Wednesday, December 29, 2004

People! Primary Sources, Please!

A recent conversation between Wendy & a neighbour on our street:
The neighbour begins, "Oh, you've been involved in the Vineyard, eh? Wow, there are some serious problems with the Vineyard. I can't believe you'd get taken in by them." She goes on to recount the various false teachings and abberant practices of the Vineyard that disturb her.

Wendy, my beautiful and sagacious spouse, responds, "Holy dis-information, Batman! Where did you get such twisted opinions? The Vineyard doesn't teach or practice any of those things."

Wendy suddenly finds herself on the receiving end of a look that is simultaneously pitying, condescending, and suspicious. "Wendy, you're just so wrong. I read all about the problems with the Vineyard on the Internet..."
On the Internet? You actually believe whatever you read on the Internet?!?

Hello, Gullible's Travels...

It reminds me of something I read in Bill Jackson's "Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard":
"In August of 1986, Christianity Today appeared with a weird caricature of Wimber on the cover and a lead article by Tim Stafford entitled 'Testing the Wine from John Wimber's Vineyard'." (page 152)
I've realized, after all these years, that many of the people who have problems with the Vineyard are reacting to a caricature of the Vineyard, not the Vineyard as it really is. Some authors (like John MacArthur) have written books that claim the Vineyard had no doctrinal statement, which is a lie. But nobody realizes it because, like good cessationist lemmings, they never read anything written by the Vineyard, they only read attacks on the Vineyard from "trusted" leaders (meaning leaders who already agree with them).

My history teacher in high school almost pulled his hair out at times over some of the unfounded opinions which students would offer as "fact". He was ranting before ranting became a spectator event online:
"Primary sources, people! Primary sources!" he would insist, obviously spiking his blood pressure to dangerous levels in his passion. "Don't read what others say about history, read what those who were there wrote!"
I could echo the same thing to critics of the Vineyard, like our neighbour: "Primary sources, people! Primary sources! Read Power Evangelism by John Wimber or Quest for the Radical Middle by Bill Jackson. If you have a problem with what they've written, then let's talk about that. Don't believe everything you read on the 'Net!"

I don't mind if people don't agree or aren't comfortable with everything in the Vineyard, but please, let's get our facts straight, okay?

Okay, Robby, you can relax now. Breathe, breathe...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Vineyard Pastors Conference 1993

The first time I ever went to a Vineyard Pastors Conference, John Wimber gave the following fatherly analogy to us, which I think would be the words I would say -- if anyone were to ask -- to those who are beginning to deal with critiques (both fair and unfair) about the emerging church. (This isn't a transcription from anywhere, it's just my memory of the event, so any errors in communication are totally mine.)

Sitting in an armchair, as his recent health difficulties had made it difficult to stand while he spoke, John told us, "I feel like a father, sending my kids off to play football in the local schoolyard."

"I tell my kids, Listen -- some of the kids you're going to play with are going to play by the rules, and respect you and watch out for you. And other kids -- well, they're NOT going to do that -- they'll cheat, lie, give you cheap shots, and then blame you. But no matter how they treat you, you play nice."

Leaning forward in his armchair, John admonished us, "Some pastors and churches will play by the rules. Some won't. Some pastors and churches will honour and respect you. Some won't. Some pastors will speak well of you and join you in ministry. Some won't. They'll misrepresent you, lie about you, talk about you behind your back, and falsely accuse you of all kinds of things."

Of all the things I've heard or read from John Wimber, this is the nugget that I remember the most.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hired Guns

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep." (John 10:11-13)
Recently, I've come across a couple of large churches who, because they say they "value excellence", hire worship leaders from other churches (or who aren't part of a faith community anywhere) to come and lead the congregational worship.

Not surprisingly, these worship-leaders-for-hire don't become part of the community of the church, even on a home group level; they only come to services when they're paid to, and remain aloof or absent from all aspects of the church's life the rest of the time. They are simply hired guns.

They do nothing to develop younger worship leaders or musicians, they simply get the best musicians they can find, and exclusively use them. Nothing is ever done to train, encourage, and develop younger or less skilled players -- they are either of no use to the church, or they have to hone their skills somewhere else and come back "when they're excellent".

The ethos that this must set for the congregations at these churches is staggering in its implications. It also reveals a lot about the church leaders who hired these mercenary musicians.

I don't think it's too far of a stretch to apply John 10:11-13 to these hired guns. They don't care for the flock. They have nothing invested in community. They leave when they get a better offer, when hard times hit, or when they get bored.

At the same time, I also value excellence -- excellence in character, excellence in humility, excellence in relationships, excellence in honesty and integrity, and excellence in broken-ness.

That's the kind of worship leader that can be safely trusted with the flock.

Monday, November 29, 2004


Here's a GREAT quote, chock-full of wisdom, from Britist blogger Maggi Dawn:
"I always encourage people to buy in thoroughly to whatever they are in to. It shows a serious lack of character, I think, to hover on the edge of something being cool and cynical and never getting your hands dirty - kind of belonging, but without ever getting committed. I'd much rather get involved in whatever I do, despite the risk of getting egg on my face."
I'm always inclined to listen more closely to practitioners than I do to theorists -- it's easy to critique and deconstruct, but not as easy to reconstruct, and those who are getting their hands dirty in actual ministry have greater credibility.

I value theorists, dreamers, and prophetic voices -- quite highly -- but if John Wimber is correct in saying "faith is spelled R-I-S-K", then there comes a time where cynicism, past hurts from church, and fear of others' opinions must give way to stepping out into the unknown.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Bride As Metaphor

My last post concerned the meaningfulness of new metaphors. My basic premise is that a metaphor that doesn't have the power to change -- at a deep, instinctive level -- the way that we view and approach life, isn't helpful to us. The example I gave was of a gas station attendant calling him/herself a "Petroleum Transfer Engineer"; it sounds more impressive but it doesn't change anything of consequence.

Wendy and I were looking at the metaphor of the "Bride" as we discussed the power (or lack of power) in adopting new metaphors. "The Bride of Christ" is a recurring metaphor found within the Bible itself, and while I'm not suggesting that this means it should trump all other metaphors, it's as good as place as any to start.
(It might be beneficial to note that if metaphors work mostly to make us comfortable and at ease, then they may be more self-serving than sanctifying.)
In our contemporary society, the Bride as metaphor would be interpreted that God is the Lover of our souls, the One who wooes us to Himself, who loves us to the ultimate act of self-sacrifice to re-establish relationship between Himself and His rebellious creation. Again, this interpretation of the Bride metaphor can certainly be found in Scripture and is helpful to us.

But as Wendy pointed out, a significant difference is that our contemporary society has made the wedding day and ceremony revolve around the Bride -- it's "the bride's day". To the original hearers/readers of Paul's letters, however, it was entirely the opposite:
  • the Groom came for the bride at an undisclosed time, so the bride had to make sure she was always ready (think of how well that would go over today!)
  • the Bride gave up all her rights
  • the Bride was completely dependent on the Groom
  • while contemporary marriages are a partnership of equals, this was not the case to the original hearers/readers of this metaphor
Personally, I like the egalitarian partnership of equals in my own marriage, but I would like to suggest that our interpretation of what it means to be the Bride of Christ should look more to the first-century understanding. For example, can we imagine the arrogance to think that the metaphor of "the Bride" meant that we were an egalitarian partnership of equals -- us and Jesus? If we look to the Bride as a metaphor for "the church", in the first century understanding, what does that imply? For a few things (certainly not an exhaustive list):
  • we give up our rights (as opposed to "I've accepted Jesus, but I haven't made Him Lord of my life" -- that kind of thinking is not only faulty, but dangerous)
  • we are completely dependent (as opposed to "Oh, God, would You add Your blessing to what we've done" added almost as an afterthought to all of our busywork)
  • we live by His timetable, not expecting Him to abide by ours (as opposed to "I really must get around to dealing with that area of my life...")
  • It really IS all about the Groom and His story (as opposed to expecting that we are the focal point, and we are simply adding Jesus to OUR story)
Well, whaddaya think? Any other input or suggestions on the implications of the Bride as a metaphor?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Juicy Metaphors

I was talking to a friend recently about the power of new metaphors, which will make Len Hjalmarsson a happy camper (Len loves a good metaphor), and I came away from the conversation wondering if, for all of our talk of the necessity of new metaphors for leadership and being the church, if some people aren't simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Allow me to be more precise: metaphors that have no power to effect change in our inner paradigms are not going to get us where we need to go.

For example, in the working world, some people are given a new title (metaphor) in their line of work, but nothing changes about WHAT they do, only what they identify themselves as.

Trouble is, if you're still doing the exact same kind of dreary work, then it doesn't really matter what you use as a new metaphor -- nothing's changed. It's about as effective as the person who pumps gasoline at the local Esso station calling him/herself a "Petroleum Transfer Engineer". It might sound more impressive, but at the end of the day, the poor sod is still running out in the pouring rain or driving snow to pump gasoline for other people sitting in their warm, dry cars.

That would be an example of a meaningless metaphor, because calling yourself a Petroleum Engineer wouldn't, and couldn't, change the parametres of your "calling" as a gas jockey.

In the same way, if the new metaphors we employ regarding leadership and what it means to be the church don't in some way have the power to actually change the way we think about leadership and what it means to be the church, then we might as well stop looking for new metaphors.

If you really like the metaphor of church as a hospital, that SHOULD have strong implications on how you treat people, what values you would look for in those to lead, and what you would say yes or no to in ministry.

If you prefer the metaphor of the church as an army (and there's some already-existing scriptural examples that would go a long way in bolstering this metaphor), then that SHOULD have a profound impact on how you approach issues of justice, evangelism, and even your prayer ministry.

Some people have latched onto the metaphor of church as corporation, and that SHOULD have (and has had) serious implications for how the church is led, what gifts are valued within the church, and the strategies that the church will use to reach their goals.

You may not like these three examples of metaphors (I don't), which is fine because that's not really the main focus of this entry. I'm just becoming more aware that if we're going to use new metaphors for leadership, what it means to be the church etc., those metaphors MUST have the power to affect a deep change in our paradigms, or we're only putting a band-aid on a patch of leprous skin.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Apology & Update those who have been visiting my blog, hoping to get an update on what's happening with my health, and noticing that I haven't updated for what seems like forever! (Thanks, Sue & Harv Peters, for phoning to check on me and chastise my blogging habits!)

The tests on October 27 went well (meaning they didn't stop me half-way through and set off alarms of some kind) but I won't have the results until November 18. Which I interpret to mean that I'm not on death's door just yet. My mother gave me some great tips on dealing with hypoglycemia, which was the initial diagnosis until some later tests shows "something we'd like to check on...". 

My mom has hypoglycemia as well, and I've been treating myself as if that is indeed what I have, and I seem to be fairly healthy since then. The tests will either prove that initial diagnosis, or they'll show if there's something else wrong and we'll go from there. I'm still on beta-blockers to slow my heart rate down, blood-thinners, and I'm still carrying around the nitroglycerin until they tell me to stop (thankfully, there's been no need to use it!).

In the meantime, I'm doing life as normal, except that I've been off coffee since mid-October and have had one (1) beer during that interim (suffering, yes). I've been to Ottawa, London, and Toronto on speaking engagements, and I'm teaching next week on "Postmodernism & the Emerging Church" at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, before heading to Peterborough for the following weekend to speak there.

So, keeping busy with my new job, trying to stay healthy in my diet and sleep habits, and waiting on test results in a few weeks. And, yes, if you look below this entry, you'll find a new post -- I'm back on the blogging wagon!

Thanks, everyone, for your concern and prayers.


Tests came back negative. That means the situation -- while real -- is stress-related but not genetic. (Still have to be careful.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Health Update

But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (Nehemiah 4:7-9)

I've always liked this passage from Nehemiah, because it so succinctly sums up the two-pronged approach I take to things like last week's surprise hospital visit: Nehemiah prayed for protection AND posted a guard. Likewise, I contacted everyone I knew, through email and this blog, to pray for me, and I'm taking my medication and doing what my doctor tells me.

Thanks to so many who commented and emailed me with prayers of support & encouragement, prayers of spiritual warfare (you're right -- the timing is completely suspect), and prayers for healing, and also some prophetic words. If anyone has ever doubted whether this online blogging thing can actually be "community", I have an answer for you: "Yes." I have been touched and blessed by the comments and emails from people whom I've known for years, and also from those who I know only through cyberspace, literally from around the world. Thank you, everyone, and may God bless you for your intercession on behalf of myself and my family.

A quick update:

I'm scheduled for some further tests on October 27 in the afternoon, where they'll be injecting me with glow-in-the-dark stuff for monitoring my heart during some exercise tests. When they tell you to report to "Nuclear Medicine -- it's in the basement...", you feel like you're entering the Twilight Zone or something.

In the meantime, I'm taking blood-thinners (aspirin) and a beta-blocker which is to slow my heart rate down. The nitroglycerin hasn't been used yet, and Lord willing, it won't ever need to be, although I keep it with me as instructed.

Other than that, I'm doing normal, everyday stuff, and I'm not in discomfort much, aside from being suddenly banned from Tim Horton's and Starbucks -- even our coffeemaker at home has been removed from it's place of honour in the kitchen.

I'll keep you updated as things progress here, and would covet your prayers especially October 27, but for now, know that I'm appreciative for your prayers, and they are having their effect -- good to have righteous people praying effective prayers around me!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Long Night...

I spent all last night (and a good chunk of today) in a local hospital, hooked up to monitors of all sorts and giving blood like a swooning syncophant at a vampire convention.

Well, it seemed like a lot of blood, anyway.

Seems that I may have some sort of blockage happening in my heart (not speaking in spiritual metaphors this time), and after numerous tests, blood-lettings, and what seemed like everything short of applying leeches, they're still not completely sure what's wrong with me. So, I get to go back for more extensive tests in two weeks.

In the meantime, I'm on several different kinds of pills, and I get to carry an inhaler full of nitroglycerin everywhere I go -- "just in case".

"What does that mean, exactly -- 'just in case'?" I ask.

"Try it a maximum of three times, and if it doesn't help, call 9-1-1 right away."

A real confidence-booster, comments like that one!

One of the neat things about last night was being able to pray (along with Wendy) for a young youth pastor who was just outside my door (hallway medicine, anyone?), in agony due to gallstones that he's isn't scheduled to have removed for another couple of weeks.

Another treasured moment was my father coming to see me late last night, and to have him pray for me there in the hospital. There's something very, very cool about having a father who prays.

On that note, I would covet your prayers on my behalf, as well. I'll keep everyone posted once I know more myself.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Leaders, Can You Hear Me?

Len Hjalmarson emailed me recently with this challenge:

"Rob, you have one hour to tell 25 pastors and leaders what they need to know about leadership in this transitional time.

"What are you going to ask them?

"What things do you want them to know?"

Because I really like the example of Jesus, I think I'd respond to any questions by asking more questions. Even if I could get something condensed down to one hour, why would a talking head (especially mine) be helpful? Questions that would make them think, long after the hour was over, would be preferable (admittedly, these are just a wee bit on the "pointed" side).

Assorted Questions
  1. Are you listening to me? Really listening? (Matthew 11:15, The Message)

  2. Are the emerging generations (teenagers & 20-somethings) attracted to your church, or are they leaving?

  3. If they're leaving or have already left, to what do you attribute this?

  4. Have you actually asked any of them?

  5. On what Scripture passage do you base the idea that "leaving our church = falling away from God"?

  6. Listen to the following quote from a 20-something friend of mine in Winnipeg; she is articulating a common theme:
    "I am not really interested in where the church is going per se, but if there is a safe place for my parched and weary soul."
    (a) How would you respond to her statement?

    (b) When was the last time you read the Parable of the Lost Sheep
    (Luke 15:3-7)?

  7. Have any of you created a flowchart or diagram to demonstrate your effectiveness as a leadership team in living out the following verses?

    • "Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'" (Matthew 20:25-28)

    • "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4)

    • "When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. 'Do you understand what I have done for you?' he asked them. 'You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.'" (John 13:12-15)
  8. Are you listening to me? Really listening? (Matthew 11:15, The Message)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Nothing New Under the Sun

George Mallone's Furnace of Renewal: A Vision for the Church, written almost a quarter of a century ago (1981), contains some really interesting gems on the issue of leadership and the Body. George was from a Plymouth Brethren background in Vancouver Canada, although he later pastored a Vineyard in Arlington Texas (USA) until his early promotion to heaven in the mid-90's.

Commenting on Matthew 20:25, George writes:
"People who have spent all their energies getting to the top now let others feel the full weight of their authority. They lord it over others and are concerned to exercise authority over others. They are preoccupied with position. They 'love' their people by keeping an oppressive heel on the back of their necks. Words of affection flowed from men like Idi Amin, the Shah of Iran, and Jim Jones, when all along they really were oppressive potentates.

"These are harsh political and cult examples, but there are milder and more subtle forms within the church. There are those who pressure us to believe that the church is a business corporation with a director at the top. Everyone is to jump when the boss speaks. To others it is the professor who knows Greek and Hebrew and who alone can untangle for us the mysteries of Scripture. To other it is the man or woman who has pastoral gifts of discernment and prophecy, who demand that their disciples be obedient to the vision that they have for them."
While it's interesting that George wrote these words (prophetically?) over 30 years ago, it's also encouraging to realize that there have always been voices calling the Church back to its First Love and to being about the business of discipling people, not running programs.

True, it's sobering that evidently some people weren't listening to voices like George's, but I find it encouraging to realize that those of us who are questioning praxis and ecclesiology in the 21st century are actually standing in very good company with believers of previous generations.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Swan Song

One last picture of us performing at Winnipeg's Folklorama -- this was the final night of the festival, after a total of 29 shows in seven days, played before a combined audience of over 16,000 people.

Wendy took this photo of us performing "Barrett's Privateers", literally an hour or so before we packed up for the last time, and our family began our move.

It has to be said, one last time:

I'm really going to miss these guys.

If this was the last secular band that I'll be so heavily involved in, to quote the late Mike Yaconelli, "What a ride!"

Saturday, August 21, 2004

A Year of Blogging

The same day that I watched the moving truck disappear down our tree-lined street, filled with all of our worldly possessions, was my one-year blogging birthday.

Of course, since my computer was on that truck, I knew blogging would be put on temporary hold, as would any attempts at being reflective on a year in the blogosphere.

In retrospect, I'm glad I labelled this blog a "journey", because it's certainly turned out to be one. Len Hjalmarsson (NextReformation) should take a lot of credit (or blame) for strongly encouraging me to start a blog of my own, and Charlie Wear (Next-Wave e-zine) could be held similarly culpable for repeatedly publishing every article that I sent him.

There's been a flurry of blogs in recent weeks attempting to take the pulse of the emerging church, or postmodern mission, or "pomergent" as my buddy Mitch Tulloch labelled it. Since many of them have already said many things I would have said, although far more eloquently, I'll just add a couple of things from my own grey cells.
  • There's been a lot of talk about "quitting church so we can just BE the Church", which kinda scares me. The whole "we have no leaders but God" and the "level playing field where everyone's contribution is equal" sounds great on paper, but the only way this could be truly accomplished is by making our groups (a) small, (b) full of people just like us, and (c) off-limits to people who aren't just like us. In other words, an elitist clique.

    Don't get me wrong; I'm all for the Plymouth Brethren ideal of "every member a minister", but reality is more complex than that (chaos theory on a ecclesial level, perhaps?). Unless our groups are "invitation-only", we can expect to encounter broken, needy, time-consuming people who don't get healed in a week or two. If our goal is to have homogenous groups where we can all simply hang out and bask in our friendships/community, these needy people (the ones Jesus seemed to spend a lot of time with) will "wreck" everything.

    Which connects with my second observation...
  • Being "missional" is a lot more than creating a theological and philosophical justification for leaving a church -- it means that we've deliberately, intentionally, chosen to focus our community on a greater goal than simply being a tight little gathering of like-minded individuals.

    I'm concerned that not a lot of emerging groups are doing this -- they often seem to be little more than postmodern bless-me clubs, with Guinness and cigars.

    In order to create communities that are intentionally missional, and not merely bless-me clubs of postmodern snobs, people will have to rise to the occasion and provide (brace yourselves) leadership. A different model of leadership than many (perhaps most) churches have evolved into, but leadership nonetheless.
In the very first article I wrote on Postmodern Ministry, my first concern was that what has since become labelled the "emerging church" would become a fad -- marketed & exploited, complete with its own set of gurus and boundaries for deciding who was "in" or "out" -- and my impressions over this past year is that we are still in danger of that very trap.

Society is changing quickly around us, and the last thing we need is a pomergent sub-sub-category of Christendom that only further insulates us from the real (postmodern) world.

Such are my thoughts, after a year of blogging. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Surfacing In Toronto

Basically, we made it. We're here. One minivan filled with a family of five, two cats, a dog, and gym bags full of clothes to last us two weeks until our stuff arrives and we actually move into our new house. 2400 kilometres. Lots of coffee and Gatorade.

We made it. We're here.

Started work Tuesday morning, bright and early. Thanks be to God that coffee is no longer under Papal condemnation, and that Tim Horton's can be found every fifteen metres or so.

We made it. We're here.

Many ideas percolating. Regular posting to resume soon. Stay tuned.

Time for another Tim Horton's run...

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Wagons East!

I'll cut to the chase:
We're moving to the Toronto area in just under three weeks. I've accepted a ministry job there, but I didn't mention it here until after I got a chance to let the band know (which I did this past Sunday).
What could possibly make me give up a great band, a cool home group, and life in the beautiful city of Winnipeg?

Basically, I feel that this position will put me in a place of making a difference. I'll be part of a team of youth ministry people who share similar journeys and visions for what the church could be, and I'll be in a place where I can actually help set the culture for youth ministry for an entire denomination.
 I've always believed, ever since this blog started, that "we're far more dangerous as Reformers than we are as Protesters." This is an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is.
But DANG! I'm going to miss the band, our home group, and the many friends we have here.

Monday, August 2, 2004

The "Evangelical Put-Down" Show!

(Enthusiastic applause)
Announcer: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to another half hour edition of Evangelical Put-Down! The game of Christian one-up-man-ship where you can gain points and prizes for coming up with a creative, catchy way of putting non-Christians in their place! And now, here's the host of Evangelical Put-Down, Anne Noying!
(Wildly enthusiastic cheers)

Anne: Thanks everyone, and welcome to our show. Tonight, our contestants will once again try to come up with a catchy way of putting non-Christians in their place. But remember, not only must this catchy phrase please the Christian doctrinal content quotient, it must also leave the non-Christian confused! Ready? Here’s our Pagan, and more important, here’s our first Contestant!

Pagan: Uh, hey, man, how about doing some drugs after school?

Contestant #1: No way! Why do you think they call it ‘dope’?
(Scattered applause from Christian audience)

Anne: Oh, no, I’m sorry, Contestant #1, but that’s just not the quality we're looking for. The expression has already been done, by secular sources (murmurs of disapproval from Christian audience), and it makes too much sense to the Pagan. We have some nice consolation prizes for you. Let’s bring out Contestant #2!
(More applause)

Pagan: Uh, I really believe that we all evolved from lesser life forms. I think evolution explains man’s origins.

Contestant #2: Hey, if you want to think your grandpa was a monkey, that’s your problem! (Enthusiastic applause from Christian audience)

Anne: Wow! Snappy comeback, Contestant #2! You really answered our Pagan on the issue of evolution! He looks properly confused! And the Christians love the put-down! Uh-oh, wait a minute...

I’m sorry, Contestant #2, but our panel of judges say that you won’t gain doctrinal content points unless you throw in some Scripture or up the “J-count”. But a good effort, nonetheless! Let’s bring out Contestant #3!
(More applause)

Pagan: Wait, lemme get a good one...

Anne: Hurry up, you dumb reprobate, we haven’t got all day!
(Boos from Christian audience)

Pagan: Oh, yeah, I’ve got one! Hey, ya Jesus Freak, I think you're just a victim of brainwashing! Ya can’t be intelligent and Christian at the same time!

Contestant #3: Well, I may be a Jesus freak, but then again, who’s freak are you?

Pagan: Huh?
(Wild applause and cheers from Christian audience)

Anne: Whoa! What a great put-down! Ladies and gentlemen, did you hear it? Pithy. Direct. Spiritual! Yes, and it looks like our judges are favourably impressed. Yes, the answer has adequate spiritual content, it confused the Pagan completely, and it was a big hit with our Christian audience! We have a winner! Congratulations, Contestant #3!

Contestant #3: Aw, shucks, ‘tweren’t nothing!

Anne: I bet you have a great time relating your faith to those around you with a sharp mind like yours!

Contestant #3: Yep, witnessing is my business!

Anne: Well, that’s about all the time we have for today, folks! Make sure you join us again next week for another edition of Evangelical Put-Down!
(Wild applause and fade...)

Monday, July 26, 2004

Festival Season is upon us

This was taken yesterday at The Forks in Winnipeg (so named because the city was originally built around the junction of three rivers), where we were part of the "Ban Landmines" benefit concert for Amnesty International. Now that the weather is really hot, we're doing lots of outdoor festivals and smaller shows like this one.

Winnipeg's Folklorama, the largest multi-cultural festival in North America, starts in just a week, now that the Fringe Festival is over. We'll be part of the opening ceremonies on Scotia Bank Stage on July 31, where we share the stage with Colin Hay (former lead singer of Men At Work), and we'll be the house band for a week at the Celtic Ireland Pavillion. If you're around locally for the week of August 8-14, stop by any night for a great time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

Pentecostals/Charismatics: Ten. One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

Presbyterian: None. Lights will go on and off at predestined times.

Roman Catholic: None. Candles only.

Episcopalian: Eight. One to call the electritian, and seven to say how much they like the old one better.

Baptist: At least fifteen. One to change the bulb, and three comittees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.

Mormon: Five. One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it.

Unitarian: We choose not to make a statement either in favour of or against the need of a light bulb. However, if in your journey, you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb, and present it next month at our annual light bulb service in which we will explore the number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

Methodist: Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved - you can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Church lighting service is planned for next Sunday. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.

Nazerene: Six. One woman to replace the bulb while five men review the church lighting policy.

Greek Orthodox: Change? What is this 'change' you speak of?

Amish: What's a light bulb?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Computer Haiku's you'll never see on Macintosh

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.

A crash reduces
Your expensive computer
To a simple stone.
Sometimes, I'll admit, we Mac users can be a little smug. Please be patient with us, it's just that -- deep down -- we know that our computers are simply superior.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Learned Helplessness

I spent the middle of this week in Toronto, where I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with a variety of youth leaders and pastors, and also with leaders of churches who don't have youth leaders but have a heart for the youth that are coming to their churches.

It was a great time of hearing many stories of how God is working among the emerging generations in the Toronto area, and of trying to find ways to encourage some struggling youth leaders, and also seeing one very surprising element crop up again and again.

Learned Helplessness.

It could almost be described, with not too much exaggeration, as a fiercely-held determination to fail. Some of the youth leaders I talked to -- and their situations were difficult, to be sure -- were highly resistant to any suggestions, training, or resources that Darren, Steve & I were trying to steer them towards. Their main theme seemed to be "nothing works" while they simultaneously seemed to resent the fact that we couldn't wave a magical ministry wand over them and their churches, and make everything instantly better.

A couple of them even declined to let us lay hands on them and pray for them. They walked away, some with tears in their eyes, still despondent but refusing to re-consider the ways they were approaching ministry.

Wow. I have so many friends who are eagerly pursuing new ways of re-thinking, doing and sharpening their ministries, which only made the determined helplessness of these people all the more jarring.

My friend Darren, who was my host for the few days that I was there, later told me in our hotel room that his biggest struggle has always been dealing with these kind of people: they know what they're doing isn't working, but they steadfastly refuse to evaluate, critique, revamp, or start fresh.

It's difficult to lead, encourage, or resource people who have already made up their minds that nothing works and nothing will change. I really felt bad for them -- they were truly despairing -- and also for the youth in their churches (I can only imagine how the modelling of frustrated helplessness has impacted them).

There were some really great times of ministry in Toronto as well (not to give an unbalanced report), but it was sobering to see how entrenched this kind of leadership-desperation dynamic was for some people. Would a verse like "Jesus told him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'" (Matthew 8:22 NIV) apply to a situation like this?

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Mysterious Ways

Last weekend, I was playing in Regina at Mosaic, which is their version of Winnipeg's Folklorama. Naturally, we were playing the Irish Pavillion (as we will be at Folklorama in August), and the two nights of concerts played to about 1700 people. It was a great time -- it's always fun to play on a concert-sized stage where there's lots of room to move around (with our wireless instruments), and although it was really hot in the venue, we put on possibly two of our finest shows since I've joined the band.

The "mysterious ways" bit was that I was able to spend a lot of time with some local Christians, all of whom had become followers of Jesus within the last year. The original contact had been that one of them was a waitress at the pub that we usually play in Regina, and she had numerous friends who, like herself, had recently become Christians, and were very interested to find out that one of the band members was a Christian.

We all spent most of Saturday together, and it was incredibly encouraging to hear their stories of how they became followers of Jesus, and how things like alcoholism and drug addiction had been left behind, and one of the teenagers had not only completely quit drugs, but had seen her school marks jump almost 20% -- "it's mostly because of how Jesus changed my attitude" was her comment on her scholastic improvement. She proudly wears a pink-and-white baseball cap with the words "Truckin' With Jesus" wherever she goes.

It was another reminder of the mystery of how when Christians meet, no matter how little personal history we had with each other, the Holy Spirit in me is the same Holy Spirit that is in them, and we are quickly able to have table fellowship. As we sat in a local diner having supper, holding hands around the table and praying together, I couldn't help but marvel at how God brings people together to encourage each other and be reminded that the Kingdom of God is advancing everywhere.

They kept telling me how much I'd encouraged them, but I think they totally underestimated how much more they had been an encouragement to me. It was a great weekend as a performing band, but an infinitely better one for the spiritual fruit of God's "mysterious ways".

Monday, May 24, 2004

Casualties of Emergent

It's been said by people far smarter than me, but I can see it as well -- postmodernism is no more faith-friendly than modernism. The problems with (the uncritical, wholesale capitulation to) a modernistic version of Christianity are different than the problems of (the uncritical, wholesale capitulation to) a postmodern version of Christianity, but one thing they have in common is that both are ultimately foreign territory to Christianity.

The first casualty of emergent approach could be evangelism. This is not meant as a sweeping generalization -- it's meant to be a caution of a potential trap. The generally admirable sense of rediscovering the depth of a personal walk with Jesus, as found in many web & blog sites' inclusion of "vespers" and "lauds", and ancient creeds as theological markers, could just as easily indicate of a self-absorbed, individualistic approach to the faith.

Community is important, no question there, but there is a potential trap when our focus is on creating authentic community, with emphasis on the spiritual disciplines and the ancient/future nature of our faith walk. Unintentionally, to be sure, this could become 'busy-work' that we immerse ourselves in, and fail to notice that outside of our little Christian communities, we haven't had much impact or possibly even much interaction.

This would make us acceptable in a postmodern society, where "tolerance" is held as one of the highest values (ie. no-one can claim that their way is the 'right' way -- Francois Lyotard's oft-quoted  'incredulity towards metanarratives'). Something that many emergent Christians have in common with the modernistic Christians is that both want to be 'cool' in the eyes of everyone -- so any claims to a metanarrative as being Truth (with a capital "T") are avoided.

Generally, I think it's good that we all avoid the attitude of some smug, self-righteous, know-it-all Christians; such an attitude is, and has always been, foreign to the Gospel. However, if emergent people and communities are unwilling to state that they believe that the Bible holds a true metanarrative -- that God is actually in control and it matters how we relate to Him -- it would be a fair question to ask, as Jesus does in Matthew 5:13, "...if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?".

It's potentially a problem for all of us, and while our individual answers and reactions to this will vary, the question the Jesus asks is one emergent people dare not avoid grappling with.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Tethered to what?

In this increasingly post-modern era, there has been a lot of talk about "post-evangelical" and "emerging" theology. Several people have even suggested that I do some writing on "post-charismatic theology" (which I am planning to do, but only after much more research from a wide variety of sources).

Some people are horrified that postmodern, emergent people (or "pomergent" as Mitch has suggested -- which is a tongue-in-cheek label that I rather enjoy) are even thinking of deconstructing theology. As Justin pointed out in several conversations and over on his blog: "If a religion/church is to evolve and adapt offering furthering interpretations of doctrine, wouldn't that just dilute their doctrine?"

That's exactly the risk that we face. How do we communicate to an emerging (and yet undefined) culture, without watering down the Message?

Charles Kraft offers a helpful suggestion in his classic missiological work, "Christianity in Culture: that we need to approach any cross-cultural contextualization of theology using the analogy of a "tether" -- a stake that is driven into the ground, which provides us with an anchor.

We are free to roam around the perimeter of area that the tether allows, but at some point, we reach the end of our theological chain which is a "thus far and no farther" marker, preventing us from falling into what Justin warns about.

So, not unlike the original fundamentalists, we have to nail down what constitutes the tether. Fundamentalists became known as such because of their insistence on "The Fundamentals" of the Christian faith. Whatever their cultural expression may have devolved into, their original intent was to define what was truly orthodox, historically in line with the traditions and teachings of the church, and would therefore represent the "thus far and no farther" of Christian theology.

So, keeping in mind from my last two posts that I'm not advocating Fundamentalism as we see it today, the question I am advancing for discussion is:
  1. What are the 'fundamentals' today that will constitute the tether that will keep any postmodern deconstruction from wandering into error, irrelevance, or even rank heresy?

  2. What are the absolute essentials of our faith, which transcend both modern and postmodern thinking (since neither is actually a friend of faith)?

  3. What is the tether that allows us to re-imagine how we communicate beliefs that we hold as timeless in our current cultural milieu?

Monday, May 3, 2004

Brain-Washing á la Carte

"There is no such thing as 'Christian' rock!"

She is sitting forward in her chair, glaring in self-righteous anger at me. Her boyfriend, who had been friendly to me until just now, was suddenly silent and watching me through narrowed eyes.

All I had done was answer her question "what kind of band do you play in", and suddenly I was faced with the fundamentalist version of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. I was almost expecting her head to spin around.

Somewhat taken aback, as their other friends began circling like sharks anticipating a feeding frenzy, I tried reasoning with them.

"Is God the Creator of everything?"

They agreed.

"Can the devil create anything?"

Vehement disagreement. So far, so good.

"So, is God the Creator of music and the ability to play, write and enjoy music?"

Absolutely, they affirmed, heads nodding.

"Did St. Paul really say 'becoming all things to all people', and is that a reasonable approach for us for follow?"

Of course, they shrug impatiently.

"So, if the devil can't create anything (including musical styles), and God is the Creator of all (including music and our ability to write, perform & appreciate it), and St. Paul's example of 'becoming all things to all people' is one we should follow -- does it make sense that we can use rock music to reach people for the sake of Jesus?"

Absolutely, no question, whatever it takes to spread the Word.

"So, then it's okay to use Christian rock, after all."

She stiffens and bolts forward in her chair once more, eyes narrowing and expression contorting. Her boyfriend, and their shark-circle of friends, who had begun to relax during our dialogue, suddenly look all tense and judgmental once more. "There is no such thing as 'Christian' rock!!" she snarls, as her friends nod vigorously and triumphantly, as if they've just proven something.

Wow. Pavlov would've loved this pre-programmed reaction to the catch-phrase 'Christian rock'. I can't be entirely certain, but I'm reasonably sure I heard the sound of a lynch mob forming, possibly ready to burn a heretic at the stake.

Two questions were foremost in my mind that night:
(A) Why is it that I keep running into these kind of people, and
(B) will I get out of here alive?
 I still don't know the answer to the first question, but the fact that I'm writing this -- 22 years later -- is proof of the answer to the second.