Reflections: The Power of Abiding

Flickr photo “Solitude” by MindsEye_PJ

“That they might be with him” – Mark 3:14

In the beginning, the story goes, God spoke a cosmos into being, calling it out of chaos, drawing it with His words. Lifting a finger was needless with such omnipotence. Ironically, rest undergirded the most energetic endeavour in the universe.

Jesus’ incarnation unlocked the possibility of the divine experiencing physical weariness, but He knew how to abide in rest (a loyal, constant, and perseverant residence or frequent resort) as He had been abiding with His Father since the beginning. Out of this consistent residence with Father God, Jesus drew everything He needed in every circumstance.

With empathy at the core of God’s immanence, Jesus draws others into close relationship with him and teaches them all they are willing to hear. One of His most central teachings is abiding. Over and over again, Jesus tells the importance of abiding and models it with His lifestyle.

Rest undergirded the most energetic endeavour in the universe.

Mark 3:13-19 narrates the calling of Jesus’ twelve apostles, stating that Jesus wanted them, called them, and appointed them. To do what? First, to be with Him. The original commission of the twelve disciples, like the original commission of Israel, and the original commission of humankind, is to be with God, to do life with Him involved.

Second, Jesus gives His disciples authority – supernatural power. Power to preach, to heal sicknesses, and to cast out evil spirits. They receive the power to restore. They are likely eager to get out and start putting things right. After all, the church has been involved in justice from its inception. Yet rather than turning them loose, Jesus immediately pulls them into a house, bringing them back to their first appointment – to be with him.

With God dwelling in you, you are powerful. Make no mistake about it: unseen power is at work. The real question is what kind of power you are exercising. That depends whether you are becoming like God. If you abide in God, you will become like him. Without staying close to God, you cannot become like him and will inflict damage as His representative. Your first mission is to abide. The success of the second mission, and every subsequent challenge, depends on it.

Published in Converge Magazine, Vancouver, Canada.

We Need More Faith in the “F-word” [Part 2]

Some social conservatives (Christian ones, at that) argue that feminism is to blame for the breakdown of marriage and society. One well-known evangelical sadly suggests that feminism turns women into “lesbians who hate their husbands and kill their children”. But I’m sure he means that with love.

Some Christians, reading into admonitions for women not to teach or speak in church from New Testament epistles, have used scripture to legitimize their culture’s own existing sexism, settling for the status quo instead of envisioning a kingdom of Heaven culture where “there is no male nor female, slave nor freeman, Greek nor Jew” (Galatians 3:28).

These narrow-minded and ill-informed views are simply wrong. Feminism neither destroyed marriage nor created abortion. Feminism is mistakenly blamed for abortions, yet in China, third-trimester abortions and even infanticide take place regardless of the rights of women (or lack thereof). Women’s rights is not a culprit. As if it’s a bad idea to empower half of our society – or that somehow women cannot be trusted to handle power. It reeks of fear and manipulation.

Feminism isn’t responsible for breaking marriage, either. Marriages have been deeply broken for a long, long time, and children die where patriarchy reigns unchecked. In some regions of Somalia, the men take the first portion of food and whatever scraps are left over – if there are any – are given to the women and children. The family friend who witnessed this tragedy said it reminded him of child-sacrifice cultures associated with the god Moloch.

We’ve mentioned Christian faith, so let’s move on to the Bible. One cannot quote the letters to the Corinthians or letters to any other 1st century church with disdain for context. The people of Corinth wrestled with a pagan culture whose association of women’s involvement in religion was as temple prostitutes. Further, women were largely uneducated and untrained in literature, speaking and teaching — things necessary for a woman to teach effectively in church. Paul’s admonitions, offensive when read void of context in modern times, actually safeguarded the reputation of Christian Corinthian women and prevented poor teaching from being spread through the church in its fragile early years. What’s more, Paul celebrates and recognizes several female early church leaders: Julia, Junia, Mary, and Priscilla amongst them.

Nowadays, the story of women’s education is quite different. Recent studies concur that higher education is tipping heavily to the side of women, with females comprising more than 60% of enrolment in higher education. Modern women are articulate, empowered, and educated. St. Paul’s reasons for cautioning the women of ancient Corinth are absent in today’s Western context. Is it possible that God is asking us to think this one over?

Some churches address the issue by allowing women certain positions of authority but not senior teaching positions. It seems that to entrust our children’s education to female teachers at school but not at church is to hold a pretty laughable double standard.

So, what’s Christianity’s problem with feminism? The biggest kickback seems to be the link between feminism and humanism. Fine. Humanism is an ideology underpinned in naturalism, often with a bone to pick with Theology. But for the moment, let’s look at the common ground between Christianity and feminism, since it’s pretty clear that some Christians have found a way to harmonize their beliefs with feminist thinking. After all, Jesus’ followers are called to be peacemakers.

Dr. Allyson Jule at Trinity Western University‘s Gender Studies Institute helps her students and readers of her book Being Feminist, Being Christian to see how both Christianity and feminism desire for fullest human flourishing, freedom from all forms of oppression and compassion for the powerless. Both involve aims of justice and self-reflection. Both involve seeing others as equals. That’s significant common ground. From this, I would gladly argue that Christianity and feminism can inform and empower each other.

Let’s just consider one important distinction. While there are lots of intelligent, well-spoken, wonderful, prayerful Christian feminists, there is a temptation to claim Christ was a feminist. People who do this usually point to the book of Luke, seeing how Luke the physician made careful note of how Jesus interacted with women and with the disempowered. The problem is that we apply a 20th century school of thought to a 1st century man (who happens also to be the omniscient Creator of the Universe whose ways are above our ways). According to Christian belief, God is infinite, eternal, and transcends all of our notions. To apply the label “feminist” to Jesus is actually to limit his scope. It’s a bit like saying “God is a builder”, “God is an artist” or “God is a parent”. While these things are true about God, he is not limited to any one of them. There is a great children’s book about this called Old Turtle, which I recommend highly. He is, in the words of Pura, “all balances struck”. While Feminism has been helpful in critiquing injustice, promoting women’s rights, and pursuing equality, Jesus is God, and his plan to restore humanity is larger than that of Feminism. Instead of forcing Jesus into boxes, no matter how nice they look in the catalogue, let’s allow Him to deconstruct ours. He promises “behold, I make all things new”.

Deeper – JJ Heller

Deeper, JJ Heller’s eighth album, possesses raw power seemingly effortlessly. It’s upbeat and substantial, speaking to motherhood, marriage, friendship, fear and faith; these songs are fruit of the heart.

An acoustic guitar-driven collection with a touch of symphony, the instrumentation is delicate and diverse, ranging from roots-rock to soulful pop. JJ’s vocals are matched harmoniously by her husband Dave, who plays various instruments on the album. It’s beautifully produced and resonates richly.

Reflections: Expectations that Shape the Heart

Flickr photo by Jeff Kubina

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” – Matthew 11:3

John, the prophet who announced the coming Messiah, questioned his mission as he sat despondent in jail awaiting execution. Even seeing God in human form, John had to fight with disappointment and disbelief when Jesus wasn’t like he had expected.

People have incomplete perceptions of God and each other, and plenty of expectations about them. Anticipating many possibilities of a new acquaintance or a new relationship, familiarity will expose us to events that will shape our hearts. Depending on the grace in our perspective, we can take offense or retain “good soil” in our hearts. Some propagate the dangerous message that having no expectations is the easiest way out of relationship troubles, which is true albeit it will set you up for a void connection. No trouble, but no depth, either. A garden flourishes if the soil is first tilled.

More or less, we receive what we perceive. Expectations don’t necessarily kill relationship, but a certain kind of expectation can. Expecting my friend to fulfill me in a certain way may blind me to the many ways he is offering me things that could fulfil. But if I am watchful for his gestures that could potentially bless me, I will grasp them. What we focus on, we magnify.

Unvoiced expectations can damage a relationship. A partner’s expectation for the other to speak or act in a certain way can yield resentment unless tempered by grace. Staying silent about expectations to avoid an awkward moment might end up in greater agonies of misunderstanding and hope deferred, which makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).

Jesus knew about pouring into people without expecting to receive the same back. Though countless turned away, many of Jesus’ true friends paid ultimately for their love and commitment to him. 1 Corinthians 13 demonstrates how God’s love in us does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking. God’s love is not given in increments relative to how obedient or loving we are in return. The love God gives is not fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the wrongs done to it. Love never fails.

Scripture taken from the NIV and the Amplified Bible.

Watch This Space: Review of Gungor’s New Book

It is with delight that I announce that I’ve been picked to be a recipient of one of 50 pre-release manuscripts of Michael Gungor’s forthcoming book “The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse”.

This means I get an advanced look at the material and will be publishing a pre-release review of the book. I will be scouring this piece of literature and enjoying, analyzing, and reflecting on what Michael has to say about the arts and all else contained in life (if indeed, there is). I’ll have a review completed for release by October 9 (the official book release date).

For those who are not familiar, Michael Gungor is the lead instrumentalist and vocalist of the musical collective Gungor, an innovative and motley crew of jazz-trained musicians and  friends. Gungor was nominated for a Grammy for their last album, Ghosts Upon The Earth, described as follows:

Produced by the group’s namesake, Michael Gungor, Ghosts Upon the Earth was primarily written by Michael and his wife Lisa who is also a featured vocalist in this musical collective. Recorded in numerous locations, including the Gungor’s home, the album also includes seventeen players, four additional vocalists, a six-person string ensemble and a boy’s choir. Inspiration for the album was orchestrated from Gungor’s weeklong meditation in Assisi where he was inspired by the Saint’s view of the world, as well as from the birth of their daughter last year. (Source: M News)

The book comes out of Michael’s wrestling match with the “Christian music” establishment as a person whose musical was first “too trite” and then “too different” to succeed in that genre category. Michael has a lot to say about faith and the arts and last year gave a Q&A prior to each tour concert.

I will not be releasing any details about the manuscript until I release the review. For more information, visit Gungor’s site.

For my prior posts on Gungor, click these:

Gungor – Ghosts Upon The Earth Tour – Langley

Ghosts Upon The Earth (Album)

Gungor – Beautiful Things Tour – Langley

Beautiful Things (Album) (Published in Options Magazine)

Reflections: Perseverant Faith

“The testing of your faith produces patience” – James 1:3

In March, in the tiny community of Esperanza on the west side of Vancouver Island, our group was chopping wood when a hailstorm descended upon us with force, stinging the skin despite our jackets. We took cover until it lessened, then returned to our mauls. Our task was to serve the community by splitting enough wood to stock all the woodsheds. Having no alternative really streamlined our workdays: labour four hours in the morning, break for lunch, resume until dinnertime. Chopping was arduous but simple, as there’s one way to do it: hit the round in the right spot over and over again until it gives.

Many victories are possible through perseverance, and great harvests take time and work. Seeing results is encouraging, but we are tempted to live expecting rapid gratification. We rejoice over answers to heartfelt prayer and a return from seed we’ve sown. But when we don’t see them, faith is tested, sometimes in the company of frustration.

Faith is confident expectation. It involves waiting for something promised. Faith requires patience because everything doesn’t arrive at once, and we need a guard against anxiety about that. Patience allows the fruit of peace to grow.

Jesus declared we would receive the things we believe for in prayer (Matthew 21:22). Sometimes we ask amiss, praying our will be done rather than God’s. God, in his mercy, does not always conform the world to our desires! Yet despite that, God ardently desires for us to pray: “surely the sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Christ championed the virtue of perseverance in prayer. Perhaps we have not seen the wood split because we need to hit it a few more times. That’s one way to cultivate perseverance. God may be emphasizing work he wants to do in us to prepare the work he will do through us afterward. Though our prayers may be for the transformation of our situation, our prayers are simultaneously transforming us. Though it’s confusing and counter-intuitive, while you are interested in your destination, He is interested in your heart; entrust that to Him and he will prove trustworthy in it all. It is impossible for us to pray and for absolutely nothing to happen.

Nouwen: What We Feel Is Not Who We Are

I read this a few days ago and I felt there were many who might benefit from reading it:

Our emotional lives move up and down constantly.  Sometimes we experience great mood swings: from excitement to depression, from joy to sorrow, from inner harmony to inner chaos.  A little event, a word from someone, a disappointment in work, many things can trigger such mood swings.  Mostly we have little control over these changes.  It seems that they happen to us rather than being created by us.

 

Thus it is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life.  Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us.  As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are.  We are and remain, whatever our moods, God’s beloved children.

Taken from Bread for the Journey, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, ©1997 HarperSanFrancisco.

Reflections: Identity

Psalm 34:22 “No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.”

Some characters from the Bible are difficult to identify with. You may not feel the strongest connection to Samuel, Noah, or Job. But David is the Bible’s everyman. To the poor or the young, he is David the shepherd boy; to the eminent, he is David who celebrated majesty with enormous wealth.

We will follow someone we trust anywhere. Having overcome life struggles, David the psalmist is qualified to lead us into worship of God and through whatever life circumstance we find ourselves in. Interestingly enough, Psalm 34 was written after David feigned insanity to escape from trouble with an adversary; Bible times had awkward moments.

Philip Yancey’s The Bible Jesus Read tells how relevant the Psalms are: they contain almost every human emotion imaginable. Many churches fear tears. Many frown at laughter, expecting pious sufferers. But David, the “man after God’s own heart” is not afraid to expose his emotions to God, the creator of emotion. A person who knows God knows He is close to the broken-hearted as well as being the giver of joy.

David’s psalm sets the bar high with the opening line: “I will exalt the LORD at all times. His praise will always be on my lips.” Is this unrealistic? If we magnify God and focus on Him moment by moment, we will be prevented from focussing so much on our problems. Our perspective will be filled with His greatness and His ability to handle our situations. Consider the author. David went through hellish times and is qualified to provide a living example.

David has a lot to say about identity. Much recurrent pain we experience and require healing from stems from a broken identity. We become new by shedding old identities in metamorphosis.

David writes, “Those who look to God are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame.” Religion has a tendency to shame us by persuading us that we need to attain perfection. However, God’s message to humanity is diametrically opposite. It’s cheeky and potentially offensive how He calls us His “holy people” and “the righteousness of God” before we have even seen the final work of salvation. It is literally unbelievably good news.

He is the one in whom we find our new identity. We shed past wounds by receiving His love. We escape old habits by making Him our source of strength. As we go, He will provide appropriate “fires” in which we can choose refinement. Sadly, we can also choose to take offense and burn out. That’s why David invites the afflicted to join with him in worship. Our perspective will be changed after we taste God’s goodness.