Craving Community

In 2013, I decided to start writing on this blog. The reasons were entirely selfish; I think about a lot of things, but I don’t remember what I’ve been thinking about unless I write it down.

As anyone who has read anything on this page will know, there are times where I seem to write a lot and then there can be months on end where I don’t write anything. That is simply because I don’t feel like I am thinking about anything of real interest.

But then there are those occasional days that hit like a lightning bolt. After days and weeks of not being inspired by anything at all I get pummelled by a wealth of insight that fires the synapses in my brain and sends me thinking in a thousand directions … and so welcome to a post that is trying to capture multiple things I encountered today that made my brain melt.

——

2014-05-30-Confirmation-Bias

This is as good a place to start as anywhere because it captures the three things I want to touch on in a single cartoon strip; community, facts, and identity. So, how exactly are these three things related:

  • Humans crave community
  • Community shapes identity
  • Community and identity shape perceptions, which overrule facts

The first synapse to fire this morning occurred when I read an article entitled Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. While you can read the entire article for yourself, the basics are this; humans form perceptions very quickly and once they are formed, they are hard to change no matter how much new factual information is provided. Once we have an idea, we have a tendency to adapt new information to fit this idea rather than replace it based on the new information (this is called confirmation bias or “myside bias”). We also rely on other people’s expertise to the point that there is no sharp boundary between our ideas and those of other people in our “us” group. While this has allowed us to excel in a technological world – where we build on the accomplishments of people who have gone before us – it has very negative consequences when applied to opinions about things such as politics because we have a tendency to feel very passionate about policies and ideas we actually know little to nothing about.

I came away from this article thinking a lot about how our environment – our communities – have a very real impact on what we believe to be true. And then the second synapse fired …

The second article I read today was entitled Breaking Faith.  Once again, you can read the article for yourself if you’d like, but I’ll try to summarize it.

The article starts by describing the very real exodus from churches of millennials (and Americans as a whole). The focus of the article was not on why they are leaving (I have written elsewhere about some of those findings), but rather on what happens to them when they leave. The utopian belief was that as our countries get more secular, we will also become more tolerant of other people’s beliefs and things like the “culture wars” will naturally disappear due to simple demographics.

Unfortunately, this is not at all the case. What research is finding is that when people leave the church, they are not becoming more tolerant – they are simply becoming intolerant about different things. They may be less hostile to things like gay marriage, but they are becoming more hostile toward muslims, African American and latinos.

As people “disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation.”

Later in the day, I listened to a message from someone I respect, and while the main topic may not have related directly, one of the undercurrents in the message was how our perceptions of God shape how we speak about God.

“When you did these things, I was silent, so you thought I was exactly like you.” – Psalm 50:21

——

The unifying thread through everything flying through my head today was that humans crave community. We identify ourselves as a part of a community. That community can be as small as family or as large as race or nation, but our communities give us a unique identity.

Communities and identity shape our perceptions and make us very resistant to any facts – truth – that may shake our community identity and cause us to question who we are and what that means for our lives. Our desire for community can make us ignore facts – even facts that could hurt us if not properly recognized.

As some communities shrink, others grow. We redefine the boundaries of “us” and “them” based on our community – our tribe – and this shapes how we look at the world.

What we value.

How we think.

When I put all of these thoughts together I was left with a simply yet major question; how can we create a Christian community that people want to identify with?

If we recognize the importance of community in the life of all people, how can we, as God’s kingdom, create community that invites people to come, creates an environment where the want to stay, and provides a positive identity that people are proud to call their own?

People crave community – let’s give it to them.

——

On a personal note, I find it harder to call myself a Christian than it is to call myself Canadian. There is so much negative baggage attached to the label “Christian” these days — to many like myself it conjures images of judgemental, anti-science, intolerant people who refuse to engage culture or ask hard questions. To identify as “Christian”, I feel I must accept all these descriptions as well … that should not, and does not have to, be the case.

This is something we – as the church – can change.

How Do You Read the Bible?

There have been times in Christianity’s history where we have been called “people of the book”.

This is unfortunate.

Christians are not people of the book; we are “followers of The Way”.  We are people of the cross. We are little Christs.

The bible is an inspired book meant to reveal Jesus and without it, we would not have a record of the revelation of God in Jesus. It is crucially important. But discussions about the bible often lead to sentences like “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” which, unfortunately, doesn’t really settle anything.

For people who have not been exposed to the wide organism that is “the church”, it can come as a shock to hear that what the bible says is not widely agreed on. Each denomination tends to interpret the bible through its own lens and that lens is shaped by many factors.

And then, each person within that denomination may read the bible slightly differently as well.

This multitude of potential ways of interpreting the Bible is called “Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism” and it is at the core of virtually any disagreement that takes place within a church as well as within the church as a whole.

For example, the church I attend is in the middle of having a discussion around the role of women in leadership. There are people within the church who have put forward opinions based on “biblical” teaching … but that is where the real issue reveals itself. Both sides can use the bible as a starting point for claiming their view is the “biblical” viewpoint.

The real question the church will ultimately have to ask itself is “how do we read the bible?”

—-

I see two key ways the bible can be read (of course there could be many ways I have not considered, so feel free to expand my limited thoughts):

The first view sees the bible as the inspired word of God that should be taken “literally” and at “face-value”. It is similar to a guidebook or a roadmap that can provide us with everything we need in order to live a Godly life.

People who hold to this view of the bible have a tendency to go to the bible for definitive answers and these answers are not subject to questioning from non-biblical sources and/or alternative views found in scripture. Because things need to be taken at face-value, very little effort needs to be taken to determine context, literary devices such as metaphor, poetry, etc … because the bible needs to be accessible to everyone, not simply those with the time and money to afford a theological education.

The second view sees the bible as the inspired word of God that uses many differing ways of communicating to tell the story of God. It invites people to enter into the story and, while it will not often give definitive answers, will provide basic tools to help guide your choices and actions today – despite the very severely different cultural circumstance than when it was initially written. It does this because the same spirit that inspired its writing is with us as we read it, which allows that same inspiration to apply ancient words to modern contexts not of any importance in the time it was written.

People who hold this view of the bible tend to go to the bible for basic “rules of thumb” about how to handle a situation. They often see the bible as a dialogue with many alternate viewpoints and try to look for broad themes to guide their actions rather than simple rules. This leads to difficulties because without firm answers, they can never be sure their choices are right, just that their hearts are in the right place. They have a tendency to lean heavily on “expert” sources in order to unveil things they never would have discovered for themselves.

As you can tell, these are very different ways to approach the same written words. I’ve begun to see that most theological debates boil down – at their core – to a basic question of how one reads the bible. Each side of the debate cannot agree on the “rules of engagement”; how to treat the biblical texts.

As a result, people often find themselves speaking in a vacuum because the other side is simply not capable of seeing the bible through the same lens and therefore cannot see what the other sees as plainly taught in the bible.

My suggestion is to keep this in mind the next time you find yourself discussing the bible with someone who uses a scripture in a way you can’t understand. You may both be trying to form a biblical perspective … you just have a different view of what the bible is and how it should be used.

Have grace for “the other” and avoid trying to anoint your interpretive lens as the only interpretive lens — and be kind.

How to Build Relationships in a Post-Social Media World

A few years ago I wrote a series of posts titled “The Internet is Destroying My Brain”. Lately I have been thinking about some of the themes I discussed in that series as it relates to our current cultural climate and how we are now relating to one another both on a small scale and on a global scale. While you can go back and read the original posts (1, 2, 3, 4), one of the main things I tried to convey is that if we truly want to counteract the very real ways our brains are being shaped and reformed by the Internet, we need to take determined steps to cultivate alternative ways of interacting with people.

In the cultural climate that exists today – thanks in large part to our over-reliance on social media and the need for immediate information – we seem to have become incapable of having real conversations in which we seek to discover what other people actually think and what motivates them. Instead we either engage in constant exchanges where we talk past each other in an effort to be right (or at least have the last word) or we remove ourselves from relationships in order to avoid conflict and, as a by-product, create echo-chambers of like-mindedness where we never honestly and thoroughly listen to an opinion that contradicts our quickly-developed beliefs about the latest topic put in front of our hungry eyes.

Neither of these is a recipe for building a healthy relationship.

Constantly arguing with another person makes both people involved want to escape and limit their interactions with one another. While not as overtly hostile, removing oneself in order to “fake” peace is in many ways worse than open conflict. It often means a part of the person “faking it” has died. They no longer feel they can have an honest conversation with this person and would rather not bother even trying.

Relationships are not only hurt by aggressive conversations, they can be even more impacted by silence. At least conflict shows a passion – apathy shows the opposite.

——

To get a list of some ideas of how to counteract our digital culture’s impact on our brains (that I believe is still valid today), read the links above. What I want to focus on today are a few foundational relationship skills that seem to be deteriorating in both our interpersonal relationships and our global conversations. Some we can do whether or not they are reciprocated, while others require both parties commit to working on the relationship (although if they aren’t reciprocated, it probably means the relationship isn’t long for this world).

1. Listen

Really listen! This is one of the hardest thing to do these days. Listening doesn’t simply mean hearing what the other person is saying, it means probing in order to figure out what someone is actually trying to say. It means not simply hearing just enough to respond; it means keeping silent long enough to discover why a person is saying what they are saying (“One who spares words is knowledgeable; one who is cool in spirit has understanding. Even fools who keep silent are considered wise; when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent.”). People so often dance around what they actually want to say for any number of reasons, so in order to draw this out, silence and asking open questions (that are not loaded or leading in a certain direction) are key to actually hearing what a person wants to say.

This requires discipline. It requires time. It requires patience. Lots of patience. It is slow work in a fast-food world.

But listening is foundational to developing relationships.

2. The Disciplines of Selflessness & Empathy

Let’s just call a spade a spade – we’re all selfish. We are very good at quickly determining the benefits and threats to us in almost any conversation. (How does the teacher’s work-to-rule impact me? – or – How do teacher’s contract negotiations impact me?). We are not very good at all at setting aside how things impact us and instead trying to understand their impact on other people (How does work-to-rule impact the parents of child x who are no longer getting the supports they need? – or – How are working conditions affecting teacher x?).

While I could go down a path here to talk about how, as a Christian, the very centre of my faith is the absolute greatest act of selflessness. This is true and very much forms how I believe, but selflessness is essential in order to have any true relationship with another living person. Love requires that you suspend – at least temporarily – desires for self-preservation and self-interest and instead focus on the flourishing of another person. It can be as simple as putting aside a deadline in order to listen to a friend explain how hard a week they are having or it can be as big as putting yourself in harm’s way in order to protect a child. No matter what form it takes, love requires that you think about someone else above yourself.

This leads naturally to a second discipline; feeling empathy for another person. This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. The time you have selflessly taken to listen and try to understand where a person is coming from should lead you to understand them better and will hopefully help you feel how others are being affected by things you may not have previously understood.

We all share basic emotions and motivations and when we listen to understand, we begin to recognize how these can cause others to feel the way they do about whatever is causing conflict.

3. Trust

Relationships are built upon trust. Love and trust walk hand-in-hand.

Trust can only exist when both sides in a relationship are committed to building a trusting environment where the relationship can flourish. Trust can only be built by listening, loving selflessly, and empathizing with one another.

Trust means developing a shared space where each person can communicate honestly with one another and know that the relationship is safe – it will not implode because you reveal a part of yourself you have long kept hidden. It means knowing that another person will not just agree with you to “keep the peace”, but will speak honestly and call you on the ways you may be out of line, but in a way that is not motivated by self-interest, etc … (see above).

Without trust, a fake facade is all we can give to one another. This may all you want from many acquaintances, but is a poor substitute for a real friend. Real friendships are risky and can hurt, but trust allows us to see that the pain is temporary while the relationship will last.

Trust takes a long time to build and is very easy to lose.

4. Be Open to Change

This may seem self-explanatory – and it is – but too often we are not open to change. And people can feel whether or not you are open to change before a conversation even starts. Think about any number of conversations you have had where you enter into a conversation where you know right away that each of you is simply listening in order to respond rather than listening to actually listen. It seems to me that this defines a large number of conversations people have today.

But change is essential for growth.

People change. Relationships change as a result. In order to keep a relationship healthy, each person must change to reflect the changes in the other. It is the only way we can move together on the path of life.

If we are not open to change, we are not open to having relationships with others.

——

These are just a few things I have been thinking about and I am sure there are thousands of other things to consider. I believe these are both foundational and at the heart of the gospel call of God’s kingdom as well — funny how that works.

Rethink → Change Direction

We are given three unique accounts in the gospels of how Jesus publicly inaugurates his ministry in order to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God and its availability to all who wish to live in this new reality. Matthew and Mark both share the same announcement, so I will leave them to last, but I think each unveiling is worth noting because despite being unique, they appear to share a similar theme.

We’ll start with Luke (mostly because it is one of my favourite passages in the bible). In Luke 4 we see the beginning of Jesus ministry. Luke says that when Jesus began to teach in some synagogues he came to Nazareth and read from Isaiah that famous passage about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives and sight to the blind, to set free oppressed people, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and then claims that as of this day it is fulfilled.

This is essentially Jesus announcing that he is the Messiah who has come to announce the Kingdom of God is here. What I am interested in pointing out today is what happens next – people are confused.

So Jesus goes on … he says some very provocative things.

After mentioning that no prophet is accepted in their home town he gives two scandalous examples to make his point. He reaches back into the sacred history of the Israelites to mention two of her great prophets; Elijah and Elisha. He points out that while there were many people in need during the lives of each of these great men, neither was sent to rescue Israelite.

Elijah was sent to a widow in Sidon. Now because I am sure your historical geography is probably as bad as mine, Sidon was the first son of Canaan, which effectively makes him one of the Canaanites and part of a group of people the Israelites were traditionally understood to be prohibited from having contact with, and yet here is Jesus claiming that while Elijah could have helped many good Israelites, God sent him to assist one of their enemies.

Just to make sure they understand what he is getting at, Jesus then makes the same point about Elisha. Elisha could have healed any number of Israelites, but instead was sent to a Syrian – another adversary.

It was these examples that caused the townsfolk to turn against Jesus and want to drive him out. Why? This is Jesus announcing the availability and arrival of the Kingdom of God and it sure seems like he is suggesting that these very religious people may need to rethink who God’s governance is for. This goes against everything they held close as part of the religious belief system.

The very people who are most seeking God, somehow need to change direction in order to see what God is doing.

Now let’s move to John. While John starts his story of Jesus with the miracle of turning water to wine at Cana, you’ll recall that Jesus was not really thrilled to perform this miracle because “his time had not yet come”; essentially, he wasn’t ready to announce himself publicly as the Messiah ushering in the Kingdom of God.

It was what happens next that John uses to describe Jesus’ official proclamation – and that is the cleansing of the temple.

I think most people know this story, but briefly Jesus walks into the temple (which he has done many times before) and performs a prophetic act of driving the religious elite out of the temple and overturning their tables. Whatever else this act may mean, it most definitely starts by very obviously showing that the religious leaders, who had some very ardent and well-thought-out belief systems, needed to be shown they needed to rethink things in order to understand what the Kingdom of God truly looks like.

Jesus very openly was saying that what people had always believed may need to be overturned in order to understand a better way.

In this case, the leaders of the church somehow missed what God was up to and were being shown their need to rethink what his kingdom would look like.

Finally, let’s move to Matthew and Mark. Both writer’s tell us that Jesus’ launching into ministry began with the announcement:

  • “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matt. 4:17)
  • “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15)

Both announce that the Kingdom of God has been brought close to people with his arrival and also call people to “repent”.

Now this word “repent” is very interesting (which I am sure most of you know). It does not mean what we may commonly have unconsciously thought – to confess sins – but rather it means “to change one’s mind”. It implies that something has happened and as a result we must turn from what we formally thought toward something else instead.

In this case, the implication is very clear; the Kingdom of God has been brought to your doorstep and now you must rethink everything in light of this new reality. New creation is here and that will require giving up old patterns of thinking and living.

Jesus is calling his people to survey the new reality and change their mind about … well, pretty much everything.

And so, taken collectively, the four gospels seem to announce a consistent message; the arrival of the Kingdom of God in our midst requires that we cast aside everything we formerly thought, believed, and lived out in our lives and instead rethink everything we say, do, believe, and pursue because light has now come to the world and walking in darkness no longer makes sense.

This doesn’t just impact our inner, mental world, but needs to actively impact the way we walk in the world. The way we act in our workplaces. The way we support governments and their policies. The way we consume and purchase goods. The way we steward the planet.

These things all need to be rethought in light of God’s Kingdom having arrived on the scene. This “rethinking” is a never-ending process that will last the rest of our lives because we are constantly being changed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

And the people who seem to need this most are genuine, God-seeking people who have spent quite a bit of time thinking about his ways, his actions in the world, and what he will eventually come to do.

So, what might I need to rethink? Surely not that … (it’s probably that).

Claim versus Action

hypocrisy – noun | hi-ˈpä-krə-sē
1. The claim or pretense of having beliefs, standards, qualities, behaviours, virtues, motivations, etc. which one does not actually have.
2. Behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.


We will all have our hypocrisy revealed at one point or another in our lives. I would venture to say it is basically impossible to live a life in which what we claim to believe will not be contradicted by what our actions show we believe to be true.

Take a very simple example to start; a central belief all christians will claim to believe is that our trust is in the Lord alone. We may say that we trust God completely and that he will care for us, but will continue to (some might say ‘wisely’) invest in our future by saving money, obtaining further education, and seeking employment that will provide for all our needs.

We claim sole trust in God to provide, but our action show that we are hedging our bets at least somewhat since we need to provide for ourselves and our families … claim ≠ action.

Now that might appear as a very glib example – and it is – but I simply wanted to start by showcasing that we are all hypocrites to one degree or another. We often claim to believe what we think we should believe; not what we actually believe.

I believe this, in and of itself, is not a horrible sin. I would argue it is better to know what you should believe than to not know it at all, but ultimately it is also part of our journey to Christlikeness to recognize that while “I do believe …” we still need to pray that second part of the prayer in Mark 9:24, “… help my unbelief”.

It is good to be reminded that until our beliefs truly alter our actions we still have unbelief that we need God’s help to better imitate his way of doing things. I would hope that as we discover actions that do not line up with a stated claim, we would look for ways to repent – change our direction – and bring our actions more in line with our claims.

And that brings me to the “christian” hot-potato, political issue of abortion …


As christians, most of us would soundly and firmly state that we are “pro-life” in the holistic sense of the word. God is the giver of life and he created our lives in his image. That means we need to see each and every living thing as God’s creation, which we are to steward and protect.

Amen!

Now, being “pro-life” in the political arena has taken on a more narrow sense. In my own life I have had to confront the fact that while being pro-life certainly extends to life inside the womb, being pro-life does not end with birth, but that is a conversation for another time (think war, death penalty, military retaliations, etc …).

What I want to hopefully illuminate in this post is that while “pro-life” christian voters have focused their energies on changing and challenging the laws of the land, our focus has often been in the wrong place. In other words, our actions often have the effect of creating the very conditions that lead to a rise in abortion rates rather than declines … the exact opposite of what we claim to want.

So … as a starting point that everyone should be able to agree with; as a person who is pro-life, our goal should be to see abortion rates decline. We would like to see fewer pregnancies terminated by induced abortions … correct?

How this usually works its way out at the ballot box is that christians will vote for a candidate they feel is most likely to enact stricter abortion laws, or may even abolish them altogether.

Even if you believe these laws still may someday change, actual data has shown that stricter abortion laws do not result in lower abortion rates. In fact, the places in the world where abortion remains illegal most often have significantly higher rates of abortion than in places like Canada where it is fully accessible.

Just this past week, it was announced in the US that the abortion rate dropped to a rate lower than when it was made legal in 1973. In Canada, we have seen a similar downward trend over the past 20 years:

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-4-02-00-pm

So, what has been demonstrably shown to decrease abortion rates? While there are obviously many factors, these are the ones that stand out according to studies whenever they are completed:

  1. Access to health care and contraceptives – this may sound obvious, but as women have access to and education of how to utilize methods of contraception, abortion rates drop significantly. One of the best ways to act in a way that is “pro-life” is to campaign for and support increased access to quality health care and contraception.
  2. Economic stability – one of the leading reasons given for terminating a pregnancy is the fact people do not feel they are in a place to be able to support children financially (either for a first child or additional children). Studies have shown that when regions and communities are provided adequate jobs and financial security, abortion rates decline. True “pro-life” action that will see abortion rates decline means advocating for improved social security networks such as welfare, increased minimum wages, child credits, and more. Abortion declines as people do not have to worry about being unable to provide for their children.

So, using the US as an example, while most “pro-life” voters usually support the Republican party, data shows that the most precipitous declines in abortion rates have come while the Democrats have been in charge.

Actions speak louder than words and being pro-life for me means supporting things that actually lead to change. In this case, I am supportive of policies and actions that can be shown to reduce abortions. I want my actions to line up with the things I claim with my words.

Advent 2016 – How Long Oh Lord?

[I decided to re-write Habakkuk for an Advent post this year … seems relevant]

God, how long do we have to cry out for help before you listen?

How many times do we have to point out all the injustice in the world before you finally come to the rescue?

Why do you put all this evil and hardship in front of our faces and force us to stare at the horrors in the news day after day?

Violence is everywhere. People are oppressed wherever you look. Justice is a joke. The rich get richer and the judicial system benefits those oppressing people rather than the other way around.

God, you’re supposed to be omnipotent – all powerful – aren’t you? If you’re so “Holy”, God, you surely wouldn’t subject us to all this suffering would you?

God, you chose THOSE people to rule over us?

The “God-who-is-in-control” gave THEM the job of creating the rules and enforcing them?

You can’t be serious!

Surely you are incapable of allowing such evil laws – such repulsive things to go on in our nation!

So … why don’t you do something about it?

Why aren’t you saying anything? This is outrageous! Godly men and women are being consumed by the evil all around them and you just stand around and watch!

You’re treating men and women like fish in the ocean. We’re all swimming around but not getting anywhere. Then these evil people arrive and go fishing and pull in a good catch of fish. Their nets are full of your people.

Oh, and these people in power are so very happy! They think the ends justify the means and so they worship their methods and decide it will work again and again if they just do the same thing. They praise their horrible deceptions and the ways they’ve fooled good and Godly people and gotten them on their side.

And we believe them and that this is the way to succeed in life, after all, it’s how they got to where they are and they appear very successful.

Are you seriously going to let this go on and on? Will you let your people continue to be caught as if they’re nothing but fish?

So, God, what you say to say to my questions? I’m ready, but not expecting a good answer. I’ll watch to see if you actually do anything. I’ll wait to see what you have to say.

And then God answered:

“Make sure you make a note of this. Put it in your calendar so you don’t forget it because what I am about to tell you is going to tell you what is coming.

You can count on it, but if it seems like it will never arrive, wait a little longer.

Don’t worry, it’s on its way. It will come right on time.

All those people who think so highly of themselves and are bloated by self-importance —   they sure appear confident but their souls are empty. In contrast to that the person in right standing with God who is faithful and loyal is actually fully alive — really alive.

All those people who trust that money is the way to happiness and are arrogant because of their wealth — they look successful, but it won’t last. Their hunger for wealth and power is insatiable and can never be satisfied. All they get is the desire for more and more. Don’t give people like this a second thought. Soon the whole world will be taunting them. It won’t be long until the people they have cheated will treat them with the same contempt they have shown for so long. They’ll get a taste of their own medicine and will be paid back for the kingdom they have built on the backs of others.

All those people who are living it up and acting like the top dog who is above it all — they look like nothing bad can touch them, but really they have already started the chain of events that will lead to their downfall. When you don’t look after others, you’ve actually already ruined yourself. You’ve chipped away at the foundations of society and rotted the supporting walls of your own soul. You thought you were “getting ahead”, but when you do so without concern for everyone (even your enemies), everything crumbles.

All those people who take advantage of anyone in order to “get ahead”, don’t you know that God makes sure nothing comes of that but ashes?

Meanwhile the earth is beginning to fill up with awareness of God’s glory just like the waters cover the sea.

What is the point of things that aren’t lasting; things that will disappear as quickly as they first burst on the scene? There’s nothing to these things that is lasting; nothing that brings any real joy, peace, and contentment.

But, I am here! If you’re quiet, you can hear me all around. Stop paying so much attention to the noise and just listen for the still, small voice that has always been there!”

God, we’ve heard what people who have gone before us have said about you; help us to stop and listen.

Do it again God! Do the things among us that you did among them. Work among us as you worked among them. And as you reveal your truth and your eternal ways, remember mercy.

Although everything appears wrong – cherry trees don’t blossom, strawberries don’t ripen, apples are eaten by worms, there is no harvest, and livestock have all run away …

Even though all this is happening in front of our eyes, still we will sing joyful praise to God. We’ve decide to be filled with joy because of God our Saviour.

We are counting on God’s ways to prevail. Even though there may be no evidence to support it, we will gain strength from Him and trust that he will be proved truthful and just in the end.


… and that is what Advent is all about.

[Based off The Message version and NRSV]

Politics & Community

You may have noticed things have been a little quiet on here the last few months (or maybe not, that’s fine too).

I’ve been struggling to find words the last few months to properly describe my feelings about the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. I start trying to write and all that comes out are words that are going to be offensive to one side of a political fence or the other.

And so, I press “Delete” and move on, hoping that maybe some time later I’ll be able to express some of the things I am feeling to toss out there in the hopes someone will read them and consider what I’ve written.

It’s not that I think my ideas are better than others and its not that there aren’t enough words already floating around out there, but I do think sometimes crucial ideas and perspectives get lost because people are not willing to consider things outside of their own viewpoint.

The art of discernment appears to have been lost. The art of considering alternative viewpoints honestly and evaluating which should be accepted and which should be rejected appears to have been abandoned in favour of planting a flag. Nuance has disappeared and been replaced by inflexible, fundamental stances.

I have pressed “Delete” more in the past two months than ever … and I think that is a good thing. Some may call this “political correctness”, but in reality it is basic decency and respect for people with whom I may share a differing viewpoint; relationships with real, living and breathing people are always more important than where I may choose to plant my flag on any issue.

Given the amount of times I have self-censored myself in recent months, you could say I have put a lot of thought into some of things that are currently going on in the world of politics, most definitely and obviously in the US, but also in other places around the world (hi Brexit!) and I did want to share a few thoughts.

(Now, I obviously have my own political opinions and am asked every few years to express them with my vote in Canada, but I am trying to keep these thoughts as non-partisan as possible so that they are things that could be said of either side. Sometimes they may be more obvious on a single side, but that is not for me to say.)

1. The deterioration of “political correctness”. AKA: Compromise is Dead!

One of the things that has been heavily hammered on in the past year of campaigning in the US is the need to get rid of political correctness and speak openly what you have always thought and wanted to say. The implication is that showing self-control and respect for people with differing opinions than yourself is somehow a bad thing and should be cast aside as quickly as possible.

This happens on both sides of the fence and the cycle quickly deteriorates to mud-slinging and blaming everything (including the coming end of the world as we know it) on the opposite side of the political fence.

In reality, compromise is what living in a society is all about. It is the foundation of any and all relationships. From the time we have our first “play-date” as children and have to share toys for the first time, to learning to live in a marriage with another warm body, until the day we breath our last breath, life is about compromising.

In order to be in relationship with other people, we must give as much as we take. It is impossible to build a society without listening to others and meeting in the middle on many (if not all) issues.

This forms the basis of human relationships. It forms the basis of community. We cannot exist without it.

So, while it may feel energizing to simply ignore those voices and impulses that tell us to keep our mouths shut and instead just say “what we really think”, we are actually destroying the foundation of what allows us to live in community with others.

Self control is a gift of the Spirit for a reason. Let’s use it more and embrace it as a good thing rather than something to be sneered at.

2. Nuance Ain’t A Nuisance

We spend far too much time planting flags and not enough time planting seeds. We put our foot down on a lot of issues, but refuse to take a step toward understanding other people and the reasons for what they do and believe.

It is easy to make a blanket statement. I work in marketing and the only way this industry exists is by creating wide-reaching generalizations about people; what they like and what motivates them.

And when talking about large groups of people, these generalizations often prove accurate – at least accurate enough to decide that a person who would buy a new Apple Macbook Pro may also be interested in purchasing a new Mercedes Benz.

The problem is that a group of people is made up of many individuals and each individual has a story. Each individual is a unique blend of their culture, environment, education, and genetics. Each individuals is motivated by unique things and any generalizations don’t usually work.

The same can be said of any issue. It may be fine to draw a line and say “here and no further” on an issue as long as we are speaking generally, but the second that issue is given flesh and bones, lines tend to need to be re-drawn or even erased.

The reason goes back to relationships and an individual’s circumstances. Once you hear a person’s story as it relates to that issue – be it social assistance, child care, abortion, gay marriage, refugee relocation, the State of Israel – you realize that lines in the sand either need to be nuanced to death or simply put to death.

A person’s story is a powerful thing and no two are alike. Stories change your perspective. Stories show that an individual’s experience has a dramatic impact on how you view a issue in the future — even those issues you thought were cut and dry.

3. Truth and Perspective Aren’t the Same Thing

There is an old saying that “Perception is reality”, and that phrase is an important one for people who are tying to communicate with others, but it isn’t actually true.

The purpose of this saying was to explain to communicators that while what you are saying may be true, if people have already been convinced that it is not true, your job will be twice as difficult because you first need to change their perception before you can then present them with truth.

The point is not that whatever you believe to be true is actually true. That would be nonsense.

And so, just because somebody says something loud enough, strong enough, and often enough does not make that thing true.

Truth can be verified. It can be backed up and demonstrated to be true. It will be shown to be true time and time again.

Saying things like “Trump is just like Hitler and is going to take away our freedom”, or “Hillary has the Jezebel spirit on her and wants to open the borders to 650,000 refugees who we know nothing about” does not make them true.

Saying that God told you these things does not make them true.

Truth is not something we simply believe might be true. Truth is something that we can know for sure. There may be a lot more perspectives than actual truth in any election or situation, but we should be very careful about saying something is TRUE unless we know it actually is based on evidence.

It’s always best to vote based on things that are actually true about the candidate or party you are hoping to cast your vote for, but at the very least, try not to demonize others based on opinions or fears rather than truths.

4. Apocalypse Now! AKA: The Light Has Come and Revealed Much Darkness

The meaning of the word apocalypse is actually “to reveal”. No matter what you may think of either candidate in the US election, either side in the Brexit debate, and many more similar situations around the world, how many things have played out recently has been very revealing. And what it reveals isn’t pretty.

It reveals that we are far more likely to vote based on fear than hope.

It reveals we are far more likely to be against something than for something. We like to have something to blame for what is wrong.

It reveals we are far more likely to compromise a Kingdom of God vision for a kingdom of this world promise of temporary _______ (security, economic growth, morality laws …).

It reveals we still divide ourselves into tribes based on things like race, sex, nationality, religion …

It reveals that these tendencies are still in us all and no matter how hard we try to eradicate them, they are still simmering below the surface.

And what is worse is the fact we too often project these fears, compromises, tribal thinking, and scapegoating onto God. We claim his approval for things that are quite obviously opposed to his Kingdom way of thinking and convince ourselves that this is the better of two evils.

But the Kingdom of God never chooses between evils — it always works for good. And so God is never on the side of evil even if that evil is lesser than the other. To claim otherwise is just wrong.

To say God has chosen _____ as the next leader of the country, when in fact their proposed policies look nothing like the Kingdom of Heaven is quite simply a lie intended to persuade people to support your way of thinking.


This is the true tragedy of politics. In our desire for control, we take our politics and make them God’s politics rather than letting God’s politics dictate our politics. We reverse the equation and claim God’s support for our actions rather than looking at Jesus and modelling his actions in our politics.

The truth is that the Kingdom of God is not like any political party of this world. This is stated by Jesus himself when he explains why his disciples will not fight even when he is about to be crucified (“My kingdom is not of this world”).

Jesus tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will take care of itself.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies, bless those that persecute us, welcome to widow and the foreigner, to give more than is asked of us, and to sacrifice our very lives for the sake of others.

No political party exists that will do this and so no political party should have our allegiance. Of course you should vote your conscience, but God doesn’t endorse any political party and there are many ways to work with God in order to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

And isn’t that our priority as followers of Christ?

Selah