Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Horse and His Boy


In 2010 a band known as A Horse and His Boy released an EP entitled Trilogy. From that recording is a haunting song called “Kramer’s Wall.” Jackson Harper (formerly Seth Harper) calls himself a “scrappy Narnian” and thus identifies himself with a genre of literature and music that sees light and darkness, and right and wrong in a world of chaos and apathy. His images are highly influenced by C.S. Lewis’ writings and particularly the book that bears almost the same name as the band. He is a talented singer-songwriter from whom I hope we hear much more. I offer you the lyrics from “Kramer’s Wall” followed by my impressions from the song.

Kramer’s Wall
In the land of apathy
There’s a pretty girl who waits for me
I was standing there when she looked down
From Kramer’s Wall at the edge of town

I stayed ‘til all the rest were gone
And my pretty girl she stood alone
She wouldn’t leave, I asked her why
This my friends, was her reply

She said, shadows fly away from me
They cannot face the light you see
But if they come I’ll fight them all
So, I’m standing here on Kramer’s Wall 

What injustice had decreed
This lonely life she had to lead
I pitied her but didn’t stay
And the road I followed passed away

From that day on I had no rest
And my heart kept burning in my chest
I couldn’t stand my fatal choice
For every night I heard her voice

She said, if you are who I hope you are
You can never run too far
I will never let you fall
I’m watching you from Kramer’s Wall

I realized I would rather be
In chains with her than alone and free
She had shown the kind of love
The greatest ones had been made of

Her haunting words inside my head
Revived the heart I thought was dead
So, I took the higher call
And stood with her on Kramer’s Wall

I said, everything may come undone
The sky may fall and bring the sun
You and I are standing tall
Here on top of Kramer’s Wall

Nothing breaks a lover’s soul
Nothing makes the young grow old
Except the time that kills us all
But there is no time on Kramer’s Wall

I will never let you fall
I will stand with you on Kramer’s Wall

Music and lyrics by Seth Harper
Produced by Andrew Osenga
All rights reserved

At first glance/listen, it sounds like a simple “boy meets girl, boy ignores girl, boy can’t get girl out of his mind, boy goes back to girl, and boy pledges his love to the girl for life.” Simple enough, right? But, at second glance, there is more to this song. The girl is the real hero of the song and she is resolute in her stance against darkness. We get the impression that all of Hell could come against this woman and she would stand upon a crumbling wall until the last vestige of light was extinguished! Yet the darkness would never overcome, and the light would never be extinguished because of this valiant woman. 

The man in this song cannot escape the beauty and justice of this woman and the more he tries to walk his own path, the more she haunts and burns his heart. While others around them are lost in apathy, indecision, immorality, injustice, and indifference, the woman stands alone and draws others into her pursuit of justice and light. The man is drawn in and stands with her and then sees her for her beauty and grace. He pledges his love and the two of them now stand resolute against the apathy of the land. The two stand timelessly like Greek gods in perfect union and perfect defence, there on top of Kramer’s Wall.



Friday, August 23, 2019

The Church Planting Journey


Around 1995, a few pastors, and leaders (including myself) in my city began to meet to discuss church planting. The discussion starter was the resource kit known as The Church Planters’ Toolkit (1991) written by Robert E. Logan. We would read (and at least on one occasion watch a video) and discuss the principles within this remarkable tool. We applied these strategies and principles as we became a Church Planting Management Team and Church Planting Catalyzers. Later I spent time on the national board of Church Planting Canada with Murray Moerman and other national leaders and saw the same principles and strategies employed and encoded in the training manuals we used for planters and catalyzers. I came to realize why people were beginning to call Dr. Bob Logan the father of modern church planting.

In 2003, I left a job as a Lab Scientist to plant a network of house-churches in Calgary where I personally put into practise the strategies and principles to which I had been calling others. Planting two churches in two cities in Western Canada gave me a whole new appreciation of the complexities of planting and the need for a good coach. I took coach training from Dr. Logan and hired him as my personal coach.

Now 25 years after my introduction to Robert E. Logan and his church planting principles, I have just read The Church Planting Journey[1] which Bob says is a translation of the earlier work for a contemporary audience working in a contemporary context. I am happy to say that this pioneer still has much to add to the church planting conversation. His insights from forty years of being a practitioner, planter, teacher, professor, and learner are here in this new work. One of many examples is what Dr. Logan has to say about assessing the original vision in terms of the fit with the planter and alignment with the mission. This section will be a great help to many who wrestle with the tension of adapting as they proceed. The end of each chapter offers a place for the reader to contextualize their own vision, cultural context, and prayer life which I pray planters and catalyzers will patiently use. This book is once again set to reignite the church planting conversation and I congratulate my friend in having the foresight to see the need. May Jesus Christ richly bless the reading of this book.



[1] The Church Planting Journey, Dr. Robert E. Logan, 2019, Logan Leadership; https://amzn.to/2ZnQIRc

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Desire


Terminology is important. It can unify us around an idea or it can be divisive. Listing a few words may help to explain what I mean: evangelicalborn-againProtestantbelieverChristianreligious…. Each of these words has been used to describe a particular group of people and draw a boundary around them to minimize confusion with people who do not fit the category. Each term can also be controversial and, depending upon the context and the emphasis upon specific traits of a group, can lead to division and the consequent desire to distance oneself from the category.

So it is that I find myself wondering how best to describe the process whereby myself and others have come under the influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Even as I write those words, I recognize the impact and controversy of such words as influencegospelJesus, and Christ – but I trust the reader will understand what I mean.) Do I say that I am a Christian, a born-again Christian, a follower of Jesus, a believer, a Spirit-filled person? What terminology will best describe those like me? Of course, there is no definitive answer to this question because as soon as we come up with a term that seems to fit, we have already limited how the term might be used and to whom it will apply. Thus, some terms will work for a while before needing to be cast off and begin the process again. The term “born-again Christian” illustrates this well. At a certain time in history, one could call oneself a “born-again Christian” and everyone knew what it meant. It meant an emphasis on the change that occurs when one chooses to believe the message of Jesus and follow him as Lord in a public statement of faith, baptism, and a changed life that is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. The term soon was overused by those who fit the category and by those who hijacked the term seeking to gain the approval of those who valued the term. So, those words have fallen out of use to a large extent.

No term will ever fit the description we need it to fulfill for all time, but there are some descriptions that will serve us well for a while (even if it might be for a short while). I recently read a blog by a friend who had an interesting way of describing his encounter with God and the subsequent change of perspective that occurred. He spoke of the day he “declared a desire to know God.”[1]It struck me that this is a helpful way to consider this journey in which we find ourselves. Too many of the ways we describe the Christian walk are about a final destination and a final form of being. A “desire to know God” speaks of a continual process while “declaring a desire” speaks of a definitive date when someone announces their determination. It has both that sense of once for all and a never-ending pursuit. Oh sure, it is not quite as handy and succinct as saying “the day I became a Christian.” But what it lacks in brevity it makes up for in specificity, clarity, and accuracy. 

After all, this life of faith is never complete this side of our death and resurrection into the final Kingdom of God. We are ever on the journey, ever desiring, and ever longing for more knowledge of God. Looking back to the day that I “declared a desire to know God” about 44 years ago, reminds me of how much more I know about God and how much more curiosity I still have about this Lord I desire to know and serve better. So, for now, I endorse the virtue of “declaring a desire to know God” and seek to press on with the journey with whatever terminology seems most helpful for today, tomorrow, and the tomorrows after that. May God richly bless you in your journey of faith and your knowledge of God.


[1]The full context of the remark can be found at the following link: https://stepbystepjourney.com/?p=5044, where Richard Dahlstrom says, “But on that day, I drive up and stand in the very spot where I declared a desire to know God 39 years earlier, and I’ll marvel at God’s relentless pursuit of me, God’s abundance poured out, and I’ll offer tears of gratitude.  “Look what God has done” I’ll say, as once again, the scent of hope fills me.” (I encourage my readers to read the entire blog which has many more insights to offer.) Richard Dahlstrom Step by Step Journey, “Longing for the Scent of Hope,” August 10, 2019.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Something Rather Than Nothing



Perhaps one of the biggest philosophical questions ever asked is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” When we look at the earth, the moon, the stars, our galaxy, the universe, gravity, light, and energy, we are struck with the immensity and complexity of this place in which we find ourselves. It is natural to ask questions about this universe and to ask how it is that this place actually functions and stays in motion. Science has done a good job of exploring and explaining much about our world. But we might also ask how it is that the universe exists at all. Philosophers have worked on a satisfying answer to this question for decades and still the question persists. We know that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz spent much time thinking about this question and had what I would still consider the most satisfying answer to the question.

Leibniz who lived from 1646–1716 was one of the great thinkers and philosophers of his time but for many years was sadly overlooked. He was a contemporary of Isaac Newton and both of them discovered calculus independently of each other. Many of the notations and symbols used by Leibniz as he developed calculus are still used today. He was an inventor of mechanical calculators, refined the binary number system which is used in computers, and was a philosopher who specialized in rationalism and logic. He was devoted to his work yet known for his imagination, friendship, and good manners. I will save his answer to the big question until the end of this article but let us first look at a few of the other answers people have come up with.

Lawrence Krauss, a current author and physicist posits that gravity and the quantum vacuum worked together to generate the initial particles which resulted in a universe. He believes that it was inevitable that the universe would arise given gravity and the quantum vacuum. Stephen Hawking suggested a very similar argument in his 2010 book, The Grand Design. Although this answer may seem logical and satisfying to these two physicists, at a philosophical level, we would then want to ask, “Why must we assume gravity or a quantum vacuum or particles?” Why is there anything at all? Ultimately, this kind of answer remains highly unsatisfying to many.

Others answer Leibniz's question by saying that the universe has always existed. This was a common assumption until the early 20th Century when Alexander Friedmann and Georges Lemaitre noted that the universe was expanding and Lemaitre suggested that the expansion could be traced back to a “single primeval atom” or “cosmic egg.” This was the beginning of the concept of The Big Bang. Lemaitre, a faith-filled Catholic priest, was very much involved in convincing Albert Einstein and others that the universe had a beginning. Of course, the Big Bang model has gone on to be the prevailing model of the community of physicists seeking to describe our known universe. It elegantly describes the beginning of all things including matter, time, gravity, and the universal constants that have been detected.

Still others would suggest that our universe is a mystery and its origins are lost to us. In other words: we simply do not know why there is something rather than nothing. Bertrand Russel famously took this stance in a 1948 radio debate with Frederick Copleston. Such an answer has the effect of sounding clever and somehow satisfying but most would find that the satisfaction quickly fades. Some will be satisfied with answering a big question with a big shrug of the shoulders; most of us will not.

Leibniz also found such non-answers unsatisfying and searched his whole life for a better answer. He toyed with Russell’s response and worked to make more sense of it. In the end he found that such an answer would not satisfy his own intellect. He eventually came to an answer that was substantial and pleasing but was one that would ultimately contribute to his falling out of favour in the philosophical and scientific communities. His answer was one that took courage to voice. It was an answer that was both elegant and simple as science demanded, yet one which resulted in a major paradigm shift which many other thinkers are unwilling to make. His answer shifts one’s entire thinking process and causes one to consider the entirety of life. Leibniz’s simple answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing was, “God wanted there to be a universe.” It is a simple answer yet results in a lifetime of introspection and development, for if there is a great creator God behind the beginning of the universe, we will want to know more about God and how he communicates with his world. We will spend the rest of our lives seeking to know him.

References and Further Reading:

Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. 2010. The Grand Design. Bantam Books.
Look, Brandon C. 2017. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/leibniz/.
Strickland, Lloyd. 2019. Answering the biggest question of all: why is there something rather than nothing? 08 08. https://theconversation.com/answering-the-biggest-question-of-all-why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing-65865.
Wikipedia. 2019. "Copleston-Russell Debate." Wikipedia. 08 11. Accessed 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copleston%E2%80%93Russell_debate.
—. 2019. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. 08 08. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz.
—. 2019. Lawrence M. Krauss. 08 08. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_M._Krauss.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Apollo11


If you are an Apollo 11 nerd like me, you will want to check out a new website created by Ben Feist, a Canadian “software developer and spaceflight data visualization researcher working with NASA.”[1] The site called, “The First Landing on the Moon, Apollo 11, Real-Time Mission Experience,” is a treasure chest of audio clips, photos, and live data of the Apollo 11 Mission. This was the mission which resulted in the successful moon landing and return to earth of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Michael Collins flew the command module in orbit around the moon while other two men made the historic landing, set up experiments on the moon, and brought back rock samples.

By now, most of us will have seen a reminder of the July 20, 1969 landing in some form of media, and CBC has done a great job of retelling the story on their news site. If you want to go deeper and relive the excitement, anxiety, mystery, and joy of humanity doing so much with so little and making it possible for two men to leave footprints on the moon, spend some time on Ben Feist's remarkable website. Only the biggest Apollo geeks (I may be in that category) will enjoy hearing the exact pitch, trim, and roll of the linked Command Module (CM) and Lunar Module (LM) as they came out of radio silence on the far side of the moon, but others will appreciate the radio signals between the astronauts and Ground Control in Houston as they established a secure voice link by switching from one antenna to another. The care and detail of each team is evident as everyone works to get everything just right for the separation of CM and LM and the eventual landing of the LM.

There are also humorous moments in which the NASA crew on the ground joke with each other and challenge each other to rise to the immense discipline and hard work required to make everything function just right. The attention of thousands of people made it possible to do what three men accomplished in orbit around and on the surface of the moon. One of the most striking elements of the audio tapes is the calmness with which every command is given and received. At one point, we hear Houston say that they want to make a correction to data they had previously given. “We made an error on those coordinates. We'd like you to load for latitude in a NOUN 89 plus 01 243, longitude over 2 plus 11 844, altitude minus 001 46 as shown in the Flight Plan. Over.” Collins replies in a calm voice “Okay, Thank-you.” There are many more examples of real-time problem solving that occurred at every stage of the process. One gets the impression that the entire operation was highly disciplined and polished to perfection.

There are amazing full-colour and black-and-white photos associated with the audio transcripts that allow one to have a sense of what the astronauts were seeing as they worked on the details of the landing. There is video of the Houston Control Room where we can see Flight Director Gene Kranz smoking a cigar as he awaits the undocking of CM and LM. The actual landing is shown in detail and we see Armstrong testing his ability to step onto the surface and making sure he can still get back onto the LM steps before he makes his momentous official first words from the surface.

As I write these words, I have the Mission Control audio running in the background. It is almost like experiencing the landing first-hand fifty years ago today. Thank you, Ben Feist, for once again inspiring my imagination. Thank you, NASA for inspiring all of humanity with this remarkable feat of engineering on July 20, 1969.



[1]BenFeist.com blog site, 2019-07-20

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Legacy of George MacDonald

 
Our Lead Pastor Steve McMillan quoted George MacDonald this past Sunday. This reminded me of a few other MacDonald quotes. If we look past the male oriented language of the day, there are some good insights here.

"To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved."
— George MacDonald, Author of The Princess and the Goblin.


“Ere long, I learned that it was not myself, but only my shadow, that I had lost. I learned that it is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence. I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood.”
― George MacDonald in Phantastes.


“Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business, namely, his own character and conduct.”
- George MacDonald in The Hope of the Gospel.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Writing as Education

 
“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do---the actual act of writing---turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” 
― Anne Lamott