Archive for September, 2011
I love how a change in perspective opens up new vistas, new ways of seeing, helping me to spy things I mostly miss. Feeling a deep need for God’s good guidance, I’m going to allow my camera to help my heart nurture a more intent upward gaze.
I think we need to update the list of deadly sins – and I vote that shopping just might be the greatest modern enemy to living the Jesus life.
The church in North America is in such a dangerous place and we hardly know it. We exist in an environment of consumerism; it’s the air we breathe and so we hardly notice it – even in church. The demon is in deep and we’ve been discipled into a consumer way of life instead of a Jesus way of life. It shapes our expectations of church, our hopes for the Christian life, the desires of our hearts. And I’ll be the first to own this: “Hi my name is Phil and consumer living has co-opted my allegiances and heart desires.”
We need to start frank conversations in churches about this. There’s a few good books out addressing this reality. For example, James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom explores how we are formed by our desires and less so our thoughts. It’s a very important introduction to the reality of how we are formed, despite what we might cognitively hold to be true. Skye Jethani’s The Divine Commodity is an accessible critique of the consumerism that grips the North American church.
And there’s a new book out I’m looking forward to reading called The Renovation of the Church. Here’s a soberingly good quote from the book:
I don’t know how to say this in a gentle way, but we should not assume that those people who are attracted to our church have been captivated by the message of Christ and his alternative vision of life. In truth, most North American Christians are not riding courageously on warrior steeds with swords waving wildly in the air, crying out, “Let’s change the world for Christ.” Rather, they come in the air-conditioned comfort of their SUV or minivan with their Visa card held high in the air, crying out, “Let’s go to the mall!”
We should be more truthful with each other here. They come because their high-school kid likes the youth program, or because their children don’t get bored, or because they like the music, or because the pastor preaches the Bible the way they believe it should be preached, or because they happened to be greeted by a smiling face one day, or because the worship leaders looks like Brad Pitt.
This is the hard, raw reality of life in the North American church. The people who come to our churches have been formed into spiritual consumers. This is who we are. It is our most instinctive response to life. And you can hardly blame us. Almost everything in our culture shapes us in this direction. But we must become deeply convinced that this is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who invited us to deny ourselves and lose our lives in order to find them. If we do nothing to confront this in our churches, we are merely putting a religious veneer over consumerism and nothing is changed. We offer no real, viable, attractive, alternative way of living. And what is worse, our churches become part of the problem. By harnessing the power of consumerism to grow our churches, we are more firmly forming our people into consumers. Pastors end up being as helpful as bartenders at an Alcoholics Anonymous convention. We do not offer what people really need.
One of the lovely surprises of having a book published is watching where it turns up, who is reading it and how it is connecting with people.
There’s a prison ministry at Ionia Correctional Facility in Michigan that is using my daily prayerbook Seeking God’s Face. The chaplain, Richard Rienstra writes that the book is being used by the community (Celebration Fellowship) both inside and outside the prison. He says “The brothers are reading the book during “the count” of the inmates when they return to their cells for the “census.” The book is serving the “outside” partner-members as they are reading the same Scripture passages and uniting in similar prayers with one another. The “inside church” is living out its vision “to strive to be a worshipping community that glorifies God through the preaching of the word and liturgy so that worshippers may be inspired to transform all of life into worship…so that we become disciples of love, faith, hope, integrity and servant-hood in order to identify our gifts and exercise our calling.”
Check out this story of a returning citizen (former inmate) from Celebration Fellowship who is using the book along with others in his prison community. Sweet!
Or check out blogger John Sutton’s post here about his experience with Seeking God’s Face.
It was a gorgeous late summer evening last night – crystal clear night sky, nearly full moon, cool but comfortable temperatures. Betty and I were lounging on the back deck with a glass of wine when the night sky came alive. The aurora borealis, aka. northern lights, made a rare appearance. This is maybe the third or fourth time I’ve seen them in my years in Calgary so I badly wanted to wake Owen and Lily up to see them – but it was after 11:00 p.m.
The northern lights are a wonder, these swaying, sashaying curtains of light, endlessly changing form. They are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. What was so remarkable was the strength of the northern lights on a full-moon evening in a major urban center with all sorts of light pollution.
I couldn’t help but clamber on top of the roof of our house to catch a few shots.
This week I began work again after a time of sabbatical. And it is good to be working again. The structure for the week, the purposefulness of a place to go where your skills are engaged, the craft of it, the mind/body engagement. It’s good.
I missed my work; I was itching to get back at it. This is a basic human impulse I’m feeling. The gospel has a very high view of work, understanding it as intrinsic to a created, material world, to our nature as image-bearers of God.
And yet there’s been a long apartheid of faith and work at play in Christian circles. More times than I can recall, I hear people concluding – mostly unwittingly – that only effort with ecclesiastical or pious connections is holy. If that is the case, then the 88,000 hours an average person gives at work, from first day of work to retirement, is out of the range of the gospel, which makes for a very small, inconsequential faith.
Here’s a more beautiful truth the gospel opens up for us – your work is holy. When you give your self to craft a table, feed a child, plan a meeting, repair a wall, compose a poem, heal a hurt, or design a product, that is something very good and sacred. When you work, you are like God (throughout the Bible, God’s reality is unpacked through a variety images from the world of human work; he is a gardener, shepherd, tentmaker, builder, architect, farmer, composer, winemaker, potter, clothes designer/garment maker). Our work – whether it draws in a huge salary or is freely offered, whether it is recognized and celebrated or unnoticed and undervalued by others – is a response of love to a deep call, to a created identity fashioned in you by the Maker of all things.
Labor Day is a good time to remind ourselves of the good, holy thing work is. I recently read an old essay by Dorothy Sayers called “Why Work?” It is a really fine piece that unpacks the radical and transforming nature of a Christian perspective on work.
Let her words remind you of the holiness of your work:
Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work. The Church must concern Herself not only with such questions as the just price and proper working conditions: She must concern Herself with seeing that work itself is such as a human being can perform without degradation – that no one is required by economic or any other considerations to devote himself to work that is contemptible, soul destroying, or harmful. It is not right for Her to acquiesce in the notion that a man’s life is divided into the time he spends on his work and the time he spends in serving God. He must be able to serve God in his work, and the work itself must be accepted and respected as the medium of divine creation.
In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.
But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
I need to read more dead Christians. I’m too blinkered by my cultural biases and need a wisdom from another era. Dorothy Sayers, long gone from this world’s stage, wrote an essay called “Why Work?” in 1942. There was a quote that jumped out at me, words that couldn’t be more spot on for today’s economy:
A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.
So how about a photo from a good hike on a better day.