Thursday, October 31, 2013

Leadership Prayer Breakfast

Today, Calgary Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, spoke briefly at the 45th Annual Calgary Leadership Prayer Breakfast. This breakfast started as an opportunity for Christian leaders to come together to pray for the city and our country. Since those early years, Calgary's cultural and religious diversity has increased. Today there were references to Christians, Muslims, and Jews working together for the good of the city in flood rescue and reparations.

Mayor Nenshi said that there are "more things that unite than divide us." He spoke of our common "responsibility to serve others" and our sense that we are "in this together." He inspired the crowd by drawing from his heart and from the words of others. He said that "together we are stronger" and that we are "greatest together." He concluded with a reference to a message written on a sheet of plywood in a flooded community in Calgary. The simple message on the makeshift sign read, "We lost a lot of stuff; we gained a community."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Prayer is relationship. It is much more than asking God for something every time we come into his presence. These words flying out of my keystrokes are really just the confession of a pleading soul. I can easily fill any empty space with wishes, gentle beseeching, or all out demands for God to do my will. How much better my soul is when I simply come into the presence of God without asking for anything.
Breathing(by Lifehouse) 
I'm finding my way back to sanity again
Though I don't really know what
I'm going to do when I get there
Take a breath and hold on tight
Spin around one more time
And gracefully fall back to the arms of Grace 
I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside heaven's door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be 
I'm looking past the shadows
Of my mind into the truth and
I'm trying to identify
The voices in my head
God, which one's you?
Let me feel one more time
What it feels like to feel
And break these calluses off of me
One more time 
'Cause I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside your door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be 
I don't want a thing from you
Bet you're tired of me waiting
For the scraps to fall
Off of your table to the ground
I just want to be here now 
'Cause I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside heaven's door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be 
I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don't want to speak tonight
That's alright, alright with me
'Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside heaven's door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be
My best worship is when I take this attitude and simply seek to be in God's presence without looking for any thing from him. The scraps from the table of the God of the universe are enough to feed me forever; sitting outside heaven's door, listening to God breathing "is where I want to be."

1 Writers: Jacob Elisha Luttrell, Henry Binns, Jason Wade, Laura Abela, Justin Franks, Yoyo Olugbo, Gregg W. Sutton.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Recognizing the Divine

I have this sense that God might sometimes be showing up in my life and I am missing it. I am concerned that I may not recognize all of the ways in which God is at work. How do I recognize him and his handiwork when he shows up in my world? In the years that I have walked on this earth, I have met a few people who over-spiritualize things and see miracles in ordinary occurrences; but much more common is a tendency to under-spiritualize and miss the miracles that God has done. When God answers prayer it is easy to find other explanations that will normalize  the experience. Beyond that, it is also sometimes challenging to accept a miracle from the hand of God and admit that this time he actually did disrupt the normal sequence of cause and effect and the scientific order.

One particular incident in my life that illustrates this is an event that happened in the spring of 2007 when I was miraculously healed of a one centimeter mass on the pons of my brain. I have previously written about that experience here. Accepting this as an actual miracle requires a humble recognition that God has given me a great gift. Yet, how can I accept this gift from God when others around me have had brain tumors, have not been healed, and have died from the tumor? In many ways it would be easier to come up with other explanations: the doctors made a mistake; there was an artefact on the imaging that only looked like a tumor in my brain (of course there was the matter of the pain which disappeared at the same time as the "artefact" disappeared, so it is not that easy to say that it was just an artefact); or it was, excuse the pun, "all in my head." How can I be thankful even as I ask, "Why me?"?

What other miracles and signs of the divine might we be missing? Mary Doriah Russell uses a bit of prose to examine the issue in her book, The Sparrow. Russell allows us to listen in to the thoughts of one of her characters named Anne.
Once, long ago, she'd allowed herself to think seriously about what human beings would do, confronted directly with a sign of God's presence in their lives.  The Bible, that repository of Western wisdom, was instructive either as myth or as history, she'd decided.  God was at Sinai and within weeks, people were dancing in front of a golden calf.  God walked in Jerusalem and days later, folks nailed Him up and then went back to work.  Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question:  If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God?  A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before, and most of them had simply missed a dose of Thorazine.1
The question we all must ask is, "What will we do when confronted directly with a sign of God's presence in our lives?" Will we retreat into the banal? Will we look for ways to explain it away, afraid that someone will think that we have missed a dose of Thorazine and that the miracle was just the expression of our psychosis? Or, will we embrace the presence of God for what it is and rejoice that we have been allowed the opportunity to connect with the divine?

1. Mary Doria Russell; The Sparrow, Page: 100.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Apophatic Theology

I happened upon an article at BioLogos which directed me to an article at which caused me to reflect on theology, poetry, and Children of God. By the time my brain had come in for a landing it had gone on quite a merry chase. The theme that runs through these perambulations is one that requires further thought and may result in a subsequent article. For now, let me tease you with two quotes. The keeners in the blogosphere will want to follow up on the links and will find themselves going on their own merry chase into theology, science, and the nature of God. Perhaps one of you will beat me to the punch and write a magnificent blog post on "Hubris and the Nature of God."

The article at BioLogos suggests that we might learn from (without completely embracing) a type of theology known as apophatic ("not" and "capable of being spoken") theology. It states that,
Apophatic theology is not simply an exercise in saying what God is not; it is no primer to theological nihilism. Rather, apophaticism is a spiritual and intellectual commitment to recall that our predications about God, even when true and revelatory, are also inadequate caricatures; whatever true things we may say about God fall magnificently short of exhausting or circumscribing him. Recourse to apophatic theology might counterbalance the hubris by which we presume unduly on our understanding about, e.g., the way divine agency operates in creating and sustaining the universe. Apophatic theology is not to be confused with sloppy relativism; it manifests deference to divine transcendence.1

I do not recall coming across the term "apophatic theology" before; but I know I have met the concept in the writings of others and have sensed the reality of the idea in my own thoughts. (Despite my strong opinions, my depth of hubris is shallower than most people think.) Mary Doriah Russell does a marvelous job of capturing the concept in the dialogue within one of her novels.  In Children of God, Russell's characters consider the reality of Christianity and Judaism and question the motivation it brings to their lives.

"Even if it’s only poetry, it’s poetry to live by, Sofia – poetry to die for,” he told her with quiet conviction. He slouched in his chair for a time, thinking. “Maybe poetry is the only way we can get near the truth of God. . . . And when the metaphors fail, we think it’s God who’s failed us!” he cried, grinning crookedly. “Now there’s an idea that buys some useful theological wiggle room!”2

Theological wiggle room?; or theological reorientation? Could it be that our hubris has caused us to believe that we had it all figured out when the truth of how God operates is many fathoms deeper than we have yet imagined? After-all, God's thoughts are not humans thoughts and are wondrously greater than the greatest thoughts we have ever had.

2 Mary Doriah Russell, Children of God. (New York, Fawcett Books, 1998), 145, 146.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Not Too Long Ago

When a person starts an article with "not too long ago" it is a good idea to check to see who is saying this. Paleontologists study fossils and life forms that existed 3 billion years ago up to approximately 200,000 years ago. Thus, to a paleontologist, "not too long ago" might mean 200,000 years ago. Archeologists, on the other hand, typically study the life, culture, and tools of human societies with an emphasis upon the emergence of humans 200,000 years ago up to the time when written languages developed around 6000 years ago. So, "not too long ago" to an archeologist will refer to more recent events than the events to which a paleontologist might refer. But when an astronomer says "not too long ago," as in a recent article in Science News, their time scale is very different again. Astronomers deal with events which happened 13.8 billion years ago right up until our present time. Thus, "not too long ago" in the mindset of an astronomer can mean something like 350 million years ago. Also, because of the large distances which light must travel before an astronomer can detect stellar events, they must be content with seeing events which happened many years before they witness them. If a star is 5,000 light years away from our sun, the light reaching us now and the events unfolding before our eyes started 5,000 years ago. It is like peering back in time.

The recent Science News article speaks of the work of scientists who are closely studying a galaxy referred to as SPGC 6240, "which sits 350 million light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Hydrus."1 This galaxy "recently" collided with another galaxy sending out intergalactic shock waves through the universe, causing a complete rearrangement of the structures of both galaxies, and birthing many new stars. Astronomers watch such events with the collective fascination and horror of pedestrians observing a car accident. The havoc caused in each galaxy allows astronomers to "see" the immense energies generated and the resulting gravitational entanglements of stars and solar systems. But, "recently", and "not too long ago" in this case refer to events that happened more than 350 million years in the past. That was a time when there was primitive life on earth but before God had created humans! Galaxies and points of light were slamming into each other while God looked on with joy and expectancy of the things yet to come.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Purpose and a Relationship with God

Mark 1:35 says, "Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray."
Mark 6:46 says, "After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray."
Mark 14:32-42 gives us the account of Jesus spending the entire night in deep prayer.
Those who read this blog regularly will recognize that sometimes I speak as a science enthusiast and sometimes as a pastor. This will be a pastoral post.

Our purpose in life will flow out of our relationship with God. In order to do great things, we must first have a deep relationship with our Lord. In order to serve this world our senses must be finely tuned to Jesus. This requires that we constantly pay attention to the Spirit of God and avoid other things which crowd out our sense of God. My language here is intentionally Trinitarian.

Some of us spend time daily reading the Bible and praying. Another necessity is solitude. We will benefit from taking time to get away from distractions. Might I suggest that on a weekly basis you leave your electronics behind and spend a few minutes in a quiet place. Once or twice a year plan a retreat in which you work hard at listening to God. Our goal is to determine our unique place in the work to which God is calling us. Our goal is to determine where we are at, right now, and then determine how we can get to the place to which Jesus is calling us.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Avoiding God

C.S. Lewis had this to say about avoiding God.
The avoiding, in many times and places, has proved so difficult that a very large part of the human race failed to achieve it. But in our own time and place it is extremely easy. Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.1 
I wonder what he would have to say about smart-phones, tablet computers, and mega-shopping-malls?

1. C.S. Lewis, “The Seeing Eye,” a paper collected in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Eerdmans, 1976), 168-69. Also quoted in "C. S. Lewis on Avoiding God," John Stackhouse blog, May 2, 2013,

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


There is a common argument that goes something like this: "If we look at the animals of our world we see that many behaviors are normal and natural. Therefore they must be normal and natural for humans as well." This argument has been used for many years but so has an alternative argument that sees the behavior of animals as guided by instincts and that we humans, who also have instincts, are capable of choosing whether or not to follow those instincts. In 1954 C.S. Lewis asked the question, "Should we simply obey our instincts?"
But why ought we to obey instincts? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it? - an infinite regress of instincts? This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve. From the statement of psychological fact "I have an impulse to do so and so" we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle "I ought to obey this impulse." . . . Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey  "people." People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.1
Those who follow the teachings and example of Jesus know that many of our "normal" and "natural" instincts are opposed to the life of a disciple of Jesus. It is not normal or natural to "love our enemies" (Luke 6:27-36). Our instincts do not tell us to "love our neighbour as ourselves" (Matthew 22:34-40). Our instincts tend toward self-preservation, self-enjoyment, getting ahead of others, and revenge for wrongs done against us. The Bible clearly teaches, and the actions of humans show, that we are capable of rising above the impulse of instincts. It is not natural or easy to do so; but we have the ability to do so. The Bible also teaches that humans are not simply intelligent animals. We have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); a concept that has much to do with our ability to be creative and to be able to over-ride our natural instincts.

I agree with Lewis that our instincts are at war. They are at war with the teachings of justice and fairness. They are at war with the image of God. They are at war with our higher calling.

1. A Severe Mercy [reprint: HarperOne, 2009, pp. 146-148]). The letter is dated 14 May 1954. I have only quoted a small portion of Lewis' letter. The whole letter is specific to sexuality and sexual sin and is a helpful comment on wider issues.