Friday, July 22, 2011

Who is to Blame?

The Vancouver Canucks’ inability to score and some people’s penchant for blowing things up has caused me to agree with a zealous atheist. “Religion poisons everything,” contends Christopher Hitchens. He may be on to something—at least to the degree “Hockeyanity” has become Canada’s de facto religion.

In British Columbia we observed two months of Stanley Cup worship. Streets were empty like Christmas Eve on game night. People gathered together. Prayers were offered. One church sign declared the prophesied end of the world was postponed because of the playoffs. Candles were lit. Actually, those were police cars.

That was the moment a game ceased being fun and the spectacle became an orgy of human depravity, mob mentality and disappointment with a god of the age. How could fine Canadians from fine Canadian homes move from fans to fanaticism? At least riotous protests in other parts of the world are about a cause. What exactly was this craziness about?

The Canucks, whose marketing slogan is, “We are all Canucks,” suddenly claim the hooligans were not their fans. We must not stain the brand.

Others want to throw the book at anyone who joined in. Some businesses fired employees instantly if they were seen in photographs published like Old West “wanted” posters on the Internet. This strategy works marvelously if you enjoy the power of public shame.

Then there are the revelers themselves. Swept in the tidal wave, many claim it was just one big alcohol-infused, sore-loser-induced, anarchist-fueled brain cramp: “I went to a hockey game and suddenly I was posing in front of a burning car chugging an energy drink I pilfered through the shattered store window. It’s all a blur. Oh, and I had the wherewithal to gloriously boast online, before my ‘bff’ texted that I’m probably implicating myself.” Apart from the contrition of a few—and mostly because they were caught red-handed—we fervently excuse ourselves.

There are experts. One posited that the riot was a “holdover from the pathway of evolution.” Taken to its logical conclusion, hooligans are thus absolved by reason of the temporary suspension of evolutionary progress. Clearly it’s not a case of survival of the fittest. Other experts have slyly joined the anarchist cause, blaming city officials and the authorities for having the party in the first place. With some mental gymnastics we can blame it on nature or lay it at the feet of big brother.

But why are we determined to name a culprit? Because the relativistic ethos of the day has yet to erase a hunger pang for right and wrong. In contrast, though, we readily forgive if someone will just admit they were a dork. Isn’t that peculiar?

And, to the consternation of aggressive atheists, we are very, very religious. We’ll even make a sport our altar. Why is it that, having turned en masse from the fear of God, we can’t shake being religious?

Even at the end of days that point to these deep mysteries, it is striking how reluctant we are to confess that the problem is not genetics, evolution, policies, ideologies, authorities or alcohol. The real problem is, we have misplaced our worship and, to quote a guy who knew something about riots, are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). We are not all Canucks, but we are all to blame. Let us begin there and find the power of grace, re-creation, and love, which covers a multitude of sins . . . and stupidities.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A History of Birth

Ever looked at a crowd of people in their splendid diversity and wonder where they came from? A crowd is diverse, but each person entered human history the same way: through a birth canal. Yup, big or small, regardless of race or creed, everyone started life painfully. Birth has got to be the most wonderful and horrible thing on the planet. And, every birth changes history forever.

The parallel truth is that anything human beings then set their hands and hearts to must also be born. And any such new birth – whether a business, a settlement, or an organization – means something changes everything – again. Nothing is birthed without pain. But nothing good enters the the world apart from that same pain.

What follows is an all too brief survey of Holy Spirit-birthed multi-site movements that began small and painfully, but changed the world. Hopefully we’ll be thrilled to see that what the Holy Spirit is doing in many mission-focused communities these days is not inconsistent with his moves throughout the centuries that have been beautiful, fruitful, but nonetheless, like any birth, painful:

1. The Early Church. This may surprise us, but the first church birthed following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus was really small and experienced major labour pains. Only a small circle of 12 and a wider circle of 120, the first followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, became a multi-site church in various locations (note how Paul address his letter “To the churches of Galatia” [Gal.1:2] and how his letter to Christians in Rome name a diversity of people who met in multiple “churches” throughout the city [Rom.16:1-16]). They shared leadership, focused Gospel presence locally, and wrestled through the realities of God changing up the game plan. It seemed to work out quite well, don’t you think?

2. St. Patrick and the Irish. In the fifth century a young Brit was captured and taken to a small island as a slave. Though he escaped, he could not shake the call of God to serve his captors. So, he voluntarily returned as a missionary to the very people who enslaved him. This was Patrick. He threw himself into preaching the Good News, demonstrating the love of Christ among the wild Irish, but perhaps most importantly, he founded a flourishing multi-site community of Gospel outposts that, sharing his vision and Jesus-centered DNA, transformed Ireland and beyond. God birthed the multi-site mission outpost vision of Patrick and it played a major role in preserving the Christian gospel at a time when it appeared to be floundering and splintering. We can thank the Irish for a day to celebrate all that is green, but more than that, we should be thankful for the difficult birth that produced a great multi-site movement.

3. The Saving of Simons. In the early 1500s a new Holy Spirit movement took the reforms initiated by Martin Luther to its logical conclusion: that the church of Jesus should not be tied to a particular state you enter into simply by being born in a certain place. Instead, the church of Christ is entered into voluntarily – symbolized by baptism upon the confession of one’s own faith (that’s why they were called Anabaptists – literally “re-baptizers”) – and these believers become a radical people serving one another and their world, even to the point of suffering, because that’s what Jesus did. The birthing of this radical reformation was very painful. Many were martyred for their convictions. It even looked like the whole thing would fall apart due to persecution and the excesses of some nutcase extremists. Then along came a reluctant Catholic priest named Menno Simons. Convinced the Scriptures taught what the Anabaptists were living, he abandoned his privileged position and gave his life to settling and shepherding a new birthing of the Spirit. He and his family lived on the run, avoiding those who wanted his head, and guided a movement that, instead of dissipating into history, survived, thrived, and leavened the whole course of church history. These first “Mennonites” were really a multi-site church on mission saved from a premature death in infancy by a Dutch priest.

4. The Methodists. John Wesley was an Anglican minister who became convinced Jesus intended his followers to be united as a deeply committed, small-group, mission church. He reluctantly left the institutional church he loved to oversee a wild movement of the Holy Spirit that was instrumental in changing the 18th century English world. Wesley’s” Methodists” were a multi-site, cross-cultural church centered on personal commitment to Jesus, small groups, shared leadership, mission-verve, and enormous courage. It sounds all good and normal to us now, but in his day Wesley was considered a kook by those who forgot new birth was not only normal, but necessary, and a heck of an adventure!

5. The Denomination. Each of the above multi-site movements, and others, eventually became institutionalized as “denominations” (i.e. Methodists, Mennonites, Baptists, etc.). In principle, a denomination is the organizing of a Holy Spirit-birthed multi-site church; not necessarily a bad thing. Over time, however, denominations – like every local church – risk losing their mojo and adventurous spirit in the name of comfort, predictability, and self-preservation. This is a killer and, it must be said, completely out of sync with the new life the Holy Spirit seeks to birth in every age and generation. Currently many denominations are struggling to find their way in a new cultural climate. Some are dying. Some are the walking dead. Others are seeing new life birthed and, very often, this new life is emerging as another maternity ward of multi-site churches, of whom Gracepoint should be humbled to be part of. This is never of human origin, but of the Holy Spirit’s doing and, while it can be very painful, it is as much a beautiful thing as the diversity of peoples we see on our streets every day.