Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Journey [jur-nee], verb.

Def'n: to traverse; to travel over or through.

Water is a great metaphor for our journey. Picture the different impressions of water that come to mind when you think of the gentle lapping of waves on the shore, over against the fearful deluge of rain during flood season on the Canadian Prairies, and yet again with the breath-taking majesty of Niagara Falls.

One of the most dependable, and predictably unpredictable, constants of "journey" is the element of change. And change is powerful, at times refreshing, but always charting it's own irrepressible path.

And water as a metaphor for the journey could be examined from so many different angles.

Water erosion is a problem, if you are trying to keep the trees on the banks of your property upright. But sometimes the water of the Spirit causes a very positive erosion, as rough edges in our lives are worn away, revealing the life of Christ within us.
Q: Have you ever heard the old Pentecostal joke about why we need to be continually re-filled with the Holy Spirit?

A: Because we leak!! (insert polite courtesy laugh here).
But what if we were designed to leak?

What if we need to be continually re-filled with the Holy Spirit because we're supposed to be leaking? Too often, we view our tendency to leak as a negative thing, as if we are in danger of somehow having less of the Spirit.

But what if our attempts to stay "full" actually serve to negate the Spirit's desired activity in our lives? Is it possibly revealing a selfish attempt at hoarding the Holy Spirit, which would make us spiritual narcissists? What if the only way to remain full and satisfied in the Spirit is to be choosing -- not to leak -- but to serve as spiritual irrigation to others?

I remember the late John Wimber's phrase, "the meat is in the street". The more we seek to give away what we have, the more we have. Or, to put it in the words of Jesus, "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." (Matthew 25:29)

So, who are you called to leak on?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Journey [jur-nee] noun.

Def'n: a process or course likened to traveling; a passage

Journeys are interesting creatures. You never imagine what you'll discover along the way as you follow the Road before you. For example, the recent revelation that my family clan has its own official brand of whiskey.

Upon further reflection, perhaps not entirely shocking, but still... Who knew?

But the whole concept of "journey", regardless of whether or not one finds liquor named after one's family, remains an intriguing one. Journey implies leaving one thing and moving towards another. The destination is not always clear at the outset -- just ask Abram of Ur.

But for some reason, a journey is decided and embarked upon. Reasons for such journeys are as widely varied perhaps as the people who are on one:
  • a yearning for something beyond the next horizon
  • a dissatisfaction with the current geography, be it spiritual, political, or relational in nature
  • a sense of restlessness and a longing for exploration
  • a sense of something stirring within, that excites a willingness to risk, to dream, to dare
Because a journey that costs us nothing isn't like to be a journey worth taking. What we are journeying towards had better be lofty enough that it is worth the demands of the journey. Cost-less journeys do not inspire; they do not stir up vision, nor do they sync with the words of Jesus, "take up your cross..." (Luke 9:23-24).

St. Paul seems to get this. He once wrote to his friends in Philippi in a similar vein, using phrases like "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." (Philippians 3:7), and "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" (Philippians 3:13).

Somewhere along the line of Paul's own journey, he had caught a glimpse of something that so gripped his heart that everything else seemed like cow patties by comparison. All journeys cost something. Some journeys cost absolutely everything. The destination had danged well better be worth it. St. Paul seemed to think so, even as he wrote these passionate words after being a Jesus-follower for several decades (and likely just a short while before his own execution):
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Authentic Community

This is the view that captured my attention as I trudged home for supper from the neighbourhood basketball court -- the riveting sight of the sun breaking through the clouds to illuminate a portion of the Pacific Ocean below. After a couple of hours of three-on-three, half-court basketball with a bunch of guys half my age, I was ready for a hot shower and an evening on the couch.

But as I gazed at the beauty of sunlight on the Pacific, my mind kept going back to the basketball game I had just played with some of the other YWAM staff here in Tijuana. And then my mind jumped to another recent evening, when these same guys (plus a few more) spent the evening encouraging and praying for each other.

And then I thought of the other staff who just show up on our front porch, and their smiles as Wendy welcomes them in, while I start grinding beans for a fresh pot of café. Or the previous week, when we all piled into one of the nearby staff apartments to watch Corazón Valiente (Braveheart) together.

Recent history has been rough on Mexico in general, Tijuana more specifically, and on our YWAM base in particular. One of our senior staff referred to key elements coming together to form the "perfect storm" which is wreaking havoc here:
  1. the violence between the army and the various drug cartels (which has tapered off dramatically in the past eight months or so, although judging by the continued fear-mongering, it seems that the media hasn't noticed)

  2. the economic down-turn world-wide

  3. swine flu (again, with the media-driven Pandemic of Fear)
Thankfully, our base has no debt; all the property and buildings at our new facility were paid upfront. Debt will not be dictating what we do in ministry. But at the same time, as the Pandemic of Fear continues, we are getting more and more youth groups, churches, and business groups canceling. Which means that our Homes of Hope staff have to meet with the families that are desperate for a house, to break the news to them that YWAM can't provide them with one after all. It is heart-breaking to see the despair in the eyes of people who were clinging to hope for so long. 

Yet the community of YWAM'ers here haven't withdrawn into their own private worlds to ponder the complexities of life. If anything, our sense of inter-connectedness and community has increased. From basketball to prayer to playing pool to cleaning the kitchen, there is a very real sense of authentic community. 

I know that some people think that any community based around common work or ministry isn't "real" community; it's viewed as "merely" work-related temporary alliances. My experience tells me otherwise. Our community here does have a coming-and-going dynamic because, well, YWAM missionaries are pretty nomadic and prone to living like John 3:8

But as I look around the community, I see a wide variety of ages, denominations, socio-economic backgrounds, languages and nationalities. People I would normally not even meet, let alone choose to spend time with. People who, after long days of hard work, choose to hang out in their free time together.

Yet, we are not all of a kind -- we are a wildly divergent lot. And that's what makes the community so special: we may have been drawn together by a common ministry and love for Tijuana, but now that we're here, we have all chosen to be intentional about being in honest community and camaraderie with each other.

My only complaint is that tomorrow, all the young guns from the basketball court will be ready to get at it again, and I'll be stiff and sore. :)

Friday, May 8, 2009

B + Y ≠ G (a parable explained)

The Elder's meandering thoughts were called back to the present by the sudden reappearance of the Younger amid the bustling evening crowd on the patio. Seating himself once again across the table from his old friend, the Younger immediately broke into a smile as he discovered the welcome presence of curry fries and another round of ale already on the table.

"Was I gone that long?" he asked sheepishly, "or if the Barkeep just that quick?"

"Both," replied the Elder with a wink, beginning to enthusiastically delve into his helping of curry fries, "but I think I should get some credit for 'redeeming the time' while you were otherwise occupied."

"I'll ask the Barkeep to put a plaque with your name on it on this very table," countered the Younger, likewise beginning to make short work of his plate, before the spring evening air could cool the steaming food in front of him. "But, usually curry fries and another round means you're anticipating a longer discussion, am I right?"

The Elder paused as he sipped from his pint to counteract the heat of his food. "Well, longer or not, if you plan to explain your colours formerly known as parable the way I suspect you're going to, then the least I could do was provide a good culinary backdrop."

"Well," began the Younger, wiping his face with a napkin, "on one hand, I could say 'where do I begin', but on the other, it's probably pretty obvious, which in turn probably means that the parable isn't that effective. Assuming, that is, that a parable is supposed to make people think and have to dig a bit for understanding."

The Elder pushed his now-empty plate to the side as he leaned forward on the table. "That's quite an uncharacteristic list of disclaimers, my friend. But still, just so it's been said, (and because I'm curious where you're going to go with this), just go ahead and tell me what the parable means."

The Younger slowly exhaled as his eyes wandered around the cafe, seeing but not seeing the other patrons. "Okay," he said at last, drawing out that brief word, "let's just throw caution to the wind." Leaning forward and speaking in quieter, almost conspiratorial tones, as if he was afraid of being overheard, he continued.

"You've probably already guessed that I'm talking about theology again. And bluntly and indelicately put, the blue circle was referring to Liberal theology and the yellow circle stands for Evangelical theology. I guess my frustration is that if we're supposed to be getting "past" these kind of labels, and seeing, appreciating, and learning from the Other, you'd think that there would be -- if not completely equal -- at least some evidence that both theologies have contributed to creating something new."

"But frankly, I don't see it. What I see is the beliefs "formerly known as" Liberal simply eclipsing and displacing beliefs "formerly known as" Evangelical. It's not getting "past" anything, it's not "new", and it's not about avoiding "labels". It's just one erasing the other while pretending not to do so."

Picking up steam, the Younger became more animated, although to his credit -- remembering, no doubt, the last time he and the Elder had gotten too loud for the Barkeep's liking -- he managed to keep his voice down.

"I mean, it's simply not honest to say we're "getting past labels" like Liberal, Evangelical or whatever, and that we're all equal voices in a "conversation", when there is clearly an agenda of belief structures that sure looks like what we used to call theological liberalism." And he tossed his crumpled napkin back onto the table in frustration as he settled back into his seat, studying the wooden tabletop.

The Elder remained quiet for what seemed an eternity. "Well," he finally said with a rueful smile, "one thing that you can most likely count on: When word of your parable gets out, you will be on the receiving end of a label, I suspect."

The Younger shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. "Bring it on."