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]

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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

Cultural Filters

I was on Twitter the other day and a quick post from someone I don’t even know hit home. It dealt with how often my interpretation and understanding of the bible – and everything else for that matter – is learned from my environment, culture, and involuntary biases.

The comment dealt with this passage in John 4:

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” … So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” …

Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? …

Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” The woman replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!”

We all know that passage, but the comment that made me stop and think was this — we have been so conditioned by our culture to read this a certain way that there is no way we would EVER consider that the five husbands left her.

We read this and presume automatically that she is a women with loose morals. This despite the fact that in this time and culture, only a man could divorce his wife; and one of the most frequent reasons was due to infertility.

So, even when the cultural evidence relevant to the text would suggest that she is very likely the victim and at the lowest levels of society, our interpretation of the text has consistently blamed her for her loss.

Interesting and thought-provoking. Where else might I be bringing my own assumptions to a situation and not seeing things for what they really are?

Selective Reading

I was reading Psalm 15 today as part of the weekly readings at our church and it got me thinking about how we like to pick and choose what the bible has to say to us.

Here’s the Psalm:

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Now, most the time when we hear this Psalm used, it is simply the first couple of lines;

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right

That is fine, but it is also incomplete. The Psalm goes on to list a lot of things that define those “who may abide” in God’s tent or “dwell on” his holy hill.

  • speak the truth
  • do not make false or damaging statements about people (“slander”)
  • do no evil to their friends
  • take up disappointment or disapproval of their neighbours (“reproach”)
  • despise “the wicked” and honour people who “fear the Lord”
  • keep their promises even when it hurts them personally to do so
  • do not gain interest when lending money
  • do not take bribes to mistreat people who are innocent

That is a pretty impressive list … and also one that each and every one of us fail at every single day. While many days we may not knowingly make a false statement about someone, we frequently make damaging statements. We also are very often disappointed or disapprove of our “neighbours” – if you don’t think you do, remember the question asked of Jesus, “But, who is my neighbour?”.

Even if we don’t do that very often, we would definitely struggle with keeping a promise when it personally hurts us, and lending money in order to obtain interest is at the very centre of our economy; it’s how the stock market, our retirement savings, and even daily banking and investment works.

The bible is not a simple series of pithy statements that we can spout off to order our lives. The bible is to be wrestled with. It constantly challenges us and moves us in ways we are not expecting. It disturbs the life of people who feel “in control” and offers a “solid rock” to people who feel pulled under by the waves of chaos.

It can do all this things at once and will never let you think you have it figured out or have a “manual” for a Godly life. It’s not a book that can be tamed because it tells the story of a God who refuses to be tamed or reduced to series of statements.

The bible is wild and disruptive.

And whenever it doesn’t seem to be disrupting my life, all I need to do is read a bit more …

It’s Just Business

My recent adventure in “light-reading” has been on the theme of Capitalism and our profit-oriented economy.

I’ll be upfront from the start of this post — I don’t really have anything to say yet; but I have some things to think about and that is always the first step for me.

Let’s start at the point of contention I have with the way our economy works: our economic system is built around the concept of “making profit” rather than ensuring the financial security of all citizens (or at least as many as possible). Businesses exist to earn profits for those who own the business. Those profits may (or may not) then be reinvested in the business in an attempt to earn even more profit.

So, the first issue I am grappling with is the concept of profit itself. Profit is waste! Profit is something that has no real value to a society. It has value to a very small percentage of a society, but it does not benefit a community, a region, a country, or its people.

Profit can be reinvested, but is only ever done so with the hopes of earning more “waste”. Profit is, by its very definition, what is left over when everything has been paid for. It is “more than is needed” for the operation of a business.

A company can earn a lot of this “waste” (profit) and still not meet the expectations of its owners and so “lays off” real people in an effort to reduce costs and therefore earn more profit. The quickest way to increase profitability is to reduce staffing costs … so real people are hurt in the pursuit of profit.

That’s my first issue, but if you’re ever interested in light reading, you’ll find that this issue is at the very heart of our economy.

The way our economy is structured, all businesses must do two things:

  1. Expand
  2. Exploit

The first thing that must be done to “grow” and become profitable is to expand. A local market is not enough for a “successful” business. You must be able to expand into new markets and new sectors and new …

Growth requires expansion is your goal is profit. If your goal is to “make a living”, expansion is not necessary, but most businesses do not have the goal of simply making enough money to pay their bills, their employees, and sustain their business operations. Growth is key.

The second item seems a bit more tricky – since most businesses do not appear on the surface to be exploiting anything – but is easy to understand once you look at it a little closer.

In order to earn profit, a business must produce more than the sum of its inputs. What that means is if you take the raw materials that you purchase at $___ and add the human resource (staffing) costs you purchase from your employees at $____, you must be able to produce something that you can sell for more than the sum of those two numbers (and in real life, all the other numbers that are “expenses”).

In order to do this, a business must;

a) Reduce the cost for the raw materials below what is their “going price”.

b) Push employees to produce more than it costs to use them.

In each instance, this is the definition of exploitation. You are using your position of power and influence to either pay less for something than it is worth or to push that resource (especially human) to produce more than you are paying for.

If a business was paying real value for its inputs, profit would not exist. Profit can only be achieved by exploiting the inputs of the process and therefore receiving a greater price for the “sum of the parts”.

This may not seem horrendous on the surface – because it is subtle and a normal part of life – but business is built on the concept of exploiting for profit as opposed to building communal health, wealth, and well-being.

And that is what I am thinking about. Is this a good thing? Does the system have any real value? Who are the people being exploited in the process of my attempt at creating personal wealth? What would a “better way” look like? How can I make a difference in my circle of influence? What would a kingdom of God economy look like?

Happy thinking ….

Correct Focus?

Anybody who knows me will know how I feel about the “successfulness” of Christians protesting against laws our nation(s) create that move in the direction culture is heading. (Spoiler alert: I don’t feel they are worthwhile or effective 99.9% of the time).

One of the “issues” people have asked me about in relation to this in the past is abortion – isn’t this an example of an area where a Christian SHOULD take a stand against the laws? I am always slightly amused by the reactions I get when I don’t jump on the bandwagon and agree we should.

And a new study released recently (see here for a summary and a link to the full study – http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/surprising-new-findings-could-re-shape-pro-life-movement) has given me some actual data to give my standard answer some added weight … so here goes:

The place I start is this: whether we are pro-life or pro-choice (which I don’t see how those two options became pitted as opposite in this debate), I think we can all agree that in a perfect world, the number of people terminating unwanted pregnancies would be greatly reduced. In fact, it would be great if there was never another terminated pregnancy ever.

So far are we on the same page?

This is something I believe everyone can agree with. The new report this week indicates that approximately one in every four pregnancies worldwide end in abortion.

This is not good news! And I don’t believe a single person who is “pro-choice” would disagree that this is not an ideal statistic.

Where I have always diverged from the standard “evangelical” reaction to this data is in my response. Almost all the “pro-life” energy has focused on finding ways to convince our governments to change the laws to make abortion illegal or far less accessible.

I have never agreed that this is the best course of action. It appears to me to be a losing battle – and this new study shows that even if we were to be successful in changing our nation’s laws, it would have a negligible effect on abortion rates.

According to the studies, countries where abortion is illegal do not have lower abortion rates. They also don’t have higher abortion rates. The rates are essentially unaffected by the laws of the land. In fact, while the international abortion rate is increasing, most “developed” countries are seeing declining abortion rates. This is in countries where abortions are legal and accessible.

So, what does have the largest impact on abortion rates?

The answer is as simple as the solution is complex; money! Poverty plays the single largest role in contributing to abortions. Lack of money leads to reduced access to contraception, reduced ability to care for a child, reduced access to sexual education … and the list goes on.

And this, for me, has been my answer for years. I am 100% supportive of fighting the root causes that lead to the termination of pregnancies. I simply believe the root cause is unaffected by our laws and that fighting those laws can tend to distract us from finding solutions to the things that actually contribute to and create the conditions that lead to the decision to have an abortion.

Dealing with poverty is much harder than protesting a nation’s laws, but it’s where the action and potential change happens.

Maybe it’s time to adjust our focus?

Boundaries

Boundaries are funny things.

Boundaries matter, but they are also completely arbitrary.

Boundaries are how we determine which side of a line we are on, but they are completely man-made.

By looking at a boundary we can say with certainty that we are presently in Canada … and yet we decided where to put that line and call this side Canada and that side the USA.

This doesn’t just hold true for geographical boundaries. The thing about a boundary is that it is always a human creation. We create a litmus test – a boundary – in order to determine who is in and who is out.

Who is loving and who is not.

Who is “in sin” and who is “righteous”.

Who is a Christian and who has not yet made that commitment.

… And the list could go on.

We think in a very dualistic way; you are either on this side of a line or you are on that side of a line.

But reality doesn’t work that way.

Things are much more complicated than we would like to believe. There is a lot more grey than black or white.

Life is more like a continuum than neatly divided halves.

——

Think about our judicial system for a minute. Many laws would seem simple. For example, don’t kill anyone!

Simple enough right?

Except when a court attempts to determine if person x is guilty of killing someone, they begin to look at the situation. The circumstances. What happened that caused this death.

The court attempts to determine if a sinister motive exists, or if it was self defence, or if it was an accident. In the end these discussions help determine if the person has actually committed what we call a crime (the boundary) or not.

A determination is eventually made, but the process of making that decision shows how complicated things can be. (And where that boundary exists changes with geography and culture – each creates their own line).

Or think about giving a teen an instruction to clean their room. At the end of the day, you go to their room and see it hasn’t been cleaned. It is clear that the boundary you setup (clean your room) shows that the teen is on one side of that boundary (the room is not clean and they need to be disciplined).

When he or she gets home you ask them why they didn’t clean their room and you find out that between the time you spoke to them and now they haven’t been able to get home because the bus broke down and they have been stuck on the side of a road waiting for hours. They didn’t purposefully disobey the instruction and so most parents would understand the mitigating circumstances and loosen the boundary.

——

We create and re-create our boundaries. Boundaries can be incredibly important – especially during developmental stages of our lives when we need more structure – but we also need to be able to recognize when to loosen or re-draw the boundaries.

While my children are young, I may need to draw tight boundaries in order to help my kids learn how to be decent human beings, but the goal is always so that they will be able to develop into people who can make good choices on their own — without the need to have someone dictating what they can and cannot do at every step of their day. I may have to tell them they cannot eat all the candy they want at age 7 or 10, but the goal is so that when they are 25 and able to make their own choices, they will choose wisely.

The fact that a boundary is a human creation will, hopefully, make us humble as we look at the binaries we create (right/wrong) – creating a line in the sand may be important to properly structure our lives, but it is still something we create.

It is imaginary in that it is not a physical thing and is not a universal truth. We decide where to place the boundary and, while this is fine, we are not the ultimate judge. We are instructed to leave judgement to God himself and only to him.

Our boundaries are great … but they are only ours.

God is not contained within our boundaries.