Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

I received a Tweet the other day with a link to this article from a follower who calls into question anything I read that was written by people younger than A.W. Tozer. Okay, a bit of an exageration; but the fact remains he considers every moment I spend reading science-fiction or fantasy as a moment not spent reading the Bible and therefore – a sin.

I read the article and found the usual list of objections; SF is based on science not faith, SF authors are mostly athiests, SF promotes evolution and, my personal favorite, science fiction “presents a distorted view of reality.” Imagine that, a fictional work that doesn’t reflect reality? Go figure!

The article did however, get me thinking about the science fiction and fantasy I have read over the years. I sat down and started putting a list together and came up with nearly a thousand titles when the data stream ran dry. (I know there’s a bunch more, I just couldn’t recall them as I was making the list.)

The one thing I noticed as I ran through the titles is that a great many of them actually deal with the subject of God, religion and spiritually, and not always in the negative.  In fact, as I recall the ones that did try to oppose the notion of God actually had some of the best things to say on the subject; or at least, that’s the way I remember it.

And hence the motivation for this post, and likely a bunch more to follow.  Exactly how has the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read over the years helped to shape my Christian world view; if at all? Has it been good or bad?  Also, is there a running theme of spirituality in science fiction?  A quick Google on the subject would suggest yes, but I’ve decided to explore my own choices, along with the opinions of others.

List in hand I intend to reread a fair number of the titles that stand out most in my memory and examine what they do or do not have to say about God, religion, and spiritually, and try to discern if they had any role in shaping my world view.  I can’t remember the order I read them in so I’ve  decided to read them in the order in which they were written and then comment here.

Please keep in mind that these will not be reviews! I’m not trying to tell you if a particular book is a good or a bad one, or whether you should read it or not. (Though that might come up.) The goal will be to discuss each work from my own spiritual perspective and see what surfaces. It will be largely a self-examining exercise on which you are invited to eavesdrop.  Little or no effort will be made to avoid spoilers, giving away the ending, or revealing the secret twist in the plot if discussing it is germain to the conversation. I will try to remember to warn you if a spoiler is coming, but I make no promises, so don’t cry the blues if I forget. Like I said, these aren’t intended to be reviews, so please regard them as such.

Anyway… that’s what’s to follow – read or don’t read;  agree or disagree; comment at will. The first article in this series will be posted tomorrow. Till then…

Shalom.

I came across this video this morning and found myself wondering how different Christians would regard this clinical description of their faith? I posted it here and linked to it from my different social networks because I’d like to have as much discussion in one place as I can. Hope you understand.

So… assuming you have watched the video I now ask you, “How does this clinical description of Christianity sit with you? Is it accurate? Meaningful? Useful? Feel free to discuss in the comments.

It never ceases to amaze me that in times of amazing human suffering somebody says something that can be so utterly stupid.

Such was the response of White House spokesman Robert Gibbs to the declaration by ‘700 Club ‘ and ‘CBN’ founder Pat Robertson that the earthquake in Haiti was another in a long line of natural disasters brought on by a “pact with the devil” Haitians made some two centuries ago.  The White House Press Secretary is absolutely right, but what bothers me is how often that something “so utterly stupid” is said by a minister of God.

There’s no denying that many times in the Old Testament God used a variety of ‘natural disasters’ to chastise one nation or another; so it is certainly understandable that many would question if God is still working that way today.  What I question however; is anyone’s ability to accurately discern which events are God in action and which are the natural consequence of a world that no longer works according to the original design? And even if you have reason to believe that a given event may, in fact, be the consequences of spiritual decisions made centuries ago, how can you possibly think saying so at a time when emotions are obviously running high can be of any help, either to the victims or to the cause of Christ?

It is just this kind of spiritual thoughtlessness that casts Christians and the gospel in a light not as a message of love and redemption, but rather one of judgment and condemnation. Daily Show host Jon Stewart actually hit the nail on the head during last night’s program. After reading a number of quotes from the Bible that spoke of the love and comfort of God, eg. “Turn to me and I will comfort you” Stewart looks straight into the camera and says to Robertson,

Out of all the things that you could draw on from your religion to bring comfort to a devastated people and region, you decided to go with, ‘Tough kitties, devil folk!’

Now I’m sure that this was not the spirit in which Robertson made the statements he made; the problem is that’s how it almost always comes across.  And while Robertson seems to have a substantial track record in this regard, he is not alone. All too often we as Christians think we have to expound on everything the scriptures have to say on any given situation we encounter, and more often than not all that’s needed is a simple, “Don’t be afraid. God Loves You!”

Throughout all of Scripture, God’s messengers most frequently begin their message to the people with these simple words, “Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid, God will deliver you.  Do not be afraid, God will bless you.  Even while telling his disciples of the terrible things that were to come (including earthquakes) Jesus told them not to be afraid.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  – John 16:33 NIV

Now I know some of you are wondering, “Okay, but Haiti gets hit a lot. What if Robertson is right?” Well I’m wondering, does it really matter? Does why the earthquake hit let us off the hook for being compassionate? Are we called to help and encourage only those whose ancestors had their act together? I don’t think so.

I do think the Bible calls us to be the presence of Christ in this world.  And I do think that means to feed the hungry, heal the sick and mend the brokenhearted regardless of how they got into their situation. And I also think that if the children of God can’t do this without saying things that make them sound spiritually knowledgeable, but end up doing more harm than good, then maybe God’s children should be seen and not heard!

I’m spending this week tracking down all the places on Kortright’s website where Don McCallum’s name appears as a contact. I will admit it is a weird feeling. It’s also an interesting little dance trying to figure out where to draw the line.  It’s going to be a bit of a dance for a while I’m sure, but eventually it will all get worked out.

One of the interesting aspects of this is how to refer to Rev. Ralph Neil. Ralph has agreed to take on the bulk of the Sunday morning teaching duties for the duration of the interim process. With a few decades experience under his belt in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations he’s an excellent choice and we are blessed to have him and his wife Bonnie around.

He’s a great guy and a good preacher, but what do I call him? He’s not the pastor, he’s just the person who will be preaching on Sunday mornings.  And while he is an ordained minister, to call him the minister also has connotations of permanence that are likely best avoided. I’ve settled on the title ‘Interim Speaker’ based on some input from members of session and a learned friend of mine. And while it works for reference purposes, it too is a less than perfect choice.

The word ‘interim’ seems to hold different connotations for different people. This is best illustrated by something I overheard during the picnic lunch after Don’s last service.  One person in the line up for coffee said to another, “I hope the process of finding a new pastor doesn’t take too long. Once this interim period is over we’ll be able to get back to normal.”

Now, while I agree with the sentiment that the process should not drag on too long (personally I’d like to see us with a new pastor in time for our 30th anniversary in Sept 2010) I really hope we never have to “get back to normal” because I don’t want to see us leave normal in the first place. The ‘interim’ is not about abandoning normal for the next year or so and then getting ‘back to normal’ later on.  At least, I don’t think it should be.

Because the ‘normal’ operation of the church is not dependent on who the pastor may or may not be.    The normal operation of the church is to love God, love others, care for the poor and the sick, comfort the heart-broken, lift the downtrodden, and proclaiming the good news to the nations. This is not of course an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.  These activities should make up the normal daily life of the church and should be continuing to take place regardless of who’s preaching, who’s on session, or who’s making the coffee between services.

This, for me, is the challenge of the next few months, not putting church life on hold until the search process is over. The pastor is just another member of the congregation, a significant member to be sure; a member with great responsibility without question; but in the end, still a member of the congregation along with the rest of us. And it is the congregation that determines what ‘normal’ is in the life of the church.

The period Kortright is facing is not like summer reruns on television and when the new ‘host’ is hired we will “return to our regular programming.” The months to come are integral part of the life of the church. It is, if you’ll excuse an entirely over-worn expression, our ‘new normal.’ It’s part of the process that God is taking us through to make who He needs us to be to bring about His kingdom here on earth.

The pastor can and should be used by God to influence that process; he or she can show us from the Word what God expects normal to look like. But ultimately it is the congregation who, by their actions and testimony as they live their lives before the world, determines what is the day-to-day normal of the church. And they need to keep doing that regardless of who is occupying the pulpit, either permanently, or just for the interim.

Hanging in for the duration… Shalom.

I’ve been putting off writing this for some time now, but I can’t put it off forever. It’s just that writing about it seems to give it so much  finality.  But then, experience has demonstrated writing about it brings acceptance as well, and since not writing about it won’t stop it from happening, I may as well get on with it.

Pastor Don McCallum is leaving KPC.

I’ve been a believer for just about 35 years now, and for the last 14 years Don McCallum has been my pastor.  Before that there was a long line of individuals in a variety of denominations starting with the Anglican minister who gave me a copy of Nietzche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil‘ as a confirmation gift when I was 13. (Interestingly enough, a young man named Davian is sitting at the desk behind me reading that very book as I’m writing this.)

If you check out my Facebook profile under religion it reads “Anglican/ Baptist/ Pentecostal/ Presbyterian with definite Jewish sympathies ” and that’s only a list of the major influences.  I was even blessed to have a Messianic rabbi as one of the early mentors (hence the ‘Jewish sympathies’), but for sheer longevity and range of interaction no one has been as large an influence on me as has Don McCallum.  It’s been one of the most productive and enjoyable relationships which I’ve ever had the privilege of taking part. That’s what makes change so hard.

But change is what growth is all about. If nothing changes there is only stagnation and that isn’t good for anyone or anything, and so the best way for me to get through this is embrace it and pray that it is only the ending of one phase of the relationship. Indeed, I pray that it is the beginning of a whole new phase of relationship;  for Don, for me, and for Kortright Presbyterian Church.

When Don first told me he was leaving (almost a month ago–worship planning works 4 months in advance, so we needed to know) it started me thinking about when Pete, Phil and Jim left. For those of you who don’t know, Pete Olsen was our youth pastor, Phil English was our worship pastor, and Jim Klaas was our discipleship pastor.  Each one, in turn, felt that the time had come for them to move on to other things. Each one had their influence on me, on Kortright and then moved on to influence others.  Now Don is leaving as well. The paranoid side of my insecurity is starting to wonder if it was something I said!?

But then I believe God began to show me a pattern.

It started when we moved to Devere Drive on our 25th anniversary. There was a general feeling of malaise at Scotsdale Drive.  Pretty much everyone felt we were in a rut and needed something new to kick us back into high gear.  Since space was an issue we started looking for a new building. It took more than 5 seemingly fruitless years, but then one day the old University Village School just seemed to drop into our lap. We tendered an offer, it was accepted, and we moved to the promised land.

And that’s where it ramped up a notch. The promised land metaphor was bandied around quite a bit. In fact, it was bandied about a lot. There was even talk of making a ‘crossing of the Hanlon Expressway video’.  But I don’t think any of us truly appreciated how much of a wilderness experience moving here was really going to be.

As expected there was an immediate drop off in attendance. Then shortly thereafter Pete and his wife Cindi were parachuted into the Northwest territories. (Well, not literally, though I’m sure Pete would have thought it a cool idea.) Other things began to change as well. Phil led us through a paradigm shift in worship which included the establishing of a worship planning team, Jim tried a variety of discipleship ideas but found the small groups dynamic was shifting. New people started to take leadership roles and we found things like bannering, and liturgical dance working their way into our midst. One thing after another came, or went, or was replaced as we struggled to discover our new identity in this new environment.

We changed our vision statement, our mission statement and our motto. A new goals directive was adopted, by a group of elders that was much changed from the one that left Scotsdale Drive; with the addition of more new elders next month, that dynamic will change again.  As I have already mentioned, along the way Pete, Phil and Jim moved on to bigger and better things. Now Don McCallum is doing the same. We’ve gone from 4 pastors to no pastors in three and a half years.

That’s when it hit me. We had forgotten one little detail about crossing the Jordan. One aspect of moving to the promised land had completely escaped our notice.

Nobody that left Egypt ever got to the promised land!!

Well, except Joshua and Caleb; because the promised land was such a new thing that it required a new way of thinking by those who were going to inhabit it.  The old ways would have worked against the new thing that God was trying to do. (And did, as it turned out.)

Now I’m not saying that an entire generation needs to die off before KPC will get its act together, however much it may seem to be taking that long.   But I do think we failed to notice the fact that sometimes to be effective change needs to be complete, total, even massive in scope.  It may require massive change because there are massive changes happening in the world we have been called to reach.  Every generation is different than the one before it, but most sociologists agree that the scope of change from one generation to the next is increasing exponentially.

I’m beginning to believe that God wanted to do far more with Kortright than we had ever imagined.  We were plateaued and going nowhere, just rolling along maintaining the status quo. For us to move forward we needed to go someplace we’d never been before and as much as we might have great affection for some of the things we wanted to bring along, they were slowing us down, miring us in the muck at the bottom of the Red Sea. What hurts most is to think some of the things holding us back might be people we truly love and care about.  But it may well be that the status quo is holding them back as well. It may well be that if they are going to grow, they need to be somewhere else.

And so it would seem that more changes are required than we thought. For the descendants of Israel, moving into the promised land took a lot of hard work and more than a few battles had to be fought. There were many casualties along the way. But it was worth it, because in the end a new nation was born.

And I think it will be worth it for Kortright as well. God is reinventing us into something completely new.  It has occurred to me that by the time we reach our 30th anniversary in Sept of 2010 we will have spent the last 5 years bringing about a new location, a new paradigm of worship, a new mission statement, a new vision statement, and new goals directive, a new youth pastor, a new children’s ministry director, a new music director, a new technical director, a new session (board of elders), and a new senior pastor.  By our 30th anniversary God will have all but totally re-invented Kortright Presbyterian Church. It will still be the same community of people, but a new version of that community with a new vision for the future.

Which is why I have decided that, for myself anyway, I’m going to call it Kortright 3.o

I know it’s incredibly geeky, but that’s the way I find myself thinking about it. As we cross the 30 year mark it will be as if we are entering into a whole new version of Kortright – version 3.0 – still very much the same place but with a few updated features, and a few new ones, some unproductive features removed from the menu, a little debugging done along the way, resulting in an improved spiritual experience that makes Kortright a greater and more effective community than it is right now.  And that’s exciting!

And I’ll be writing about all of it here, from one gray man’s perspective. Nothing about the future is going to be very black and white I imagine, just myriad shades of gray.  But I’ll comment on it here under the tag ‘Kortright 3.0’.  And I invite you to comment on the process as well. There will need to be many conversations about what is happening at KPC; I’d like to start one of them right here.

If you’re from Kortright then please pass around the link to this article. Let’s use the comment feature to start a dialog about what is happening at KPC. If there is enough traffic I’ll transfer all of this to a blog of its own. For now I’ll archive everything to a new menu page called – you guessed it – Kortright 3.0

This is an ending, there’s no doubt about that, but it is also a beginning; I’m excited to be here as the future unfolds.  In the past I was usually the one moving on; but God has given me a home at Kortright and so this time I’m staying while others do the moving. 

A new experience – this is going to be a great adventure.

 

Well, I’ll admit the London Times isn’t real high on my list of must read newspapers so it took a while for this to come to my attention. 

Bernard d’Espagnat, an 87 year old quantum physicist with a fair bit of international cred, has been awarded the Templeton Prize, a £1 million prize ($ 1,790,400 CDN) that honours scientists who contribute to religious thought.  Dr d’Espagnat, professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Paris-Sud university, believes that science cannot fully explain “the nature of being.”

As stated in the article:  Dr d’Espagnat said in prepared remarks that, since science cannot reveal anything certain about the nature of being, it cannot tell us with certainty what it is not. “Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated,” he said. “On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being.”

I’d keep going but Ruth Gledhill (Times religion correspondent) has covered the topic quite nicely, so if you’re interested you can read the entire article at the following link…

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5918050.ece

Until next time…  keep thinking those deep thoughts.

Torah is Life

Posted: January 20, 2009 in Spirituality
Tags: ,

One of the blogs I enjoy following is that of Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary. He provides a well educated commentary on a wide range of subjects. This morning he drew my attention to this video and so I present it to you.

It was interesting to me to hear people discussing Torah the same way Christians talk about the New Testament. What struck me about it is that when they talk about Torah they are referring to the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – what Christian scholars call the Pentateuch. For many Christians however, the Old Testament is considered dry and uninspiring, and so they focus mostly on the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. And yet here we have people discussing Leviticus in the same manner we talk about say, the gospel of John. I would suggest there are two things (at least) that we can learn from this observation.

First, the fact that two culturally diverse peoples can gain the same wisdom and learning from both the Old and New Testaments speaks to the universality of God. He is indeed the same yesterday, today and forever. He does not change and those who seek Him will find Him, no matter where they look. Or rather, if I may be so bold, those who seek Him will be found by Him, for He seeks us more fervently than we seek Him.

Second, we need to make sure we don’t neglect the Old Testament in our study of scripture. Many Christians do read the Old Testament, but as a background to the New Testament not necessarily as a guide to living in itself. This is often because there are many who perceive the teachings of Jesus as a replacement for the Old Testament. But this was never the case. Jesus said himself that he had not come to replace the law but to fulfill it. (Matt. 5:17)

So how then can we do this? I have a suggestion. Much Jewish study of the scriptures takes place in conjunction with the Talmud. The Talmud is not a different scripture as many non-Jews assume, rather it is a collection of commentaries that have been made by various rabbis of note down through the centuries. And so it is customary to read the Torah with the aid of these commentaries. Not unlike what Christians do in their Bible studies.

Here’s my suggestion then. Read the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy, using the teachings of Jesus, the gospels, as a commentary. That is, as you read the Old Testament, cross reference the teachings of Jesus as they pertain to each passage of scripture. Most good study Bibles will provide the cross references for you. As you read ask yourself these questions: How does Jesus’ teaching shape your reading of the Old Testament passage? How does the Torah passage retain it’s meaning in the light of Jesus’ teaching?

It’s not that profound an idea, I’ll admit, but this video caused me to wonder – we are quick to read the Bible with the aid of a modern teacher’s commentary, but how many of us have read it following the commentary of the greatest teacher of all time?

Until next time…

Shalom.