Calgary

Life Together: Living In and With the Community

life-together.jpg

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to sit with a number of local leaders here in Calgary as we discussed the ways in which we could missionally live within each of our communities and seek Kingdom transformations within them. Listening to a number of speakers including Dan Meades of Vibrant Communities, Paul Sparks of The Parish Collective, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi; I had mixed feelings as to the movement of the church to truly address the full potentials of their abilities. Don't get me wrong please, I see the church (or at least some churches) becoming more missional in their relevance and intentionality; I'm just not sure they're willing to step fully out into doing it in a revolutionary impacting way. In any case, Harv Matchullis asked a number of questions recently in which to further the dialogue we started a few weeks ago and I thought I would take the opportunity to explore them a bit here.

Tell us at least one key learning you took away from the event and how it has impacted your actions.

I'd like to think that we already are mindful of the needs within our community but, the honest truth is that I realize I spread our missional outreach far beyond our local context. The realities are that Expressions is a significantly small community made up of only 6 people at its core; most of which has dividing ties with other church communities and living within different neighbourhoods. Does this prevent us from being missional? No, there has been many missional activities to which we have engaged over the last few years including Mustard Seed involvements and our Mars Hill Adventures at the Body, Soul, and Spirit Expo. Yet, it's one thing to which I recognized we were lacking while listening to the local leaders discuss what it means to do life together. We need to become more intentional and focused on our local impact and outreach.

This is something I continue to work on, pray for, and endeavour to engage. In some aspects I am attempting to network with others to try and identify some of the local needs. In other cases, I am in deep prayer that other local leadership might join within Expressions to try and build a community movement which can intentionally inspire community transformation within the reaches of our local SE neighbourhoods. To put it simply, we need more local people within our movement!

Tell us what you have done with your learning, or what you are planning/thinking of doing. (You might help spark/inform someone elses’ action plan).

Although I do not believe  my physical challenges are a full encompassment of my identity nor the sole calling of ministry I feel drawn too; I recognize a deep lacking of reaching out to those who have both physical and mental challenges in life. A few years back I remember talking with a local transport expert in City Hall and they estimated that 12%-16% of the city's population was considered to have a disability in some form or way. Locally I see this number daily from Josh, a mentally challenged lot associate in Safeway, to a young greeter in our local Walmart who is in a wheelchair. Most people in our community will not recognize this but there is most likely someone living with a physical or mental challenge on every block in our SE neighbourhoods.

A few years back I started a ministry called Re:Genesis to try and build an environment where these people could gather and find encouragement, inspiration, and common life developments. I was unable to continue the group with a lack of finical support and local advocacy. Still, I would greatly like to resurrect this ministry and endeavour to bridge God's Kingdom to those who face challenges in life within our local SE neighbourhoods!

To do this I recognize we would need a few things in place.

  1. Support and Advocacy to communicate the involvements of the group. - Newsletter Ads, word of mouth, local church leadership support.
  2. Financial Aid to support ministry. - Food supply, Ad campaigns, Space provisions.
  3. Space to Host Group. - Local Hall provision.
  4. Volunteers to support in set up and preparation both of space and meals.

This is perhaps just one endeavour to which I have thought of exploring. I also hope that I might be able to partner with other ministries so as to bring more leadership into Expressions movements.

“What ‘help’ would really help you move your idea/plan forward?  Is there anything we can do to help you think it through or find the help you need?”

This is perhaps the hardest question I've had to contemplate in relation to the Life Together Event.

To the local church in the McKenzie Town/Douglas Dale area: Do you have any space to which a small crowd of 15-30 people might be able to gather in that is wheelchair accessible?

To all those in church leadership: Would you share with all those in your congregations and local community who may face physical and mental/psychological challenges about this opportunity to connect in Re:Genesis?

To any and all leadership: Would you be willing to join within the Expressions movement to build community while seeking expressions of Jesus as Lord in life here in SE Calgary?

After Thoughts

These are perhaps just a few thoughts I've had over the past few weeks while contemplating the events within Life Together. I must admit to having many other thoughts as well which I just was not able to expand in here. Perhaps one though which I will touch on is the inspiration Paul Sparks brought with his example of communal living practices.

This is something which I think many of the church leadership in attendance seemed to dismiss to easily whether intentionally or not. Naheed Nenshi brought many things forward as to what we as a faith based organization could do within our communities (several of which I could write a whole other blog post on) yet; one particular one coalesced with Paul Sparks cohabitant living as Naheed spoke of the need for Secondary Sweats. Why are we so quick to dismiss our call as Christians to embody this coalescent practice of living? (Acts 2:42-47) Shane Claiborne said, ‎"Independence may be a cultural value, but it is not a gospel value and it does not work when the going gets tough. The gospel teaches us not independence but interdependence... community."

I suppose this is where I feel the church becomes fearful of stepping out of traditional practices of independence and health and wealth views to personal living success to become a radical revolutionary force that stands out in the community. How can we encourage and inspire our local suburban followers of Christ to take in the local neighbours and embrace life together.

[polldaddy poll="5691047"]

As I identified in the conference, within the suburban communities the locally identified people who are living in poverty are those who are working in the franchise corporations for minimal wages. Yet these people cannot afford to live within the communities to which they work! Because of this they spend long amounts of time traveling bus roots and train lines in an endeavour to spend just a few hours with their family's before having to go to bed and repeat the whole process the next day. There is no time for personal spiritual development, no time for personal health practices, and no time to be living in a church community.

Dan Meades answer is to boycott these corporations in an effort to support local businesses and enforce higher wage policies. Quit frankly, local businesses do not exist in the suburban outreaches of the city and by boycotting the corporate business to force closer only forces the employee to travel to a further community to find work. When I questioned him on this his only answer is, "There will always be someone else who is selling the swifter." In essence, the people who are working in these spaces will simply move on. If we are truly "taking in" the people within our local communities, displacement is not the answer!

I suppose what I am trying to say is that as followers of Jesus I think we need to spend some more time talking about what it means to be developing communities which cohabitate with one another. If these people and their families could not only work but live within the community that they serve, they would not only have more time with their family's but also be able to engage and belong to a spiritually family which follows Christ within their local neighbourhood.

I suppose that's all I've got for right now. :)

To Save a Life - Youth Event

to-save-a-life.jpg

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o56pazEh-Q]

Principles for Protest

my-protest-sign.jpg

Turning on the television just a few weeks ago during the G 20 Summit I was surprised by the images of violence and rioting I saw in downtown Toronto. I suppose I never expected to see this in a Canadian city and thought the Conference would go by with little protest. This being said, I believe in the practice of free speech and feel it is important to exercise this right with the intent of reformation and communicating a publics claim for justice and freedom. But, this claim and voice must be clear in its content and precise in its message; something which I believe violence, smashed windows, looting, and burning public service cars do not accomplish. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” Yet still protesting before our leaders in non-violent fashion can have a catalytic affect as Martin Luther points out that, “To create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

I must admit that I did not grow up in a particularly political family. We rarely if ever really spoke about elective candidates or social statutes. I guess I predominantly felt as though my opinion didn’t really matter in the long run anyway. Yet in the past few years I’ve felt strangely drawn to pay closer attention to those who are in leadership and addressing public issues and concerns. I may be just one person but, my vote has become a social conscience and collaboration between me and God more so then just simple earthly leadership.

[polldaddy poll="3442933"]

The Apostle Paul said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) Really?! I mean seriously?! Do you really believe every political leader is appointed by God and has his Kingdom in mind when addressing our national, social, and communal concerns?

To be perfectly honest I struggled with this for years as I did not believe so. But maybe that is the point! We’re not supposed to simply sit in the background letting political leaders in authority do as they see fit; we’re to question, implore, offer our opinions, protest (in non-violent ways), and give voice to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit in our own community ridings and neighborhoods as it relates to His Word and our daily contexts and situations.

This coming fall the City of Calgary is facing a municipal election along with the voting of a new city Mayor. Our city is facing some major issues including rising homelessness, safety and police services, health services, and infrastructure.

[polldaddy poll="3442970"]

Have you looked into who your wards candidates are for Alderman? Have you looked at what mandates they might have and the priorities they place on them? Have you expressed to them your concerns for our city? Perhaps most important and first on the list is have you asked what God’s desire for your community and city might be? Above all else I pray that God’s will is manifested in the principles and mandates of all of our elected officials lest I protest!

"Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." - Matthew 6:10

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIJOwJK7Cgc]

Upcoming Speaking Engagement at CCCF in SE Calgary

A few weeks ago my friend Rick Bayer at Canyon Creek Christian Fellowship asked if I would speak there on Sunday July 26th, 2009. I of course accepted with great enthusiasm but was unsure to what I should speak on. He left the book wide open to me and I was nervous as to how I might speak or what I should say after not having done so for quit awhile. Or so it seems anyway. It wasn't to long after that that I was having a conversation with a close friend in our near by Second Cup with regards to our ministry plans in Re:Genesus in the fall. I was explaining a number of the themes and avenues to our gathering and used the word spirituality to describe how we approach themes of faith while reaching out to the people who face challenges or disabilities in our community. It was in that moment that he interrupted me expressing a mistrust or grievance against Christians using or being involved with a word or activity such as spirituality.

To be honest, it took me off guard and I was puzzled by my friend's fear towards Christians expressing spirituality. The more I thought about it and looked at the number of examples where the church here in North America has become increasingly more resistant to the idea of spirituality being a part of the Christian faith I was alarmed at the loss which we faced in our relationship to Jesus and the disconnect it seemed to have with Jesus' call to be born again in water and in Spirit (John 3:1-15).

At the same time I could see why so many would be afraid of spirituality when you consider the times religion has been abused as a sense of power and led to horrible misrepresentations of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. My thoughts were of Lee Camp's statement "'Jesus is Lord' is a radical claim, one that is ultimately rooted in questions of allegiance, of ultimate authority, of the ultimate norm and standard for human life. Instead, Christianity has often sought to ally itself comfortably with allegiance to other authorities, be they political, economical, cultural, or ethnic."

You don't have to go back as far as the dark ages to see how the church or Christianity has been abused through misplaced spirituality. As near as the 1990's and early 2000's we can see the murderous practices and abuses of such powers in such groups as the LRA in Uganda and South Africa.

At the same time here in North America spirituality has been under a different form of social attack; namely the practices of economic abuses and consumeristic excess. To some extent I think we can place the blame on New Age theology where the individual bases his or her "spirituality" on whatever they feel fits. I think of the many experiences Bonnie and I had last September at the Body, Soul, and Spirit Expo here in Calgary and it was not long before we understood; spirituality was based and measured upon how much you are willing to spend. L. Ron Hubbard himself as the founder of Scientology was quoted famously for his statement, "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." (Time Magazine April 5th, 1976 Page 57)

At the same time we cannot exclude the Christian church from there own misrepresentations of spirituality. The health and wealth gospel has had great damages on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We can look at the great persecutions of the church in China and see how they have neither health nor wealthy church budgets and yet it is considered one of the fastest growing movements of today.

With the consideration of these issues I suppose I cannot argue my friends reasoning for being afraid of or disliking Christianity being involved with such a word as spirituality. Yet I still ask the question if I am born again in water and sprit; what does my spirituality look like? What is Christian Spirituality?

And there you have it. This upcoming Sunday July 26th, 2009 I will be speaking at Canyon Creek Christian Fellowship in SE Calgary on the Rebirth of Christian Spirituality. I would love to have you come along for the journey!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfxAGpJ2XII]

It's Not Just Creation Vs. Evolution

creationMy friend Rick Bayer wrote an interesting article recently over at SE Calgary News on Creationism and Evolution. Check it out here but, just to get a taste here was my response: Not long ago I was outside of my work waiting for a bus to pick me up. A friend and coworker walked by and noticed I was reading a book titled 'The Tangible Kingdom' and questioned me why I would read such a book. After explaining to him that I was a pastor he jumped with enthusiasm saying, "Really?! I never took you as being a particularly religious person!"

And then came the questions; "So you believe in God then?"

"Yes I do." I responded.

"Do you believe in Jesus?" he asked.

"Yes." I answered with a little bit of hesitation and internal wondering where he was going to take this conversation. Before I could question him on his own intentions he quickly threw out his next question... "Do you believe in Aliens?"

I must admit to being a little thrown back by the question. It's not exactly your normal everyday conversations which make you contemplate faith and the vastness of space. I quickly hashed my thoughts in my brain in that moment. If I say no then I will be deemed a fundamental creationist, judged irrational with no liberal freedom, and banished from any sense of acknowledgement to intelligent dialogue. If I say yes then I am just a kooky, science fictional "Star Trek" lover, who probably leads some whacked out cult!

I must admit to contemplating the realities in which we treat the idea and existence of Truth in our culture. Is it objective or subjective? And how does it relate to religion and science? It seems that in the mind set of my friend religion or faith is based on a creed, doctrine, or traditionalism set out by a denomination or organizational affiliation which is stated to be a fact or truth. Perhaps he is right in some cases of fundamental ideology but that is not what faith is; at least that is not what faith is to me. Faith is a holistic approach to our relationship to Truth as it encounters culture, context, tradition, and the crux of what it means to be human. This is something which encompasses not just the beliefs and formation or religious ecclesiology but also transfigures the practices and foci of science.

I often think of truth in the image of a prism. Truth is a white light fragmented into a million different colors, shapes, and sizes. Each color being a conception whether it is religion, science, or philosophy which resembles some part of the original whole. It is when we are willing to look beyond our own rigid borders and ideologies that we might recognize a relationship we have with not just each other in experiential subjective truth but, the source we embody or resemble in the white light of objective Truth. We can leave the conversation of whom or what the prism is for another time.

As for my friend who wondered if I believed in aliens I simply said, "I don't know if there are aliens or not. But, if there are I believe God loves them just as he does the rest of his creation."

I might also ask the question though; if evolution is about a truth that constant change is always plausible then is it not logical to assume that scientific fact has the plausibility of changing?

Would Jesus Ride This Bus? I know I Would!

atheist-busSitting outside of my mother in-laws bank the other day I started laughing as I heard a caller phone into our local Christian radio station with blasting comments toward an advertisement campaign taking place in our city. It was obvious he was dramatically impacted by the Atheistic view points as he read the sign aloud, "There is probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy life!" While adding that, "we have a duty as Christians to demand the city removes these ads from the public and silence the Atheist's lies." Don't get me wrong here and let me say this up front; I am not an atheist and I am not in support of what the ad campaign is proclaiming. I am a follower of Jesus and as a Christian I think we need to fairly ask the question, "Would Jesus ride this bus?" To give the short answer I think he would! Why not?!

If we look at the gospels in the light of where Jesus went and who he spoke with; it seems fair to say that not everyone agreed with what he had to say. Most particularly that he was the Messiah, the Son of Man, and most radically the Son of God. It infuriated much of the religious establishments leading many to judgmental attitudes toward him as they questioned his followers, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matthew 9:11) Jesus was a radicalist, a rebel to institutionalism and exclusivity. Ultimately, it was Jesus' wildness (if I can borrow the term) that led to the Pharisee’s putting him to death.

All said, what did Jesus' message of freedom and truth do? It ignited a firestorm of conversations between all sorts of different and diverse people. Some of which gave conflicting and contradicting answers to the beliefs and teachings he shared. I think of when he asked his disciples, "Who do the people say that I am?" They didn't answer him all in unison and they certainly didn't give him the same response. They said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." (Matthew 16:13-20)

So again I ask the question, "Would Jesus ride this bus?" And I think he would. He would reach out to these people in simple relationship. He would engage with them in the conversation that they were already a part of. He would be a radicalist and love them for who they are and where their passions, dreams, and hopes exist today. Jesus would bring truth into light by his presence and proximity to those who needed him most (Matthew 9:13; 11:19 Mark 2:17).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv-ACZGhwCg]

Maybe we should then ask the question of ourselves, "Would I ride this bus?" and I think my answer would be the same, "Yes, of course I would. Why not?!" It seems funny but, the next morning Bonnie and I were watching the news and they were interviewing people from both sides of the argument. The one pastor explains "This statement seems more of a call out to uncertainty and desire for dialogue." After a few more blasting and judgment statements from a few others the atheist supporter comments himself, "We are just looking to start a conversation with people."

I suppose that is where I sit too. I want to be part of the conversation whether we agree on everything or not. Let’s face it; what is in appearance on the outside is not as important as who is driving the bus!

In Thought of the Social Justice Movement

A few days ago Bonnie and I sat in our living room with our coffee in hand as we watched the Inauguration of Barack Obama into the 44th Presidential office. I must admit that even as a Canadian I may not have always agreed with Obama's policies but, my heart leapt at the thought of the American people electing an African American into office for the first time. What a huge step of honesty, integrity, and commitment for the social justice movement which started sixty years ago!

[youtube=http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ3i9Uu1PJg]

In the same breath and moment I felt convicted as a follower of Jesus while listening to Rick Warren's Invocation and prayer. I have always been inspired by the stories and lives of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Malcolm X. People who stood for social rights, justice, freedom, and the strength of integrity through social integration and diversity. But, here is where my conviction came. Where is our Social Justice Movement today? What are the oppressive natures which create division and segregation within our nation’s society and communities? Who are our leaders in such movements and why do they not stand out as strongly as they once seemed to back in the 50's and 60's?

I'm not trying to say that the Social Justice Movement does not exist today. I still hear echoes from musicians like Lenny Kravitz 's "We're Back in Vietnam" and John Cougar Melloncamp's "Nooses in Tree's" as a symbolism to artistic freedoms along with people like Rick Warren and his wife who take the needs of addressing such issues as AIDS, Abortion, Orphans, Religious Persecution, and Human Trafficking through interviews and articles like that as the one in last February's issue of Reader's Digest. But, are we as individuals willing to still march the streets for such causes? Are we as holistic beings created with spiritual, psychological, and physical integrity free and willing to accept the possibility of imprisonment, oppression, and even death for such radical needs for social transformation?

[audio=http://justwondering.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/13-back-in-vietnam.mp3]

I end up asking myself the question, "As a follower of Jesus; what bus am I willing to sit on in the hopes of Jesus showing up?" In part, I think I began trying to answer this question while sitting in an office last Wednesday afternoon with my friends Tim Schmidt and Ron Fraser. Tim who lives with Cerebral Palsy; myself who lives with a spinal cord injury; and Ron who with his brother has been involved with the disabled community for several years began to ask the question of, "What are the ways in which the city of Calgary has reached out to the individuals who face disabilities with the hopes of offering a sense of belonging and support?" Perhaps in a secondary sense we were also asking as individuals who follow Jesus; "In what ways does the Church offer support and belonging to those who face challenges in life?"

AdventureWe spent the next hour and a half mapping out just how we might approach these issues and what our major focuses might be over the coming few months. I'm not sure where this might take us and in truth I am continuing to push myself as to how committed I am and if Jesus might be calling us to something more within this movement. That said I realize that sometimes God takes the momentum of such journeys and catapults them into the stratosphere. Who am I to deny my creator a Lord? Perhaps we just might find ourselves saying, "I have a Dream..."

"When we feel lonely we keep looking for a person or persons who can take our loneliness away. Our lonely hearts cry out, 'Please hold me, touch me, speak to me, pay attention to me.' But soon we discover that the person we expect to take our loneliness away cannot give us what we ask for. Often that person feels oppressed by our demands and runs away, leaving us in despair. As long as we approach another person from our loneliness, no mature human relationship can develop. Clinging to one another in loneliness is suffocating and eventually becomes destructive. For love to be possible we need the courage to create space between us and to trust that this space allows us to dance together."

Henri Nouwen

Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:1-8