Monday, April 30, 2012


In an interview, Steve Taylor was asked about the lyrics of his song "I Manipulate*." He responded,
I came across a quote by author Florence Bulle that echoes my sentiments exactly: 'How thankful I am for the many spiritual teachers and Christian friends who have counseled, rebuked, encouraged, exhorted, and deepened my understanding of God and his kingdom. But my gratitude is the greater because they dared to trust the Holy Spirit in me. They haven't tried to usurp control by subtle manipulation or by illicit claims of authority. Rather, they let me learn and grow by making my own decisions--right or wrong. Best of all, they love and accept me even when my choices are faulty.'

These are good words from Taylor and Bulle. I too would like to be a spiritual teacher and Christian friend that trusts the Holy Spirit inside of others. I pray that I might have this attitude as I provide leadership.

*"I Manipulate" from the album, On The Fritz, 1985, Steve Taylor. The lyrics to the song are available at this link and are certainly worth reading. Steve Taylor is the master of sarcasm in song-writing and his words are quite pointed and negative but effectively point a finger at those who manipulate others.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Twenty Six Haircuts

When Maureen and I moved to Vancouver we were intentional about looking for local shops at which to do our business. Since Historic Chinatown is close we have purchased our car insurance at Jack Chow insurance, we sometimes buy fresh produce at the Keefer Street Chinatown Supermarket, and I get my haircut at Second Beauty Salon on Main Street. I have previously blogged about the amazing life of the woman who has now been cutting my hair since we moved here. You can reread her story here. Today I am thinking about how thankful I am that I took the chance to walk into that shop over three years ago.

There is always a certain amount of apprehension about first time cross-cultural experiences. I remember walking into the salon for the first time and wondering if I would be able to understand the accent of the person cutting my hair. I wondered if they would be able to understand what I was asking for in a haircut or would I come out with a different hairstyle than I had planned. But the cultural risk was certainly worth it. It allowed me to meet this amazing woman with her real life story of escaping from China in the 1970s. As I spoke with her yesterday I discovered that I had misunderstood some of the story of her escape. But correcting the details of the story only serve to make her story more amazing.

I previously reported that "she swam from China to Hong Kong with two sisters and two brothers." But the true story is that her seven siblings had all escaped before she did. Through a series of attempts, all of her brothers and sisters were already out of the country by the time she made her escape. They had all hired boats to take them across the narrow channel to escape. Some had to make multiple attempts and some spent time in jail for trying to escape. Being the youngest in her family, Becky*, was left behind and was alone with her parents by the time she made her escape. She swam for ten hours across shark-infested waters with one friend. The portion of the channel at which they swam had oyster beds on the bottom of the sea. They had to keep their legs up as they swam for fear of cutting themselves on the razor-sharp shells. Becky often speaks of how "lucky" she was. Her friend did get badly cut by the oyster beds during the long swim. When they arrived  in Hong Kong some farmers came to their aid and took them to the hospital to treat her friend's legs. Becky had been lucky because someone had given her two pairs of pants and she wore both pairs while she swam and this protected her from any cuts. For several years, when she returned to China to visit her mother, she would go to visit those farmers and thank them for rescuing her and her friend. She told me that all of those farmers have now passed away because of the long period of time that has passed. Becky also says that when she thinks back to this time in her life she can hardly believe she did this. She realizes what a proficient swimmer she was back then. She jokes that she could have probably qualified for the Olympics.

After her friend had been treated at the hospital the Hong Kong police gave them a bit of money and told them to go downtown and get a bus. They spent the first few months after their escape living with relatives. Becky also considers this very lucky for she says that within about three or four years of her escape the policy changed and Hong Kong began sending all escapees back to China. There, they would be thrown in jail for their crime. Sometimes the parents of the escapees would also be jailed.

As she finished cutting my hair I thanked Becky for the haircut and for telling me her story. I told her that I always learn things from her. I am thankful that I took the chance of getting a haircut in Chinatown.

*"Becky" is not her real name.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Further Up and Further In

I have been reading an interesting little book by Sigmund Brouwer called, Who Made the Moon? He wrote it as a way of exploring the conversation he wants to have with his two young daughters. He wants to explain to them his faith in a creator God while living in a world of science and atheism. He wants to encourage them to think for themselves and ask good questions. He wants them to wrestle with both science and faith. It is an easy read and a good introduction to critical thinking as it pertains to the intersection of science and faith.

In the book, he has this quote from the astronomer, Robert Jastrow.

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is able to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.*

What I take away from the quote is that both science and theology will take us only so far. Both science and theology use their tools to investigate the nature of the universe and both will seek to answer the big questions of ultimate reality and how the universe came to be. But at the end of the day, both come to a place in which they cannot "see" anymore. At this highest peak, there are no more absolutes by which either can say for certain, this is the final answer. On the top of this mountain of ignorance, both must then resort to faith. This faith must either be rooted in an infinite universe or an infinite God; there is no more knowing - only faith. The distinction between the two faith perspectives is that one leads, at best, to uncertainty, and at worst, nihilism; while the other type of faith leads to hope.

Sigmund Brouwer's book is one more way to explore how we might think about our universe and continue to hold on to hope. Our hope rests in an ultimate promise that one day we will be able to say, "I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.)

*Brouwer, Sigmund. Who Made the Moon? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. (Brouwer 2008) Ch. 4.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Belonging Before We Believe

Recently, a friend of mine asked my opinion on how we live out community in the church and church organizations such as camps. He had been challenged by someone who suggested that it was inappropriate to have non-Christians at church run events such as camps and other gatherings. He wondered what I thought about the concept of encouraging people to become part of the community before they actually become followers of Jesus. He asked me where proponents of this approach would find precedence in the Bible. I grabbed a few of my books and looked through The Shaping of Things to Come, Exiles, The Forgotten Ways, and The Great Giveaway. My general sense is that all of these authors would say that the principle comes from looking at how Jesus invited people into the Kingdom. In other words, we won't find a passage that says, "Thou shalt have non-Christians among you at your camps and helping out in your churches." But we do find that Jesus had around him a mixture of followers/true disciples and those who turn aside when His teaching gets tougher.

John 6:60 says, "On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”" John 6:66 says, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." The language does not suggest that these "disciples" were guests among the followers of Jesus. There is no distinction amongst those who are there in the crowd with Jesus. The only thing that ultimately distinguishes people within the crowd is their response to the teaching of Jesus. The crowd who was allowed to follow, enjoy the benefits of miraculous meals, and see the miraculous signs of Jesus was a mixture of those who believed that He was God in the flesh and those who hung out for the rewards of being with Jesus but would not commit to His hard teachings. Even Judas was allowed to serve alongside the other disciples despite the fact that Jesus knew the evil that lurked in his heart and the fact that Judas would ultimately hand Jesus over to be crucified.

Michael Frost puts it this way in Exiles.
"In John 6, after Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand and then walked on water, he believes that it's time to deliver some of his most uncompromising teaching to his followers. Since they had experienced such amazing displays of his power, it seems reasonable to expect that they would be very receptive to his message, but instead John tells us that "many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'" (John 6:60), and "from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (John 6:66). Jesus' "hard teaching" has the effect of separating out true disciples from those who were interested in the miracles but not ready to cross onto the threshold of liminality." (Exiles, page 113)

In Matthew 19, we see Jesus' encounter with the rich young man. Here again the "hard teaching" causes someone to decide not to follow Jesus. Both of these passages assume that the people whom Jesus has invited to journey with Him, and spend time in community with Him, are a mix of true disciples and not-yet disciples.

In The Forgotten Ways, Hirsch speaks of a contemporary example in which a cooperative works together on a mural on a large wall that the city has given them to paint. The initiative comes from a group of believers but the cooperative is mostly made up of non-believers. "The project could take three months to complete, but by the end of it, they have delved deeply into each other's lives, explored many themes that relate to life, God, and spirituality, and have become friends." (p. 226, 227.) Later in the chapter, Hirsch says,
"We find all of these elements in the way Jesus formed his disciples as together they embarked on a journey that took them away from their homes, family, and securities (be they social or religious) and set out on an adventure that involved liminality, risk, action-reflection learning, communitas, and spiritual discovery. On the way their fears of inadequacy and lack of provision faded, only to be replaced by a courageous faith that went on to change the world forever." (p. 241)

I also think we see the principle in the early church, the books of Acts, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and Philemon have references to households of faith and churches that met in homes. It appears that the early church was a mix of believers and non-believers. Slaves would be present serving food and caring for children. Some of these slaves were later welcomed into the household of faith as full brothers and sisters. (See Philemon for one example but there are more.) Robert Banks has a great little book that shows (from careful biblical and archaeological study) what it might have been like to attend the church that met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila (Going To Church in the First Century). It shows the interaction of slaves and free people, believers and not-yet followers of Jesus in the church context. It shows how there may have been slaves, nannies, indentured servants, and others present who were given full access to the gospel as they served in the home. Based on all of this biblical precedent, it would appear that the usual route into the Kingdom of God, and to the Church which is known as the Body of Christ, would be a gradual move from being part of the community of believers to being a part of the "courageous faith that went on to change the world forever."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Face of Christ

My friend, Mike Charko, and I wrote a song about seeing Jesus on the train. It is a poetic, imaginative piece that suggests that we should seek to love others around us as Jesus would love them. Mike found an interesting blog about someone else who imagined an encounter with "Jesus" on a train. Check out the blog by John Jensen about an experience he had about seven years ago. It made me think of the lyrics to a song written by Chris Rice. Here are the lyrics to "The Face of Christ."
He shares a room outside with a dozen other guys
And the only roof He knows is that sometimes starry sky
A tattered sleeping bag on a concrete slab is His bed
And it's too cold to talk tonight, so I just sit with Him instead and think

How did I find myself in a better place
I can't look down on the frown on the other guy's face
Cause when I stoop down low, look Him square in the eye
I get a funny feeling, I just might be dealing with the face of Christ

After sixteen years in a cold, gray prison yard
Somehow His heart is soft, but keeping simple faith is hard
He lays His Bible open on the table next to me
And as I hear His humble prayer, I feel His longing to be free someday

How did I find myself in a better place
I can't look down on the frown on the other guys face
Cause when I stoop down low, look Him square in the eye
I get a funny feeling, I just might be dealing with the face of Christ

See you had no choice which day you would be born
Or the color of your skin, or what planet you'd be on
Would your mind be strong, would your eyes be blue or brown
Whether daddy would be rich, or if momma stuck around at all

So if you find yourself in a better place
You can't look down on the frown on the other guy's face
You gotta stoop down low, look Him square in the eye
And get a funny feeling, you just might be dealing

How did I find myself in a better place
I can't look down on the frown on the other guy's face
Cause when I stoop down low, look Him square in the eye
I get a funny feeling, I just might be dealing with the face of Christ

With the face of Christ
With the face of Christ, yeah

With the face of Christ, yeah
With the face of Christ
(written by Chris Rice © 2000 Clumsy Fly Music admin. by Word MusicInc/ASCAP)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Grand Optimist

Okay, I will confess, I am obsessed with a song. I have listened to it dozens of times in the last few days. Ever since I saw it performed on the Juno Awards I have been obsessed with Dallas Green's song, "The Grand Optimist." Dallas Green who performs as "City and Colour" won the songwriter of the year award for work on the "Little Hell" recording. Here are the lyrics to "The Grand Optimist." Listen to it here.
I fear I'm dying from complications
Complications due to things that I've left undone
That all my debts will be left unpaid
Feel like a cripple without a cane
I'm like a jack of all trades
Who's a master of none

Then there's my father
He's always looking on the bright side
Saying things like "Son, life just ain't that hard."
He is the grand optimist
I am the world's poor pessimist
You give him burdensome times
And he will escape unscarred

I guess I take after my mother
I guess I take after my mother

I used to be quite resilient
Gain no strength from counting the beads on a rosary
Now the wound has begun to turn
Another lesson that has gone unlearned
But this is not a cry for pity or for sympathy

I guess I take after my mother
I guess I take after my mother
(2011, City and Colour Inc. Under Exclusive License to Dine Alone Music - CA) 
As I read the words of this song my heart immediately began to make some interpretations. My mind sees allusions and references to generations and societal influences and begins to paint a picture of what the artist is saying. We must interpret a song carefully, but at the end of the day the song speaks to us with the images it conjures in our minds. Brian Walsh, who wrote an entire book in which he interprets the songs of Bruce Cockburn, has this to say about interpreting songs:
Let me put it this way: while I wouldn't give the artist the final word on any matter of interpretation of his own work, I am interested in knowing what I can about what the artist might think about a piece of his own work. So yes, the artist has some interpretive authority over his work. But not final or exhaustive authority. Artists can say more than they mean. They can make allusions without intending to do so. But the allusions are "really there!" Or at least they are there if you have eyes to see.
Let me be clear that I am not saying that "anything goes" when it comes to my interpretations of Bruce Cockburn's songs. Any interpretation needs to have merit in relation to the work being interpreted. Interpretation needs to be faithful to the art under discussion. We could say that interpretation itself is an act of performance.*

The images conjured in my mind as I listen to "The Grand Optimist" are those of generational differences. I think of the differences between my father and myself. I think of the differences between my children and myself. I think of more general societal differences between the modernist generations and the post-modernist generations. I think of gender differences.

The father and son are quite different. The son is full of fear and worry. He worries about things that may never happen and, at one level, may not matter. The father is stoic and remains unbothered by difficult times. The singer speaks of how his father is an optimist and that if "you  give him burdensome times" "he will escape unscarred." But not so the singer. One senses that, for good or ill, he is scarred by burdensome times. In this regard, he does not take after his father; he takes after his mother. He and his mother are both scarred. Should one be scarred by "burdensome times?" We are left with that question. Perhaps every generation takes after their mother rather than their father.

The artist recognizes a change in himself. He "used to be quite resilient." He did not need rosary beads to gain strength. But now, his wound, that will eventually scar, "has begun to turn;" perhaps fester; perhaps hurt; and so the lessons go unlearned. Yet, there is a hardness in him, for he will not cry out "for pity or for sympathy." He sees his wounds and his scars; he sees the difficult times; but he internalizes the pain and will not let others see this pain. And so, with or without a rosary, he will cry out to no one. He has learned how to hold things in and bear up under such conditions; he takes after his mother.

*Walsh, Brian J. Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011, p. 32.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Your Redemption

(Words and Music by Mike Charko and Keith Shields - SOCAN 2012)
Listen to it here.
People always tell me,
This world is all there is.
You're a fool to think there's more.
But God above has told us,
Heaven and earth fade away,
His word remains the same.

So straighten up and lift up your head up high
Your redemption is drawing near.
When you see the Son of Man coming down.
Your redemption is drawing near.
Your redemption is drawing near.

I do believe that I am
More than chemistry.
Worlds don't just come to be.
The fingerprints of God
Are there to be seen
In the stars, the earth, the sea.

So straighten up and lift your head up high,
Your redemption is drawing near.
When you see the Son of Man coming down,
Your redemption is drawing near.
Your redemption is drawing near.

God has made our eyes so that sunsets are seen,
And food tastes good to our tongues.
These wonders are a gift from a hand above
And we can give Him praise.

So straighten up and lift your head up high,
Your redemption is drawing near.
When you see the Son of Man coming down,
Your redemption is drawing near.
Your redemption is drawing near.

The mountains are full of wonder,
The seas proclaim Your word.
The stars will sing Your glory,
The trees will clap their hands.

So straighten up and lift your head up high,
Your redemption is drawing near.
When you see the Son of Man coming down,
Your redemption is drawing near.
Your redemption is drawing near.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

God at the Door

Lately, I have had the same conversation with two different groups of friends. The conversation revolves around whether or not, and how, God might discipline people. If we remain resistant to the love of God, will he ever try to get our attention with difficulty? Will he ever "correct" our ignorance and entice us to be receptive to his love. I do not yet know the complete answer to this question but it seems that George MacDonald must have also wrestled with such questions. Perhaps the answer is even in these words of his.

Nor will God force any door to enter in. He may send a tempest about the house; the wind of His admonishment may burst doors and open windows, yea, shake the house to its foundations; but not then, not so, will He enter. The door must be opened by the willing hand, ere the foot of Love will cross the threshold. He watches to see the door move from within. Every tempest is but an assault in the siege of Love. The tenor of God is but the other side of His love; it is love outside, that would be inside - love that knows the house is no house, only a place until it enter.*

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

*Unspoken Sermons, Second Series, The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity. George MacDonald.