Monday, November 27, 2006

Near/Far: 2nd Iteration

My reaction, when I first heard people complaining about churches becoming too “feminine” was, quite frankly, that it sounded incredibly sexist. Whats the criteria for measuring a church’s femininity, and – if guilty as charged – why is that considered  substandard?

I’ve never been a fan of forced/false dichotomies, so the fictitious choice between masculine vs. feminine worship set off alarms bells in my mind.

The more I dug into it, I discovered that the majority of concerns centered around prefabricated and emotionally manipulative events masquerading as worship. And yes, there are worship leaders that appear skilled in the dark arts of  manipulative “experiences” that are ultimately hollow and unsatisfying.

But equating prefabricated worship with the church becoming “feminized” creates confusion and needless offense. The problem isn’t the “genderization” of church; it’s passion in worship, or the lack of it. A connection with the Divine, or the lack of it.

If intimacy with the Father is eschewed as too feminine, or otherwise substandard for 21st century He-men, that probably says more about men than it does about church.

I love this pair of comments left on the Near/Far post:

“I think it’s not so much ‘feminization,’ because then we’re basically saying that feminine is wimpy and weak … I think it’s just that we’ve turned Christianity into white bread and twinkies. The gritty is taken out, the raw passion, the hungry searching.”

“If intimacy = feminized, seems to be a synonym for ‘weak,’ then we’d have to discard many of the Psalms and selected passages where the prophets bare their hearts to God in complaint or distress.”

A quick perusal of the Psalms reveals David’s intimate relationship with God. David was a soldier, king, and worship leader, whose masculinity was not in the least threatened by telling God that he loved Him (Psalm 23:6, 36:5–6, 103:8–12).

The Shema, considered to be the heartbeat of Judaism, boldly proclaims: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).”

Or consider Jesus’ reply, when questioned about the greatest Old Testament commandment, “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:28–31).”

Jesus reinforces the acceptability – nay, the assumption – that intimacy with God is important, and proceeds to go beyond the Shema to add humanity to the equation (another topic with huge implications).

Worship that communicates and expresses our love for Jesus is not – nor has it ever been – wimpy, feminized, or “just a 1980s thing.”

If the recent proliferation of sappy “Jesus is my boyfriend” song lyrics fail to capture this Biblical reality, the problem is (a) the songwriters and (b) worship leaders who foist their songs on us.

Hmm. Maybe it’s time we held songwriters’ feet to the fire (metaphorically speaking). Now, there’s an intriguing avenue to explore ...

Friday, November 17, 2006


There’s been a recent uptick – or explosion – of blog posts complaining about the “feminization of the church, and not just from the Wild at Heart crew.

Others are decrying worship songs they call “Jesus is my boyfriend” ditties. And I have to wonder: why the sudden Christian male angst over intimacy with God?

We’re supposed to be enlightened 21st century dudes, after all, not stuck in 1950s Leave It To Beaver gender roles. So, what’s the deal with accusing the church of becoming “feminized”?

I’m trying to envision the preferred, balanced, man-friendly alternative – Perhaps worship services based on professional wrestling, or maybe a tractor pull. Picture with me: the stage is adorned with flannel-draped power tools, and the pastor looks like Tim “Tool Man” Taylor, or perhaps that icon of ultimate Canadian manliness – (insert genuflection) –  the king of duct tape, Red Green.

Okay, that was a little silly, but I’m not clear on the appropriate response to the angst over the church being “feminized” (the decorating committee chose pastel colors for the foyer?).

I suspect the real culprit behind church feminization and “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs is the false dichotomy between God’s transcendence and imminence.

When songs like Craig Musseau’s Arms Of Love or Brian Doerksen’s Father, I Want You To Hold Me were written in the late 1980s/early 1990s, they counter-balanced a missing element in worship: that God is an approachable, loving Father. Previously, most of us sang songs that highlighted God’s transcendence, holiness, and the need for reverential respect (fear) of the Lord. Some of these churches considered songs of intimacy as an attack on God’s sovereignty.

But pendulums swing wide and far, as pendulums are wont to do.

Today, it’s fair to say there’s been an over-correction. God is now viewed as the Big Guy in the Sky, a smiling “hey, holiness is no big deal” bobblehead, or with the cavalier attitude of “Jesus is my homeboy.”

I suppose we could start an online poll: “Syrupy Worship Songs that Send Me into a Diabetic Coma.” But focusing on just one side of pendulum swing only serves to perpetuate the false dichotomy.

(Insert sound of gale-force winds here)

Wow, almost got knocked over as the pendulum swung past again! It seems to be swinging hard in the opposite direction. Early 21st century peeps have embraced “mystery” – am understandable reaction against narrow-minded fundamentalism – but take it to an extreme that makes God distant and unknowable.

Respect? Sure.

Wonder? Okay.

Mystery? Cool.

Intimacy? Not at my tractor pull, buddy!

We need to get comfortable with living in the tension – radical middle believers who hold in one hand the idea that God is holy, sovereign, and worthy of deep reverential respect (fear of the Lord), and with the other hand, that He’s loving, approachable, favorably-disposed toward us, and shows up even if there’s only two or three of us in the room.

There’s no biblical basis for juxtaposing God’s imminence against His transcendence. Loving God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:29)” is no threat to masculinity. God the Father is – and always has been – both near and far.

“For this is what the high and lofty One says – He who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’ (Isaiah 57:15).”

Monday, August 28, 2006

Fare Thee Well

She lies in her bed, struggling to draw breath. The recent car accident – a head-on collision – has taken its toll on her 97-year-old body. Tense days in the ICU followed, hooked up to a respirator while doctors shook their heads, but she’s home now. Or at least, back in the senior care facility thats been her home these past few years.

Her grand-daughter Diane stops by to bring her roses and welcome her back from the hospital. She can’t help but notice the discomfort her grandmother is obviously in.

“Grandma,” she asks softly, “would you like me to pray for you?”

Despite her difficulty breathing, she nods her head and says, “Yes, please pray.”

Diane prays for a few minutes, and then looks at her grandmother’s struggle to breathe, to hold on to life. “Grandma? Why don’t you just relax, and go to Jesus?”

Closing her eyes, she peacefully does just that.

Today, I’m in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), serving as a pallbearer at my grandmothers funeral. Her faith journey is a remarkable one, and the number of people at the funeral today were testimony to the lives she and my grandfather, who predeceased her in 1985, had touched.

The story of her last moments with my cousin Diane is the best telling of her passing. Let’s just leave it at that, and observe a moment of respectful silence for a woman of God, who is finally in the presence of the One she’s followed for over 90 years.

Good-bye, Grandma.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why English Teachers Drink

Actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. They’re so abysmally bad … they’re good.

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room temperature Canadian beef.

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 instead of 7:30.

Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Perchance to Dream

He sits quietly for a few moments in the pub, swirling the dark ale in his glass, thinking unheard thoughts before answering my question.

“Twenty years,” he finally announces, placing his glass gently but firmly back on the table.

I did a double-take, my own ale momentarily forgotten. “Twenty years?" I  managed to say, unable to disguise my shock.

“Yeah, hard to believe, eh?” He leaned forward on his elbows and taking a hearty sip of his beer. “It’s been twenty years since I was last in full-time ministry.”

“How do you process that?" I heard myself ask before my brain could advise against it. I blame the shock; Id barely touched my pint. “Does it feel like you’ve lost something, did times just change, or do you view ‘ministry’ differently now?”

He and his wife exchange glances. “All of the above,” he replies. “I think something was lost, something I’d love to get back. Times have changed, churches have changed, society’s changed. And I guess we look at ministry differently, but let me tell you something …” He plants one hand on the table, palm-down, to emphasize what he’s saying. “When we talked about  life dreams at our home group a few weeks ago, only one couple still dreams of full-time ministry – us.”

“Our home group’s awesome; good friends, Godly people,” his wife chimes in, “but we were the only ones with ministry-oriented dreams.”

He straightens in his chair, the food on the table cold and forgotten. “I guess we still dare to dream.”