Monday, 31 May 2010

YC Weekend

This was certainly an interesting weekend. I went up as a leader with my church's youth group to YC in Edmonton and didn't shower or wash my hair the entire time (though the rain and snow did manage to make me feel a bit drowned rat like from time to time). I consider it a success, as my sister only noticed an intriguing "food-like" smell emanating from my brother and me when she came to pick us up upon our return.

There are many things I could tell you, but most of them you would probably not find interesting. I got lost only twice (on the first evening) and missed supper only once (not my fault). I learned to slice tomatoes on a moving bus, which actually wasn't too hard, but which I am inordinately proud of managing. Nothing too extraordinary happened, but it's blog worthy regardless.

Favourite moments:

1. Glancing around the group and seeing that almost everyone in our group, excepting my little brother and me, had purchased some sort of stadium concession item or band memorabilia. Then my brother caught my eye and pointed out that very same observation. I consider this evidence of the successful endowment of (wise) Mennonite frugality into my brother and me by our parents. It was an odd brother/sister moment that made me smile.

2. Being crushed in a mosh pit. Actually, moshing isn't allowed at YC, but the authorities didn't organize proper line-ups for people wanting to see the Panic Squad, which resulted in pretty much the same thing. One guy even went crowd surfing, though he was carried away from the doors rather than towards them, so he probably regretted doing it. Given the size of the crowd, I had figured there wasn't much chance we'd get in, but my brother spotted an empty space closer to the door, so we forged ahead, to eventually be joined by my brother's friend Caleb. Need I describe the experience once the doors finally opened? As it was, I was contemplating bracing my back against the people behind me and propelling Caleb forward with my feet, as Panic Squad was the only thing at YC that he was really wanting to see, but all three of us managed to make it in, and even to get pretty good spots. Well played, we congratulated ourselves, even though it left me pondering the insanity of fan behaviour and exactly what I had just been a part of.

There's actually a whole lot that was neat about the weekend. I enjoyed interacting with the members of the youth group and getting to better know my co-leaders. I also managed to meet up with a friend of mine from university, which was cool because I probably won't see her again all summer.

But now that I've dealt with some of the fun stuff, I still want to discuss the speakers. I think I'll discuss the musicians on a later date.

Not that I claim to be absolutely correct on everything, but I did not like the first speaker, Preston Centuolo. Well, that's not true. He struck me as quite funny and a genuinely nice guy, and I respect his testimony. It's just that I think what he was saying kinda... well... stank. It was misleading and misrepresented Christ.

His main theme was that, "Everybody has issues. God will deal with your issues." Now this is very true with a certain understanding of "issues". We are selfish. God helps us deal with our selfishness. Lonely? God is with us. Upset or grieving? God comforts us. However, as far as I can gather, this is not what the speaker meant by "issues". His text was the story of the bleeding woman who touched Jesus's cloak and was healed. That is: sick --> Jesus --> healed. Not sick --> Jesus --> content.

Christ can heal, there's nothing wrong with that. The second speaker Nick Vujicic brought this up. Despite having no arms and no legs, he has a pair of shoes in his closet just in case God decides to perform a miracle on him. But just because Christ can heal doesn't mean He will. And we can trust and serve God regardless, because, as the third speaker Miles McPherson said, the main thing is that in the end, we win. Maybe we never get our arms or legs. Maybe our families never get back together and people we love die. Maybe even something as insignificant as our acne doesn't suddenly clear up. But that's not the point. We can forgive members of a dysfunctional family. We can carry on despite the deaths and be confident even with an ugly face.

Perhaps what irked me most about Centuolo's message was the botched altar call. He basically asked for everyone who had never before asked God to deal with their issues to stand up. Some people had the courage to do so. He then said something along the lines of, "Welcome to the Kingdom, say this after me and your life will never be the same." I'm not sure how, "If you've never done this," and, "If you want to do this," mean the same thing, but even pretending it does fails to deal with the rather large "issue" that when the lives of these people don't quickly turn all hunky-dory, they're going to come away disenchanted with and more skeptical about this whole Jesus Christ thing. And even if they don't, it's hardly been a repentant conversion. It's all about wanting life to be easier and happier, and not at all about being repentant for evil and wanting to serve God.

Implying that Christ is the cure-all solution to make your problems go away is turning God into a cosmic vending machine. This is the health-and-wealth prosperity gospel. As attractive as it may be, it is utterly untrue. God promises suffering to His followers. There was a session I attended on the situation in Burundi, Africa. The suffering there is incredible, and so is the faith of the Christians. I doubt they would even recognize the health-and-wealth gospel as Christian.

According to McPherson, we need to turn pain into power. The way to deal with pain is to decide that you don't want anything but what God wants for you, to realize that those who are persecuted in His name are blessed. We need to understand that pain teaches us what to stay away from and propels us towards God. It's really true that nothing can snatch us away from God and we can recognize that when we are suffering, it's an awesome ministry opportunity.

McPherson and Vujicic both said a lot of great things. I could share quotes until you fall asleep, but the main idea behind what both of them were saying was that it's more important to be holy than happy, and that really, you can be content even when you're suffering. I guess it's good that they came after Centuolo and in a way countered most of what he said.

I've heard so much about how Christ is the answer to everything. The more I hear this, the less I think it's true. Maybe Christ isn't the answer. It seems a whole lot more accurate to say that Christ is the question, and how you respond to Him is the answer.

"God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet." Nick Vujicic

And because I'm thinking about the Distress Centre a fair bit:

[about when he was ten years old and trying to commit suicide because he felt he was a burden to his parents]

"The first two times I thought I was trying to do a good thing. The third time I realized that the only thing worse than having a son with no arms and no legs is having having a son with no arms and no legs who kills himself." Nick Vujicic

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Crisis Worker

I feel like I'm finally starting something important. They just gave me my card key to the Distress Centre and I finished off the volunteer training this afternoon!! (Well, part A, at least) Yay! Now, on to the supervision shifts. This is pretty EXCITING! In short order I shall be conversing with lonely, suicidal, grieving, anxious, or otherwise crisis-stricken - but still perfectly capable - people. And also with inappropriate jerks that call with... other... intentions. We're told to just hang up on them.

I feel so professional. I have status in an office building downtown. (Did I mention I have a key?) My name is on the list of volunteers. I can park FOR FREE, but only after the supervision shifts have been completed. And I can even play a part in breaking confidentiality and notifying the police when something really serious comes up! Actually, this feeling of surging power is very satisfying, which is a good indicator that nobody should ever allow me unrestricted political authority over other people or else I will probably turn into a horrible, evil, cackling dictator of some sort.

But I am not a dictator. I am a volunteer worker at a crisis centre. And in training, the bosses told us something really special. Human suffering is sacred ground. As frustrating as the work may get, it is an incredible honour and a privilege to be allowed to enter into somebody else's suffering. For some callers, we may well be the only people they ever confide a problem to. And some callers with behavioural problems have no friends, are mostly abandoned by their families, and are barely tolerated by those who are paid to help them. We may be the only UNpaid people that will interact with them. We are the lifeline for some people and they call every day for seventeen years because we are the only ones that listen. What a place to be! A place for incredible gratitude and great respect.

Here's hoping I can do this role and these people justice. Please pray for me.

Let's go with some good old Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Deus ex Machina

Science does, in a sense, disprove God. At least, that is to say, it is fast on its way to disproving God as deus ex machina. I was sitting there, grumbling to myself that so many people are absolutely convinced that Evolution disproves God. Even if we make the assumption that Evolution is the case, it doesn't write God out of the picture. All it does is move Him a step backward, from Creator of life forms to Creator of the process that produces life forms. But that's the deal, I realized. That's the issue. It doesn't take God out of the the picture, but it takes God a bit further away from us.

Now, science has a way of opening up twenty new questions for every one question it answers (or so I've been told - I'm not a great scientist myself). I kinda scratch my head at the claim that science will soon solve all our problems because it seems that we keep running into more problems - it's just that they're a bit further removed from us. These unanswered questions are prime places to insert God as an answer. However, when any of these new questions are answered with anything other than God, it makes people skeptical that God is the right answer to the other unanswered questions, scientific or not. And it keeps God on the continual retreat, even if it will never actually extinguish God.

There was a "Does God Exist" debate at the university this last semester. One of the main arguments of the pro-God debater was that you need an initial Creator. The universe couldn't just spontaneously have begun to exist. We need a First Cause, because out of nothing, nothing comes. I agree with this (and because it's more of a philosophical statement than a scientific one, it seems that science is going to be a long time trying to counter it). But look at where it puts God! How much further can God get from the lives of people today? Is God still active? Is God still personal? Can God still intervene in the lives of people? Not necessarily, like it was necessary before science started God on the retreat.

But all this is God as deus ex machina, as an explanation for things we don't know. Isn't God more than that? God is our Saviour, our King, our Father. God is the alpha and the beginning, but the omega and the end, too! God is a whole lot more than a catch-all answer for what we don't know.

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything." Colossians 1:17-18, NASB

God is the head - the part that controls the rest. The Overseer. And God is probably a whole lot more interested in how we live now than in how we think the ape-men lived two million years ago, and in the place and role we give God now than in where we slot Him at the dawn of time. Whenever I'm on the C-train, I pass a sign that says "Christ is the Answer", and I'm always inclined to think "Answer to what?" Maybe it's time we start figuring out how to make God our Lord, rather than our Answer.

As a bit of a disclaimer, I know that science can be wrong about a lot of things. I'm not saying that it's not. However, whether science is or isn't correct most of the time is mostly a moot point. All that matters is that it is now it's more appropriate to explain that the sky is blue because air particles scatter more high frequency than low frequency electromagnetic radiation than it is to say that the sky is blue because God made it that way. What matters is the perception that God has been explained away.

So, when someone comes and implies that science is the new God, we can understand that they do not have an all-enveloping idea of God. If it bothers us that science has forced our deus ex machina to take another step back, it is because we have put God in a box. And we all know that putting God in a box is very bad idea...

“God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Of Appellation

Name nerds generally end up disappointed, I presume, because even if they find themselves married with twenty kids, they're still going to have two hundred or so more names that they want to use. This is the boat I find myself in. So either each of my kids is going to have thirty-five middle names, or I'm going to have to adopt an orphanage.

In anticipation of this, I have decided to begin choosing names now and then let the children draw their name out of a hat during the renaming ceremony whenever the paperwork for the orphanage goes through. To start off:

Girls: Addison, Petra, Francesca, Ilona, Gardenia, Lucretia, Genesis, Angelika, Scout, Saxon, Aquinna, Bianca, Calista, Aspen, Bo, Cilla, Colette, Evangeline, Indigo, Lorelei, Lute, Moira, Ophelia, Lark, Leora, Phoenix, Salome, Ruthie, Seren, Emmanuelle, Sibylla, Lynette, Tiannin, Verity, Seraphina

Boys: Bronte, Everett, Chandler, Elijah, Nigel, Ephraim, Gideon, Flynn, Garrett, Ira, Faber, Jude, Landon, August, Rory, Ashton, Blaine, Leon, Malachi, Quaid, Troy, Cohen, Tristan, Glenn, Heron, Tommy, Zachary, Colby, Zephyrin, Manasseh, Shay, Corin, Griffin, Ezekiel, Morgan, Raphael

For those of you who are wondering, Enoch is not on this list because my child is already going to have that name, thereby rending it on the "already used" list. If anybody wants to be renamed, just drop me a line and I'll pick out something specially for you!

“Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson." Mark Twain

P.S. I've always wanted to have an alias. Now that I'm volunteering at the Distress Centre, I do! The name is influenced by Arthurian legend, but I had to cut off the final "ette" so that it didn't seem out of place in an unimaginative society.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Christians and Christ-Followers

I was asked a question recently about whether a professed Christian who habitually acts very unChristian would be considered a Christian by other Christians. The answer to this question is not simple, because it can be interpreted in two ways. Are we asking whether habitually nasty people can be Christians, or whether habitually nasty people can be active disciples of Christ? The two questions are not equivalent, at least not in today's culture.

Increasingly, particularly with my generation and younger, the response to this question has become, "Well, what do you mean by Christian?" which essentially translates into, "I won't argue with you one way or the other over whether you're a Christian, but whether or not you're a 'Christian' is a moot point where it concerns salvation."

When the term first originated in Acts 11:26, "Christian" pertained to disciples of Christ. Over the years, it's definition has been so pushed and pulled and reshaped and overextended, misapplied, flung in the mud and generally abused that it means either nothing or anything (take your pick). As a smattering of the different definitions, Christian can mean "Protestant", "someone with good morals", "someone who adheres exactly to the ____ creed", "fundamentalist bigot", "conservative", "official member of a church", "of white European descent", "influenced by Catholic missionaries at some point", etc. etc. Pretty much anyone in the world could claim to be a Christian and could honestly mean it.

This leads us to a fairly recent phenomenon that I have noticed, thanks to Facebook. Many people who are honestly striving to be disciples of Christ don't call themselves Christians anymore. Whether this is to avoid confusion and negative stereotypes or merely a rebellion against labels of any type, time will tell, but I suspect it is the former. Take a look at people's Facebook religious views. I see things like "Christ follower", "JESUS!!", "Christ is life... the rest are details", "How great is our God", and other similar things. That's not to say that every believer is disenvowing the term "Christian", but certainly a growing number of people are.

I have a friend who is a very strong, active believer who will not identify herself as a Christian even if asked about it point blank. This isn't because she's ashamed of what she believes, but because using the term Christian just begs for misinterpretation. In fact, just as I was writing this, I noticed how I fell back to the term "Believer" to describe her, because even in Christian circles "Christian" can mean so much or so little. Even I get skittish when asked whether I'm a Christian or not. It's much preferable to just describe what I believe.

So yes. A Christian can behave however they darn well want. Being Christian means whatever you want it to. If you say you're a Christian, who are we to say you're not?

However, if we reword the question to ask whether or not other disciples of Christ would affirm the salvation of a supposed but generally nasty "believer", well then that's a different question. Some people are more generous than others. The answer would largely depend on denomination (eternal security or no?), the severity of the crimes, and whether the unChristian shows remorse or not. Many people would say that Fred Phelps is not Christian at all, while the average druggie is just questionably saved. The most widely accepted response to such a situation runs something along the lines of "God is the judge of the state of their soul, not me, but I'm concerned and question his salvation." It is non-committal, neither approving of the person in question nor completely writing them off. It's a problem we're bound to run into with a system that propounds a relationship rather than regulations - how are we supposed to judge someone's relationship with God?

Now that I've written this all, I realize it's very similar to a post I wrote three years ago. Oh, well. Can't hurt to notice something more than once.

At any rate, I identify myself as a disciple of Christ (albeit not necessarily a very good one) and I really wish that Fred Phelps and his ilk would stop giving Christians a bad name. Though I suppose that before I go fling mud at him for staining "Christian", I should make sure I'm not ruining the phrase "disciple of Christ" myself...

“If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be - a Christian.” Mark Twain