Opinionated alumni and donors have long scolded PBI leaders for deviating even slightly from the status quo. Even L.E. got flak. After spending 19 years as a missionary in Japan, a Prairie grad named Marvin L. Fieldhouse returned to PBI, disliked what he saw and wrote a fiery undated pamphlet titled “Whither Bound” (described on its stark black cover as “a shocking analysis of current trends at Prairie Bible Institute”). Inside, he recalled seeing Ernest Manning, then Alberta’s premier, on the platform at PBI’s 40th anniversary in 1962, a scene that would have been incomprehensible in the institute’s early days. L.E. had warmed to politics over the years and especially liked Manning, admiring that he kept his radio broadcasts free from politics (“a wiser man than Aberhart,” he once wrote). Fieldhouse was nevertheless incensed. “I honestly wanted to vomit right where I sat in the tabernacle,” he wrote.
L.E. got sheaves of letters from similarly disgruntled American fundamentalists. A Minneapolis woman who’d heard that her niece was using hair rollers at Prairie wrote in 1966, “No wonder that in the picture which she sent home that she looked so worldly—much more so than when she left home. What is happening to your standards up there anyway??” Other letters carried a more menacing tone. After a PBI quartet visited his church in 1977, Pastor George C. Bergland of Le Roy, Minnesota wrote saying he was distressed by the singers’ appearance. “For example, last night, some of the young fellows badly needed a haircut. One of them had a moustache.” Bergland was further offended by “pictures of girls in slacks playing tennis” in a PBI publication. Then came his threat: “I am writing to say that if the trend towards worldly dress and haircuts continues I am sure that it won’t be long before our support will be discontinued. I am sure that the same will be true of many fundamental churches.”
L.E. responded generously even to the kooks. To Bergland, he wrote, “we appreciate folk who hold standards in this day—when the whole world has pretty well gone down the drain.” Yet he reminded his correspondent that “there are greater things that unite us” than moustaches and hairstyles. Still, change came slowly at PBI. L.E. himself resisted faculty efforts to relax rules forbidding male-female interaction, and TVs were forbidden in staff homes until the mid-’80s, after L.E. had died.
Since 2008, Alberta Health Services had been giving out crack-pipe kits as part of the Safeworks program, an effort to reduce transmittable diseases. The kits contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece and cleaning tool and were handed out in an AHS van.
More than 14,500 crack pipes were given out as of June 2011.
However, AHS has discontinued the Safeworks crack-pipe program as of Tuesday, citing the “potential for a legal challenge with respect to distribution.”
Tim Richter, Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO, said the program was an effective first step in engaging hardcore, street-involved crack addicts.
“We’re disappointed the program has been cancelled in the fashion it was,” Richter said. “Harm reduction and giving these crack pipes out was good, smart public health.
“It seems like a knee-jerk reaction on fairly simplistic moralistic ground.”
Some groups, including the Calgary Police Association, recently expressed concerns with the Safeworks program prior to its cancellation. CPA president John Dooks said it set a dangerous precedent.
“It’s implying you can use elicit drugs or unlawful drugs in a safe manner,” Dooks said. “The message should be there is no safe way to use drugs,”
I grew up and still am an evangelical Christian. My grandmother was president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Saskatchewan and I work for the Salvation Army which coined the phrase “demon rum”. Being against harm reduction and all for abstinence is in my DNA. I hate what the drugs do to people. I see it every day but for that very reason, I am for harm reduction. Here’s why. By the virtue that people are coming for free crack pipes, they are doing two things. Realizing that things are out of control and putting themselves in contact with the very people that can help them. That’s why Insite works. Insite isn’t for just any heroin addict. It’s for the addicts that realize that they need help and can’t continue on the path that they are on. Insite isn’t a destination, it’s the start of the journey. The same is with grabbing a crack pipe from a street worker, they are admitting that something is wrong and taking a small step in the right direction.
In Saskatoon there is still some debate about needle distribution, a debate I can’t understand, even from a Christian perspective. You have drug users using dirty needles, passing them around, getting high. Statistics tell us that they are at a very high risk of contracting HIV or Hep C, both are costly diseases to fight and we know many users don’t fight it. As a friend who runs another agency once told me, up to half of our mutual clients have untreated HIV/Aids on any given night. The more I think about it, the more I agree with her. As a Christian who wants the best for them, by taking the needles/crack pipes away, we are just complicating things. I am increasing the risk of a disease that will hinder them rest of their lives or shorten it drastically. A lack of harm reduction options increases healthcare costs in addition to lost potential due to a shortness of life or a diminished capacity for life.
The main reason to do so doesn’t seem to be a legal reason or even a moralistic one, it seems to be driven out of societies dislike and discomfort with addicts and their lifestyles and a desire to punish them. If I can nuance Tim Richter’s stance, this isn’t about a moral stand, it’s a puritan stand, one that says that people that do wrong must be punished.
In my years of working at the Salvation Army, I have known one guy that enjoyed being an addict. The rest hate it and want out but can’t do it yet. On my walks home I run into a client who for years was an ass to deal with. Was always angry at me, always yelling, and threatening. One night he walked in and was clean of the drugs and was quite a nice guy. Entirely different. Part of his path out his hell was harm reduction. He’s been clean (and struggling) ever since then. He rents a place not far from me and is scraping out a legit existence doing a variety of jobs. He stops by to chat when he sees that Wendy and I are around and stops by Wendy’s work to say hello to her. Every time I see him he is always telling me that he is amazed that his drugs didn’t destroy his relationship with the Salvation Army and myself and goes on to say over and over again, how they destroyed almost everything else in his life. His story isn’t unique. I could insert in a variety of names and contexts into that story and the pain is always the same.
When we look at drugs users, the explanation is that it is either a personal choice or they have a low genetic tolerance towards it (in describing Aboriginal Drug Abuse). Both of these answers have the same underlying principle, it’s not my fault or responsibility. One thing we overlook is the societal aspect of drug and alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse on reserves was not a problem until the Residential Schools opened (The damage was done to those taken and those left behind. How would you handle it if the RCMP took your children a part of a government policy. I know I would be seriously messed up if I lost Ollie and Mark). Now I do meet some men and women that came from extremely stable households who for whatever reason decided to self destruct with drugs as a personal lifestyle choice but for the most part the drug use is a result of escaping horrible family situations, mental health issues and is a part of concurrent disorders. In other words the kind of individuals that we as a society have an obligation to help the most. For decades Canada has had a social safety net for those that need this kind of help. It has generally come in the form of healthcare or Social Assistance but as the drugs have become more potent and addictive, the solutions are more complicated as well. Harm reduction works. It’s not about the pipe, it’s about the pathway out the personal hell they are living in. Alberta Health was wrong to back down and all of Albertans will pay the costs. It’s my Christian faith that calls out for harm reduction strategies, it’s fear and a lack of grace that fights against them.
1. My grandmother would be totally opposed to EVERYTHING that I wrote in this post.
2. I believe the phrase demon rum should be used more often than it is. I try to use it as much as I can at work but to be honest, no one drinks rum anymore and it seems awfully judgemental to say about anything else.
The Crystal Cathedral is for sale. Seriously. According to the L.A. Times
The Garden Grove church, which said it owed more than $50 million to creditors and vendors when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, will file a reorganization plan with a Santa Ana court as soon as Friday. The plan includes the sale of the 40-acre campus to a real estate investment group, alleviating financial pressure from a $36-million mortgage, Charles said. The church has a guaranteed option of leasing the campus for 15 years. After four years, the church could buy back the core buildings, which include the 10,000-pane Crystal Cathedral, the 13-story Tower of Hope, the welcome center and the cemetery.
I am not too heart broken by the news. Wendy and I took a tour of it a decade ago and it had already become a parody of itself then. The highlight was a women’s washroom that cost a million dollars to build. I know things like this are contextual but c’mon, a million dollars for a women’s washroom. Yeah.
We are going to partner with leading mission organizations and denominations by helping them start 50 new church/mission structures around the world that will act as role models for church planting in the toughest parts of the world.
As well as being highly effective fresh expressions of church and mission, these new communities will bring a lasting, holistic impact through these 3 strategies:
1. Through social enterprise and mico-business they will move their ministries towards long-term sustainability.
2. Through social justice ventures they will touch the needy in their cities in measurable ways – ie, a spiritual, social, financial and environmental impact.
3. Through social media streaming they will contagiously share their story to leverage their experience and compel others to follow their examples.
Sneaky . . huh?
These 50 new communities will be fresh expressions of church but, also, because they will intentionally position themselves to impact those on the fringe, we will call them "fringe expressions".
By fringe, I mean the cultural fringe (alternative, non-churched, victimized) the economic fringe (poor, needy, vulnerable) the geographic fringe (church-unfriendly areas and countries) and the spiritual fringe [NOT your father's old-time religion] where traditional church efforts make little progress.
Or in other words, they will go where no fresh expressions or missional communities or emerging churches have gone before.
If it’s something you want to support (and believe me, you do), check out the full post out for more information.
Good interview with Cornel West on the failures of the Obama administration. “I thought he would have more fight and backbone… an extension of Wall Street and corporate elites”.
Theologian David Fitch has a good post on the debate about Rob Bell’s new book
I blame Rob Bell for this inflammatory mess (along with his publisher) because of the excessive bating and provoking all in an obvious attempt to attract attention to his book. This is no way to pastor I say. This is no way to lead. (but it does sell books). On the other hand, to be even handed, I blame people on the Neo-Reformed side as well, people like Kevin DeYoung. Sorry Kevin, I know you mean well but when you do a 20 page review that largely argues out of an incredibly narrow view of orthodoxy with little to no appreciation for history before the 1920′s, it comes off as defensive and parochial. For both sides, the tactics reveal a lack of a place to engage this issue productively for the furtherance of the Kingdom beyond our own personal enclaves (or ambitions). And yet discussing this issue is essential in order to be shaped for a posture for Mission that has been lacking amongst the traditional evangelicals, the church I am part of and remain committed to.
I have been kind of intrigued by the entire debate… not so much that I will read the book or any of the debate but the nature of the debate in itself. Let me explain. Theological debates never used to be like this. They were much more private events, often done through letters, in person, or in small circulation academic journals. Book sales were small. I am going out on a limb and say that Rob Bell will probably outsell Barth’s Commentary on Romans in a couple of months. What used to be a private and contemplative debate has been sped up tremendously through blogs, Twitter, and competing book deals and the resulting conference speaking gigs. All of this is driven by Christian publishing companies that are either shareholder held or are owned by News Corp, famous for taking sides and then profiting from the division.
There is always going to be different ideas in the church. I have some reservations with Brian McLaren’s theology that we have talked privately over (not sure who is right on that… been thinking about it for ten years) and even with David Fitch, I still am trying to figure out his theology of social justice and how to work on it in my context. Hopefully in the next decade I can put to words my issues with it but it needs some more thinking about but my theological reservations don’t need to be tweeted, blurted, and raced out. At the same time, I need to present my ideas in the expectation that some of them are going to be offensive to others. I am a Methodist. I am quite confident that my theology is correct but some of my beliefs stand in contrast to my own denomination even let alone others yet I don’t feel the need to refute and inflame others all of the time. I have my questions about Brian McLaren’s theology, David Fitch’s social gospel and CFL allegiances (I think but check back in 2018), Darryl Dash’s theological worldview (he’s Baptist, same could be said for Santosh Ninan and Kyle Martin), Len Hjalmarson (Anabaptist), Randall Friesen (moved to Alberta and cheered for Brett Favre), or anyone that I know that doesn’t subscribe to a liberal Free Methodist worldview that I do yet i think we have managed to have better discussions than what we saw over this latest dust up. We are always going to have things that divide us (the Hamilton Tiger Cats? Really?!) but can’t we have these discussions without cutting each other off and using the terms heretic. Good grief, Tillich and Barth continued on their correspondence despite seeing the world in very different ways (with evidence that Tillich and a pantheist.
I wonder when we are going to realize that speed isn’t always vital or even desirable in theological debates. The rush to be first or provocative may appease your masters at News Corp, Google, and Amazon but is it adding anything to the church. I don’t think it is. I think what we gained in speed was lost in perspective, contemplation, and depth of dialogue.
While exploring Winnipeg, a co-worker told us about the basillica in St. Boniface. Since I was driving and am a sucker for a great looking church (or ruins of a church), we headed right over there. We jumped out to take some photos. By the time I had snapped 12 photos, my hands were so cold I could not operate my camera any longer, my ears had frozen, and I was having trouble enunciating. Welcome to Winnipeg.
It’s been almost 10 years from the first Soularize in Seattle, and we’re exciting about hosting another learning party in 2011. As usual, this event will unite both traditional and non-traditional teachers, artists, theologians, thinkers, and social activists.
This year – sunny San Diego!
October 12-14, 2011
Save the date and plan to join us for one of the most unique experiences of your life. If you’ve been to a previous Soularize, don’t miss this 10 year reunion event. If you’ve never been before, you won’t want to miss it.
We’re partnering with an incredible church in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego to put on an incredible event that will cultivate a thought-provoking and spiritual experience while introducing a wide variety of ways to connect and grow with others on the journey.
Didn’t Soularize start a year earlier than that in in Los Angeles? Whatever the case, San Diego in October looks inviting. Update: I am planning to be there.
The best part is that it costs $1.99 at the app store.
Described as "the perfect aid for every penitent", it offers users tips and guidelines to help them with the sacrament.
Now senior church officials in both the UK and US have given it their seal of approval, in what is thought to be a first.
The app takes users through the sacrament – in which Catholics admit their wrongdoings – and allows them to keep track of their sins.
It also allows them to examine their conscience based on personalised factors such as age, sex and marital status – but it is not intended to replace traditional confession entirely.
This isn’t their first digital effort
Two years later created a Facebook application that lets users send virtual postcards featuring the pontiff.
Before you mock it, when I went to Bishop James Mahoney High School in Saskatoon, we had a similar checklist to speed up the confession process (as a Methodist, I just judged others silently) so it’s not like this is a new idea. Of course we still had a priest to administer the sacrament.
In the Wall Street Journal
Are we witnessing the death of America’s Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion—Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.
More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?
It’s not all bad news for denominations
Where hymnody once came from the spontaneity of slave spirituals or camp meetings, worship songs are increasingly now focus-grouped by executives in Nashville. The evangelical "Veggie Tales" cartoons—animated Bible stories featuring talking cucumbers and tomatoes—probably shape more children in their view of scripture than any denominational catechism does these days. A church that requires immersion baptism before taking communion, as most Baptist traditions do, will likely get indignant complaints from evangelical visitors who feel like they’ve been denied service at a restaurant.
But there are some signs of a growing church-focused evangelicalism. Many young evangelicals may be poised to reconsider denominational doctrine, if for no other reason than they are showing signs of fatigue with typical evangelical consumerism.
For example, artists such as Keith and Kristen Getty and Sojourn Music are reaching a new generation with music written for and performed by local congregations. Yes, prosperity preacher Joyce Meyer sells her book "Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes," which encourages Christians to "lighten up" by eating cookies and buying shoes (seriously). But, at the same time, Alabama preacher David Platt is igniting thousands of young people with his book "Radical," which calls Christians to rescue their faith by lowering their standard of living and giving their time and money to Church-based charities.
Barth has been variously damned as a heretic, a narrow-minded Biblicist, and an atheist in disguise—and praised as the most creative Protestant theologian since John Calvin.
It was the middle of a tough primary contest, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) had convened a small meeting with donors who had contributed thousands of dollars to his previous campaigns. But this year, as Inglis faced a challenge from tea party-backed Republican candidates claiming Inglis wasn’t sufficiently conservative, these donors hadn’t ponied up. Inglis’ task: Get them back on the team. "They were upset with me," Inglis recalls. "They are all Glenn Beck watchers." About 90 minutes into the meeting, as he remembers it, "They say, ‘Bob, what don’t you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.’" Inglis didn’t know how to respond.
It was a tough primary campaign according to Inglis
During his primary campaign, Inglis repeatedly encountered enraged conservatives whom he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—satisfy. Shortly before the runoff primary election, Inglis met with about a dozen tea party activists at the modest ranch-style home of one of them. Here’s what took place:
I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there’s a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life’s earnings, and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, "What the heck are you talking about?" I’m trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, "You don’t know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don’t know this?!" And I said, "Please forgive me. I’m just ignorant of these things." And then of course, it turned into something about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergers and all that stuff. And now you have the feeling of anti-Semitism here coming in, mixing in. Wow.
Later, Inglis mentioned this meeting to another House member: "He said, ‘You mean you sat there for more than 10 minutes?’ I said, ‘Well, I had to. We were between primary and runoff.’ I had a two-week runoff. Oh my goodness. How do you…" Inglis trails off, shaking his head.
What drives the Tea Party?
When he returned to the House in 2005, Inglis, though still a conservative, was more focused on policy solutions than ideological battle. After Obama entered the White House, Inglis worked up a piece of campaign literature—in the form of a cardboard coaster that flipped open—that noted that Republicans should collaborate (not compromise) with Democrats to produce workable policies. "America’s looking for solutions, not wedges," it read. He met with almost every member of the House Republican caucus to make his pitch: "What we needed to be is the adults who say absolutely we will work with [the new president]."
Instead, he remarks, his party turned toward demagoguery. Inglis lists the examples: falsely claiming Obama’s health care overhaul included "death panels," raising questions about Obama’s birthplace, calling the president a socialist, and maintaining that the Community Reinvestment Act was a major factor of the financial meltdown. "CRA," Inglis says, "has been around for decades. How could it suddenly create this problem? You see how that has other things worked into it?" Racism? "Yes," Inglis says.
As an example of both the GOP pandering to right-wing voters and conservative talk show hosts undercutting sensible policymaking, Inglis points to climate change. Fossil fuels, he notes, get a free ride because they’re "negative externalities"—that is, pollution and the effects of climate change—"are not recognized" in the market. Sitting in front of a wall-sized poster touting clean technology centers in South Carolina, Inglis says that conservatives "should be the ones screaming. This is a conservative concept: accountability. This is biblical law: you cannot do on your property what harms your neighbor’s property." Which is why he supports placing a price on carbon—and forcing polluters to cover it.
Asked why conservatives and Republicans have demonized the issue of climate change and clean energy, Inglis replies, "I wish I knew; then maybe I wouldn’t have lost my election." He points out that some conservatives believe that any issue affecting the Earth is "the province of God and will not be affected by human activity. If you talk about the challenge of sustainability of the Earth’s systems, it’s an affront to that theological view."
I remember reading a study on why people voted the way they did in 1999. It was the most messed up thing I had ever seen. It literally made sense. They voted against Gore because of the amount of rain they did or didn’t get that year. They voted for Bush because of things that he or any other federal politician had nothing to do with. It wasn’t just some hick in West Virginia either, it was hundreds of thousands of votes on these bizarre issues. Sadly reading stories of racism and anti-Semitism doesn’t surprise me. What a mess for Barack Obama and moderate Republicans to deal with.
I am not sure where I first started following Kester Brewin’s writings. Probably I found some of his stuff on Vaux’s old site and I assume that I heard of his book from either Jonny Baker or Steve Collins’ blog but I ordered The Complex Christ when it came out in England, paid a fortune to have it shipped across the pond and then paid of 18% of Canada’s national debt in import fees. To this day, it is the most expensive book that I have ever purchased. It was worth every cent and I paid for it and lead to a fundamental rethinking of my theology and my understanding of the urban context (it was about that time that several of you started to hate what I posted here).
The other day on Twitter I was waiting for my Kindle to finally arrive when I asked what book I should order. Kester came up with and instead of ordering it, I went online to see if Other was available in Canada yet. It isn’t here in paper form yet but it is available on Kindle and it quickly earned the honour of being the first book I ordered for my Kindle (and hooray, no import fees).
The book hit home for me this week as the debate exploded over political rhetoric in the United States after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside of a Safeway. Whether or not you agree that themes of violence in political rhetoric contributed to the murders or not, I think all of us agree there is something wrong with how we see people we don’t agree with in this world. Whether that divide is Christian-atheist, moderate-fundamentalist, liberal-conservative, Israeli-Palestinian, black-white, or whether or not we like Kenny G, we tend to dismiss and deride the opinions of those who we disagree with. I don’t know if has gotten worse but I suspect it has. Years ago I used to be a regular viewer of Capital Gang which had the Democrats and Republicans around a table disagreeing. Not only was the dialogue cordial but they actually seemed to enjoy being around each other. Now the Republicans are at Fox News and the Democrats are on MSNBC. Not only are they no longer sitting around the table but they are at competing networks. There isn’t even an attempt to engage or dialog with each other.
For a wide variety of reasons this has changed how we see and interact with each other and Other tries to address that by looking at the Great Commandment, to love the other. While that seems obvious, Brewin addresses the situations where Christianity and the church have largely failed to see God’s creation in other people. As he puts it, what kind of selves do we need to be in order to live in harmony with others?
For me, it’s the biggest question that I wrestle with every day at work and the hardest discussion that we have with staff. In a context of violence, drugs, and anger, how we deal with the other is a definition of how we see them but also ourselves. Once the U.S./Canadian edition hits the shelves, I plan to purchase a bunch for our staff because it’s something that we all need to wrestle with everyday… or at least it’s something that I need to do to remind myself to reset myself and look for God in other people every day.
In a time in my life when I am working hard at getting rid of over 1000 books from my library, I am glad I added this one to my Kindle and look forward to always having a paper version on my shelf.
A lot of you have asked why I have stopped posting about items of faith and Christianity here and the reason is pretty complex. First of all after reading around 5 books a week for 15 years or so, I no longer have the time or the desire to read that much. Much of that reading was theological or about church life and what has been said on the topic for me has been said. I still get probably 100 books a year to review and most of them are just rehashing what has been said and said and said again. On the occasional time when I can force myself to enter into Scott’s Parable, I see the same book, just written by different authors. I know I am taking some shots at some friends here but it seems like a lot more reflection and a lot less publishing may help everyone.
It goes for me as well, if I don’t have anything to say, I am not going to log in and write anything. To paraphrase a good friend of mine who used to joke, “If you want a better sermon, get Max Lucado to write better books”, so in other words, if you want a better blog, write better stuff for me to link to.
The more serious reason is that I struggle with the distance between neighborhood/community and the church. I have read and heard pastors say that they need to vision cast (what a geeky and churchy phrase) or sell their church on the idea that they need to be a part of their community. This is a phrase I have heard for years but I never realized how strange it was that the church had stopped being part of the community. Now of course with more and more churches wanting more real estate, they are literally moving outside of their cities and towns so they can create more programs that compete with and pull people away from the communities they are apart of. The fact that we have to “vision cast”, sell, manipulate, or coerce our congregations to be part of the community, in fact, we had to come up with new church growth terminology to describe what should be our natural reaction as human beings… (I’m missional, your missional, we are all missional) that is our responsibility to make our local communities a better place for everyone to live in.
Years ago I listened to a series of podcasts by Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard in which Hunter talked about one of the metrics his church used was how far people were travelling to get to his church without realizing the impact it had on local communities. While that may represent one extreme of the equation, it was quite similar to what we experience as a family in finding a church in Saskatoon. There is a pull to be a part of the church community, which church leaders tend of think of as a true or at least superior community which puts us in tension with my commitments to other things that are going on in my geographic community. While I agree there is a need for involvement in the church, our local communities the need is often just as pressing. So I have kids clubs that interfere with Mark taking karate, small groups that only work for people who work 8-5 (and definitely not for those who like Wendy and I who are work from 7:00 a.m. when I go to work to 10:45 p.m. when Wendy walks in the door from work). I have prostitutes on my street, a brothel on my block, guys grinding drugs across from the local elementary school, the Terror Squad working out a local restaurant and bar and I keep hearing that my number one priority needs to be a small group in a church.
I follow some pastors and church leaders on Twitter and I realized it’s a giant irrelevant echo chamber where the tweets and retweets reinforce what they believe. I haven’t lost my faith in Christianity, I am just in doubt that the church is an accurate representation of what it represents anymore. I was in a room of pastors earlier this year and they were still talking about media in worship, ancient future song writing, and all sorts of peripheral things about church life with great interest and not one of them mentioned life in their community. A friend of mine sent me a sermon the other day on YouTube to check out as it would cure what ailed my soul. The stage looked like it was stolen from David Letterman and I am pretty sure it was meant to be a copy and after watching the sermon, I realized that he was speaking in the same style that Vince does while pitching Slap Chops. Sadly not only did I used to speak like that in public but so do so many other pastors I know. I realized while watching this that the church had become a parody of itself. The Emperor has no clothes.
I realized that I no longer see most churches any differently than Kiwanas or another service club but this one has higher fixed costs. Are all churches like this? I don’t think so. One of the great experiences I have had in life was spending a bit of time with Dave Blondel and the Third Space. Both Wendy and I have said that we would be quite comfortable attending a church lead by my friends, Scott Williams, Randall Friesen, Pernell Goodyear, Kim Reid or Darryl Dash but those kinds of churches and those kinds of pastors aren’t that easy to find. The problem for me is when I see the kind of church that is engaged in creative ways in it’s community, it’s awfully hard to go back. When I was down in Maple Creek, I did some pastoral work with people. We literally put on some orange Salvation Army vests, went from flood ravaged house to flood ravaged house and chatted with flood victims. Everyone in that community knew the Salvation Army Corps officers, Captain Ed and Charlotte. Every last person. When he was in Saskatoon, he was everywhere in the community as well. If he can do it, so can other churches and their leaders. If Wendy, myself, my staff, and a bunch of volunteers can work amongst Saskatoon’s poorest, so can everyone. What we do isn’t brain surgery (umm, except for my staff, you are all brilliant… underpaid but brilliant) but a compassionate response to the community around us. Instead I find churches that are isolated and focused on themselves. Too many times over the last couple of years to hear a sermon on parenting, the need for leadership, church growth or again, church growth. Did I mention I hear a lot of sermons on the need for church growth. Sadly I am not alone. A good friend of mine recently left his long time church and said, “I’ve learned all I need to learn from the pulpit on the need for church growth”. It’s like the church has lot’s it’s reason for existence and is just looking at how to keep paying the bills. Yet sadly in a lot of communities, the need for the church and it’s redemptive message has never been greater.
The other thing is that while I hate the overuse of the concept of “a dark night of the soul”, it has been an extremely lonely time spiritually for me. God was extremely distant and I don’t really have a lot of people to talk to about this stuff. The praxis of my spiritual life was solid but there was no connection. After exhausting my traditional options, I sought out a Roman Catholic spiritual advisor who I spent a lot of time talking with. He was the one who said, “It’s not a dark night of the soul, it’s a wounded soul that I was dealing with.” A co-worker once said to me, “We aren’t normal. We are so desensitized by what we see sometimes, we aren’t bothered by what should bother us.” I thought about it a lot and realized that my job had changed me deeply and for the worse and I wasn’t equipped for what that has done to me. As an INTJ, I am already an underdeveloped feeler which at times makes it hard to fully understand what I am feeling. Looking at life from a rather cold and analytical mind has it’s advantages but it always makes it hard to look at life when the problem isn’t a rational one and as any of the staff that I work with will say, rational behavior can often be in short supply with what we see some days. Toss in that the amount of violence and death we have seen this summer, it has taken a toll. It seems like every murder and suspicious death in the city has been connected to someone I know and it’s hard. The first thing I am doing in the morning is dealing with another one. Jaded or not, it has had an impact and those add up a little bit.
As my spiritual advisor and I have talked, I shared that when God reveals himself to me, often I feel He was disappointed in me. I have long that was my biases, insecurities, and self worth issues coming out. I have come to seriously wonder if maybe God was quite disappointed in me and the reason for the silence, or just lack of disappointment is that maybe He isn’t anymore.
My evangelical friends don’t really get what I see. It actually upsets many of them when I tell them what I am seeing. I was talking to one friend about the fact that there are 600 known prostitutes in the city (of course they move from city to city to city) and he was totally freaked out. Our conversation ended with, “I am glad our church isn’t on the west side, I couldn’t deal with this". Yet I talk with some of them all of the time. They are working tonight two blocks down from where I am writing this. Addicted to drugs, sexual abuse survivors, acquired brain injuries. They aren’t abstract numbers but real girls with real stories and real families but the church ignores it. They also ignore the fact that many of their congregants are the ones that are paying these girls to get them off. While my faith seems as strong as always, I am no longer interested in a religion that is disconnected from the community it is a part of.
I know there are reasons for that, Lyle Schaller will tell us that the idea of the neighborhood church died with the rise of the car and cheap fuel but at the same time when I hear that people are living in over crowded slum suites because of sky high rents, there are 600 known prostitutes in the city and the vast majority of them are being trafficked, gangs are taking an toll on our kids, and some local elementary schools have had to cut back to 30 minute lunch breaks to stop elementary school girls from working the street on lunch breaks… doesn’t this call people to do something other than giving away some free clothes and serve soup once in a while? If young grade seven and eight girls losing their virginity to STD carrying john’s doesn’t call us to drastic action, what will?
Over fifteen years ago, columnist Paul Jackson wrote in The Star Phoenix that the church had abandoned it’s role of social services provider – taking care of widows and orphans – to the government during the 1960s and 70s. As the economies in North America struggled to pay for their new obligations, Jackson felt the church needed to step up again. It hasn’t happened yet. In fact most trends show churches walking more and more away from those difficult tasks and instead continuing to move to younger and younger suburban neighborhoods and therefore away from the problems. It may be great church growth doctrine but what about the neighborhood and that you left behind. The east side of Saskatoon has twice as many churches per person than then west side does. Guess which side of the city has the higher concentration of wealth and guess which side has the core neighborhoods in it. I’ll let you figure it out.