Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Journey in Banners: 2010-2011


2010: The banner came full circle, back to it’s Celtic roots, albeit much more subtly than in 2003. I also chose not to include the “ecclesiastical anarchist” tagline any more, for two reasons:
Reason #1: Having to repeatedly explain an inside joke means it’s not funny anymore.
Reason #2: It was confusing people. I’m not an anarchist; it was just a joke (see Reason #1).
Our work in YWAM kept us very busy in 2010, and that’s an understatement. Building houses for poor in the colonias, weekly street feeds in the red-light downtown part of Tijuana (Zona Norte), and leading back-to-back Discipleship Training Schools was hard work, but it was incredibly rewarding, even when it wasn’t easy.

2011 saw our family return to Canada, as the Mexican chapter of our journey came to a close. It also saw the end of the print run for Post-Charismatic, which was just as bittersweet as leaving Tijuana, but for different reasons.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Journey in Banners: 2009


The photo from the 2009 banner was taken in Tijuana Mexico by my wife, Wendy, looking towards the Pacific Ocean. The friends silhouetted against the sunset are some of our YWAM co-workers.

This was the view we had at suppertime each day; YWAM Tijuana had a large dining tent, but who could resist sitting outside on the picnic tables, where you could watch the sunset while sharing a meal with good friends?

Despite how the media tends to portray Tijuana — usually painting an image that there’s a drug cartel bristling with assault rifles on every corner — we loved the city, the food, the Mexican culture, and it was our privilege to serve the Mexican people. They were our co-workers, our neighbours, and our friends.


Building houses in Mexico, not to mention running Discipleship Training Schools, takes up a lot of time, week by week. This had a predictable impact on how often I blogged in 2009. (Which, being translated, means “not that often”.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Journey in Banners: 2008


2008 saw many changes come to the Clan McAlpine. First of all, Post-Charismatic was published in book form on April Fool’s Day (believe it or not). God definitely has a sense of humor.

Second, glistening with poetic irony, the day before Post-Charismatic was released, Wendy and I were banned from our YWAM base because we wouldn’t endorse and promote a local self-proclaimed Apostle. Summed up briefly, his teachings encompassed pretty much everything I had just written against in my book. (Hence the irony.)

Third, our family had just returned from two months of outreach in Tijuana Mexico, and had loved it. So, when the local YWAM door slammed shut with a loud thud of finality, we packed up and moved to Tijuana for the next three years.

So, the change in banner makes sense, if you know the back-story. It really did feel like we were scouting out new territory. Moving our whole family into Tijuana at the height of the drug cartel and gang violence felt like new territory, at least to us.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tell It Like It Is

Theologian-par-excellence, Linus Van Pelt, is perhaps the best voice to speak of what Christmas is all about.




Merry Christmas, everyone!
¡Feliz Navidad a todos de mis amigos méxicanos!


the Clan McAlpine: we just can't seem to bring ourselves to do "normal" family pictures...

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Journey in Banners: 2007


Another iconic Scottish image appeared this year, although this time it was the famous Kilchurn Castle. In very small script on the bottom right is the word chrysalis, which referred to the process of people going from “post-charismatic” towards a more balanced, missionary-to-your-own-culture paradigm. A blogging friend suggested the phrase charis-missional, or “Spirit-led missional living”.

2007 was a year which saw a lot more creative writing and story-telling: I wrote a “Can o’ Worms” series on the book Exiles, complete with juicy pictures of worms in cans for each post. Fellow blogger Bill Kinnon almost disowned me due to his acute worm-phobia.

It was also the year that saw (A) several new posts find their way into Detoxing from Church series, (B) the debut of the Younger/Elder characters, and (C) Wormwood's Apprentices, one of my favourite posts of all time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Journey in Banners: 2006


A much more gritty, urban cityscape became the new look of the blog in 2006. Honestly, I don’t remember why I chose this particular image (Hamilton ON), especially considering that we’d moved back to British Columbia the previous summer.

This was the year, of course, that Post-Charismatic was published here as part of the website — a very large part. Researching, writing, and bouncing ideas around lasted for almost two years, but it was worth the time and effort.

The impetus for writing was simply the proverbial straw the broke the camel’s back: I had just one too many conversations with disillusioned young Christians who were ready to ditch their faith completely due to the excesses and abuses in the charismatic movement.

Some people yell. Some have hissy fits. Others throw things.
I write.
Meanwhile, as the blog continued, the topic of dreams — a recurring theme over the years — continued to percolate its way to the surface of my thinking. And, predictably, into my writing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Journey in Banners: 2004-2005

The earlier, very ambitious banner art of my first year of blogging grew a bit more refined in 2004.


The Scottish castle remained a central image, as did the tartan-coloured ‘robbymac’ in a Celtic font. And while I kept the tongue-in-cheek “ecclesiastical anarchist” tagline, I was already quite grateful that I’d included the word “journey” in the byline, as it was becoming more clear that it was, not to over-use the phrase, a journey.

The banner continued on in usage throughout 2005 as well. I think I had settled more comfortably into the look and feel of the Celtic flavour of the banner, and still found the ‘anarchist’ tagline amusing enough that I kept using it.

Also in 2004, I accepted a position in a denominational head office in Toronto, which marked a radical shift from being a bass player in a Celtic rock band.

Let’s just say: it was a bad fit — I was fired about eight months into the job. I think, in retrospect, everyone involved breathed a sigh of relief, including me.

By mid-2005, we had moved back to British Columbia in anticipation of joining YWAM.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Journey in Banners: 2003

There have been literally thousands of words displayed here since this blog began in 2003. Sentences, phrases, quotes, rants, ideas, thoughts, questions, queries, and prayer requests.

It’s an interesting trajectory to browse through all the different banners that have graced this blog over the past eight years. Each one tells a story of a year, of a season, and of a journey.


2003: the year everything began. The nickname “robbymac” had been given to me years earlier by an associate pastor who gave everyone nicknames. When it came time to choose an online moniker, it just seemed an obvious choice.

TThis first banner included my nickname, ‘colored’ with the tartan of the Clan McAlpine, with the backdrop being the iconic Eilean Donan castle in Scotland. I also snuck in the crux of a Celtic cross, and the words “Christ before me”, from St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

Gary Best, then National Director of Vineyard Canada, joking called me an ‘ecclesiastical anarchist’ at a Vineyard Regional Gathering of pastors in 2002. Somehow, I managed to work all of these themes into one blog banner. Ambitious in a symbolic way.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Through A Mirror, Darkly

A friend of mine, while teaching a class on Identity, made a joking reference to one of the many American Idol-cloned talent shows on television:
"Have you ever experienced the guilty entertainment of watching people -- who seem to think they are incredibly talented -- absolutely  humiliate themselves in front of millions of people on television?"

"And do you ever wonder: Where were the friends and family of these people, and why didn't they tell them the truth?"
Most of us are spared the nationally-televised indignity of having our lack of self-awareness broadcast for the entertainment of the masses.

And then uploaded to the Internet for digital eternity.

You'd have to be pretty cold-hearted to not feel at least some sense of empathy for these poor souls.

Of course, when you read the history of the people of Israel, throughout the Old Testament, you can also see the story of people who:
  1. Repeatedly saw, heard about, or personally experienced God doing incredible things
  2. And returned to worshiping idols shortly thereafter. (usually about 20 minutes)
  3. And had observant scribes in abundance, taking notes and chronicling their cyclical stories, for millions upon millions to read about for thousands upon thousands of years.

And, of course, the legendary thick-headed-ness of the original Twelve Disciples also lives on in print (and numerous movies of varying quality). These guys tried even the patience of Jesus. Again, captured for the viewing pleasure of millions upon millions, over thousands of years.

If there would have been a "patron saint" of these earliest followers of Jesus, I wonder who it would have been?

Yet there is another list to be found in the Bible. Again, captured for the viewing pleasure of millions upon millions, for over two thousand years.
I'm talking about the great Hall of Faith, located in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Not everyone on this list accomplished noteworthy things, although some did.

Not everyone on this list is named, although some are.

Not everyone on this list had a happy ending (at least, not in this life).

Everyone on this list had one thing in common: faith.



Self-reflection is a good thing. Even if we do only see through a glass, dimly.

Facing the truth about ourselves is always healthy, if not always pleasant.

Reading the stories of the people of God in the Old Testament, and the early disciples, should not only serve as an example to us, but also cause us to reflect, "Lord, is there anything in me, that is reminds You of them?"

And the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 should also inspire us, encourage us, and remind us that what truly counts is living according to our faith. Not "results". Not recognition or applause. Not the praise of man. Simply, faith.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Traditions

One of our favourite family traditions always takes place on December 1st: Tree Day.

On this day (besides phoning my dad to wish him a happy birthday), the Clan McAlpine traditionally puts up the Christmas tree and all the decorations. From the box containing the ornaments, all the Christmas CD's, and the Christmas movies, comes the traditional soundtrack while the tree gets decorated: the Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Eggnog is served, of course. The smell of cinnamon sticks being heated on the stove adds to the ambiance. And once the tree is up, the lights turned on, and the angel put on top of the tree by whichever child's turn it is this year, we relax as we watch the traditional first movie of the season, The Muppet Christmas Carol.

What makes this year's Tree Day different is that, two days earlier, we took our son to the airport and waved good-bye to him as he heads off for jolly old England.
(Which actually meant that we broke our tradition by moving Tree Day to before he left.)
We're very grateful to God for the spiritual growth we've seen in our son. We are proud of him, his character, his musical talents, and the Godly choices he is making as a young adult. He's excited to be on staff for a Discipleship Training School in the same YWAM location where he was a student a year ago.

And we had a lot of fun together, as he ran us through a nightly marathon of Doctor Who, getting us up to speed with the last two seasons of Britain's favourite show on the telly.

But it's going to be a new and unique experience for Wendy and I, to look around the table on Christmas Day, and have one chair empty.

My parents also navigated this emotional hurdle many years ago, so I know that we'll survive it, too. And I'm proud of my son and the direction of his life. It just made this particular Tree Day a little more poignant and meaningful.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Plus La Change

"Plus la change, plus la même chose." The more things change, the more they stay the same.
"What has been will be again,
 what has been done will be done again;
 there is nothing new under the sun."
          (The Teacher, Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Y'know, sometimes this can be bad news, but sometimes it can also be good news.

The usual connotation of these timeless expressions is to the negative -- a sort of almost fatalistic resignation to "that's just the way it is" (cue the Bruce Hornsby song of the same name, all ye who willingly admit-eth thine age).

But what if there being nothing new under the sun could actually be helpful, healing, and reassuring?

Consider the "dark side" that we find in Acts chapter six:
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”

So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses... (Acts 6:8-14)
This passage always amazes me -- these are the spiritual leaders among the people, who are resorting to deception and manipulation to get their way. It's mind-boggling in its audacity and the inability of these leaders to recognize how completely incompatible their actions are with their supposed beliefs.

And sadly, there is nothing new under the sun in this regard, either. The methodology of today's leaders who should know better, as those who claim to follow Christ, is often no different. Agendas coupled with power are dangerous things, and I've seen and heard far too many examples of deceit and manipulation being employed by "spiritual leaders" to destroy good people who got in their way.

But there is some very good news, found in the same story, where "nothing new under the sun" is a source of life, not death:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)
Stephen is paraphrasing His Lord and Master's words, uttered during Jesus' own death on the cross.

Remember what Jesus taught His disciples about life in the Kingdom? "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:44-45)

Jesus did this very thing on the cross, when He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) And in the end, He trusted Himself into the hands of His Father (Luke 23:46).

Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church, was following the teachings and example of Jesus, while he was being murdered. He forgave them, and he entrusted his life to his Father.

When it comes to the path of healing and recovery, there is nothing new under the sun.

Jesus taught and modeled it.

Stephen got it, and did it.

And we have the same opportunity: forgive, and entrust ourselves to our Father.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Perchance to Dream...

Now those memories come back to haunt me;
They haunt me like a curse.
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true?
Or is it something worse?

(Bruce Springsteen, The River)

Dreams aren't necessarily destinations.

Nor are they synonymous with road maps. Or game plans. Or five year strategic projections.

Dreams are more like a lit match being applied to a fuse.

Consider some of the more well-known dreamers in the Bible.

Abraham, who was given a dream of becoming a mighty nation. Who would have thought all he'd have to show, at life's end, would be one boy.

Joseph: now here's a guy whose dreams were accurate. Except that he never would have figured how many years of prison would be part of their fulfillment.

Paul the Apostle: you have to feel some empathy for a man who saw Jesus in a vision (right after getting knocked off his ass), and Jesus informs him how much he is going to suffer (Acts 9:15-16)

Maybe we focus too much on the dream itself, assuming that (A) all will be smooth sailing of joyous fulfillment, and (B) that we already know just how it will turn out.

And, of course, we fail to take into account the journey between the dream's inception and its fulfillment.

The blisters, abrasions, aching fingers and hours of practice before the guitarist is worth listening to.

The years of self-discipline, denial, and harsh physical training before the athlete is ready for the Olympics.

The long hours, sleepless nights, and School of Hard Knocks lessons before something resembling Wisdom begins to be formed within.

The shipwrecks, beatings, stonings, and imprisonment that Paul endured in fulfilling his calling, his dream, his mission.

Frustrated dreamers, longing to see the actualization of what they've seen in their dreams, are also in training through the School of Hard Knocks. We dare not lose sight of this, when the going gets tough. But we are in good company. Lots of good company.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crazy-Makin' Music


So, what's the state of the union, when speaking about worship music?

According to my very-talented son, the hottest and most impactful worship music these days was written at a minimum of 200-300 years ago.

That's right, I'm talking about old hymns.

Because the younger generation has finally gotten fed up with the trite and sappy lyrics of most modern day worship ditties.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I sat in a church service and felt enormous empathy mixed with pity for the worship team, sentenced to doing Trading My Sorrows for the gazillionth time.

It's just a strange song, from the weird lyrical mix of an encouraging bit of Scripture awkwardly coupled with trite prosperity-mentality, followed by the mind-numbing mantra of "yes, yes, yes" ad infinitum.

I'm always surprised when non-charismatic churches do this song. Don't they realize that what they're singing doesn't fit their beliefs?

I know some name-it-and-claim-it people who refuse to sing Blessed be the Name of the Lord because it contains the lines
You give and take away
You give and take way
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
even though it's from the Bible (Job 1:20-22). They hate this song because, in their worldview, God never takes away, He only gives (if your speaking in faith is up to par, of course). I don't agree with their theology, but at least they're thinking about what they're singing.

Another song -- which I actually really like -- that doesn't make a lot of sense is The Stand by Hillsong. It's musically powerful, and the ending chorus is a great lyric of surrender to His Lordship. But what's with that line "my soul now to stand"? It's awkward even as a single sentence in English, and it makes zero sense thematically with the lines before it.
Personally, I love singing the song in Spanish, because the line has been translated as "I come to You". ¡Vive México! :)
Full disclosure, here: I've also been guilty over the years of leading some songs during worship that I am now embarrassed to admit. Anyone remember Undignified? (insert sheepish expression here)

But I am impressed and encouraged to see that people like my son and his friends, and also the worship leaders at the church we attend, have added a healthy helping of older hymns of the faith -- with great new musical arrangements -- to their repertoire of worship.

One of the things that didn't come back from Mexico with me is my singing voice. Even just as a member of the congregation, my attempts at singing always degenerate into fits of coughing. So while I still enjoy the worship, I am more aware of the words of the songs than ever, from the different perspective of a non-singing participant.

So while I'm thankful for the thoughtful and creative song-writers of today, like Phil Wickham and Chris Tomlin (although I hope the trend of power-pop-praise gets tempered with some reflection and transcendence), I'm also thrilled to see the renewed interest in the old hymns.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I Didn't Forget

But sometimes, it takes a few poppies to bring it back to mind.


Wendy and I had the privilege of seeing one of our life-long dreams come true last year: we spent nine incredible days touring around Scotland. It was a 25th wedding anniversary gift from my parents, and it was all the more memorable because they came with us, celebrating their 50th anniversary.

I've known, as far back as I can remember, that my great-grandfather died in combat during the first World War. I've seen pictures of him in his uniform, with his regiment before they were deployed, and also of his grave-site.

But somehow, visiting the Scottish War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle, and being able to look in the very large books commemorating those who were killed while fighting for freedoms that I all-too-often take for granted, and seeing his name -- David Lennox McAlpine -- made it somehow more real for me.

And the usual noise of tourist chatter that you could hear all around Edinburgh Castle was hushed to almost complete silence inside the Memorial building. The gravity of the size of the monument, and the sheer number of names -- even though only one had any personal significance to me -- was powerful.

Lest we forget.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Post-Charismatic Finale

It's amazing how quickly five years can go by. It is beyond surreal to think that it was only five years ago, in 2006, that Post-Charismatic debuted on this blog as a sprawling sub-section of the site.

It didn't take long for word to spread through greater blogdom, and my email inbox was soon bursting with responses, and the forum that Brother Maynard kindly set up for the site was equally busy.

I was even privileged to write the cover story for an issue of Next Wave.

And then Kingsway Communications contacted me about publishing it as a book. At first, I thought the email was possibly a digital version of a prank phone call. But it turned out to be legit.

And the next thing I knew, I was up to my eyeballs in the new experience of becoming a published author.

Post-Charismatic was released as a book in 2008. I was thrilled and humbled to receive such positive responses from a wide variety of people, including Bishop Todd Hunter, Dr. Winn Griffin, Nigel Wright (Principal, Spurgeon's College London), Frank Viola, and Stephen Cave of the Evangelical Alliance in Ireland.

But all good things come to an end, as they say, and the same is true of Post-Charismatic. There are still used copies available here and there online, but the original publishing run through Kingsway/David C. Cook will end soon.

To be honest, it feels just a little weird to know Post-Charismatic will soon go off-line, but at the same time, I'm very grateful for the impact that it has had in its three year print run. 

Many people from around the world took the time to write and share a part of their journey with me. And for that, I am truly grateful. It was an honour to hear your stories, and as a writer, there is no greater reward than hearing that something you have written has been used by God in the lives of others.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Celebrate Being Wrong!

Every now and then, you get the wonderful opportunity to celebrate being wrong.

Being wrong usually includes the eating of some fresh-baked humble pie, slightly red-faced while perhaps kicking at the dirt with a "well, shucks..." demeanor.
But other times, it's actually a cause for rejoicing.

Last December, I suggested that -- as much as I love the city of Winnipeg, its culture, and its sports teams -- it was long past time for the Winnipeg Jets fans to let go of their dream of seeing the Jets return. After all, they'd left in 1996.


Let the record show:

I am (very happily) wrong. The Winnipeg Jets are back and will take to the ice this year, sporting their new logo and colours.

Some dreams, it appears, do rise from the ashes again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Face-Plant in the Brine

This funny little animation can be a metaphor of what it feels like when leaders that you trusted decide that you have:
  1. out-lived your usefulness,
  2. become a threat to their agenda,
  3. or in general, have become attractively expendable.
You're just walking along, thinking everything is normal, and then suddenly WHAP! you're face-first in the cold, icy water, and you aren't even sure who slapped you in the back of the head to put you there.

If this has never happened to you, be grateful. I hope it never does. But if, perchance, you ever find yourself in this unenviable position, here's a few thoughts.



One of the most unsettling things that can happen is when the leader(s) pull out The List of Flaws -- prepared secretly in advance -- which is then used as validation for getting rid of the expendable person.

Typically, The List will have been created by a single person, even if it ends up being presented for the first time in a group setting. It's not uncommon for the rest of the group to be unaware of the existence of The List until it is read. It is equally typical -- contrary to Matthew 18 -- for the imminently-expendable person to also be unaware of The List until this moment.

Now, the last thing you want to get involved in at this point would be the picture at left. Do not respond in kind, no matter how slanted and defamatory The List (inevitably) turns out to be. On the other hand, while exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit known as self-control, don't allow false charges (character assassination) to be read without challenging them. Silence will be interpreted as agreement by the others present.



There is often the mistaken notion that if the items on The List can be challenged and refuted, that the situation will right itself. However, at this point it's necessary to look at the Big Picture:

What's on The List, item by item, isn't really the issue. The mere existence of The List is. Its presence simply reveals that a decision has already, irrevocably been made. Everything else is just attempts at justification.

Contesting the List will only result in even further injury to the expendable person. Resist the temptation to "clear your name". Leave your reputation in God's hands, and get out before things get worse.

A great way for the expendable person to keep their composure intact during the Pearl Harbour-esque dynamics of these meetings is simply to take notes on what's been said. Grab a pen and paper, and scribble as quickly and accurately as possible. This has several benefits:
  1. It gives the expendable person something to do with their hands.
  2. The concentration involved with recording what's been said keeps the expendable person calmer and more objective.
  3. It lessens the possibility of responding verbally without careful fore-thought.
  4. It makes the creator of The List nervous to realize that records are being created that he/she has no control over (and "control" is a passion for List-making types).*
(*A friend suggested this one facetiously, and then we both laughed and agreed that it's never a good idea to make List-makers nervous -- there's no telling what they'll do, but it won't be good.)
Again, I sincerely hope that the majority of those who read these words have no idea what I'm talking about. But for those who may, I hope this may help, in some small degree.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Well Said!

This about sums it up for me, and I absolutely love the creativity used in this video.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Godspell: A Post-Easter Reflection

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast." (Mark 2:19-20)

During high school, I had a lot of friends who were really into drama. I liked drama, and I liked my dramatic friends, even though there were times our differing approaches to spirituality contributed to some inadvertent awkwardness. Like the time they took me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And the time I took one of them to see Mike Warnke. :)

But when they bought me a ticket to see a live production of Godspell in my senior year, I knew they were trying to find a "middle ground" that we could all enjoy together. I loved them for it, so I went.
(parenthetical thought): When Godspell first came out, I was just a kid, but I remember several pastors/leaders lamenting that it made Jesus look like a (literal) clown, wearing a Superman t-shirt and face paint. Better, perhaps, than the failed-political-revolutionary version presented in Jesus Christ, Superstar, but too silly and irreverent to be taken seriously; others opined it bordered on blasphemy. Certainly, lacking in reverence.

And each of these 1960's-hippy-influenced productions had a similar flaw: both ended with the death of Jesus, but neither had a resurrection. Pretty glaring omission, you'd have to admit.
Even one of my early heroes in the faith, Larry Norman, was pretty dismissive of it. Still, I loved my friends, and out of respect for them, I never questioned my decision to go.

And yes, the play did have Jesus in the Superman shirt, but at the same time, the vast majority of the dialogue was Scripture. My friends sat through more clear Bible teaching in that production than any church outreach I could have invited them to.
And yes, Jesus and all the disciples wore face paint that was circus-like. But when I thought of the verse at the beginning of this post, that made sense. The disciples were joyful to be in His presence, even child-like in their playfulness around Him. That made the Last Supper scene, where they shed their paint, all the more sombre and mournful, as the marks of joy and celebration were removed in the shadow of the impending crucifixion.

And unlike the original production -- which ended with the disciples carrying Jesus' lifeless body off-stage to the song 'Long Live God' -- when the 'Long Live God' part ended, there was darkness and silence on stage for a very long minute. Then, as the band kicked into the Day By Day reprise, Jesus suddenly appeared in a spotlight on stage, and the production ended with the over-joyed disciples leaping and dancing around the stage as they were reunited with Him.

I found the production moving, funny, thought-provoking and uplifting -- the resurrection scene was powerful and brought the audience to its feet with wild cheers and clapping. And my friends and I had some great conversations about Jesus in the days following.
I have seen The Passion of the Christ a few times, and I appreciate it's depiction -- however brutal to watch -- of the price Jesus was willing to pay, because of His great love for us, to win our salvation. But something that I noticed surrounding the time when this movie came out was -- curiously -- almost identical to some of the discussions surrounding Godspell:

Most Christians that I knew were content to spend time only with other Christians, debating among themselves whether (insert title of production/movie here) gave a "clear enough Gospel presentation" or not.

When -- really -- who cares? Why was it so important to have debates about what we thought about the clarity or obscurity of the Gospel message in these productions?

Instead, we should have been having those conversations with our friends who didn't know Jesus, but were introduced to part of His story via film, DVD, or live stage production. If there were any gaps in their presentation of Jesus' teaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom, surely we could have filled them in, during conversations over grande lattes.
  1. The fascination of the media with Jesus Christ won't be going away any time soon.
  2. Likewise, the not-quite-complete message of the Gospel in the media won't likely change either.
  3. We are the difference-makers, if we pay attention and choose to engage.

Friday, March 18, 2011

When Questions Become Weapons

Have you ever been attacked with questions?

Assaulted with interrogatory intent?

Badgered into changing your mind, brow-beaten into accepting a new paradigm, or railroaded into a new direction that you instinctively mistrusted?
Have you experienced When Questions Become Weapons? (Yes, I see that hand.)
I remember the first time, many years ago, when Wendy & I were accosted in our own kitchen by a multi-level marketing stormtrooper. I don't know if all MLM shock troops use the same methodology, but this guy knew how to use questions -- an escalating series of them that you felt compelled to answer in the affirmative on pains of looking sub-human -- in order to manipulate his beleaguered prey into signing on the dotted line.

Fortunately, Wendy & I were able to escape with our skins that evening. But make no mistake, this guy used Questions as Weapons. It was manipulation masquerading as sales; greed behind a smiling façade of "wanting to help you achieve your goals".

We also once knew a pastoral leader who used questions -- deliberately vague, but incendiary enough to sow doubt in the minds of other leaders -- to undermine people whom he had decided were in his God's way. When another leader, from time to time, would object to the thinly-disguised slander, the pastoral leader would counter with "I never accused (insert name here) of anything -- I only said I had some questions..."

And it worked. Every time. After all, it was only a question. No harm, no foul. Except that the intended damage had been done, and holding the pastoral leader accountable for the deliberate spreading of innuendo was impossible. Again, the Question had become a Weapon.

And, of course, perhaps the earliest recorded situation where a Question was used as a Weapon -- with devastating consequences -- would be in an idyllic setting in ancient Mesopotamia, where the following drama was enacted:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
Questions are the tools by which we learn; we investigate; we evaluate; we sift. We grow by asking questions -- indeed, discernment demands that we question -- but not all questions are created equal:
  • some questions seek understanding
  • other questions seek ammunition
  • and sometimes Questions can be used -- by snake-oil salesmen of all persuasions -- as manipulative Weapons

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's Really In There?

Every now and then, I just sit down and start writing. If I stopped to think, "hey, what should I write about?", I would go completely blank, fingers frozen in mid-air, unable to continue. I would become instantly mired in a condition a friend of mine calls "thinking it to death".

Which, being translated, means I'd be indefinitely immobilized in the mental gridlock referred to as "writer's block".

Sometimes I start typing away, and all of a sudden -- seemingly completely out of nowhere -- I find my fingers flying furiously over the keyboard, as things that were in my heart and mind start to pour out. And within mere minutes, I've got another article or blog post in front of me.
And the funny thing is, it feels like "I have no idea where that came from".
And then, naturally, comes the refining, the polishing, and the rewarding task of selecting different words, adjectives, and/or parenthetical phrases to make it more interesting and enjoyable to read.

But if I didn't just "start typing", I would still be sitting frozen in my chair, fingers clenched into bird-like claws hovering over my laptop, "thinking it to death". When I could have been watching hockey.

Prayer can be like that. If I try to decide beforehand, "what should I pray about?", I can likewise run the danger of thinking it to death. And then prayer becomes forced and difficult -- which is still better than not praying at all, but really, is this the kind of prayer life I want?

Sometimes the best way to find out what's really in my heart and mind, what's really concerning me, and what's really burning in my soul -- is to simply begin to pour out my heart to God. And sometimes, I'll find myself talking to Jesus about things that I didn't even know were on my heart.

And, just like writing, I'll be surprised by the thought: "I have no idea where that came from". But it was there, all along.

Sure beats thinking it to death.