Friday, April 27, 2012

Questions from above (Nouwen) ramblings

Another helpful reminder from Henri Nouwen. Ramblings below after his thoughts ... :-)

Question from Above

What are spiritual questions?  They are questions from above.  Most questions people ask of Jesus are questions from below, such as the question about which of  a woman's seven husbands she will be married to in the resurrection.   Jesus does not answer this question because it comes from a legalistic mind-set.  It is a question from below.

Often Jesus  responds by changing this question.  In the case of the woman with seven husbands he says, "At the resurrection men and women do not marry - have you never read what God himself said to you:  'I am God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?'  He is God not of the dead but of the living" (Matthew 22:23-30).

We have to keep looking for the spiritual question if we want spiritual answers.

- Henri J. M. Nouwen  

It has been a good couple of days of leave. Had fun cooking and was good to catch up with Faith, Sherrie and Luanne over dinner. Slept a lot more than I expected and had fun reading graphic novels and watching an old Star Trek movie. Still feel tired today but feels good to be back to work. 

Today, off to visit a family at Starship hospital. Never met them but many of us in church have been praying for them for many weeks now as they are friends of a church member. The young daughter in the family is very ill and the family does not know God the way I do. For me it is always tough IF questions arise as to WHY? It is hard to answer WHY in a way that is helpful and comforting if there is no context and acceptance of a loving God who showed His love via Christ's life, death and resurrection. 

Often to attempt an answer is not helpful but sometimes not to give an answer when asked (or a totally vague generic answer) does not help either ...

So this reminder from Nouwen is a strange comfort to me in my own personal journey as I regularly ponder the ways of God in a messed up world. A reminder for me to ask God to help me ask the right questions, that I may not just get the right answers to satisfy my intellectual struggles but answers that also that calm my emotions and bring peace to my soul. And with these answers hopefully insights to help others ask the right questions as well ....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

There are four lights

One of many reasons why I enjoy Star Trek ... thought provoking creative and well written stories that explore via fiction important themes from real life

Thought his was a good piece ...

Taken from

April 23, 2012

There Are Four Lights: Free Will in the Context of Star Trek: The Next Generation
Hidden beneath the malevolence of the Borg Collective I always felt, what I can only describe to be, a disjointed sense of innocence. There was no fundamental free will, there was no morality or ethical reasoning; The Collective was merely doing what it was programmed to do – one might even say, it was simply succumbing to its intrinsic nature in the purist sense. The Borg was terrifying in its relentless pursuit – exhibiting no sympathy, no second thoughts, no potential for reasoning or negotiating, just cold industrialized space aged metal grating upon what was once warm, pulsing flesh. Up until the sixth season of TNG I had found the Borg, in its efficient approach to assimilating life, to be the most terrifying antagonist ever to appear on the show.
However, it was in the sixth season of TNGthat I began to question the fragility of our own feeble psyches. “Chain of Command” was dark – potentially the darkest episode of the whole series. It was in this episode during which I questioned the idea of free will – this time at the hands of the Cardassians and not the dreaded Borg Collective. They generated a new layer of repulsion to what depriving someone of their free will actually meant.
Captain Picard’s experience with the Cardassians was vastly different than his experience as Locutus. I found something particularly chilling about the idea that not only could your free will be taken away from you, you could willingly allow it to slip away given the proper nurturing circumstances.
The Borg, unlike the Cardassians, were not concerned with military secrets or brainwashing, it simply fed parasitically on other races, extracting their very identities. It had less to do with free will and more to do with the actual function of the species itself. You could almost exchange the words, “Resistance is futile” with, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
Picard’s Cardassian tormentor, Gul Madred, was methodical and inexorable – he had a point and purpose to every painful and torturous procedure inflicted upon the Captain. It was a perverted game of sorts that was intended to rob the victim of the desire to preserve their sense of free will. It was never a question of Captain Picard’s integrity as a Starfleet Officer, nor was it a question of whatever information he did or did not have access to, nor was it a matter of one race systematically assimilating another. The question was – would Captain Picard acquiesce in his fight to maintain free will, sincerely believing that the reality right before his eyes differed from the subjective truth that was being dictated to him?

Lit up before the Captain were four lights. He counted them, he knew the truth, 2+2=4, a graceful nod to George Orwell’s 1984. The torture began and Gul Madred insisted there were five. Through starvation and manipulation and dehydration and humiliation, Gul Madred again questioned the Captain, insisting that the truth was other than what it was– that there were five lights. Finally, he resorted to promises of relief – of warmth and peace and solitude. Surely, surely the Captain must now see five lights?

The episode hauntingly climaxed with Captain Picard, appearing to be resolute in his stance against Gul Madred and his fondness for mind control, crying out, “There are four lights!” His words evoked such a response in me that every intonation is burned into my memory. Even more memorable, and also terrifying, was the Captain’s subsequent confession to Deanna Troi, that he did indeed see five lights and not four. Upon hearing Picard’s revelation, I suddenly felt vulnerable, naked and strung up as the Cardassians had previously kept him. The darkness of the episode dawned on me as I realized what exactly his concession meant.
Having watched TNG closely for the first six seasons, I found myself – for the first time – realizing just how susceptible our human Captain was to the violent seductions of other races. It was the first time that I felt any kind of despair in relation to the show, knowing that even the strongest of us can be broken. This translated into questions in my own mind – how much do I believe simply because it is the truth that is presented to me and how much of that truth is the factual reality? It was a cautionary tale, if you will, about asking questions and taking the time to think about my beliefs instead of simply relying on blind faith, cultural conditioning or other external factors to support these beliefs; a cautionary tale that reminds us of just how fragile and precarious life can truly be.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chuck Colson has gone home

Another old guard has passed on.  Got an email this morning from Colson's email list ... May God raise up more people to carry on his example of passion ans service

Honor the life and legacy of Chuck Colson (1931-2012)

Dear Friends,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that Chuck Colson — our friend, founder, and brother in Christ — passed away this [morning, afternoon, evening]. Though we mourn the loss of a great leader, we rejoice knowing God has welcomed his humble and faithful servant home. When Chuck Colson left prison, he promised to remember the men who remained behind bars. “I will never forget you guys!” he told them.
And for 36 years, Chuck faithfully kept that promise. In 1976, he founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry dedicated to living out Jesus’ command to remember the incarcerated and share the transformational love of Jesus Christ with them and their families.

“I could never, ever have left prison and accomplished what has been accomplished but for God doing it through me,” Chuck once said.

Chuck also spoke directly into our culture through BreakPoint Radio, a program he started in 1991 and has been the voice of nearly every day for the past twenty plus years. His vision to lead the culture into a Christian Worldview led to the Centurions Program in 2004 and the founding of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview in 2010.

Please continue to pray for the entire Colson family. While we all deeply feel this loss, we take heart knowing God has welcomed Chuck into paradise with a “well done, good and faithful servant!”

Jim Liske
Chief Executive Officer

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ramblings on "The atheist and the Nun"

Still slowly reading Eugene Peterson's "The Pastor: A Memoir" and after reading this chapter, I thought I should quickly reflect and ramble on it instead of procrastinating :-) So many sentences in this short chapter caught my eye and heart ...

The first is the reason Peterson was teaching at St. Mary's Seminary while still busy as a pastor.

 But the invitation to give courses at the Ecumenical Institute, as it turned out, was neither diversion nor detraction from my pastoral work. It contributed a kind of reinforcement, an enrichment. It gave me a supplementary congregation very different from the suburbanites I gathered for worship each week and with whom I lived as a companion. My classes were multiethnic, a gathering of people off the streets of Baltimore from missions, New Age cults, workers with the homeless, men and women who hadn't found their place, looking for a place. Some were Christians looking for guidance and stimulus in sharpening their witness and understanding. Some were professionals bored with professionalism. They kept me in touch with an energy that seethed in the city but also with its poverty and crime. My sense was that all of them were looking for God but often didn't have a name for what they were looking for. Their language and their stories protected me from being lulled into complacency by suburbia.

The seminary also maintained a connection with the life of the mind, a devout community of intellectual seriousness that did not exactly flourish in my congregation, homes in which there was a TV in every room. St. Mary's Seminary trained priests for holy orders. It was the oldest Roman Catholic seminary in America. I had a couple friends who were professors on the faculty. The life of the mind, the theological mind, flourished here. The library was elegant. The conversations were lively. A few hours a week at the seminary were enough to keep my mind engaged with the life of the Spirit, the Word of Life, a living link with the life of the mind. 

The pastoral vocation in America is always in danger of becoming flabby with consumer religion and lazy with cliches. Those years and hours at St. Mary's Seminary provided a defense against both the flabbiness and the cliches.

While I certainly won't be asked to teach a course at seminary, and I have no energy or desire to be a full time or part time seminary student again, my resolve to make it a priority to attend Laidlaw College's twice yearly Leaders Day (example can be seen HERE)  has been further strengthened.

One of my recent laments to a few people was my struggle that even after a powerful presence of God in worship and a challenging sermon (in which many make it a point to mention to me , thank me or ask me to let the worship leader or preacher know etc.), in a short while the conversations turn to "consumer religion" (to borrow Peterson's term) AND trivial mundane every day matters of little spiritual value.

Not to say that I think every thought and conversation has to be directly tied in to God, but there is something worrying when it is almost as if "well, church is over, so back to my other life?" It's something hard to explain *sigh* And it is not that I personally am devoid of any interest in "secular things" :-)

Anyway, one thing I remind myself often is that it is "unfair" of me to expect most people to understand some things they way I do simply because we are at different stages in our relationship with God and it is my "job to spend most of my time thinking of "spiritual things".

And even if I do not teach in a course in seminary or take formal courses as a student, I need to block significant time for serious study and reflection less I find my mind disengaging with the life of the Spirit and Living Word .... and get "flabby" theologically.

The second is title of the course he was teaching! 

This semester my course was A Theology of Ministry in the Workplace. There were eleven students. I introduced myself. We got acquainted—their names, what they did for a living, and so forth. Then I gave an orientation to the course. The working assumption was that ministry is what we do for a living, all of us, any of us. It is not a specialty work for pastors or priests or missionaries. As we met together around this seminar table, we would describe what we did for a living and see if we could find ourselves as workers in a workplace in the biblical story, a vocation of salvation. We would use Jesus's words in John 5:17 as our text: "My Father is still working, and I also am working."  The Gospel of John as a whole would provide background and resource.

"The major requirement of the course is to write a paper on your personal assessment of the theology of a ministry that you are in. Each will present a paper in class. That will be the text that we will discuss. ..."

I wish I could sit in on such a class! And I am glad he shared some highlights in this chapter. It also made me think about the possibilities in my life, should the LORD tell me my "tour of duty" as a "church pastor" is up. Not that I dislike being a pastor. I love it and I do believe it is my calling BUT there are times when I realize that there are limitations that come with the job ...

But I do think such courses need to be offered in every seminary and in church so that every Christian will get excited via discovering their ministry as I agree with the assumption that ministry is what we do for a living, all of us, any of us. Then perhaps(?) this would result in more people after church talking excitedly about what happened in their week, and how God was seen in their lives and how it impacted others around them.

The third is of course the comments by the NUN and the ATHEIST and how God changed them.

Discussion was animated. Except for one woman, a nun. She taught fifth grade in a parochial school. About fifty years old, plain, sullen, lumpish. She said nothing. Attempting to get something started with her, I asked, "Why are you taking this course?"
"It's not my idea. Faculty requires it—continuing education."
The next week she didn't have a topic. She said, "I don't have a ministry."
"Josephine, didn't you tell me when we were talking before class that you ran a bingo game every Saturday for the elderly in a nursing home?" 
She was curt. "That's not ministry, that's penance." I backed off.

LOL. I can just imagine the scene.
Then of course the change ... which I think is best read for oneself

And how the atheist, Bear changes as well and meets Christ

But what inspires me is that all this came about because people were willing to honestly discuss tough issues theologically in a safe community setting.

One comment by Peterson that kind of sums things up ...

Bear set down the conditions that prevailed for the rest of the semester: honest, probing, vulnerable, prayerful, and personal. And Christian.

Such deep conversations is something I miss ...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

no excuse for defeatism

A really timely reminder for me ... as "the decadence of civilization" has of late been getting me down ...

“It is too easy to find an excuse for inaction by pleading the decadence of civilization, or even the imminent end of the world. This defeatism, whether it be innate or acquired or a mere affection, seems to me the besetting temptation of our time. Defeatism is invariably unhealthy and impotent; can we also prove that it is unjustified? I think so.”
- Teilhard de Chardinfrom Building the Earth

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resurrection (William Willimon) - pastor's notes

Pastor's notes for 15 April 2012

To read, click HERE

Random ramblings triggered by 2 cartoons

Been a long time since I blogged. Just been too distracted and in a way unmotivated ... But anyway ....

This first cartoon has been on my desktop for weeks. The church I serve as pastor has as part of its name "Community Church", and the community aspect is very important to me.
A couple of random thoughts on the word community that has stuck in my mind over the last few years ...

1. A community leader once made a comment to me when I asked him about whether there were churches in the past involved in a local community trust (which I now belong to)
He told me that in the past there were pastors who came on board but did not last long - his off the cuff remark was  "they were more interested in helping their own community." Ouch! 

So how do Christians (or better still, should Christians) define the term "community"?
Is it to be in terms of "Christians" who become part of a local church community? As in church members? 

Then another community leader made the comment that there were 20 plus churches within a 2 km radius of the local schools (6 schools all within walking distance of each other). This was a comment later repeated to me by yet another community leader.
Personally I know of .... 6 churches (at least one in each school), 2 church buildings on my church street, 5 on another street within 1 km of my church and 3 more across the main road - also within 1 km. And I know of a number of churches which rent out their church premises to other congregations ... So I don't think the comment of 20 plus churches is an exaggeration.

I am glad the relationship between me and another local pastor (of a church that meets across the road in a school) has been growing stronger as the months go by, and that we see areas in which we can help one another to make a positive impact on our community (defined as neighborhood). And I am glad to see that both of us are making inroads in different aspects of our community engagement.

This next cartoon troubles me as it is too close for comfort. The problem of keeping the status-quo in many churches bothers me. I can see that often there may be agreements in principle but the passion and commitment that is needed to work towards principles is often missing.

Of course I am aware that I must be patient and realistic as it is "my job" to think about "kingdom matters" 24/7 and most do not have the luxury of such time. But still .... it almost seems mediocrity, sedentary Christian living, keeping the status-quo and being over comfortable with "secular culture" is that expected norm?

A bit off topic but hey, since I am rambling ...

Last night I made the comment (youth camp) that I think it is plainly WRONG for Christian youth to use OMFG in their postings. I probably offended a few and re-established my growing reputation of a really uncool Christian / pastor.

And I am particularly irritated with the "in-thing" where the term "wicked" is used to describe how great something is. I can't see how people can nod approvingly when a leader  ( BTW Not referring to any of my youth or young adults!) makes a comment "O God, you are so wicked!" (meaning, O God you are so awesome). And especially when the word "awesome" is used to describe practically every insignificant thing.
I fear for the future generations if it becomes trendy to describe God as wicked instead of awesome and mundane things awesome especially when some of these things are actually borderline wicked