Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What's In A Rainbow?

For some reason this past week I found myself thinking about rainbows more than a schoolgirl with CareBear wallpaper.

It all started when my friend Terry and I came to Genesis 9 in our Sunday School class and had to lead a discussion on the significance of the rainbow for God's covenant with the earth.

Then along came news of Radiohead's new album "In Rainbows", which you can download and name your own price. Unfortunately I thought 3 pounds was about 5 dollars but it turns out it is more like 8. Doesn't matter, I've heard it now and still think I got a pretty good deal. It isn't a great album, but it is enjoyable. It isn't as much of a departure as their last few albums, which should please those who find them hard to catch on to, and which is just fine with me since I haven't grown tired of the niche they've already carved.

What the title is about I don't know. But upon reflection Terry and I discovered that there can actually be quite a lot in a rainbow besides a varied prism and a realm of unicorns and lepricons.

Consider the following:

- When God put the rainbow in the sky it was more to remind Himself of his promise not to destroy the earth with a flood again, not us. (Check Genesis 9 if you don't believe me). It reminds me of that scene in Apollo 13 when Kevin Bacon puts a sticky note on the button which could eject the other astronauts into space and ensure his own safe return to earth. The sticky note said "NO!" In this case, God's sticky note is a glorious array of colour and light which for all intents and purposes says "IN SPITE OF EVIL, DO NOT DESTROY!"

- The rainbow has for some reason been chosen as the symbol for Gay Pride. Not sure why but it's interesting anyway.

- Terry dug up another interesting thought. The rainbow is a bow. I never really thought about it but we're not talking about the kind of bow you put on a Christmas present but the sort which is used to shoot an arrow. Where is this bow facing? To heaven. And strangely, the bow is pretty relaxed. Not stretched like it is shooting but in the posture of peace. How 'bout that.

- Why all the beauty and colour? Was this not around before the flood? It appears it was not the kind of environment conducive to rainbows pre-flood. What changed? And isn't it interesting that the sign God chooses is one so incredible and universal, rather than some monument of rocks only visible to one tribe for a limited time. Or some word in some language that only a few can understand. Rather than that it is a symbol which everyone for all time gets to gawk at and get stirred by. It's almost like the sticky note says, "THERE IS SOMETHING LEFT TO LIVE FOR."

- Intriguing that the rainbow always follows the rain. You have to go through some dark clouds to get to it.

- Also very telling that you can never touch the rainbow. It is always moving further away, no matter how much you try. Whatever is left worth living for is something which can not yet be had in its fullness. For all our grasping we do not yet find satisfaction. Only through a glass darkly (a prism perhaps?) can we hold it for now.

- Just imagine what it would be like to be "in rainbows". I don't know if that's what Radiohead is trying to evoke, but it is a mindboggling thought, all things considered. Once you get past all the unicorns and lepricons of course.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Reformation Debate

I just polished off a three page paper summarizing and commening on A Reformation Debate, edited by John C. Olin. It may be a short paper, but it makes for a pretty long blog. However, I thought a few readers might find it interesting, so here it is. For those less inclined, I'm working on a possible entry about rainbows (of all things) which I may post later this week!

Seizing the opportunity afforded him by the expulsion of reformers John Calvin and Guillaume Farel from Geneva, Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto wrote a letter to persuade the Genevans to go the whole way and rejoin the Catholic Church. Though the letter all but demonized the reformers, in a decisive moment for Geneva it ended up being John Calvin himself whom city council asked to craft a reply. His response was widely circulated in 1540, and within a year Calvin was persuaded by Geneva to return.

Though the debate was not therein comprehensively summarized, these letters serve as an accessible entry point into the crux of the reformation debate. The central disagreements between Sadoleto and Calvin involve (1) the tension between Church authority and Scripture and (2) the place of faith and works in justification of the sinner.

In regard to the first issue, Sadoleto’s approach is to cast the reformers as the self-seeking sowers of "wicked seeds of discord" in rebellion against the "perpetual sentiments" of the Catholic Church (30-31). Much is made of the uncertainty that ensues when the individual sets himself against the authoritative body that has for centuries "instructed us what to think . . . [and told] us that our sin is washed away" (37). Even if there are doubts on issues of doctrine, it is better to follow the Church of many centuries than the rash opinions of the last twenty-five years (40). Since "judgments vary" (39) over time, who is it that can pretend to stand over the Holy Spirit’s Church in judgment? What is at stake in such presumption is nothing less than the fearful loss of one’s soul (38)! Christ is in His Church calling for unity, and outside is only the way of selfish anarchy.

In response, John Calvin agrees that unity is important, but questions those things which have distracted the Church’s unity from the truth of Christ. The problem with the Catholic Church, in Calvin’s view, is that it has become dependent on a fallible authorities and superstitious ceremonies (63) and is no longer in accord with the Word and the Fathers (73). Since the "Antichrist would have his seat in no other place than in the midst of God’s sanctuary" (76), the people and the leaders of the Church must be on guard against false teaching.

But how are they to do this if they can not trust their leaders? For Calvin the answer is to place the Scriptures in authority over the Church, and as if anticipating objections, he attempts to distance himself from those radicals who have taken their personal interpretations of Scripture as paramount. In his view Pope and Anabaptist alike are wrong in depending presumptively on the guidance of the Spirit unchecked by the Word (61). Unity is very desirable for Calvin, if only it could be a "true unity" (93) centered on Christ (85) and focused by the Spirit on His Word. Having taken up the Word, Calvin seeks reform rather than schism, but implies that he would sooner have schism than further tolerance of current errors.

In the second main point of contention, Sadoleto’s claim is that the reformers are cheapening salvation by their version of justification by faith alone. He sees salvation as something perpetually given and enacted in faith, and opposes the reformer’s view which seems to rest salvation on a "mere credulity and confidence in God" (35) which people are expected to conjure up and maintain with no strings attached. Their emphasis is on their own strength of conviction for assurance, without much regard for the demanding call of Christ to the new life that salvation entails. By emphasizing faith alone, the reformers have taken the love out of salvation. Instead of being saved by entering a love relationship of service to their God, the reformers are looking at salvation as a cheap gift of love which can be reciprocated at the whims of the individual involved (36).

Calvin looks at the doctrine and its ramifications quite differently. What Sadoleto sees as the Church’s duty to ensure proper repentance and love of God, Calvin sees as the withholding of the freedom and life that Christ died to grant His followers. The life of salvation has been replaced by a system of oppressive ceremonies. In his view Sadoleto has avoided this issue and wrongly polarized the issue, implying that reformers care only for salvation and nothing for the life that it ushers in (66). What Calvin seeks to reemphasize is that Christians love Christ because He first loved them (69). Salvation and righteousness are free gifts imputed to those who will receive them by faith. Life does change, but rather than merit salvation as the Catholic Church implies, this change is the fruit of true faith in Christ and the unfolding of the free gift of salvation (70). Calvin more carefully distinguishes between justification (that initial act of being given Christ’s righteousness) and the regeneration and sanctification that result (68).

In Sadoleto’s view, where the Catholic Church provides certain measures toward gaining assurance of salvation, Calvin is left with nothing but the self-assured confidence in his own faith decision. In Sadoleto’s ears, "justification by faith alone" means "salvation according to the strength of one’s own convictions". This sounds to Sadoleto as much like a works-based salvation as penance does to Calvin—the only difference being that is more individualistically determined and therefore less unifying and concrete. This shows how linked this debate is with the issue of Church authority.

History has shown that, according to his own purposes for writing the letter, Sadoleto lost. Geneva embraced reform and invited Calvin home. Indeed, Calvin presents a clearer articulation of salvation and a much-needed corrective to the abuses and shortcomings of Church authority.

However, in this day when many evangelicals have now carried reformation doctrines to the point of abuse, some of Sadoleto’s arguments could stand to be heard again. His call to Church unity is compelling in this era of fragmentation and individualism and his emphasis on sanctification prompts a more holistic soteriology. In the debate on justification, both parties resisted what seemed to be offences to the cross of Christ. Where Calvin saw grace forgotten by Catholics, Sadoleto saw it cheapened by the reformers. Though Calvin won the debate, their concerns must continue to mingle down the ages so we may fully hear the resounding echoes of truth.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You Gotta Love the Church

A number of years ago my cynicism toward the Church was thankfully given a fatal blow by the realization that Jesus loves the Church with the same undying grace with which he loves even me.

It has always troubled me that so many people find themselves outside of Christianity today for the express reason that they "have been hurt by the Church". I have great sympathy and empathy for them. It would seem that for some reason there have been people in the churches of their youth you they have equated with the church itself (probably leaders or lifers) who have not shown the grace or love that we expect from the Church of Jesus Christ. This is undoubtedly a common occurence. Leaders and lifers alike fail. We should really not be surprised by this. But what gets me is when those leaders and lifers fail and live in denial; fail and don't seek reconciliation; confront others without seeking to embrace them. Essentially they love Jesus and their ideal Church but do not love the church in front of their eyes.

To them, and to myself, I say "you gotta love your church!" Failure to do so will leave carcasses strewn about; Christians who could have been.

But I am increasingly realizing that the challenge goes both ways. Certainly there are extenuating circumstances and exceptions to the rule but I would suggest that most of the people who have left a church because "they have been hurt by" it have not really tried all that hard for reconciliation. I am not just speculating here. I've seen this over and over. I've almost done it myself.

Of course you are going to be hurt by the Church---it is full of people; full of idiots; full of neighbours! Of course you are going to disagree with someone. Of course something will rub you the wrong way. Intentionally or otherwise, someone will offend you. Often you'll assume it is intentional and never bother to find out.

To these, and to myself, I must constantly remember that "you gotta love the Church".

This isn't to say that leaders and lifers (the supposedly mature) do not bear great responsibility for the wake of hurt ex-church-goers they have left behind them. But let us call to mind that the people who are not in the church are expressing great judgmentalism and exposing most likely their own failure to reconcile when they express the fact they have left the Church because it hurt them.

Of course it hurt you. The question is whether there were any ambassadors of reconciliation there (2 Corinthians 5). The question is did you talk to those that hurt you (Matthew 18) with the aim to win each other over? The question is do you love the Church, warts and all, by recognizing that it is not a bunch of perfect people but a people brought together IN CHRIST ALONE.

Without going into detail I want to declare that recently, when it would have been easier to distance myself from my pastor and my church, I felt compelled to talk to my pastor. As a result of this conversation I feel the unity we have in the grace and love of Christ that I not have felt otherwise. In fact it may be deeper now, because of our authenticity, even in the face of potential disagreement. I don't say this to credit myself, but him. Actually, not even him or I but the Lord Jesus Christ who has shown us the hard way the power of reconciliation---which really ought to be what drives the Church!

What I have found is that I don't love the church for what it could be and isn't, nor do I hate it because it doesn't bow to my whims and wishes (in fact I sort of love that it doesn't). I love it when and because it is bound together by a common love for Christ, an authenticity before His grace, and a comittment to reconciliation.

It doesn't look like this is true sometimes. But I'll bet if you meet with the people you don't see eye to eye with and are honest about what you think and where you are coming from and even if you don't agree on everything agree together to love Christ and seek his reconciliation---you will be amazed at the unity you feel in diversity; the hope you feel for the Church; and the change of focus that you find.

Church is not going to be perfect. But if we give it a chance and we do the hard thing of speaking the truth in love to one another instead of just leaving, I'd guess that 8 or 9 times out of 10 when we are hurt by the church we will find that we love it all the more, because after the hurt we'll find the healing, and in the healing our love will grown, and because we talked we will both be better off, and instead of schism we will have one more step in the gruelling road of change for the better.

You gotta love the Church. If you don't you are going to hurt people and never patch it up. Or you'll get hurt and never find the healing. Either way, whether a lifer or a leaver, you'll never actually know what the Church is about.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lament of an Evangelical

The other day at Seminary we had a "morning of prayer" and during the time of lament I felt compelled to share (with tears) this one that I wrote earlier this year. I have had several requests for a copy, and so I'm making it available here. Its about as intensely personal as I want to get on a blog, and a part of me hesitates to share it. But then I remember how much I hate the type of Chrsitianity where only the "Shiny Happy" is allowed . . . and so I offer this side of worship - a lament:

Inherited a faith
I've loved and hated both:
Loved more sometimes than God-
Which leads to hating it the most.

Grew into a church
I'd grow in and out of always:
Wanting to burn it down
One out of a month of Sundays.

I can read the Bible good
But I pray like an ass.
I should find a better word than that,
My prayer-life is way more crass.

A faith I feel in guilt
And lose at a twitch in pride.
The good part is I love God more
When I hate myself inside.

Been given countless blessings:
Family here and there,
Friends I can rely on,
Two boys and one I call "my dear".

I'd die for them I would,
Yet with my words I kill.
There is nothing quite as hard
As surrendering the self-will.

I want to give them everything;
To put joy inside their hearts.
And yet myself I will leave scars
When I have left my part.

There is nothing here worth doing.
My good just makes me proud.
Riddled as it is with bad besides -
Just let me duck behind the shroud.

If I could I'd give up,
But something keeps me here.
It must, it must get better.
And I live for you my dear.

I'd rather live to say my sorries
Than die a thousand deaths.
I'd rather spend a thousand summers
Paying all my debts.

But paid it is, it's easy,
And there's nothing I can do
But sit here and fell guilty
And then give myself to You.

A faith that I've inherited,
That I tarnish everyday;
A God I can't live up to,
And a price I cannot pay.

A painless life I've lived,
And yet a psychy full of scars.
I know the pain I put you through -
Wish I could once see my own stars.

But once I bleed or touch the pain
My desire goes away:
"Get me the hell out of here," I say,
"And return me to my play."

For all I have been given,
I have not given much.
They are right when they accuse me
That my Jesus is a crutch.

As such this is my faith.
As much as this my prayer:
That You, O God, would know me,
And still give a damn; a care.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Birthday Gifts

One of the great joys of birthdays for me in recent years has been the decision of several of my relatives to give me money. I know that this can feel to some as a cop-out or can feel somewhat empty but I love it. Being a poor student, and before that a poor pastor (relatively, in Western terms anyway), I don't spend much on my hobbies. Music being one of them. So I end up relying heavily on Christmas and birthdays to feed my love of music. All year my list of music I wish I could buy gets larger and larger. And it awesome to get money and a card, because that signifies endless (okay, maybe not endless) possibilities.

So this year I've been able to go out and buy a few albums. So far I'm really enjoying them. Here's why:

Though I've never been a fan of country, I'm weakening thanks to Ryan Adams. There are some major hurdles to overcome in discovering Ryan Adams. The first it that distrust of everything remotely resembling country music. The second is realizing that he isn't Bryan Adams. Once you get past this, go out and listen to "Gold", "Love is Hell", and then maybe this one: "Heartbreaker". I'm only a few listens in but "Oh My Sweet Carolina" with Emilou Harris is from the first time you hear it a peice of magic. From first-listen you feel like you are hearing a classic. The rest of the album is just so easy-going, and musically interesting, and even fun, that even the banjo and the harmonica are redeemed.

I've mentioned Pilot Speed (formerly Pilate) before but I'll do it again. This is a great album. I just heard a newer song from them on Sonic radio in Edmonton and, in an unprecedented turn of events for me, actually left it on the same radio station for four whole minutes! Amazing. And I new it was them without being told, which tells you they are distinctive enough to be noticed as well as good enough to be noteworthy. Another good part: They are from Toronto. You can find them at CBC Radio 3 by clicking through my mini player at right. The songs on this album are epic an passionate---just the way I like it. They are awesome live too.

I have long avoided buying this highly acclaimed album, partly because of the explicit language warning on the cover and partly because it is just a guy and a piano---how good could it be? Well, there is definitely some swearing, but not as much as I expected. And it is definitely a guy and a piano, but you almost can't believe your ears. It is literally amazing. I saw him on Austin City Limits once and so I was able to imagine it but if I hadn't I wouldn't have believed it was all piano. 17 songs. No band. But riveting and musically stunning. I'm serious. And the best crowd-vocals I've ever heard. Enough to give you goosebumps.

You can find this one on CBC Radio 3 right now too. In fact one of the songs is probably playing as you read this. Patrick Watson just won Canada's 2007 Polaris Prize for indie musicians awarded strictly by artistic merit. I was in a record store with my brother and he bought this for me from he and his wife for my birthday. And now I'm thoroughly enjoying it. A great melodic piano and an unpredictable element to each song make for a beautiful and simultaneously lilting and jilting listening experience. Definitely worth checking out.

I'm also awaiting a Matthew A. Wilkinson CD in the mail. You can hear him on CBC Radio 3 too.

If you are bored of your music, you can't go too wrong with this stuff. Thanks to all my relatives who have singly funded one of my favourite and perhaps most spiritually and emotionally significant hobbies.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Life in the Mess

I have been sitting in class all week and while it would be overstating it to say this class has rocked my world there is a true sense in which it has turned my world upside down and set it right-side up again. Put it this way: Think about a snowglobe.

You know how the snow-globe looks alright when it is just sitting there, but frankly it is just another paperweight? It goes largely unnoticed. It is boring. It isn’t right—in the sense that it is not fulfilling its purpose. Something is wrong about it. But when it is turned upside down and back over again it comes to life in the hands of its owner. That’s what it feels like to me when truth is allowed to break into my world. It is unsettling. I am turned upside down. But it is worth it, for through the process I am brought to right and come to life again.

It isn’t that this class told me something I never knew (although there were many things I’d never thought of before)---but it articulated for me what has until now been at base a groaning in my soul. This groaning has been driving me forward in a striving for truth and left me unsettled over all the explanations that fall short. It was a class called "Life in the Mess: Theology of Forgiveness and Reconciliation". If you consider it worthwhile to spend a week and about $800 on a better way to look at life you should take this class next time it is offered. I’m serious. Dr. David Guretzki, Briercrest Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan—A treasure hidden in a field, you might say.

I can’t even contain in one blog (and maybe couldn't even do so in a book) what has been put right for me as my snow-globe has been turned over and shaken again this week. But here’s a weak attempt: Imagine you’ve always looked at life in this way:

You are bad. You are going to burn. You need fire insurance. Thankfully someone died to forgive you. Phew. Enter a religion of cyclical and personal release from guilt and fear. Basically a negative religion, defined about what it undoes.

Now imagine that, though there are elements of truth there, you realized that you’d only seen a portion of the truth, a corner of the painting, and the whole truth is:

You and all of us were made for shalom, communion, peace with God and others. The God who made us is a reconciling God, in the sense that from before creation He was about bringing persons together. Integral in creation and its experience of this shalom is freedom, and in that freedom for shalom we consistently break it. But the reconciling God has done something, does something, and in fact is all about doing something to restore that shalom. Amen. Thank goodness. This is what being born again is and continues to be all about. Enter not a religion, but a life pilgrimage, of new creation; restored communion. A "religion" with its negative aspect (the snowglobe does need shaking), but which is defined by a positive hope and love.

Maybe that doesn’t seem all that different. I need to try to articulate better why this is an absolute paradigm shift of seismic proportions. Because that is what this is to me. I think that if I could reorient my life around this it might make all the difference. Furthermore, if the Church reoriented itself around this I think it would not only be turned upside down (and right again, over and over) but would in turn begin to have that same effect on its world.

This would be thrilling---like the first drops of a fresh snowfall on a dirty city.