Thursday, December 18, 2008

Drive-by Character Assasination

I've heard it said that gossip is character assassination regardless of whether or not there's any truth to what is being passed on between prurient and voyeuristic interested and concerned parties.

I'm inclined to agree -- it doesn't matter if it's true or not, gossip is destructive at best and diabolical at worst.

A drive-by, anonymous commenter has been making the rounds of greater blogdom with a copy-and-paste smear campaign on an author/blogger, and left a copy here on a post from almost a year ago. Don't waste your time looking -- it's been deleted (the comment, not the original post).

Generally, I don't like deleting comments -- it can smack of censorship or historical revisionism. However, there are times where I choose to delete comments. I don't have a hard-and-fast grid for deciding, but generally:
  1. Vulgar references, or gratuitous and unnecessary profanity,
  2. Malicious "baiting" that derails conversation into pointless rabbit trails,
  3. Heresy-hunting trolls (see #2 above),
  4. And most recently, drive-by, unsubstantiated character assassinations -- especially from anonymous commenters...
...will disappear into the ether as if they never existed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

At The Crack O' Dawn


The environs were, in some ways, worlds apart from their usual and preferred meeting places, but then again, so was the time of day. They had barely sat down and ordered their food from the taciturn waitress when their usual lively dialogue began.

"You've got to be kidding," exclaimed the Younger, laughing, "it's 6:30 in the morning, and you're already talking theology?"

The Elder paused in pouring a cup of coffee from the plastic carafe, eyebrows raised in feigned shock. "Why not? Are you suggesting you're a shallow thinker until sometime at mid-day?"

The Younger rolled his eyes in dramatic yet silent rebuke. "Well, at least until after I've had some decent coffee, anyway," he muttered darkly, "which doesn't seem likely at this fine culinary establishment."

"Oh, hush," chided the Elder as he filled his friend's mug. "Roadside diners are a taste of history."

The Younger leaned forward, "Yeah, but is the food equally a taste of history?" He leaned back in his duct-tape-dependent chair; "Okay, so what early morning doctrinal mayhem do you have in mind?"

The Elder smiled as he stirred the tepid liquid in his coffee cup. "Well, don't blame me -- you're the one who got the new job promotion with the crazy schedule. Being retired does give me a certain level of flexibilty, after all."

Shifting his weight in the ancient chair, as the skies hinted vaguely at the possibility of sunrise, he continued, "Well, since we're having such an early breakfast -- again, in deference to your new work schedule -- why don't we have a 'chicken and egg' discussion?"

"Which chicken and which egg?" countered the Younger, warming to the familiar rhythm of dialogue that they often enjoyed.

"Theo-chicken and theo-egg," replied the Elder, managing to keep a straight face, although a hint of a smile teased at one corner of his mouth. "Specifically, which comes first -- or dare I say, should come first -- the chicken: orthodoxy, or the egg: orthopraxy?"

"Nice try, my friend," replied the Younger, a knowing smile spreading across his face. "It's early but not that early. The chicken and egg should be in tandem, and if you'll pardon the alliteration, in tension. It's more like having two rails under the train, really, instead of a chicken/egg distinction. The two really can't -- or shouldn't be separated."

"True enough," conceded the Elder, nodding. The Younger was a little surprised at how quickly that had gone, until he realized it was only a momentary pause as their waitress, slightly more relaxed and smelling strongly of a recent cigarette break, arrived with their breakfast specials.

"But if you had to pick a starting point," continued the Elder, now all business as the Younger prodded the contents of his plate with a wary fork, "which would you choose? Knowing that they must be held in tension, still, is there a starting point?"

The Younger swallowed hard, whether from the slightly-congealed bit of bacon, or as a result of some quick deep reflection. "Well," he began slowly, "you're the one who is always on about the issues of justice and being an incarnational presence, so it seems odd that you'd want to pursue this line of thinking now. I mean, the lack of connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is one of your favourite pet peeves, isn't it?"

The Elder nodded, smiling in agreement as he vigorously stirred the various elements on his plate into a mash before taking a mouthful. "And you, being a proper postmodern-influenced thinker, are also wondering if I'm having a flashback into binary oppositions a la Derrida, and perhaps raising the dark spectre of foundationalism, as well. Well, Derrida isn't God, and foundationalism, for all its modernistic flaws, cannot truly be called 'a doctrine of demons', eh?"

As the Younger remained silent, the Elder continued, raising his fork as if it were a baton, and he were a conductor, "But if we truly believe that this is all about Jesus' story, and our part in it, doesn't it make sense that we have a proper understanding of His Story, before we attempt to find our place in it?"

The Younger frowned as he did battle with the bacon on his plate, using the opportunity to do some thinking. "Well, I suspect you're still going to insist on orthopraxy needing to be held as strongly as orthodoxy. And I guess if we are thinking chicken-and-egg, then starting with orthopraxy would mean that we were reinterpreting theology based on our actions."

"And in the extreme, we could run the risk of allowing our praxis to dictate what we believe more than theology or doctrine," the Younger concluded, finally putting down his fork, conceding defeat to the contents of his plate. "Honestly, I'm not sure that that's such a bad thing, in practice. Dry doctrinal theology doesn't do much for anyone, as far as I can see."

"Exactly, exactly!" exclaimed the Elder, punctuating his words with swift gestures of his fork. "And what keeps theology from becoming dry and doctrinal? Orthopraxy, plain and simple. Faith in action. St. James would be proud of us, eh?", he grinned. "And let's be honest, using or allowing orthopraxy to dictate what we will believe is what we old-timers used to call 'proof-texting' -- making up your mind first, and then finding or making Scripture back it up."

"But at the same time, how do we know what praxis, what actions are truly what Jesus would have us do as we participate in the advancing Kingdom of God?" Before the Younger could reply, the Elder answered his own question, "Theology Proper: the study of God. We need a 'chastened epistomology', yes -- I'd be the first to breathe a sigh of relief to see it -- but we still need epistomology. We need to know how and why we believe a thing to be true. And that means the theo-chicken of theology does come first. Our understanding of the Kingdom, our understanding of the words and works of Jesus, our understanding of our participation in His Mission -- all flows out of our theology. Our praxis-eggs are completely, absolutely necessary -- but I don't believe they come first. Not for a second."

The Elder suddenly glanced around, setting his fork-baton carefully back onto the table, realizing how animated he had become. "Guess I got carried away with the chicken and egg metaphor, didn't I?", he observed sheepishly, as several nearby diners subtly shifted their chairs to create some distance.

"I'm tempted to make some kind of Dr. Seuss-inspired wisecrack right about now," smiled the Younger, "but I'd be afraid of mixing metaphors."

And then, as both noticed that the sun had risen and time had flown, they quickly settled the bill and prepared to leave. "One last thing," said the Younger, as he shrugged into his jacket, "next time, I'll pick the restaurant, agreed?"

The Elder spread his arms, nodding in acquiescence. "Can I pick the time?", he dead-panned as they headed into the street.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dinner with Sam & Ella


Y'know, as someone who did not ever experiment with drugs, you'd think I would have no working knowledge of what hallucinations were. However, as I continue to recover from a whopping bout of salmonella these past two days, I think I can now relate to what people mean by "a bad trip"...


You see, I don't dream. Not at all. Or at least, it's extremely rare. As an adolescent, nightmares that would often turn into sci-fi short stories, but as an adult, I've only dreamt after taking Nyquil, which usually resulted in waking up with the feeling that I need demonic deliverance. (It works great as far as symptom relief, but whatever they put in to make you sleep... DANG)

But after these past couple of days, I can attest to what a "bad trip" on hallucinogens must be like.
For the record, although I live in Mexico, the food that did me in was store-bought trail mix, which I purchased and ate in San Diego...
Sam and Ella will forever be unwelcome guests in my house.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Satan's Fetus

This monstrosity concocted in the vile imaginings of the most sinister of minds has many names: Satan's Fetus being the most accurate, although it's also known as a Jerusalem Cricket or (believe it or not) a "potato bug". This is no bug and potatoes are completely irrelevant to the story. Whoever called this thing a "potato bug" needs to be slapped vigorously with a wet fish.

One of these Spawn Of The Evil One showed up in our patio area while Wendy & I were (yet again and somewhat futiley) attempting to persuade our new puppy that pooping outside is immeasurably preferable to, say, the carpet in our bedroom. The Creature From Nuclear Experimentation Gone Bad -- several inches long and butt-ugly -- crept noisily out of the darkness, and we discerned immediately it was a demonic presence.

Normal attempts at "casting it out" didn't seem to be bearing much fruit, so I looked up www.potatobug.com, and discovered the following perfectly rational and immensely practical advice on dealing with these six-legged nightmares:
"Drench your entire yard with gasoline and set it ablaze. Once the fire has burned itself out and the ground has cooled, cultivate the soil to a depth of seven feet, saturate the area with battery acid and top the surface with gasoline. After a few minutes, most of the surviving potato bugs, now irritated, will burrow up for air. Set the yard on fire again, and let it burn itself out. The remaining bugs should be crisped. Add water."
Since we don't actually have a yard, and setting concrete on fire didn't seem all that prudent, I just dropped a brick on The Thing.

But I had to STAND on the brick before it did any good, if you catch my meaning (crack-goosh).

This insectile abomination will now be added to my list of things that are in all likelihood a direct consequence of the Fall of Man in Genesis 3: brussel sprouts, mosquitoes, country music, and now, potato bugs.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

25th Dating Anniverary



It was this month, 25 years ago, that I spoke tentatively and awkwardly to one of the most beautiful girls on our college campus, and our friendship morphed into a romantic relationship, and 18 months later, marriage.

I can't imagine life without her these past 25 years. Wendy is an incredible wife, lover, friend, confidant, encourager, mother, artist, and spiritual journeymate. I'm glad I finally worked up the nerve to ask her out, and even more so that she said yes.

And we're still dating!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Irony & Davey Jones' Locker

Pintel (menacingly): "The last we saw of ol' Bill Turner, he was sinking to the crushing black oblivion of Davy Jones' Locker."

(more thoughtfully) "Course it was only after that we learned we needed his blood to lift the curse."
Ragetti (subdued): "That's what you'd call ironic."

From DashHouse:
(Leonard) Sweet became a popular Church Historian/Futurist in the early days of the Emergent/Emerging Church and, in many ways, encouraged the “Emergent Turn.”

Recently, it should be noted here that Sweet offered the criticism that the “turn” may have gone too far with Emergent. So far, he asserts—rather than reach back into 2000 years of Church history, Emergent stopped at the “liberal turn” wherein the Gospel became all social and no gospel. Sweet emailed me:

"The emerging church has become another form of social gospel. And the problem with every social gospel is that it becomes all social and no gospel. All social justice and no social gospel. It is embarrassing that evangelicals have discovered and embraced liberation theology after it destroyed the main line, old line, side line, off line, flat line church."
People have been tossing around the "liberal label" in the direction of Emergent™ ever since critics first heard the word "postmodern". And as many charismatics attempt to shush their critics with bumper-sticker jargon like "you're too religious", the standard reply to the liberal label has been a similar "shut up" line, usually to the effect of "you're still trapped in modernism".

(Iron - E. Get it?)

It's been intriguing to see people who were "big names" in the emerging conversation ten years ago now applying the assessment of Emergent™ just being good, old-fashioned theologically liberal. Mark Driscoll's bizarre form of zealotry (linking pastoral adultery to fat lazy pastor's wives, and declaring that stay-at-home dads should be brought under church discipline) made it fairly easy to write off his comments about Emergent™=Liberal, but Len Sweet is a different matter.

Just suppose, for a second, that they're all correct; that Emergent™ is just Liberalism with a new marketing campaign. Theological Liberalism came out of the "higher criticism" of theologians in the late 1800's, and really came into its hey-day during the early part of the 20th century. The whole controversy between theological liberals and the early "fundamentalists" was one of the big dividing lines in the church of the first half of the 20th century.

So, where's the irony, you say? It's simply this:

IF liberal theology is one of the last theological developments of modernity, and

IF Emergent™ really is the new face of theological liberalism,

THEN Emergent™ itself is trapped in modernity.

Davey Jones' Locker may or may not apply, but if Emergent™ is actually stuck in modernity, then I'd have to agree with Ragetti: "That's what you'd call ironic."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Post-Charismatic Now on Amazon

It's news to me, but apparently Amazon.com has finally begun to carry Post-Charismatic (!). The only puzzling thing is that I think I need another disclaimer on my blog:
I am not now, nor have I ever been, Robin McAlpine. Any other books by said author are not me.
But, erroneous namesakes aside, it's a pleasant surprise!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bad Dog! No Biscuit!


I'm sorry, but I'm getting tired of seeing discipleship or mentoring getting the short end of the stick by appealing to a snippet from Isaiah:
"Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there..." (Isaiah 28:10)
I'm always surprised when people try to use this partial verse -- taken grossly out of context -- as biblical justification for their approach to discipleship, mentoring, and/or "christian education".

Reading the surrounding context of this little abused piece of Scripture puts an entirely different light on it.

Would you like to follow leaders like these?
Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth. (Isaiah 28:7-8)
It is these drunken, puking, incompetent, filthy priests and prophets who are proclaiming the "do and do, rule on rule" approach to spirituality. Later in the same passage, God basically decides to give them what they want, and let them reap the consequences:
"So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there — so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured." (Isaiah 28:13)
And just a few verses later, God prophesies His remedy to the situation, in one of the more well-known Messianic passages:
So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed." (Isaiah 28:16)
Surely we can come up with better biblical foundations for discipleship, apprenticeship or mentoring than not noticing that this little tidbit is actually part of curse from God against those who live this way, and instead look to the Jesus, the Remedy for those trapped in a performance & rules-based religious trap.

/end rant/

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Emerging Submerges


Who could have predicted that the term "emerging" would so quickly fall into such disfavor?

Who could have foreseen that the term would become so muddied by its own ambiguity that it would quickly become meaningless and uninformative, even in its own house?
Or that its meaning would be a moving target, defined by whomever was speaking at that precise moment, in like manner to a linguistic game of "whack-a-mole"?

"It means THIS!"

"No, it means THAT!!"
With the announcement of Scot McKnight and Dan Kimball creating a new network, reaction has ranged from people enthusiastically signing on, to others who see this as a great step backwards into the malevolent clutches of modernity, or some who think it is just a way of distancing themselves from Emergent™, and finally a few cynical predictions of just another marketing sub-category.

What I find somewhat perplexing is that, considering that postmodernism is supposed to be at least partially about removing language as power-plays -- Lyotard's meta-narratives and Derrida's binary oppositions come to mind -- there is certainly a lot of digital ink and angst being spilled over the words "emerging" and (wait for it -- it's only a matter of time) "missional".
I remember teaching a class almost five years ago at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, where I made a passing reference to two broad streams in the emerging church (pre-Ed Stetzer writing the 3 R's or Scot McKnight's Five Streams): one that had a missiological approach of contextualizing the Gospel to a foreign culture called postmodernism, and the other which appeared dedicated to creating a post-modern version of the faith.
So when I read about McKnight & Kimball's new network, it doesn't cause the mortar in my bricks to turn to jello, if I may try my hand at a metaphor.

If we truly believe that there is room at the table for a wide variety of voices, then surely that would include Scot & Dan. Without the angst, suspicion, or frantic and unnecessary marking-of-territory.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Settling in Tijuana, Mexico

This will probably sound like a classic no-brainer, but suffice it to say that adjusting to and getting involved in life in the beautiful country of Mexico takes a wee bit o' time.

2008 still has several months left in it, but it seems like we've done a great deal of drama, trauma, and new beginnings since first arriving here with a group of students for a two-month DTS outreach on January 5.

But we're here, and we're settling in, and now that another DTS (Discipleship Training School) has already begun, we're picking up the pace.

Most of my spare time is taken up with books -- which isn't a tough one for me, I love reading! -- but the following collection of current reading is certainly reflective of my current level of mental multi-tasking:


2/3's of the students are Mexican, and 1/2 of the staff is as well. To my linguistic rescue comes the Rosetta Stone

MBA for Dummies?!? -- Trust me, increasing my administrative abilities will be very important in this next season!

Two of our co-workers, Scott & Jamie, loaned me His Kingdom Come. I'll be interested to see how YWAM develops the idea of "discipling nations" based on this multi-author tome.

George Eldon Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament has been on my wish list for some time, and I'm looking forward to immersing myself in it. All 778 pages of it!

P.S. The food down here is ¡increible!!!



YWAM staff (San Diego, Tijuana, Ensenada and Tecate)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Celebrate the Fifth!

My foray into the world of blogging began five years ago today. And in those five years, what has stood out the most has been the friendships and conversations I've been privileged to have with people I would otherwise not had the opportunity to interact with (even if their first impression over the phone is that my voice is nothing like they'd imagined).

In music, "the fifth" is a transitional chord -- one that signifies that the current phrase of melody is about to move into a new direction. Sometimes, it signifies the end of a phrase that is going to start over again, but it also can be used to signal a shift, a new direction, or at times, even anticipate the ending of the musical piece entirely.

So today, let's celebrate the fifth, with a hat tip of gratitude to the many journeymates through the years, and a sense of anticipation of the transitional chord leading into the next musical phrase. 

No need to be coy: we're relocating to Tijuana, Mexico.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Disclaimer

I've been notified (as have several other of my nefarious blogging kin) that my site needs a disclaimer -- who knew?

I mean, like, is somebody trying to imply, you know, that there's something darkly disturbing about my blog, you know what I'm sayin'?

The blogger know as A Former Leader has posted a funny-yet-all-too-real post about the dangers of thinking outside the institutional box -- or at least, reading blogs that encourage thinking outside the institutional box. A Former Leader has suggested that I (and others) include the following disclaimer on my blog:
"Beware all who land on this site. This site may enable you to see truth for the first time. Seeing truth may be just what you are looking for but you need to be careful. Once you have tasted truth you will never be able to stomach lies. You are on dangerous ground if you ever want to fit into the established system. You may lose all your friends. You may not have anyone left to worship with. Your children may be left only to you to raise. God will not be controlled any longer. He will be good but no longer safe in that you will not be able to predict his every move. And as for many of your friends. You will need to be willing to loose them. They may (probably will) shun you, dismiss you and turn away from you despite what you now may think. You need to think long and hard about this because it will affect your life. Please be careful with this site. Only enter at your own risk. (Read the whole post)
All humour aside, I really resonate with the longing that Former Leader mentions about true community, honest worship, and in general, finding a place where you "fit". And honestly, I think less and less these days about "fit" meaning "a place" and more being about finding other "people of the Spark" in whatever setting I may be in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Update: Post-Charismatic

A quick update on the availability of Post-Charismatic in the United States:

David C Cook Publishing (USA) acknowledges that the book is well-researched and would be a helpful resource, but has declined to distribute the book in the United States, citing reservations from their sales department. Cook Canada had earlier indicated that it would have the book by last month, but a recent visit to their website shows that the book is still "on order", as it has been for some time.

It appears that the best way to get the book will continue to be through Amazon.ca in North America, and either Amazon.uk or Kingsway's 'Equipping The Church' in the UK.

My apologies to the many interested Americans who have been asking about when the book would finally be available in the USA. It appears that your best option at this point in time would be to order it from Canada.

Again, my apologies, but it's really out of my hands.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Aggressively Inarticulate

Michael Toy sent me an email this morning after reading the previous post, and my use of the phrase "I'm just sayin'..." prompted him to send me a link to a video by Taylor Mali, whom I had never heard of previously (proving yet again that the rock I have been living under is both expansive and quite heavy). This guy is both brilliant and hilarious, you know, like, whatever?



I also discovered another gem from Taylor Mali as he riffs on "What Do Teachers Make?"



Now I'm all inspired -- carpe diem!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Apology at the OK Corral

The door slammed behind them, although neither could be sure whether it was because of the wind outside, or their rather energetic egress into the pub.

The Elder was equal measures of surprise and chagrin, as he continued the conversation begun on the other side of the now-firmly-closed portal. "I'm completely without excuse! It's only a minor scratch, and it's not like my ancient automobile is actually worth a whole lot." Shaking his head, he shook out the rain from his overcoat.

The Younger likewise doffed his jacket and tossed it over the back of the nearest booth, unsure how to respond. "Well... yeah, I've never seen you get so upset, so quickly. Or," he cautiously joked, "heard you use those particular words in conversation with someone you'd just met."

The Elder's shoulders slumped, as he let out a weary sigh. "Yes, I was hardly an example of grace or mercy. I just lost my temper over a trivial, insignificant thing, and there's no excuse for it. I am so very sorry -- for the young lady in the other car, and for you as well." And he sat down heavily in his seat.

The Younger eased himself into the booth, and replied, "You're absolutely forgiven, of course! And... thanks."

The Elder looked up from his study of the worn wooden tabletop, a quizzical look on his face. "You're thanking me? For what?"

"For not asking me to forgive you," replied the Younger immediately, looking suddenly cautious yet again. The Elder continued to regard his friend, his face still showing his uncomprehending bemusement at the Younger's comment.


"Well," blurted the Younger, when he could contain himself no longer, "so many people apologize, and immediately say 'forgive me'. And, maybe this will sound a little weird, but sometimes it feels like they ask for forgiveness as a way of not really dealing with the damage they've caused."

The Elder nodded slowly, comprehension dawning. "Ah, you mean the 'Apology At Gunpoint'; where if you don't 'forgive and forget' immediately, you become the problem." Seeing the look of instant recognition on the face of his friend, the Elder continued, "I've seen that one more than a few times myself -- probably have used it as well, truth be told -- and it's one of those things that looks and sounds spiritual, but it's actually quite manipulative."

The Younger signaled the Barkeep as he warmed up to the topic. "Well, I've had it aimed at me like some kind of gun, to use your phrase. And I always feel like the only response I'm allowed to give is to say that I forgive them. And I'm well aware of Jesus' words about seventy times seven, but...," his voice trailed off.

The Elder picked up the thread, "But you wonder why forgiveness -- which should bring freedom -- instead feels like you've been brought into bondage?" The Barkeep arrived at their table at that moment, wiping his hands as always on the scrap of a towel that he seemed to be carrying at all times. They quickly ordered their drinks.

The Elder paused for a moment, watching as the Barkeep ambled back to the bar, choosing his next words carefully. "You're completely right, of course, about the intent of Jesus' words -- He wants us to forgive because we've been forgiven an unpayable debt; that's why He went on to include the parable of the unmerciful servant in the same passage." He carefully placed his elbows on the table, steepling his fingers as he contined, "But here's where it gets sticky: some people rush to be forgiven, but show completely no interest in making any changes to their lives. They just keep on doing the same things, and become experts at the quick 'I'm sorry' fix -- or the Apology At Gunpoint -- which only leaves others feeling taken advantage of."

"Yes, exactly!" Agreed the Younger, banging his fist on the tabletop and drawing the wary eye of the Barkeep in return. "And they make you feel like a lousy follower of Jesus if you ever try to hold them accountable for their actions. 'Oh, you forgave me'," the Younger mimicked sarcastically, "so I need to 'let it go', or something." He stopped abruptly, suddenly aware that his voice had risen in volume, as nearby patrons began looking their way.


The Elder glanced around and kept his voice quiet as he replied, "Yes, it's a form a manipulation, really. And it may be unintentional (to be fair), but it is a way of using an apology to dodge being accountable for words and actions, which makes honest relational restoration extremely difficult. And isn't that the whole point of apology and forgiveness: relational restoration?"

The Barkeep silently materialized at their table, plunking down two pints of their favourite ales. "Are you gents here for a showdown at the OK Corral? I'd hate to have to cut you off after only a pint each," he growled in his Irish way, as he placed both fists on the table and leaned menacingly closer. "So, I'll be thanking you gents to mind your P's and Q's, or I'll be seeing you out the door on your arses. That'd be a sorry waste of good ale, if you ask me."

The two of them eyed each other sheepishly, hiding their smiles as the Barkeep moved on to the next table. "I hope he'll forgive us," the Elder stage-whispered, winking slyly. The Younger, for his part, hid whatever reply he was thinking in a generous swallow of ale.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Foreshadow

fore·shad·ow (fôr-shad-oh)
tr.v. fore·shad·owed, fore·shad·ow·ing, fore·shad·ows

To present an indication or a suggestion of beforehand; presage.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

(Un-wanted) CSI Moments

Have you ever had one of those moments where a popular TV show like CSI (in any of its numerous iterations) suddenly and dramatically shifts from being "digital reality" and becomes "real reality"? It's a bizarre, uninvited, and unwelcome experience of the old saying, "when life imitates art".

We had such a moment this weekend in our wee clan. Our youngest daughter Renee, just turned eleven, was on an outing with a friend's family when they suddenly and unexpectedly came upon a horrendous accident scene.

The parents immediately told all the kids not to look, of course, but it was too late -- our daughter had already seen the two hideously disfigured victims. Struck by lightning while fishing, the official verdict was. Probably been dead for almost a week.

Renee has been having nightmares about it ever since. We've been praying with her and comforting her, but it was something that you wish you could forever shield your children from ever having to see.

If you read these words, please pray for Renee -- it's been a tough weekend for her.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Road Trip

This past weekend, I was privileged to participate in the time-honored tradition of road trips with friends to places unknown, in this instance, the town of Nelson BC, in the picturesque Kootenays. The Nexus Vineyard Church started there three years ago, and a bunch of friends from the Penticton Vineyard were traveling down to help with their local outreach, and I was asked to tag along.

My main contribution to the church plant was helping with music at their Vineyard Cafe on Saturday night, which is their only public gathering. It was a very interesting mix of music, food, good organic coffee, Nooma videos, and generally a missional-meets-Wimber vibe.

One of the standout points for me was getting to know some of those who "belonged before they believed", and to hear their stories of meeting Jesus. There's always something remarkably life-giving in just hearing the stories of those who have had their lives changed (or, begun to have their lives changed) by Jesus.


This picture has absolutely nothing to do with our discussion of the Vineyard movement. It's an actual winery on Vancouver Island.
I just thought it was funny.
Another highlight would be the late-night beer-and-fellowship in the pastor's hot tub, where we talked about a whole pile of things, but inevitably, the Lakeland topic came up. And since almost all of us had significant history with the Vineyard during the Toronto Blessing years, we ended up reminding each other of the great times of encountering the Spirit in unexpected ways.

And yet, we also regrettably lamented how hype, hysteria, and really really bad theology (in our opinion) derailed what had begun as a genuine move of God (in our opinion) in Toronto. We all had many stories of how we had been blessed and encouraged, but we also had many stories of excesses and concerns.

But by the end of the evening, we were also unanimous in our desire to see the Spirit continue to work in surprising and powerful ways in our lives, and continue to stand firm against becoming possums of discernment. The little missional Vineyard church plant in Nelson may be a church to keep our eyes on, as they attempt to walk a charismissional path in that town.

And I hope that my guitar and I get invited back to the cafe again sometime!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Possum of Discernment

This is a prophetic picture. The unfortunate creature is the Possum of Discernment and the nefarious line-painting executioner that prematurely and unceremoniously crushed out its life and dignity would be any revival machine with the words "judge not" painted in big red letters on its side.

The reason why discernment could be pictured as an (o)possum came to me while listening to a very balanced speech last week about how to process Bentley & the BAM-lets (not to be confused with Bennie & the Jets).

During his sermon, the pastor made the following insightful observation:
"Those of you with the gift of discernment have actually felt like you're on the wrong side of the fence.

"I believe that God is calling you to refine things and to speak out, but when there's a wave of excitement going through the room, the last thing you want to do is go: 'Excuse me, I gotta concern about what's going on here.'

"What you (think you) want to do is just sit down, and shut up, and maybe it would be best -- you know -- if you just went to another church because you don't fit in here."
The pastor was doing his best to value and encourage those with discernment gifts to exercise them even when it's not the most popular thing to do. And that's when I thought of the Possum of Discernment.

And why the Possum of Discernment often feels like -- and ends up as -- Revival Roadkill.

The "wave of excitement" often feels more like a thundering tsunami than a slight surge in the surf. And people with genuine gifts of discernment, coupled with some depth of biblical understanding and theology, often just get worn out/worn down by these kind of reactions:
  • You're resisting/quenching the Spirit
  • You have a religious spirit (or its variant: don't be such a Pharisee)
  • Judge not, lest ye be judged (sometimes accompanied by "thus saith the Lord")
  • Unity is where God commands the blessing, but you're sowing division
  • God often offends the mind to reveal the heart (which, being translated, means "Don't you get it? You're still wrong, no matter what.")
  • The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life
  • Have you ever repented of going to Bible college/seminary and getting filled up with man's wisdom? (not quite as common, but I was asked this once in all seriousness)
And under the weight of being routinely and repeatedly marinated in these kind of reactions, many with the gift of discernment withdraw and functionally become Possums of Discernment: they sit down, keep quiet, and hope for the best. Which inevitably leads to becoming the Revival Roadkill pictured above.

A book that was tremendously helpful to me was The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I've loaned out my copy numerous times, and have no idea who had it last. Highly recommended.

The book includes a chapter on the all-important question: "should I stay or should I go" (cue The Clash). I can't recall the whole check-list that was included in the chapter, but I recall clearly the one line that helped me immensely: "If you came for the first time today knowing what you now know, would you stay? If the answer is a clear NO, why are you staying?"

One thing is for sure: being a Possum of Discernment is to choose passivity, and passive people are the doormat that everyone scrapes their books on. Either decide to stay and ring the four-alarm fire-bell long and loud, or decide that the better part of valor means heeding the advice of Prophet Gump: "Run, Forest! Run!"

Passivity = Possum = Roadkill.

Monday, May 12, 2008

BAM! (thunk...)

I've been getting a few emails about the "revival" in Lakeland Florida, under the auspices of Todd "Bam Bam" Bentley, wondering what my thoughts were on all of it.

A four-way email conversation between myself and some of my blogging friends has resulted in an impromptu synchro-blog: Brother Maynard (But Is It Revival?), Bill Kinnon (Good Grief, Charlie Brown), and Kingdom Grace (Healing Revival).

DISCLAIMER:

I am not a guru on this matter. Yes, I wrote a book about this kind of stuff, but that doesn't mean I'm qualified to pass judgment fairly, impartially, and omnisciently on all things Bentley.

With that disclaimer in place, here's a few thoughts anyways:

Q: Is the Holy Spirit actually at work in these meetings?

A: I don't doubt it for a second.
But the "anointing", presence, or power of the Spirit is never a rubber stamp of approval on the people being used by God. Quick examples: Samson (Judges 13-16), King Saul prophesying (naked!) in spite of himself, or Balaam being hired to curse the Israelites yet ended up prophesying blessing because of the Spirit's intervention (Numbers 22-24).

As soon as we equate the manifest, powerful presence of the Spirit with approval of theology or even methodology, we're already in trouble. Balaam's donkey could give testimony to this.
Q: But what about all those healings -- could they be true?

A: Some are probably real.
And probably a significant amount won't be, but it will be hard to tell, because a lot of healing-claiming types will say they're healed even when they aren't. Their belief in the necessity of a "positive confession" means they have no choice but to say they're healed, even if there's absolutely zero evidence of it. (Wendy, my sagacious wife, wonders where the line between "speaking in faith" and "bald-faced lying" might be.)

And, typically but regrettably, some reports of healing will be exaggerated, embellished, or simply proven later to be complete fabrications. I truly wish, as someone who does believe in the Spirit's power to provide physical healing (and having witnessed some genuine healings myself), that this were not so, but unfortunately...
Q: Does Todd Bentley have wacky teachings that are of the incredulous forehead-slapping variety?

A: Do bears fart in the woods?
If you spend even a little time wandering through the bowels of Todd's website (later sanitized to remove the most obviously outlandish posts; later still, the entire website has been deleted), you can easily find stuff (like partnering with angels of finance, or claiming that St. Paul told Todd during a visit to Paul's cabin in the third heaven that the book of Hebrews was co-written by Paul and Abraham the Patriarch) that ranges from straining credulity to outright laughable. Don't take my word for it -- try reading some of Todd's sermon transcripts. Not everything is bogus and "out there", but there's an abundance that is.
Q: Must I really cast my discernment under the wheels of the revival bus in order to receive what the Spirit may be genuinely doing down there?

A: Only if the Spirit has decided that the Book that He inspired is no longer relevant.
I've posted on the famous Bereans (Acts 17:11) before, but it should really be said here again:
  1. The Bereans were eager and teachable, not judgmental, critical, or nit-picky. They didn't want to miss what God was doing (as this newcomer named Paul was telling it).

  2. The Bereans were NOT gullible and naively accepting anything that came their way. They kept the Bible as their source and grid for evaluating what they were hearing, regardless of any oratorial skills Paul possessed or how many signs and wonders he may have performed in their midst.
So, I guess I could sum up with: don't assume the worst of everything, but don't let "revival fever" affect your brain. Don't be paranoid, but don't be gullible. You will not quench the Spirit by checking things by the Book that the Spirit co-authored. Or, to quote a more reputable source than yours truly:
"Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ink Blots

The Younger threw back his head and drank in a deep lungful of the fragrant spring air. "Ah, do you ever get tired of that 'it's spring and everything's gonna be all right' kind of feeling?" he asked his walking companion. The trees, freshly green and bursting with new blossoms, seemed to wave in agreement in the warm breeze.

The Elder chuckled as he adjusted his cap. "No, it's an irrepressible feeling of youthfulness and joy that even the most depressing of winters cannot oppose," he replied. "Although I must make brief mention of the wind, which seems determined to make me part ways with my Mariners' headwear."

The Younger turned to give the Elder an appreciative look as they ambled along the ocean-side boardwalk. "Wow, before the Mariners bit, you were sounding pretty poetic, even deep," he teased his friend.

They shared a laugh, the kind born of a long and comfortable friendship. The Elder paused mid-step suddenly, and with a sly look, remarked, "I suppose that's why I still have some hope for the state of the church these days. No matter how depressing the winter of transition has been, I still believe that spring will inevitably return."

The Younger stopped and turned back to face his friend, with a thoughtful tilt of his head, "Are we going to develop a weather-based metaphor for our ecclesial ponderings, then?"


The Elder shrugged, "That would be an interesting exercise, now that you mention it. In fact, I was hoping that we could explore the use of metaphors in our spiritual journey when we met today. Maybe this could serve as a good segue?"

As they resumed their relaxed pace, the Younger conceded, "Sure, I guess developing new metaphors would be a good starting point, as long as," and his glance was as slyly conspiratorial as the Elder's had just been, "it doesn't become our new foundationalism, eh?"

The Elder rolled his eyes and chose not to be baited into that direction. "Well, let's just have a quick look at the various metaphors that are already in the Bible, then. Which ones come to mind first?"

They came to a park bench overlooking the bay, and after quickly dusting off the sun-dried evidence of recent bird migrations, sat down. "Well, the most common ones that I seem to hear," began the Younger, "would be the Body, the Kingdom, family – like children, sons, daughters, and so on – temple, citizens of heaven…"

"Don't forget Isaiah using agrarian language like 'planting of the Lord'," suggested the Elder. "It's a kind of garden metaphor, even if it's not clearly called that."
"And the many different metaphors Jesus used to describe the Kingdom," the Younger chimed in enthusiastically. "Like a treasure in a field, or the pearl of great price."

"And St. Paul's use of military metaphors in Ephesians," suggested the Elder with equal enthusiasm.

A sudden silence that followed his last statement; the only sound was the breeze teasing the small sailboats across the water in front of them.

"What? Did I say something wrong? Unbiblical? Heretical?" asked the Elder, looking genuinely puzzled.

The Younger shifted uncomfortably on the bench. "Well," he reluctantly began, "I've never been much of a fan of military language when talking about the Kingdom or the people of the Kingdom."

His eyes searched the now-expressionless face of his older friend. "I think you'll find that many, if not most, in my generation don't respond well to army metaphors."

"Hmm," replied the Elder, nodding as he studiously contemplated the few clouds dotting the blue sky above the wind-swept waters. "Well, I can understand your reticence to embrace that as a metaphor, but it is in the Book," he finally said, glancing at his young friend, who was likewise casting a brooding stare at the waves and tiny boats scurrying past.

After a longer pause, the Elder finally broke the silence. "Do you recall, from your college days, the Rorschach test?"
"Wasn't that the ink blot guy?" asked the Younger, remembering. "He would show people ink blots and they would tell him what they thought the blots signified. Wasn't that supposed to 'reveal' more about the person than the ink blot itself?"

The Elder nodded, "Something like that. Sort of like the old joke about the person taking the test seeing 'sex' in everything and accuses the guy giving the test of drawing dirty pictures... But getting back to metaphors of the Kingdom," he continued, "would it be safe to say that Jesus in particular used various metaphors in order to bring an expanded understanding of the Kingdom to His listeners?"

"Yeah, that was sort of the opposite of His parables, in a way," replied the Younger. "Parables to hide truth and make people work to figure it out, but metaphors of what the Kingdom is like in order to bring greater illumination. Although even then, some of Jesus' parables – like the sower and the seed, for example – were supposed to bring clarity about the Kingdom, yet only for those willing to do the hard work of being those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear'."

"Jesus sure breaks all the rules of clear and concise communication, doesn’t He?" laughed the Elder. "Not to mention all the church marketing guru-speak."

"Don't get me started on church marketing!" warned the Younger, his mood lightening and his countenance darkening at the same time as he laughed and waved an accusing finger in the direction of the Elder.

"Okay, back to metaphors," said the Elder, pausing briefly before continuing. He began counting on his fingertips. "Let's cut to the chase and say, first of all, that it's plausible – I think it would be safe to say – that all the metaphors in the Bible are simultaneously true about the Kingdom. Second, as metaphors, they're intended to bring clarity to our understanding of the Kingdom. Even when we sometimes have to do the hard work of figuring out what Jesus is trying to communicate through some of the parables."

As the Younger nodded, the Elder continued. "Third – and this is where we need to tread a little more carefully – the Kingdom is so multi-faceted, like a finely-cut diamond, that we dare not isolate the various biblical metaphors from each other, or we run the risk of developing a lop-sided, simplistic, or at best inadequate understanding of the Kingdom and our role within it."
The Elder slowed down his speech and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he stared over the bay. "And fourth, in some ways, our preference for certain metaphors of the Kingdom – like a spiritual ink blot test – may say more about us than it does about the Kingdom."

He leaned back and looked at his friend. "Maybe the things we want to exaggerate out of proportion – say, gardening metaphors -- says something more about what makes the Kingdom comfortable for us. And de-emphasizing metaphors that make us uncomfortable – military ones like 'army' – may say something equally revealing about us. Something disturbing, to be honest."

The Younger never let his gaze stray from his friend’s eyes. "Disturbing? How so?"

The Elder turned toward the Younger and leaned in as he said, "Maybe, just like the Rorschach ink blots, our preference or avoidance of biblical metaphors for the Kingdom reveals that we're still trying to control the Kingdom, and make it about us, instead of about Him. What if, when we say 'I'm not comfortable with that metaphor', we're really simply choosing to ignore Kingdom reality that makes us uneasy?"

The Younger nodded slowly, mulling over the implications. "Or when we say, 'I prefer this metaphor', we're really saying that we're enamored with one aspect of the Kingdom," he suggested. "I wonder why? Because it makes us feel good? Because it doesn't challenge our status quo or demand anything sacrificial of us?" He frowned, shaking his head. "This isn't how I would have expected a discussion on metaphors to go, to be honest!"
The Elder suddenly laughed out loud, breaking the tension and sending nearby scavenging birds screaming into the air in shock. "Then I guess what we're really saying is:
The one metaphor we should never use about the Kingdom is 'smorgasbord', eh?"
And he laughed again, as the Younger shook his head and ruefully let out a long-suffering sigh.