “holistically” or “comprehensively,” with ethical implications for every dimension of life and the message of reconciliation, justice, peace, healing, liberation, and love for the entire world: “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20, NRSV).

Seeking, receiving or entering God’s kingdom. To me, especially in regards to what I’ve been thinking about lately, this means God’s kingdom determines the structures (form, method and approach). Learning what this kingdom looks like and is all about is of first importance.  Determining structures should stem from what God’s kingdom looks like and is all about.
A great resource for Missional Church musings can be found at the blog of Kevin Cawley, a ThM student at Regent. Check it out.  I’ve found it very helpful.

about twenty-five years ago…

September 24, 2006

MompictureNEW350pixels

Those were the days.

In practically all the family photos we have (and we have lots!) our dad is hardly in any of them. But he’s there…behind the camera, carefully taking the shots, capturing the moments. It’s too bad. I would have liked to see more of what my dad looked like when he was young and thin and handsome. But just knowing that he was ‘there,’ that’s something I really take to heart and appreciate. First, we’d never have photos like this (at the Abbotsford Airshow) to look back upon, and second, we’d not know that mom and dad were around taking us to cool places like Abbotsford.

from leading to being led

September 15, 2006

From Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus:

…Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go.  Immediately after Peter has been commissioned to be a leader of his sheep, Jesus confronts him with the hard truth that the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places.  The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.  This might sound morbid and moschistic, but for those who have heard the voice of the first love and said yes to it, the downward-moving way of Jesus is the way to the joy and the peace of God, a joy and peace that is not of this world. (81-82)

Downard mobility.  Not “Don’t look to climb the ladder.”  I thought that was noble and “holy” enough.  But aim to go downward.

Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future.  It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest…I am speaking of a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love. (82)

I don’t think I aim downward nearly enough as I should.                                                         

CBC, ABC, OBC(?)…

September 14, 2006

Came across this course reading list at Seattle Pacific University’s School of Theolgy. Quite interesting. The course is titled Multi-Ethnic Ministries, and it has a lot of interesting observations and reflections on the Chinese Church in America. What surprised me is that the American Chinese Church has been thinking and living a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about regarding the future of Chinese churches in Canada (particularly Vancouver-Richmond).

Of the numerous issues raised and addressed in these readings, Ken Shigematsu’s article (I think it’s really dated) Ethnic Must Become Multi-ethnic, really strikes a chord. There are two ways of being church: target a homogeneous unit (all Chinese) or go for multi-ethnic. Shigematsu makes his stance clear, quoting an urban minsitry leader named John Perkins:

Homogeneity does not mirror the image of God. It cheapens the people who proclaim it and mocks God’s call for us to be agents of reconciliation. What makes it even more harmful is how it is justified: If we are segregated, more people will come and hear the Gospel, which in turn advances the kingdom of God … At the same time it increases the size of churches’ membership, it retards their spiritual growth.

I’ve faced this ‘tension’ before. I remember talking to a fellow Regent student a number of years back, and asked about the ‘validity’ of ethnic churches. I was stumped. She made the same points as Perkins above, and I couldn’t come up with a response. I’ve been thinking about it every since.  And I have come to some conclusions, but continue to think about it.

Shigematsu, of course, is currently senior pastor of the “flagship” Alliance church in BC, Tenth Avenue Alliance Church. It’s well known for its multi-ethnic congregation. And I think it’s great. (Try to count the number of nationalities on their home page!) It’s so good, I know of a number of my CBC friends go there instead of the Chinese churches they’ve grown up in.

I wonder where local Chinese churches are heading.

I agree with Shigematsu. Ethnic must become multi-ethnic. But before the question of how, I’m wondering when.

Floored.

Once in a while I come across another Eugene Peterson article I don’t expect. Before today, I’ve never read this article from the Christian Century (November 2003). I figure it was written about the time Peterson began his multi-volume work on Spiritual Theology, the first of which bears a title borrowed from a line from this Gerald Manley Hopkin’s sonnet:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung
bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This article is classic Peterson. I’ll be ruminating over it in the next while. Integrity. Congruence. Spirituality. Congregation. Scripture. Worship. His usual pointed and cutting shot at American (and, Canadian too!) consumerism in churches. All these words, thoughts and themes weaved into a definition (or rather a beautiful canvas of words) of what it means to be contemplative.

There’s so much for me to take from this article. From being pastor, to leading minsitry, to worship, to scripture…to my relationships. “Don’t rush,” is what I hear. “Don’t sell out the gospel.”

From Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church, Kenda Creasy Dean:

This is not to say that youth ministry as practical theology never needs car washes or lock-ins, only that these youth activities–like all church activities–are harnessed for a larger purpose: to enlist young people in the mission of God.

Just been thinking a lot about ‘youth ministry.’ Thinking about the way youth ministry is being done, and whether or not we’re doing that. This book seems promising (just started). It says youth ministry starts with theology. Creasy suggests that youth ministry is to be predicated on the concept of passionloving something enough to suffer for it. And that ‘something’ is of course someone, God.

I like how Creasy relates ‘practical theology’ to jazz; she calls it “improvisational rationality,”

…a way of thinking that places Christian tradition in conversation with the messy particularities of ministry: particular people with particular needs in particular situations, all of which are informed by a particular gospel.

The messy particulars. That’s where the gospel reaches. But, are we thinking on these terms? Are we living the gospel, but not being where the gospel reaches–the poor, the oppressed, the lives, thoughts and passion of youth? Can we “live” the gospel, without being in the places and with the people it is intending to reach?

I also thought about how ministry to youths is not so much a “I’ll show you what it looks like to live like Christ” kind of thing (although this is important-modeling Christ). Rather, I’ve begun to think more that it’s seeking together with each particular teen, journeying on his or her particular walk, and discovering with them the one True Love:

Since adolescents seek a caliber of love no human can possibly sustain without disappointment, the discovery of the one Love who really is worthy of sacrifice, who really does love us selflessly and extravagantly–the Love who never disappoints, who will not let them down, and who will not go away–is a discovery that reorders the self. For adolescents whose identities are works in progress, this discovery is the pearl of great price. (21)