What do I think about climate change?

Last spring I wrote a letter to a local newspaper, responding to a column written by a local pastor. This pastor had made the claim, in the context of what he considers climate change alarmism, that the Bible promises that human beings can never destroy the earth. My letter included both support and pushback for various things he wrote—mostly pushback, of course, otherwise why write a letter! (Yes, yes, it’s worth writing for encouragement and all that too!)

I was recently in a group context in which this topic unexpectedly came up again. The question was asked, “Do you believe in climate change?”1 There were negative grunts and firm shaking of heads. I suddenly felt very out of place. I’m not a scientist and I have not studied the data, so I’m not qualified to say a firm yes or no to human-caused climate change, but I do think that it is at the very least a very real possibility and that we should pay attention. I was thinking about how I would answer someone who asks me what I think about this issue and I thought I would write it down here.

+ Most Christians believe in sin in one way or another, that there is something within each human being, whether innately or through conditioning, which pulls us towards things that are selfish, harmful, evil, and while we don’t all struggle with the same sins, we all have some sins that we have a hard time resisting. Often we don’t even recognize that it’s a problem, or we deny it.

+ The Bible tells us that sin has an effect on the world around us. Not just other human beings, but to creation. For example, in the Genesis account, we see when Adam and Eve sin that suddenly they no longer are in harmony with the earth and they have to struggle against the ground in order to eat. And in Romans Paul writes that creation waits eagerly for the return of Jesus to make all things new, so that it will be released from the tyranny of decay, which by implication exists because of human sin.

+ Based on our understanding of sin and its effects, it stands to reason that as human beings work and create and build and consume, they will make choices, whether consciously or unconsciously, that seriously, and possibly irreparably, harm the world around them. And we will build systems and corporations—again, either consciously or unconsciously—which will do such damage on a much larger scale than any individual human or even group of humans could ever do, and do so impersonally, removed from any connection to the created world around it.2

+ I’ve heard Genesis 8:22 used as an argument against catastrophic climate change. That verse says, “As long as the earth endures, / seedtime and harvest, / cold and heat, / summer and winter, / day and night / will never cease” (NIV). I can see how someone might find this verse of great comfort in relation to the possibility of climate change. I note two things, however:

  1. These words are part of God’s promise to never destroy the earth by flood again, that he will never again destroy all living creatures as he did. This is not a promise about preventing what we might be able to do.3
  2. A key phrase in this verse is “As long as earth endures,” which actually puts a limit on this promise. Implied here is that there will come a time when the cycle of seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, etc. will end. Who or what will be the cause of that?4

I said this in my letter to the editor as well: none of this is meant to say that alarmism and panic are warranted or a good idea. It’s only to say that climate change denial is not necessarily the Christian or biblical position. In fact, I would say it isn’t. And in principle even climate change-denying Christians know this. It’s not uncommon to hear something like, “The Bible tells us that we need to care for creation, so we should pick up our garbage, recycle, not pollute”—climatologists would agree!—but then follow up with, “But the climate has always been changing so this so-called ‘climate change’ stuff is nonsense.”

The irony is that ultimately recycling and reducing pollution is exactly what climatologists and those in support of their findings are after! But of course, the loudest voice is the one everyone hears and responds to, extremism gets all the attention in the media, and our human inclination is to react to extremism with the opposite extreme. But if we listen to the voices in between, we will realize that we are much closer to each other on this issue than we think!

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1 As an aside, I find the question “do you believe in [insert idea or phenomenon]” an odd one. Do I believe in climate change? Do I believe in evolution? Do I believe in ghosts? I know what these questions mean, but perhaps because I understand the word “believe” as a term that refers to faith or trust or allegiance, I find it an odd word to use in connection to things we can’t have a relationship with.

2 This is also the reason why Christians of all people should understand an idea like systemic racism.

3 It’s interesting that those who are most likely to oppose efforts to curb climate change on the grounds of this verse promising that the earth will never be destroyed are also seem to be the most likely to insist that God will burn up the earth at the end of all things. Which brings us back to the question of what this verse actually means.

4 And does it make a difference if we answer that question based on this verse or other passages?

We can never get enough of beauty

This is my favourite spot in Canmore. I come and sit here for a while every time I’m staying in town. I’ve posted a variation of this picture on social media many times over the years (this edited on my phone, where it looks much more saturated than on my old laptop!).

I came here one morning last week to take in the view. I approached this edge and just as a trio of ducks (mergansers, according to my bird identification app) paddled into view. All three slipped under the water to feed. The water of the Bow River is crystal clear so I was able to see them swimming along the bottom pecking away among the rocks there. That was a cool moment. (“Cool” isn’t quite the right word, but “holy” might be too much?)

I sat on a bench among the trees and soon found myself fidgeting, getting on my phone to check out the satellite view and the local trails. I got up to walk back into town, but I didn’t feel right walking away without taking in the scene fully, with focus and without distraction. I felt the need to absorb it all, to take it all in deeply, so I decided it would be good for me to sit back down, put my phone away, and for ten minutes just watch and breathe in the mountain air. So that’s what I did. 

As I sat there, I thought about what it means to really take in the kind of beauty in front of me. I often have the feeling when I’m leaving a beautiful place that I didn’t give it enough time or attention and want to give it one more long look. But what would be enough time and attention to feel like I’ve really taken it in?

And then it dawned on me: I will never feel like I’ve given the beauty of the world enough time and attention. That’s the nature of beauty: there’s always more to gaze at, to notice and feel, so I’ll never feel like I’ve done it justice. Instead, I will need to return to it again and again to be reminded of the splendour of creation, to take in a little more, to see it change and grow, to wonder again and again.*

Then I got up and walked back into town, and I was okay with that. 

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*It struck me later that this same principle applies to all good things in life, like food or sex or work.

Blogging and more books!

Haven’t posted in almost a year and a half. I haven’t given up on blogging. Let’s say I needed a break and that this was a hiatus, like the professionals have. I’ve been thinking about getting back to this again. I do like writing, or the idea of writing, and lately I’ve had the urge to get back to it. Being notoriously undisciplined with this sort of thing, we will have to see how this actually turns out.

My IP guy is shuttering his business at the end of this year, so I will need to move this to some other platform. WordPress.com seems like the natural choice, blogger the more permanent—but then Google has unexpectedly shut things down before, so who really knows. Maybe I should go with something trendier, like SquareSpace.

In the mail today was my copy of Remainders of the Day: More Diaries from the Bookshop, Wigtown by Shaun Bythell. He’s a man about my age who has been running a used bookshop in small-town Scotland for more than 20 years. This is the third instalment in this series of books and I’ve been eagerly anticipating it. (I bought it from bookdepository.com, where I can get books on the UK release date, which is usually a couple of months earlier than the North American release date.) Each book is a year’s worth of diary entries, reflecting on the work, commenting on quirky and annoying customers and employees. Witty. Sarcastic. Quite enjoyable.

I realized that three out of the four books I’m actively reading right now are a sort of book version of social media. I’m reading the bookshop diary, which is a series of relatively short entries, which I can read in fits and starts. I’m also reading In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin’s travel book from the 70s, which has short, episodic chapters; and Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, which is also a series of relatively short entries, being a collection of his letters. Bite-sized reading, like Twitter, or watching YouTube. It’s easy to read this way, but it doesn’t make deeper, longer reading—a skill many are losing—any easier.

I suspect I read these kinds of books as a kind of escapism, even though they are all non-fiction and reflect real life. I imagine what the lives and experiences of the narrators are like. World travellers fascinate me, though I’m not sure it would interest me as something to do unless I had all the time and money in the world to do it leisurely and comfortably. No long-term backpacking and hitchhiking for me. Writers also fascinate me, but so far Kurt Vonnegut’s life, at least according to his letters, is very ordinary, which is as it should be, I suppose. Of the three, used bookshop owner is the one that appeals most to me—especially if it’s a used bookshop somewhere in small-town UK, is a sleepy one like Shaun’s that also somehow pays the bills, and also involves writing bestselling diaries (best of both worlds!)

I’ve been on a bit of a book tear, recently. Somehow I ended up reading a list of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and several stood out to me. I’ve had good enjoyment luck with Pulitzer-winning books (exception: Empire Falls was underwhelming, but I didn’t read it because it won the prize, but because a “If you liked this book, you’ll like that book” website recommended it, based on my love of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Turns out that’s not necessarily how things work.) Anyway, I wanted to find some new novels to read and the list of winners seemed as good a place as any to start.

I made a list of books I’m interested in and added them to my birthday wishlist. Then I also came across a “Best Travel Books” list on Goodreads. Wanting to expand my travel reading out from Bill Bryson and John Krakauer, I added more to the list. Then I remembered I wanted to clear out my bookshelves a bit, which I did, and traded for solid credit at George Strange’s Bookmart, as used bookstore in Brandon, the nearby city. There I found quite a few gems—novels, travelogues, some of which were on my list, and an account of some 17th or 18th century disaster at sea. Somewhere in there, after seeing Beyond Van Gogh: the Immersive Experience and being quite moved by the whole thing, including his written words, I acquired a copy of Van Gogh’s letters.

And now I’m set for reading for a while. Because I wasn’t before, right?

I couldn’t read in 2020

Since 2007 I’ve kept a notebook in which I record every book I finish reading in a given year (though I didn’t always start reading them in that year) and the date I complete it. I was just now entering the last book I finished—an hour ago: A Burning in My Bones, the new Eugene Peterson biography—and had a look at previous entries. I keep telling people that I, too, suffered from the common pandemic affliction of being unable to read. I’ve just been too distracted and too tired to focus on reading, is what I say. But when I flipped back in my notebook to last year’s list and then flipped back through all the years of reading before then, I was surprised to see that last year I finished more books than I had in any of the nine years before that.

Then for a moment, I thought that it was just that I was unable to read certain kinds of books, not books generally. Reading in theology and Christian discipleship is pretty important to me, but those books are not always easy to focus on, and so I must not have read much of that last year. But looking more closely, I see that about a third of the books I read would broadly fit into the theology/discipleship category. So that’s not it, either.

I can’t explain the incongruence with the sense that I was unable to read—which I suppose was at least true for extended periods of time during the pandemic…nope: on average two books every month without missing a month—and the actual number of books I recorded in my notebook for 2020.

But I do see that the list was beefed up by the seven Harry Potter books, which I breezed through in September and October (should children’s books count?) and there are also three Billy Collins poetry collections I recorded for 2020. I’m not sure whether I should count poetry collections, which tend to be short, or if they should count as only a fraction of a book each, so that the three Collins collections would count as maybe one book. But then I imagine it took as much time for me to get through Collins’ books as it did to get through the earlier Harry Potter books, and I derived equal pleasure from both authors.

I read two Marilynne Robinson books—Home and Lila, sequels of sorts to Gilead—in anticipation of the release of her new book, Jack. I think I enjoyed those books. I think I did. She’s one of those authors who keeps me reading, but I always wonder if there’s something I’m missing in the story, something I’m supposed to get, but don’t.

I reread Orwell’s 1984, because my daughter was (supposed to be) reading it for school and I thought I would read it along with her. It also seemed fitting for the political climate of the day (I’m told Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is an even better fit, but I didn’t get to that one). I reread Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, one of those books I read for the first time after I saw the film adaptation, but which I think may have make the experience of reading it that much better (but I can’t know for sure, since I haven’t read it any other way). I imagine the desert scenes and yellow colouring of the film as I read and it warms me up. I reread Wodehouse’s Thank You, Jeeves, because, well, it’s Wodehouse and was surprised by vaguely racist content that I didn’t remember being there.

I read a pastoral book by Eugene Peterson and a book of Peterson’s letters to his son. Then I struggled through an old translation of George Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest, because I had heard Peterson recommend it as essential reading for a pastor. I didn’t love it, but I was fascinated by it, so I ordered a newer translation to give it a second go sometime. I was disappointed by a monk’s memoir. I read other theological and spiritual books, but I don’t remember much about most of them, but I tend to think of them more as mind shaping than books to remember.

The year started with a book I was very excited about: David Orr’s The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, which is about Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and how, well, we all get it wrong. The book interested me because I’ve long thought that most people misused the poem, or at least Dead Poet’s Society did. The book was interesting, but didn’t fulfill my high expectations.

I canoed along in my imagination with Adam Shoalts as he mapped unmapped territory in northern Ontario in Alone Against the North. I enjoyed the Diary of the proprietor (name of Shaun Bythell) of a used bookstore in a remote Scottish town, and then immediately ordered and consumed his Confessions. I was disappointed by the autobiography of Garrison Keillor, a man whose storytelling I admire, but perhaps fiction is better than fact.

The high point of my year in books could be either one of two books. Ben MacIntyre’s The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, really was a great espionage story. Le Carré, but real life. Gripping. The Cold War was really great for books, wasn’t it? John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air left me breathless (pun not intended until I realized what I had written). I’m not sure which of the two was better, but then they’re very different books. I would recommend them both eagerly and unreservedly.

I guess I was able to read in 2020 after all.

Church memories

This was my church experience when I first moved to Canada in the 80s. Song leader conducting from behind the pulpit; hymns with piano and organ only; “Number 233 in your hymnals, number 233,” says the song leader as the organ and piano kick in. And at that time, this was probably my favourite hymn. I loved the cadence of it—the round and counter-melody in the chorus made it a bouncy and jovial song, fun for an eight or nine year old.

I posted that on Facebook yesterday. I’m not sure why that song came to mind then, but it brought to mind another memory from our early years in Caronport, at town with about 800 permanent residents at the time, but an influx of 1,500 or so high school and Bible college students during the school year.

This memory must be from quite early on—1986 or 1987, probably—because church was no longer in the “Old Chapel” (a building converted from whatever it was when the town was a military airbase in the 1930s) and we were still attending church in the new multi-thousand seat Hildebrand Chapel (in later years we drove to another nearby town for church).

This particular Sunday in my memory, I lingered after Sunday school with my friends and got to the service after it had started. My dad was standing at the top of the aisle waiting for me—right about here, actually:

Image from Parker Architects (parkerarchitects.ca)

He stood there in his baby blue blazer—I can’t remember if his slacks matched the blazer or if they were grey—hands in his pockets, looking around trying to find me. I was young and the auditorium was large and filled with people, so he was probably and understandably concerned.

What strikes me is that every time I think about this moment I feel a deep sadness. It’s not a sadness related to dad’s passing. Rather, it’s a feeling I’ve carried with me from that very moment, feelings I’ve never been able to explain fully. They have something to do with feeling like I had disappointed dad, or that he looked so concerned about my whereabouts that I was sad that I had been so cavalier and inconsiderate about not getting to the service on time.

I don’t know what dad was thinking or how he was feeling, but in retrospect it was probably annoyance or even anger at my tardiness. I’ve never asked him, not least because for him and probably anyone else this was an unremarkable moment. But for me it was significant in a way I’ve never been able to fully understand—significant enough for me to carry with me for thirty years.

This memory brings up those same feelings to this day.

On being a pastor and a friend

I think I’ve learned more about pastoring and friendship in the last week-and-a-half since announcing my resignation at this church than I had in the previous 8 years in ministry here. Much of my focus has been on my job description, the things I’m supposed to do and come up with—teaching, programming, new ideas, resourcing, administration, oversight, and so on. I spent a lot of time worrying about making things happen and whether or not I was meeting the not-always-fleshed-out expectations people had for my role. I’ve often wondered if I’m “making a difference” or “having an impact,” and not always knowing the answer, have kept striving for something unknown. It has led so some frustration and a lot of self-doubt and second-guessing.

You hear things when you are saying goodbye to people that you’re unlikely to hear until then. And it’s in the outpouring of love and care and emotion as we say goodbye that I’m seeing the pastoral calling with new eyes. What ultimately seems to matter and make a difference is that I am there and that I care. I get involved in ordinary life. What mattes is presence.

If I had learned this lesson sooner, it would have saved quite a bit of fretting. I would have cultivated relationships more than I have. I would have done things differently. On the other hand, it’s possible that I couldn’t have learned this lesson without some of the things I’ve struggled with over the years.

I’m sure I’ve known this stuff for a long time, and I’ve certainly heard it before, even repeatedly—not least from the writings of Eugene Peterson, that pastor of pastors—but I also know that most learning happens by experience. At any rate, I take this new perspective to my next call, where there will be new things to learn.

I’ve also begun pondering friendship. My personality has led me to believe that friendship is about time spent together and deep conversations, and that it’s cultivated by being together and talking regularly. I still believe that’s how friendships go really deep. And yet I’m also learning that I will be considered a friend even after intermittent, occasional conversations and connections. Perhaps I should shift my perspective there, too, and not let my insecurities get in my way. Maybe I need to start calling more people “friend” much sooner than I do.

On Moving

On Sunday I announced to my church that I have been called to be senior pastor of Minnedosa Evangelical Covenant Church in Manitoba and that I would be resigning my position at Malmo Mission Covenant Church. It was an emotional moment. I don’t think I’ve ever cried publicly before, but I sure did then. It’s hard to say goodbye and it’s even harder to see my children say goodbye to their friends.

And yet when I reflect on it, moving itself is not a big deal to me. I have moved so many times in my life that it’s mostly just normal procedure. I hate the packing and the cleaning, but the actual geographical shift is not such a big deal.

  • I was born in the Netherlands in December 1977, where we lived in a townhouse, which in my memory was a wonderful little place.
  • In 1985, when I was seven-and-a-half years old I moved from that townhouse in the Netherlands to small-town Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • In Caronport, a town with a permanent population of 800 people, we moved four times. I lived in our last house there for about 9 years.
  • August 1997, I moved to Regina, Saskatchewan to attend university. For three summers I would move all my stuff back home.
  • January 2002 Dixie and I moved to Prince Albert. We lived in Prince Albert for about seven years and during that time we moved three times.
  • August 2009 we moved to Otterburne, Manitoba to attend seminary.
  • July 2012 we moved to a field near Malmo Mission Covenant Church in Alberta.
  • November 2015 we moved to a house in the city of Wetaskiwin, Alberta.
  • In 2021 we will move to Minnedosa, Manitoba.

I sometimes envy those people who have permanent geographical roots. I know so many families, particularly farm families, that have several generations of history within a one mile radius. I know one gentleman in his seventies who has lived in the same house pretty much his whole life. I can’t imagine what that kind of permanence means. I’m sure there are both good and bad things about that, but, being (nearly) 43 years old now, I’ll never know what that’s like.

I consider Caronport my home town, but my parents moved away from there some fifteen years ago. So there’s not even that as an anchor.

But my kids…my youngest daughter has observed several times in our conversations about moving that here is the longest we’ve lived anywhere as a family, but this area (8 years) and this house (5 years). She had hoped she wouldn’t have to move again. Alas, it is not to be.

I wonder what effect all the moving I’ve done in my life has had on my personality and my emotions. For example, I’ve never really missed people a whole lot, not even my parents, and maybe that has been an unconscious mechanism to cope with moving. When I first moved out I lived only 45 minutes away from my parents, but I only went home every couple of months and didn’t talk to them on the phone much more. As my mom ages, I occasionally do wish I could see her more often, to just be able to drop in whenever I want to. As it is, she’s a 10-hour drive away, and we’re moving farther away from her now. When I stay home and my wife and children go away I sometimes miss them, but, strangely, when I go away and leave them at home, I don’t feel that so much.

No, moving is not a great hardship for me. What’s hard about moving is seeing how hard it is for everyone else, not least my youngest daughter.

Hot takes and social media blurbs don’t lead to understanding.

I think my new approach to many of the issues of our day is going to be to reserve judgment until I know more, and I encourage you, reader, to do the same.

We can’t take our cues from hot takes and scare words on social media. We don’t gain understanding that way. That is the way of reactivity. And we should be cautious about taking one person’s word for it on any subject, especially if they are already in our “camp” and even more especially if they aren’t qualified to comment.

Instead, read widely and deeply about the things the world is talking about—not necessarily to get on board, but to try to understand different perspectives, to think more critically about them (which is not the same as criticizing or rejecting them), and to develop some empathy for those with a different point of view than yours. If, for example, you don’t know what “cultural Marxism” or “critical race theory” is or you wonder about “social justice”, then don’t use those words as if you do know what they mean. And if the only place you’ve learned something about those things is on social media, then you still don’t know what those things are well enough to have an informed opinion or to comment on them.

I include myself in the category of not knowing enough. So, for example, I have bought an introductory book about critical race theory. I bought it not because I’m on board with the idea, but because I want to have a deeper understanding of it so that I can make an accurate assessment of it—one based on knowledge rather than fear and/or sound bites and/or misinformation. I need to approach this subject and any other with an open mind (I might learn something), humility (I might be wrong), and with a critical eye (are there gaps or problems in this argument?). I may accept it or reject it or something in between, but I can’t do that until I’ve sought to understand it below the surface of what we see bandied about online.

And above all, I need to remember that while technically these things are abstract ideas, it is human beings who hold these views and human beings who are affected by acceptance or rejection of these views. So love and gentleness need to be the key ingredient in my thinking about and engaging these ideas.

I’d like that to be my approach for any number of words and ideas that are being thrown around social media and the news these days. But I only have so much time and energy, so I will do what I can, and for the rest I will say, “I reserve judgment until I know more about it.” That might mean I’ll never know enough about something to have an informed opinion about it. And that’s okay, too. We don’t need to have an opinion about everything and we certainly don’t need to share an opinion on social media about everything.

On being ecumenical

Today on YouTube I stumbled across a conversation between Francis Chan, Hank Hanegraaff (radio’s “The Bible Answer Man”), and KP Yohannan (now Metropolitan Yohan). Chan is a fairly famous conservative evangelical pastor, Hanegraaff is a famous evangelical radio personality who converted to Easter Orthodoxy a number of years ago, and KP Yohannan is the founder of the mission organization Gospel for Asia and…well I’m not sure what to call him in terms of Christian affiliation. He’s a leader in a relatively new denomination, but I can’t figure out it if it’s evangelical, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, or something else. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Their conversation got me thinking again about being ecumenical in outlook. By “ecumenical” I mean the belief that the Christian church includes Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox—that all those branches of the church are brothers and sisters in Christ, we can work together across denominational lines, and that genuine faith is identified by confessing the risen Christ as Lord and, beyond that, that we all have the Creeds in common.

Not everyone thinks that way. I grew up in a home where Catholics weren’t considered true Christians and Pentecostals and other charismatics were also suspect. I have friends who still think that way about Catholics and Pentecostals. There is a narrow niche of Christianity, often related to the fundamentalism of the early 20th century, that in its extremes thinks the true faith and true doctrine and true understanding of scripture is found only in one denomination, or possibly even just one church or one preacher. These churches seem to have a habit of focussing on what’s wrong “out there” and naming heretical beliefs—which is to say, belief that is different from their own (which is technically not what heresy is)—and serious distrust of and unwillingness to work with others outside their fold. Often this kind of thinking seems to go along with a lot of disunity and what appears to be a significant lack of grace.

I gave that perspective up a long time ago. I believe I have many brothers and sisters across the denominational lines.

I can’t remember exactly what it was that led me down that road, but I can identify bits and pieces along the way. Learning the history of the church was a big one—many evangelicals have a very short and recent history of the church that doesn’t go back much further than 500 years, to their significant loss. The recognition that for certainly 1000 years, if not 1500 years, the church was fairly unified in its belief was helpful. Sure, there was division between east (Orthodox) and west (Roman Catholic) later on, but much was shared. The recognition that all three major branches of the church recognize and confess the ancient Creeds also helped. Developing an understanding of Catholic and Orthodox theology was another help, though I don’t know it well and even though I recognize there are some beliefs I don’t share with them—but these are Christians that confess Jesus as risen Lord!

The reality is that I can’t believe that God’s Spirit was absent from the church between the death of the last apostle and Martin Luther nailing his complaints to a church door some 1500 years later. If that was the case, we don’t have much hope for the last 500 years of the church either!

There is no pure church. I’m not sure there ever was one after the day of Pentecost. Paul’s letters in the New Testament make that clear! I may disagree profoundly on some things with my Catholic sisters and brothers, or for that matter my Pentecostal or Baptist sisters and brothers, but we together confess Christ and seek to follow him.

And so I continue to try to listen and learn from other Christian traditions and to have a bit of humility about correct doctrine. I’d like to think I’m fairly open minded, but sometimes it can be really difficult to allow others to disagree with something I’m passionate about. But it’s necessary. If this isn’t an oxymoron, I’m convinced that we need to have theological convictions and hold them loosely. Our grounding is in Christ, not a set of beliefs. Our hope is in Christ, not a theological perspective. Our salvation is in Christ, not a doctrinal statement.

Here’s a little sketch I drew of why I’m ecumenical. I don’t know if it will make sense to you, but it makes sense to me.

Loving God Looks Like Loving Your Neighbour

I’ve been pondering Jesus’ answer to the question of what the greatest commandment is (Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-31). Here are a couple of thoughts relating to that:

Jesus says the greatest commandment is loving God “and the second is like it,” love your neighbour. The way things are phrased, it looks like the commands are ranked: to love God is number one and the command to love neighbour is number two. But I don’t think we can so easily separate or rank the two greatest commands, for a couple of reasons.

First, Jesus is asked which commandment (singular) of all the commandments is greatest. In his answer, Jesus actually gives two commands as the greatest command: love God and love your neighbour. In Matthew, Jesus says that all the law and prophets hang on both of these commandments; in Mark Jesus says, “There is no commandment greater than these.”

This suggests to me that the phrase “the second is (like it)” does not denote rank or hierarchy, or that it’s just about similarity. The two commands are intimately related, they belong together. Jesus seems to be relating them together as the greatest commandment, rather than ranking them individually, meaning something like “there are two (not one) greatest commands, and the second one is love your neighbour,” or the “greatest command is love God and with it love your neighbour.”

Second, Jesus elsewhere says, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” In other words, when you love your neighbour, you love God.

Third, Paul seems to have understood the two commands in the way I suggest, because in Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14 he says that all the law and the prophets are summed up in one command: love your neighbour as yourself (without reference to loving God).

This all suggests to me that the command to love God and the command to love neighbour cannot be separated or ranked or placed in order of importance. If we love God, we will love our neighbour. In order to love God, we must love our neighbour. If we love our neighbour, we love God.

Something to consider as we ponder our priorities as followers of Jesus.