Tag Archives: church

Whither The Eagle & Child?

I was thinking of posting some church-related musings tonight–you know, something meaty, significant.  But I shan’t.  But neither shall I not blog for the rest of May, which was another option.

Instead, I alert you, dear reader, that we’re off for a marathon drive to Manitoba tomorrow, where we will do some reconnaissance work on Friday–on the seminary, lodgings, schools, etc.  On Saturday we will spend the day with friends in small town Manitoba.  On Sunday we will join the good folks at Faith Covenant in Winnipeg, before making the marathon return trip to Prince Albert that same day. 

It’s bound to be a tiring, but useful weekend.

I’m getting tired of myself referring to us doing “reconnaissance work”, which I have done several times.  And it was only marginally clever the first time I said it.  If that. My sincerest apologies to those of you who’ve had to hear it more than once.

In other news, I emailed  my second (yes, only the second of several) seminary assignment to Briercrest the other day.  I made an enquiry into the process for getting a due date extension (it’s officially to be done June 10).  I was merely asking questions, because ideally I would like to get this course done on time, but with home improvement things and whatnot I thought perhaps that final research paper might need a little extra time.

It seems that officially, the extension ‘process’ is simply a request for more time, though it comes at a price: $75 for a 4-month extension.  I wouldn’t expect to use another 4 months, but whatever.  As it happens, they granted me an unasked for, free 2 week extension.  This will make a world of difference.  A due date of June 26 sounds a lot better than June 10, doesn’t it?

(I just checked the syllabus and the paper doesn’t, for the moment, seem that daunting anymore.  Glad tidings.)

Got some work done at the church today.  I was feeling pretty useless there yesterday, but today was better.  Did some administrative stuff and finally got some idea rolling for my sermon on the 17th.  I sometimes wish I could record my thoughts, because my sermons always seem to be better (and more passionate) in my head than when they are put on paper and then into speech.  Even the transfer from thought directly to speech suffers great loss of clarity, so a dictaphone or recorder of some kind wouldn’t be much help.

Interestingly, ideas seem to flow best when I walk slow laps around the perimeter of our sanctuary.

WAKE UP!

I saw you nodding of there.  Yes, you.

Ho hum.

Whither The Eagle & Child?  Well, clearly not entirely here.

What do you say on Easter Sunday?

I’m sitting at the desk in my (temporary) office at the church.  It’s messy.  I should clean it.  That would also clear out my head, I suspect.

I’m trying to work on the sermon for Easter Sunday, but the words aren’t coming.  Words seem to pop in my head just before I put head to pillow and I try to scribble some notes then, but by morning the inspiration–both in terms of ideas and ability to write–is gone.

What can I say on Easter Sunday?

“He is risen.”  For some that’s all that needs to be said.  For others, those three words may make no sense at all.  Who is risen?  And what do you mean by “risen”?  And what difference does it make?  What are you all getting so excited about?

“He is risen.”  If I speak veeeeeery slooooowly, perhaps I can stretch those three words into a twenty minute sermon.

What can I say on Easter Sunday that hasn’t been said before?

That’s the point, I guess.  Sundays are not about original material–learning something new–but about remembering (and worship, but even in worship we remember).  Easter Sunday is no exception.  Sure, we may each put our own unique spin on it, reveal some detail or angle that hasn’t been mentioned before–or probably has been mentioned, but long since forgotten.  But it’s the same story we tell.

And in remembering we are refreshed and renewed.

He died.  He was buried.  On the third day he was raised from the dead.

Seems like such a crazy thing to say in our day.  “Jesus isn’t dead; he’s alive.”  We are such an arrogant bunch, we 21st century-ers.  Those 1st century men were a little loopy–they would believe anything.  ‘Chronological snobbery’ is what C.S. Lewis apparently called it.

I don’t think we have it together anymore than they did back then.  These days some believe and some don’t.  In those days, some believed and some didn’t.

“People don’t rise from the dead.”  Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?  If rising from the dead were the norm, Jesus wouldn’t have been all that special.  “Jesus rose from the dead?  Big deal.  So did my Aunt Lillian.”

Of course, it’s because people rising from the dead is unusual that we have to ask some serious questions about the claim the church makes.  Are we all nuts?  Is what we have here a 2,000 year history of nutcases?  Some would think so.

Ah–but look at me: here I am sermonizing on my blog.  I better reserve something for Sunday morning.

Wandering

There have been many lessons that our journey with [our church] has taught me. God is not opposed to his children wandering for periods of time. The Children of Israel wandered. Jesus wandered through the desert and on mountains. Even Paul wandered around Arabia in the years after his conversion – his great dark period for which no scholar can account. If you think you know where the Creator of the Universe is leading you, there is a good chance that you will be wrong. And even if you are right about your ultimate destination, you’ll likely be surprise by the wandering route that God has in mind.

Gordon Atkinson

Lately I’ve been thinking about God’s call to Abraham: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…” (Genesis 12:1, 4, TNIV).  God just tells him to go.  He doesn’t say where, other than “to the land I will show you”, but Genesis does not have Moses receive any specifics.  And Moses goes.

Sometimes we need to just go–not anywhere specific, but just go.  I guess you might call that stepping out of the boat, but I’m not going to admit to that just yet.

Think

What I need more than anything these days is time and space to think.  And maybe breathe.  Think and breathe.  Right now is the time that I’d like to claim last year’s birthday present from Dixie: a silent retreat or a weekend at a retreat centre of some kind.  It feels like life is barrelling forward and I’m just a passenger.  It’s heading in a good direction I think, but everything is whizzing by and it would be nice to stop and think and evaluate where I’m at and where I’m going.

Seems most of my spare (i.e. non-job-related) moments are focused on the seminary course I’m to complete by June 10.  That’ll be here before I know it and there is so much still to be done.  Some days I feel confident that I can complete the course, other days I feel like it’s impossible (and I start thinking about asking for an extension, which I really don’t want to do).

I’m neither a multitasker nor someone who can effectively divide his day into segments for this or that.  If I have something that needs doing, it’s on my mind exclusively (the corollary may just be that if I don’t foresee having the time to focus on and complete a task, I’m reluctant to start it).  So my spare moments are consumed with “I have to do read this” and “I have to write that” and “I have to research the other thing”.  I’m paying for the last three or four months which sort of disappeared without a trace.  And my family pays for it, too–with my lack of time or focus on them.  And I pay for it, because there are few clear moments.

I cherish those few normal, unencumbered, “present” moments.  Like at supper time I was looking at the ingredients of the “Real Fruit” popsicles.  I noted that they are largely made of fruit, but “hmm, it does contain sugar”.  Pretty unremarkable moment by any standard, but for a split second after I had said that I realized that I was really in that moment, I was really there, really present–nothing else was on my mind.  It was the pure joy of simple, every day, carefree inquiry, nothing else to worry about.

But if I do that too much, I won’t finish the course.

And because I don’t have much time to smell those proverbial roses, I find myself unsure of just what I’m thinking.  And some days I feel like I’m teetering on the brink of something.  I’m not sure that it’s a crisis of faith, exactly–or maybe it is, I don’t know–but I think regularly of those words by Robin Mark (which are likely just a rephrasing of something from the Psalms): “Make these broken, weary bones rise to dance again/ Wet this dry and thirsty land with a river”.

One of the workshops at the conference I attended in Chicago in February was on “The Spirituality of Preaching”.  The workshop leader said that it’s common for pastors/preachers to have times of feeling unqualified inadequate or fraudulent.  This was comforting to hear (that even people who are trained for that sort of thing have those feelings), except that I feel this not just sometimes, but often.

(As an aside, Dixie’s watching A Prairie Home Companion behind me as I write this [she wants me to say that she has it “on”, because she’s cleaning with the movie on in the background].  What a brilliant movie.  It brings joy and laughter.  Brilliant cast.  I’m thinking particularly of Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep, but everyone is really good, even Garrison Keillor as himself.  You should rent it.)

At the same time, there is hope, though I’m not quite sure what to make of the type of hope.

In his book, The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight posits that the general arc of the Bible is from oneness (Adam & Eve) to otherness (from the fall to Christ) and oneness (Christ as oneness, to be followed by universal oneness when Christ returns).  This oneness is relational: my relationship with God, with myself, with others, and with the world.  How God works out his redemptive plan (that is, fixing the “otherness”) is through and in covenant (!) community, first Israel and then the church.  This struck me as such a beautiful way of expressing things and such a beautiful picture of our past and our future.  And I see evidence of this community-as-redemptive-vessel in my life.

It seems that I feel lowest as the week progresses and I’ve spent much time in my own scattered, mixed up thoughts–when I’m left to my own devices.  But meeting with people, particularly on Sunday mornings, is always a great encouragement.  I find hope in that community.  Maybe it’s just psychological, in the sense that they affirm me in what I do when I preach or whatever.  But I think it’s more, too.  I was thinking tonight about how I am not expected to be anything but me in that community–I’m not expected to be more “spiritual” or to behave a certain way.  Of course as a community it has its faults, as any community does, but there is love there and there is hope.  And somehow that restores me, if only for a time.

The Ol’ Social Convention-Morals/Ethics Switcheroo.

(After I wrote this, I began to think that maybe I’m talking about some ghosts from churches past that are still haunting me, as opposed to responding to a current reality I’m experiencing.  Keep that in mind as you read.)

By show of hands, how many of you were offended by the poem I posted a couple of days ago, or thought it was inappropriate?  You know, the funny one about Carnation Milk that ended with the wonderfully laid-back “son of a bitch”?  Just curious.  I thought the poem worked really well and it made me chuckle, but some of you might not feel the same way.

I don’t know what sequence of thoughts connected to come ’round to thinking about that poem, but last night I was laying in bed, thinking about that poem and then I thought, with mild panic, “I’m preaching on Sunday!”  For a moment the fact that I put that poem on my blog and am also one who preaches regularly seemed incongruous, and that maybe that incongruity will get in the way of Sunday’s words. Perhaps you are someone who thinks so.

The funny thing is that I’ve posted stuff in the past which has content potentially much more offensive than the poem.  But for some reason now that I’m employed by a church, I’ve become a little oversensitive.  And the truth is, it’s not because I’m wondering if it’s wrong to do this or that, but because I wonder, “What will people think?”

I imagine that one great difficulty pastors face is this: acting as if they are someone who they are not–or, rather, not fully being who they are and hiding some parts that may not be seen by their community as appropriate for a Christian.  I don’t have a problem with community expectations, which are natural, and I don’t have a problem with being sensitive to other people.  My concern is that we often set up expectations which ultimately have nothing to do with what our community is about (in the case of the church, Jesus Christ).

I’ve been thinking about this all day.  For some there is an expectation that the pastor of a church will be “different”–stand out somehow or be morally superior to the rest of the congregation (I’m not talking about myself or my church anymore–not really).  The pastor isn’t one of them–he or she is not better (in an ontological sense) than anyone else, but he or she is expected to behave differently than everyone else.  And I suppose to some extent that’s a reasonable expectation: someone who has the audacity to interpret the word of God to a group of people had better have the audacity to live it as well.

The problem, though, is this: I suspect that the moral expectations congregations have of their pastors and each other tend to have more to do with social convention than being biblical.  Christians are expected (by some of their own) not to cuss, to avoid alcohol and tobacco, to dress a certain way, but most Christians can get away, I expect, with greed, gluttony and anger.

It’s a problem I’ve seen, growing up in the church: somewhere down the line we did the ol’ switcheroo, substituting social convention with actual moral or ethical issues.  So some of us condemn drinking and smoking, dancing, bars and movies, but we are consumeristic/materialistic, ignore the poor (especially if we think they’re lazy), get angry very quickly, are unforgiving and judgmental.  The list goes on.

Jesus did say that his followers are to be a light to the world, so there is unquestionably some element of “differentness” which ought to be seen.  But, again, in what sense are we to be different?  If we live lovingly and sacrificially as a community and in our communities, will it make a difference to anyone if we cuss or smoke or do this or that?  But if we don’t cuss, don’t smoke, don’t, don’t, don’t, including don’t forgive, don’t be peaceful, don’t give, don’t sacrifice our own interests for the other, what kind of message would that send?  What if we did both–held our tongues and served the community?  Well, I suppose that’s good, too, as long as we aren’t living in some sense artificially–pretending to be a people we are not.  Social conventions change over time and across cultures, and the church doesn’t not need to be homogenous (quite the opposite) in terms of some of these minor issues, so I don’t think that’s the important thing.

I get the sense that the church is loosening up in this respect.  Maybe this is a reflection of the influx of a younger generation.  Of course, with this good, other not-so-goods may come in as well.  But such is the life, I guess, of sinners gathered in Jesus’ name.

Steak vs. sizzle

From nakedpastor:

The obsessive concern over songs (how the are sung, how many, instrumentation, music or not, old or new, etc.); messages (length, style, powerpoint, dialogue, conversational, etc.); order (low or high, relaxed or structured, predictable or not, traditional or modern, emergent or submergent, etc.); buildings (owned or rented, house or building, coffee shop or pub, or no meeting at all, etc.)… I could go on… these things I consider stage props. The real action is what is going on between us as a community. The play is the deal, not the staging. To me, rearranging the style is like rearranging the furniture. It’s fine to do but it isn’t going to save the world.

…All the recent hype about style is just sizzle. For me, the steak is the relationship between us and the Absolute, and our relationships that spawn from that. Once we have that focus, style is secondary. (Link)

Book review: The Great Emergence

Phyllis Tickle, compiler and editor of the excellent Divine Hours series of prayer books, was the Tuesday night speaker at Midwinter, the conference I attended in Chicago at the beginning of February.  She was one of the conference highlights for me.  She got up on stage, leaned casually on the lecturn and then spoke for an engaging 45 minutes or so, without a glance at a note, about “the Great Emergence” (the concept, not the book).  Not long into her session I knew I wanted to buy the book: The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.  I bought the book at the conference and started reading it on the flight home.

Tickle suggests in the book, as in her talk, that the Church has been going through a series of 500 year cycles, all with a name prefixed by the word “Great”, because they are times of great significance in church history.  She begins with the Great Transformation–the time arising out of the life of Jesus (though she says you can go back 500 years from there and get to the Israelites’ Babylonian exile and 500 years before that the Exodus);  500 years after Christ we find (Pope) Gregory the Great, the (final) death of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Papacy; 500 years after that, in the 11th century, we find the Great Schism, when the church finally, decisively split between East and West, with the Orthodox Patriarch excommunicating the Roman Pope and vice versa; 500 years after that, in the 16th century, we find the Great Reformation, when what would become Protestantism split from the Roman Catholic church; 500 years after that we find ourselves in the 21st century, and the church is once again going through a major change.  She calls this time The Great Emergence, and the changing element in this time is the “emerging church” and its variants.

Each of these “great” periods are times of change in which the church goes through, as she calls it, a major “rummage sale”.  There is an ebb and flow to these periods and it’s difficult to pin down the exact moment of change, because they build up to a peak and then trail off over the course of a hundred years or more.  We mark them with events like the mutual excommunications of the Great Schism, or Martin Luther’s alleged nailing of his 95 theses to the doors of the church at Wittenburg, but they cannot be historically pinpointed in other than such symbolic ways.

The central question underlying each of these periods of change is, in Tickle’s words, “Where now is the authority?”  Thus (and this is me talking now) the source of authority changed in the time of Christ; with the end of the Roman Empire, authority (finally) moved from the Emperor to the Pope; in the Great Schism, one of the foundational issues was recognition of the Papacy; in the Great Reformation, authority moved from the Pope to the scriptures (in an unmediated way).  In our day we are once again asking, “Where now is the authority?”, and we don’t yet have an answer.  (When she mentioned this, I immediately thought of the current upheaval in the Anglican communion.)  It’s an interesting theory and hard to argue with, given the historical evidence she presents.

As is to be expected with any book, I didn’t agree with everything she said (e.g. I found her examples about the sola scriptura problem a bit of a charicature), but it’s an undeniable and interesting way of highlighting the fact that the church is changing.  It can’t be denied.

What’s particularly interesting is that in the history of this 500 year cycle, those who held pride of place prior to the change did not die, but simply diminished and reformed on their own, while another took their place.  The same thing is (in her theory) happening now.  Many conservative Christians in particular feel threatened by the changes happening (and perhaps are denying them), but if Tickle is right, the church as many know it won’t die, but simply be dethroned.  And it will also act as ballast in this floating ship called Church.

My major critique of the book is simply that it ends to suddenly.  Tickle is able to provide a more neutral look at the emerging movement in the church, as opposed to some of the recent books which actively oppose or attack the movement.  So I wish she would have spent a little more time on the “emerging” way of thinking (though I suppose there is no hegonomous view at this point) and, even more so, on “the way ahead”.  The bulk of her book is about the details of the 500 year cycle–and it is important, necessary and fascinating stuff–but it’s a thin volume and more time could be spent on where we’re (potentially) heading a church.

It’s a fascinating read and I heartily recommend it.   If you are at all fascinated by overarching theories of this and that, this book is for you.

Today Yesterday

Things went well today yesterday, I think, other than a few mishaps and distractions.

I was inspired by the Wendell Berry-inspired workshop at last week’s conference to speak about the implications for creation care that arise out of scripture.  The Bible does not have a green agenda; if it has any agenda, it’s a redemptive one, and there are implications for our view of creation in that.  My main points:

1.  Genesis 1: God looked at everything he created and saw that it was “very good”.  He never took that back.  The natural world isn’t just incidental to our creation, but is good in and of itself.

At the fall human relationship with the rest of creation was broken, which may well be why we find ourselves where we are environmentally.

2.  The created world is in some sense the voice of God (see Romans 1:18-20–“general revelation”).  I wondered if our current abusive approach to nature isn’t a new way of “suppressing the truth” about God.

3.  The redemptive work of the cross of Christ is for all of creation (Colossians 1:19-20; Ephesians 1:10; Romans 8:19-23)–if we expect to come out of the future resurrection with transformed bodies and yet still be ourselves, it’s reasonable, I think, to expect the same for creation.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was a HUGE subject and a couple of hours of preparation wasn’t giving it nearly enough and it was probably too much to cram into one sermon (especially when I had less time than usual).  It deserves a series, but that’s difficult to do when I only speak twice a month and in the very near future I will start to be bumped from the schedule for candidating pastors.

Oh well.  Live and learn.

I was thinking this week and again after this sermon about what pastors do if they realize they have spoken in error in a sermon.  I made a modern-day analogy a couple of weeks ago when speaking on 1 Corinthians 8 (the “strong”, the “weak” and meat sacrificed to idols) and it occurred to me this week that perhaps my analogous example was a poor one (I’ve decided it wasn’t).  After Sunday’s service I was talking to Phil and realized that perhaps I had made some lazy word choices that might have negative implications (it didn’t help that I was trimming the sermon as I spoke).

Now both of those instances are minor.  But what about a more serious error?  Do you just ignore it?  Bring it up next Sunday?  Issue a retraction?  Fix the error with the following sermons?  An interesting question.  (It is for me, anyway.)  Of course, I’m learning that not everything can be said in one sermon (or even a couple of sermons), so perhaps it’s possible to develop a progression of thought that deals with whatever has gone before.

(Have I ever posted about a sermon before?  I’ve been reluctant to do so.  Still am.  But I felt like posting something.)

Quick update.

And just like that a week passed.  It seems like just yesterday that I posted my last post.  A quick update for those of you who thirst for more The Eagle & Child.

1.  Trip to Chicago was good (I’ve been home for a week now).  I’ve posted some of the photographs from that trip here.  I’ve included some commentary on some of the pictures, rather than posting the commentary here.  Hopefully more reminiscences will follow.

2.  Things at the church are going well, I think.  I like what I do and it seems to fit.  Trying to figure out what’s next.  Likely seminary, but not quite sure where.

3.  Things are very busy.  Or at least they seem busy.  I had a crisis day on Wednesday last week, feeling quite panicked about everything that needs to be done to complete my seminary course.  That day I received a friendly reminder from the seminary that am at the halfway point to completion and that they trust that I have been working dilligently. Well.  December was a write-off and January disppeared.  February is almost over already and it just began.  Bleh.  I shall overcome.

4.  Because of #3 I need to streamline.  I’d like to blog more, but I can’t justify or afford the time.  That’s why it has been so quiet around here and will likely continue to be.  When I do have time, I usually end up watching TV or reading (non-seminary material).

5.  There are a lot of things beginning to converge now and into the next couple of months with reach peak convergence: course-work, church-work, work-work, family, house, applications, decisions.  Prayer would be much appreciated (and much needed).

6.  Keep your eyes peeled for further details about the house concert we will be having in March.  The award-winning singer-songwriter Dale Nikkel will be rolling into town and into our living room.  Some of you who we think will probably be interested will get an email.  Those of you who read this space who might be interested can contact Dixie or I.  We will need to know approximately how many people are coming, because we have limited space.  In fact, mark March 15 on your calendar and don’t plan anything for that day.  Sit tight.

That is all.

Miscellany

The blogging malaise continues.  At this rate, I may start posting some of my sermon material.  Would that be too pretentious?  I suppose I could post it without saying it’s sermon material, but I’m sure it would be riddled with tells.

* * *

On Sunday my thoughts for the sermon were based around the question, Jesus is born; now what?  Took a while to find direction for that one.  The business of preparing for Christmas and various Christmas events made it (ironically) hard for me to focus, but I did finally put it together.

In recent years it has not only bothered me that I fall into the “what am I getting?” Christmas mindset, neglecting the sacred element of Christmas for the materialistic in spite of good intentions at the beginning of the Advent season, but it also has started to bother me that Christmas in practice begins and ends on December 25 (in spite of the 12 days the Christian calendar gives it).  Boxing Day is shopping day and then life goes back to normal.

But Christmas signifies a beginning–it signifies that God is on the move–and Jesus, when he calls us to “follow me and I will teach you to fish for people”, invites us to participate in the new thing that God is doing.  So really, unless we really don’t get it, life could not or should not ever go back to “normal” after Christmas.  Christmas is not the end but the beginning.

I believe this to be true.  But I commented to someone after the service that I felt like a bit of a fraud when I wrote and preached the sermon, because if history is any indication, my life is likely to go back to “normal” after Christmas.  Frustrating.  I suspect I don’t fully “get” it yet.

* * *

I’ve been thinking about how fast the beginning of 2009 will pass.  Next week I have a normal work week. On Wednesday of the following week, I fly out to Summerland with Olivia to visit my family for a couple of days.  The Monday following Luke goes for ear and throat surgery.  Shorter work week.  The week following that is a normal work week.  Then I fly out to Chicago for a week (provided my passport application isn’t rejected) for a church conference.  Then it’s almost the middle of February.  In the middle of all that I have a couple of sermons to preach (which inevitably requires evening preparation time) plus seminary work to do (on top of “normal” obligations).  In March Luke turns 4; in April Olivia turns 2 and Dixie turns 30.  April may also include another trip to BC.  Then in May I’ll be struggling to get everything done for the June 10 deadline for my seminary course.  And who knows what summer and autumn have in store.

2009 will pass very quickly.