Do we really believe all lives matter?

I can’t say that I’ve invested a lot of time researching the imbalanced treatment of minorities by US law enforcement. In the few articles I’ve read it seems as though police killings are relatively balanced by race but other things like getting pulled over aren’t. I have a local friend whose parents came from Sri Lanka (south of India). He is just brown enough that in the dark he was accosted three times by local police in one night. It was immensely frustrating for my friend. It seemed very dehumanizing. I’ve never experienced anything like that.

I don’t think “black lives matter” precludes the notion that “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter.” Deep down we believe in conditional humanity. We value you if you meet certain conditions and if you don’t meet them you are lesser. The most obvious condition is incarceration. As soon as you are in jail in most places you are less than human and should be treated as such. The problem with this approach is that if you treat people like animals they are more likely to act like them when you let them out of their cage. They are much more likely to victimize someone else. I don’t know that we’ve fully grasped the reality that there is a direct connection between how we treat offenders and continuing crime. If we treat people in a way that makes them much more likely to reoffend do we not share responsibility for that crime?

At least with the dehumanizing of criminals we have an understandable reason for doing so. We want retribution. We need a deterrent. We have much less reason to dehumanize people because they are too young, too old, too poor, the wrong race, the wrong colour, the wrong religion, from the wrong town or live in the wrong part of town, or had the wrong parents. As soon we believe in conditional humanity we open ourselves to all sorts of prejudice.

I believe in something even more profound than all lives matter. I believe in grace. Grace is the English rendering of the greek word charis, which means unmerited favour. You’ll find it over 100 times in the New Testament. “The law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NIV). The very definition of this word changed my faith forever. Not only do all lives matter, all lives are favoured by God. In fact, God deemed all lives so valuable that he would suffer to heal and restore all of them.

How does this translate in everyday life? We treat people with dignity, respect and compassion regardless of whether they can do anything for us. I think it also means we take difficult measures to ensure people are safe from those who would exploit or victimize them. In some cases people are victimized by criminal activity, and sometimes it is unfair treatment from people in power in society.

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Biblical values or tribalism

Just the other day I was having a long talk with a good friend. While we both have identified ourselves as evangelicals, we both felt increasingly uncomfortable in the evangelical culture. For myself I think part of it is theological. Depending on your definition I’d still call myself an evangelical, even if I’d call myself a moderate one. I still love the bible and view it as authoritative. Like many other Anabaptists I see the life and teachings of Jesus as the focal point of scripture. So I’ve studied, and I’ve invested in my education and resources in order to better understand God, the Christian faith and my world. So much of my participation in the evangelical world was based on the assumption that others in this movement had similar values.

In the last few years I’ve come to realize, that just isn’t true. It is a really, really difficult realization to come to.

While I readily acknowledge there are lots of people who do deeply care about biblical values and just interpret the bible differently…with those types of people I love to engage, discuss and debate and learn things from.

I think the heart of Christianity is Christ, but following Jesus requires the following:

A fearless devotion to the truth

Unselfish love

Following Jesus required people put their ingrained knowledge and values to side to fully consider what he was saying. When Jesus told everyone they would have to eat his body and drink his blood only those fearlessly devoted to following the truth at any cost continued to follow him.

The human mind can only handle so much connection, so when we hit a certain point we simplify things by interpreting people through stereotypes or other models. Some of these types and models are developed in community. We tend absorb our perspective from our community. When the assumptions and expectations of that community become the dominant lens by which truth and situations are judged regardless of evidence that is tribalism.

What has frustrated me is that when an issue comes along that calls for a fearless devotion to the truth or unselfish love I see evangelicals holding fast to the tribal value rather than reconsidering things from a biblical perspective. In fact, evangelicals assume their tribal values are biblical values. In that we are not so different from the religious leaders of Jesus day who persecuted him.

I’ll give you an example: assisted dying. There are some who work in the field of social work or health care that actively affirm the biblical value of the sanctity of all life. I don’t begrudge these fine people as they attempt to shape the laws and policies of our governments. Assisted dying at this point only impacts people who are so incapacitated that they can’t end their own life. These people are generally older, are suffering from a chronic or terminal condition and are therefore a relatively small contingent of people. There is a much larger contingent of people who commit suicide because they have lost hope, are mired with addictions or are afflicted with mental illness. The church has very little leverage to shape the outcome of the legal changes forced by the supreme court of Canada. We could make a huge difference by advocating for social justice for the vulnerable sectors of society with high rates of suicide. We could help fund addictions and mental health programs. Aside from 12 step programs evangelicals don’t do much on this front.

The reason is we don’t really care about people. We just get upset when people violate the rules of our tribe.

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Moral failure in Christian leadership

In the aftermath of another high profile Christian leader stepping down to a moral failure there are the usual comments about accountability, moral failure and the difficulties of pastoral leadership. Last winter my annual seasonal mood issues began but unlike other years they did not recede with the end of winter. I relieved myself of any ministry and community obligations that I felt too heavy to bear. Since May I’ve felt significantly better, but I’m still very tentative and wary of taking on more burden than I can handle. It has been great, letting myself off the hook. It took until my summer vacation, where I finally go to the point where I felt blissfully bored. No immediate anxieties, no urgent projects, and nothing but my role as a father, husband and friend. The time has given me some perspective.

I think a lot of people in church leadership turn to a vice like booze, drugs or sex because of a conflict between their subconscious and conscious selves. The primary driver is not the “temptation.” The sinful activity is an escape channel. At one level there is the commitments to position, colleagues and church community. There are the self-assigned burdens and expectations. These are prioritized above personal needs which results an ever depending mental and emotional health deficit. Inside this cocoon of pressure something has to give. Without even fully understanding it people make drastic choices masked under the impulse of vice. In the moment it is just a fling with the secretary but deep down underneath it is all is a desperate psyche that wants to be free. It happens to lots of people, not just pastors.

Sadly, most people who to travel this path are shamed and discarded despite the carefully crafted public announcements of ongoing encouragement and support. It seems odd, the very community or organisation that watched the leader spiral out of control thinks they can now navigate a delicate restoration process. What I’ve observed too many times is that Christian leaders are valued for what they bring to the life the organization. When they become a liability they become effectively worthless and are treated as such. Fortunately, this isn’t always the case. Some leaders have real friends who will value them regardless of their perceived or real failures. Some leaders don’t travel the path of moral failure they just burn out, and the long term disability insurance contract forces the organization to try to reintegrate them.

I’ve been part of and had friends in many Christian organizations. I’ve never observed the kind of support, community and acceptance I’ve experience in simple church ministry whether it be a small group or a house church. This winter and spring I leaned on a lot of people for support. I am thankful for the rich friendships that have been mutually cultivated inside and outside my core community. I have a web of relationships that helped me immensely. Without the pressure of position, I could step back without shame, and it was easy to turn to people to help.

Most of the purposed for solutions for pastoral burnout are ineffective or obviously too hard to follow. I think more than anything we need real community and solid relationships with people that you know will accept you in your failings. Sadly, in most ministry situations this notion is unrealistic.

I’m better. I feel tentative though. It is kind of like that point after you sprain your ankle, the pain is gone but you don’t want risk anything more than a slow sure walk until you know the healing is solid. I can’t say I’m eager to rush back in and try to change the world. In fact, I’m learning how my life’s desire, my life ethos to change the world has hurt me. That subject will have to wait for another post.

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Discipleship ministries need deep church engagement

From 1992 to today I’ve had a nearly uninterrupted connection with Bethany College/Bible Institute. I’ve been a student twice, a volunteer, intern, and IT support. Bethany ran for 88 years, which means was connected with it for ¼ of its life. It has been almost impossible for me to write about the school, it’s death and future possibilities because the grieving has been hard. I knew my friends and former colleagues were grieving as well. It was hard watching it die. Like so many others I felt I had a lot invested in the school and I know others were more connected.

I’m convinced now that any discipleship ministry needs to be deeply connected to and responsive to the local church. Up until the early 2000’s Bethany had something called the Convention. Delegates from the churches would come, see the budget, ask questions etc. It wasn’t generally that exciting but it was a form of connection and accountability to the local church. When we ended that we lost something.

There is a natural fault line between academics and local church leaders. Academics do tend to favour the perspectives of those with higher academic credentials. Some local church leaders view academics as out of touch with on the ground realities and can be suspicious of the more nuanced theological perspectives of academics. These are just tendencies and don’t have to be the reality. It takes intentionality on both sides to maintain a fruitful connection.

Any institution needs to get outside it’s own echo chamber. There is a deep temptation to listen to our supporters and subtly dismiss our critics as people who don’t “get it.” True critical engagement is very difficult because very few people want to hurt anyone’s feelings. When we tend to describe everything we do with spiritual language it is hard for anyone to point out the flaws in what is going on. When honest people see the flaws or have reservations they tend to not say anything. If a culture develops where almost all the feedback you engage with is from supporters it can lull you to thinking you have broader support than you actually have.

Transparency is something I think most Christian institutions struggle with. In most institutions, Christian or not, there is the “inside story” and the “outside story” on sensitive issues. The inside story it is the full account and the outside story is the sanitized version. This strategy is legitimately used to protect people’s dignity or privacy. However, there is always the temptation to sanitize merely to protect the image of the institution. We see the institution as God’s work and we convince ourselves that we are protecting God’s project. This is flawed because if it is God’s project a negative response isn’t going to derail it. If things are so bad we need a miracle to keep going, you might as well be honest and stop trying manage people’s perspectives.

Sometimes the hardest person to be honest with is ourselves. This is true of a community as it is with and individual. Some very difficult realities at Bethany were not acknowledged until it was too late. It can be difficult to sort things out. I know that not everyone agrees with me on some of the issues I believed to be pressing. One thing that is impossible to disregard is the outcome and how surprised people were inside and outside the institution when everything unfolded at the end.

I hope that any future endeavours will avoid the same mistakes. It is vitally important to remember whom we serve. We serve God and his church. Any discipleship ministry will not stay healthy or viable for long without transparency, critical intentional engagement, and accountability to the local church.


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A disquiet in my soul concerning the gospel

For the last few years I’ve sporadically studied the meaning and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. We have a theological word for it: atonement. It started when I watched a video that illustrated how many modern presentations of the gospel make Jesus and the Father to be very different kinds of people. The Father is holy and unrelenting in his need to dispense retribution on depraved sinners and Jesus the loving and forgiving saviour sent to provide us an escape from God’s wrath. This view is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) and there are versions of it that attempt to maintain the unity of the Father and the Son but I’m not convinced they do a very good job.

I’ve spent many hours studying the scriptures, and now I’ve moved on to books on the subject. I’m still neck deep in it. It has been a fascinating study. The dominate evangelical view really only goes back to Luther and wasn’t fully articulated until John Calvin. When I read proponents of PSA they proudly proclaim this is the heart of the gospel and if we are missing this we are impaired in our faith. So if that were true almost the entire church missed the core component of the gospel until the reformation. That is an astounding assertion.

What have I concluded from my study so far?
That the atonement and our notion of salvation runs far deeper and far wider than forgiveness and the punishment of sin. The themes of victory over sin, death and the devil, reconciliation, redemption, ransom, cleansing, healing, receiving life are all tied with Jesus death and resurrection are all strong and directly related to Christ’s death and resurrection.

At the very least we’ve been proclaiming a gospel message that so heavily oversimplified it is a rump of what is known in the scriptures.

The most common expressions of PSA make God out to be an unrelenting autocrat that cannot tolerate any deviation from his divine will. It finds no common ground between holiness and love, justice and compassion, righteousness and forgiveness.

By viewing all salvation through lens of appeasing God’s wrath we ignore all the wonderful things the atonement has done and is doing for us.

The gospel has many facets and no one way of looking at it captures all the dimensions of it. We should carefully consider the early church’s view on this. It is beautiful.

Like many theological mysteries, where we end up is largely dependant on where we start. One of the most crucial questions is “What is the problem atonement is trying to solve?” I think the problem is human corruption through Adam’s choice to “know” good and evil. Rebellion is a symptom of corruption, and thus corruption is the heart of problem. When we start here Jesus’ death is more about cleansing, healing and restoring in order that we stop rebelling and in doing so end the hostility we have towards the holiness of God and resolve God’s anger over sin. God is satisfied, not because someone was punished for humanity’s sin, but because humanity has been freed from sin, cleansed of corruption and reconciliation has taken place. Jesus’ death frees the prodigal to return home and find the Father is already waiting for him with open arms.



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What does the church need for discipleship?

What does the church need for discipleship? It is almost a backwards question. It should be the disciples asking, how do we function as a church. But that is the state of things today. We have churches full of people that haven’t been discipled.

With the demise of bible schools, and one close to my heart, a lot of people are asking questions like: how do we replace these ministries geared towards young adults? How do we replace the schools that taught our movement’s distinctive theology? How can we ensure that our kids have the same kind of experience that we did?

Those are the wrong questions.

Here is a better one: how does one reach maturity in Christ? I’ve participated in many discipleship ministries and activities. I’ve taught at the college level, led small groups, house churches, preached, mentored and personally cared for people. Here is what I found.

The process of progressing towards Christlikeness is as much about healing as it is learning, it is more about perspective than knowledge, it is more about relationship than accomplishment.

In this post I’m going to talk about the first one: healing and learning.

I’ve walked with, cared for, mentored a number of different people over the last 10 years. What they need more than anything is healing and for that they need connection. Now connection is kind of modern word but it summarizes the biblical concepts of fellowship, abiding, oneness with Christ and each other.

Why is healing important? Without healing we don’t see things accurately. Our perspective is skewed. With our perspective skewed we our ability to learn is impaired. We can teach broken people things, we can give them biblical principles to learn and apply, but their ability to live these things out is significantly diminished. The more wounded people are, the more they live in shame, the more Christianity turns in to a dead religion that just becomes another means to find some sense of personal worth or distract themselves from the pain that lives inside them. Sometimes things get so twisted that what people hear is completely different from what is being said.

I think good theology is as beautiful as art. One needs have to be geared a certain way to see it that way, but that is the way I am geared. I am not geared to appreciate a fine painting in a gallery, but I do know what would even more difficult for me to appreciate it if my vision was blurry. Teaching beautiful theology to broken people is like getting people who can’t see well to appreciate a visual art.

Luk 11:34 NET. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness.

I think this is one reason the church spends most of its time teaching and yet people learn so little. We have the cart before the horse. We cannot learn until healing has started. To continue the healing process, we need to learn and come to a better understand of who God is. One is no less essential than the other, but an inordinate focus on either leaves us in an impoverished state.

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Not all polls are equal

I’m learning that not all polls are equal, nor is the reporting on them free from editorial bias.

The three main methods for polling are IVR, Online and telephone. IVR is when a computer calls you and you enter your answer buy hitting a number on your phone.

Online polls (Ipsos, Angus Reid, Leger, Innovative Research, Abacus) rely on using a database of people that are signed up to do polls. So they tend to reflect the attitudes of people that would sign up for these things. This election year they have been largely consistent.

IVR pollsters (Forum, Ekos, Mainstreet) have been all over the map. One week the NDP are winning a majority. A few weeks later the Conservatives are cruising towards one. The response rate on an IVR poll is less than 1%. They have to call a lot of people to get anyone to answer.

Telephone polls (Nanos) are the most expensive to do but the response rate is much better at 9%. Nanos has consistently proven to be accurate when compared to the final results. They are generally regarded as the most accurate.

Some polls are properly weighted according to demographics (age, gender, education) and some aren’t. One IVR poll just released today polled 5000 people but only 400 between 18-35 and 2000 for 65+. That is going to skew results heavily towards Conservatives. While those 65 and over vote twice as much as the 18-35 group, the 18-35 group is 23% of the population and seniors account for only 16%.

If I were to get a sense how things turn out on election day I’d have to weigh seniors about 1/3 higher than the youth vote, not 5 times the youth vote.

Sometimes polls are released a number of days actually after they finished polling. The IVR poll I mentioned before finished on Oct 1st. Where three other pollsters have released much different numbers and were in the field in the last couple of days.

So who is winning?  I would guess the Liberals but not by much.  They need to be winning by at least a couple points to actually win more seats than the Conservatives.

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Why play political games when people are suffering?

This whole refugee situation deeply bothers me. Like most people I really, really was blissfully ignorant of a massive humanitarian crisis. I see one little boy lying dead in the sand and poof, suddenly I care. Like so many others my empathy for others is fickle. A week from now, two weeks from now will I be distracted?

So it turns out this boy’s family was trying to get to Canada. They had one application for one member of family rejected, they got desperate and tried to make it to Greece and then the tragedy occurred.

The Prime Minister gets in front of the camera and tells everyone Canada already is the most generous nation in world at settling immigrants and refugees. It is a carefully crafted statement that is true in one sense but it obscures the reality that we don’t take in as many asylum seekers as other nations. Relative to many other countries we aren’t that generous at all.

It was typical political BS. Say something that is technically true but that communicates something untrue. We’ve come to expect that our political leaders will do this over the budgets, programs, and gaffes. Many times it doesn’t really matter because what they are spinning one way or the other isn’t that big a deal.

In this situation however, Canadians have been stirred from their complacency on something that really matters. A real leader would have harnessed the collective compassion of our nation and steered it towards something truly good.

Instead our leader told us to go back to sleep. We already do more than anyone else, he said, and by the way we really need to keep bombing those bad guys. It doesn’t matter that the “bad guys” only displaced about 1/5th of the refugees in question. Perhaps you believe that bombing actually kills more terrorists than it inspires, I don’t. But even if we kept up the military campaign why can’t we find another 100 million in our 275 billion dollar budget to take in more refugees now that Canadians really want to take in more? Can’t we clear away the red tape so that we can take in more than a thousand people year?

I find it reprehensible that we would engage in dishonest political rhetoric when the suffering and survival of the weakest among us is at stake.

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Harper is doing long term damage to Canadian conservatism

“Duffy is a nothing” shouted Earl Cowan, the disgruntled Conservative supporter recorded recently hurling profanity at the media.  Despite the fact that other parts of his tirade were completely untrue Duffy is relatively nothing compared to the bigger issues in this campaign.  What the Duffy trial has revealed about the PMO is the biggest issue for me.  The Prime Minister’s Office has far too much power and has become deeply dysfunctional.  Nigel Wright’s payment of Duffy’s expenses is far less worrying that the other revelations that have come out this trial.

Solid evidence has revealed:

  • PMO interference and control over the senate
  • Attempts by the PMO to manipulate a 3rd party audit
  • Instructing MPs to lie to Canadians
  • Obsessing over optics rather substance
  • The PM disregarded his own lawyer’s “basic legal interpretation” of the constitution
  • Key members of the PMO not paying attention at important meetings or just lying about it

The obsession over who knew about Nigel Wright’s cheque doesn’t matter much unless the RCMP decides to start charging those who offered the bribe.  Only Duffy was charged because he personally benefited from the bribery and it was believed Wright did not.  Duffy’s defence attorney did an excellent job demonstrating that Nigel Wright’s gift was no act of noble charity.  It was clearly intended to end a political problem for the PM and the Conservative party.  It is hard to see how this isn’t a bribe on both sides of transaction now.  I personally think the crown should prosecute those that offered the bribe as well as he who took the bribe.

I find the Conservative denials and spin increasingly improbable.  I understand how if they admit any culpability and expose any measure of deceit that it would submarine the election for them.  In order the keep things going they need to spin increasingly less plausible tales.  As their story changes and their denials become increasingly vapid and disconnected from reality.  Yesterday I observed Conservative MP Paul Calandra dismiss the allegations of manipulating an audit because the audit didn’t actually change.  So trying to manipulate an audit is ok, it’s only unethical when you successfully manipulate an audit?

With each lie, each preposterous statement, with each half-truth infographic spread virally on social media I become more and more disgusted with right-wing politics.  It isn’t that I don’t appreciate fiscal conservatism, debt repayment, free trade and less taxes.  There are lots of things I do appreciate that the right brings to the political engagement.  I believe they are essential. Unfortunately the people at the top of the Conservative party have no respect for the truth.  The cottage industry of alternative right-wing online media claiming to correct the bias of the main stream media is worse than the people they criticize.

As these voices become more deceptive, more preposterous, more ridiculous it has a divisive and caustic effect on Canadian society.   A resentment is building towards the Conservative party.  This resentment will carry on well passed this election.  If the Conservatives fail to form government, and I doubt they will, every act of deception, deflection and obfuscation will haunt them and hinder the movement going forward.  When I think about the Conservatives I see Paul Calandra speaking and acting as if I was a complete and utter fool that is either too blind, too stupid, or too incompetent to check a fact on google.  It would be wise for the Conservatives to find their moral compass again  and start to think about the elections to come.


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Why so cynical? Thoughts on church disillusionment

Why so cynical?

I have for the last 10 years or so lived between the worlds of Christians that run institutions and those that given up on them. As more and more institutions die and the ranks of the disaffected grow tension is growing.

Why are people leaving?

I think people get tired of investing in something that doesn’t seem real anymore. At least it seems like the main thing, whatever it is we put on our mission statement or on the wall or whatever, isn’t really the main thing. Pastors get tired of preaching sermons to people who so rarely seem to learn or change. Volunteers get tired of plugging holes in a program. The more the church or organization is driven by self-preservation, the more contrast there is between the inside story and the public story, the more people are motivated by obligation or hype, more unreal the experience becomes. There is a tension that grows inside more and more until we just can’t keep supporting it anymore.

It has happened to me a couple of times. Now lots of people have come to blame the “system.” Lots of thoughtful people have explored the ways we shape our systems end up shaping us in return. The medium is the message and all that. Those are worthwhile topics to engage in.

The bigger issue is really trust. It isn’t just the system we don’t trust, it is the people in it. Sometimes it is the people in charge, sometimes it is the people who think they are in charge. Even if we change the system we are still faced with issues of integrity and accountability. Having a hierarchical structure or some kind of board doesn’t mean any real accountability is occurring.

We can point to national scandals but the real killers are little scandals. Every little squabble swept under the rug. Every firing that comes out looking like a mutual decision. The awkward silence when another person leaves and won’t say why.

Every organization has a culture and in some cultures there are things you just can’t question, but sometimes they are the very things that need to be questioned. It is a dangerous thing when an organization celebrates and trumpets every morsel of positive feedback and quietly rights off each critical comment because those critics obviously don’t get it.

How do we get back to the place where we are willing engage with each other and build something again? We need to become trustworthy. We need to become faithful. We need to earn back trust by walking sincerely, transparently, and selflessly. Christian leadership has evolved in to management techniques, strategy, and influence with only lip service to integrity and virtue. Christ needs to become preeminent in the church.

But I have this against you: that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the works you did at first. But if you do not, I am coming to you, and I will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

(Rev 2:4-5 LEB)

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