Monday, April 27, 2009

A Disturbing Rest

I’m on sabbatical. For the first time in fifteen years of ministry I am purposefully resting. It’s hard work.

I don’t think I’ve experienced insanity before, but that must have been what temporarily occurred when we decided to drive the family across North America to retreat on the Pacific coast. We’ve visited fourteen States and two Provinces thus far. We’ve stuck it out and survived, mostly. We’ve learned plenty and realized again that creation is wild, people are diverse, and God is holy and wild himself.

We’re finally at our destination. I write this looking out at high tide. Snow capped mountains rise majestically in the distance. Ferries keep their time like a pendulum before me. My children are doing schoolwork in the background. I am in a place of rest. I am in a place of disturbance.

For what it’s worth allow me to share a few reflections from this disturbingly restful season I’m experiencing.

First, when we’re forced into that country that prefers to be left undisturbed, the uncharted lands of the interior, it is grace. Shed the familiar and routine and you find your self embarrassingly exposed and examined. It’s always safer hiding behind busyness. Extended time with those you love can be joyful strain. The heart comes into focus; and it’s not necessarily pretty. Love is hard work and I’m not always loveable. What wonder that God loves even me! God knows us yet still loves us. To be known by the holy is an awesome and awful proposition that is far too often trivialized. To know God is to come to know your self, and the self is not always a willing or worthy partner in this dance. The self loves to hide; our Redeemer’s love calls us out and tames our wilds. The silence, the rest, the steady ticking of time gracefully disturbs.

Second, there are people everywhere! This may seem obvious, but people are living, working, playing, and hurting the world over. Our vision can become narrow and bordered. Even in this age of a shrinking globe we can only live in one place at a time. Truth is, if we don’t inhabit that space with family, friends, and even antagonists and strangers well we really have little to offer elsewhere. Being on the move has opened our eyes to the drifts of people and especially those who move through no choice of their own. People are constantly shuffling about; it’s as if we know we’re only passing through. I am disturbed by the vastness of people and our hesitancy to embrace the neighbour, the stranger and increasingly restful within the narrow confines I have been given responsibility for. How do I engage this paradox?

Third, the church has work to do. We’ve rubbed shoulders with business people and educators in Oklahoma, motocross racers in Arkansas, cowboys in Colorado, aboriginals in Arizona, gamblers in Nevada, professionals in California, seniors in Oregon, pastors in Washington, skiers and young adults in British Columbia. Good people, the church has work to do! The church must, MUST, get out of her ghetto and engage the myriad of shifting peoples around us. One size fits all, just doesn’t fit! We need a wilder imagination and a more bold conviction of the truth of the Gospel that disturbs and is the only interior rest for people on the move.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Holy-day boldly

Our national statutory holidays are pathetically outdated. Consider this quick survey of our glorious days off:

• New Year’s Day: marking the launch of another year of our Lord (Anno Domini).

• Good Friday and Easter Monday: Jesus died so we could get the day off? (Many people believe this Friday is good simply because it is a holiday). Children and a few others get Easter Monday off to recover from chocolate hangovers. (Easter Monday is actually a remnant of Roman Catholic influence on Canadian culture).

• Victoria Day: our Victorian (a word now defined as “prudish, moralistic and religiously oppressive”) past is ritualized with trips to garden centres and fireworks.

• Canada Day: people above the 49th parallel remember they are not American.

• Labour Day: the recognition of labour by not labouring.

• Thanksgiving: the name says it all, but many are not sure why or to whom.

• Remembrance Day: a too-short silence to think long enough about what we lost and how we got there. Vicars and reverends still get seats of honour on this day.

• Christmas Day: the birthday of the guy killed on Good Friday. Also known as the day before the world junior hockey championships or the day of rest before Boxing Day shopping.

• Boxing Day: marking with glee that stores are open again. (Yet the root of this holiday is the giving of goodwill “boxes” to the less fortunate. It was set aside for giving, not consuming. Novel idea.)

This brief survey of holidays reveals how terribly behind these post-Christian times we are. After all, the majority are founded on the Christian religion. Why all these Christian holidays remain—if only in name—is intriguing. And the fact that we are now at least acknowledging special days of other religions, including Ramadan and Kwanza, increases the peculiarity of the paradox. If religion is so private and passé, why the increased publicity?

Why all these Christian holidays remain—if only in name—is intriguing.

Don’t you see? Canadian culture, increasingly shaped by gods of self and mammon and the religion of secularism, is undergoing a subtle transformation. Our holidays tell the tale. In fact, they tell new tales—Earth Day, for example. What and how we celebrate ultimately shapes us.

In the early centuries A.D., Roman festivals like Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the birthday of the unconquered sun”) was redefined by Christians. They used the existing culture to tell the story of the Saviour and, by golly, it worked famously.

The same shift Christianity once visited upon the Roman Empire is happening again, only in reverse.

This is no argument for state-sanctioned Christian observance. Rather, it is a wake-up call from our holiday slumber as we celebrate a very Good Friday and history-shattering Easter. Of all holidays, these are the most brash, for they invite public scrutiny of the very basis for Christian hope: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).

Everything hinges on Good Friday and Easter. The days defy reason and human religious indifference, but then again God has always done that. So, for the sake of our culture losing its memory and bowing before gods that are not God, Christians must holiday boldly and declare unashamedly that the Lord is risen indeed. Alone among the tombs and burial mounds of this world, his has been abandoned and left behind. We who holy-day—not holiday—are keepers of this old, old story that is new again.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Evangelistic Atheism on the Move

The Atheist Bus Campaign (Alternate U.K version here ) is now an officially sanctioned humanist atheist response to advertising in the name of God. Vocal atheists like Richard Dawkins are gleefully heaving their intellectual weight behind this grassroots, priesthood of all non-believers movement plastered on buses in several large cities. A rather ironic religious zeal is unashamedly central to this new (renewed?) popular atheism. In fact, you can not only give a tithe and offering, but buy t-shirts proclaiming your faithlessness, find social gatherings, and celebrate Darwin’s birthday (I don’t think they call it Darwinmas quite yet).

The controversial bus ads come with the somewhat hesitant slogan, “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” This ad campaign has found its way into prominent public, and often humorously hyperbolic, discourse. There seems to be great fear by both pro and anti-God parties that the future of western civilization hinges on awakening the slumbering masses with pithy slogans and cool eye-catching graphics. It makes you wonder if the Great Advertiser isn’t really the god of the age! Interestingly, the ancient Christian apologist Athenagoras pointed out to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius that the poets and advertisers of his day were pumping out words to sway the masses toward the idolatries of Greece and Rome. There’s nothing new under the beating sun.

Should Christians of this day care?

On one hand we should laugh. The slogan itself is rather unconvincing and reminds me of an accusation my son has made that as parents we “almost always sometimes” are too strict. The ads may prove to be counter-productive. If there is “probably” no God then there just might be. Furthermore, the fact that many humanists these days are complaining that religious organizations are granted charitable tax status while donations to the bus ads are eligible for tax-receipts is comically hypocritical.

In addition, the slogan makes personal happiness and selfishness the goal of godlessness – go figure! The fool who says in their heart (or on the bus) there is no God is ultimately interested in self over all and everyone else. Perhaps we’re not laughing anymore, but moving toward sorrow.

On the other hand we should be thankful. Yes, thankful. The underlying stated purpose of the ad campaign is to bring atheism into the maintstream through dialogue. With Christian thought primarily sidelined and scorned in contemporary culture isn’t it wonderful that atheists are now preparing the way for the Lord! Of course, this means that those who know Jesus must be ready, like Athenagoras, to engage the conversation, stop over-reacting and embarrassing themselves, and be reminded that since ours is a secular society we need to be ready to speak, live, and defend the Gospel even at great risk. We will need the life of the church to be the banner of God’s love and truth to a world on the move.