Resources for reading
During Sunday’s sermon we promised some resources for everyone to help us get plugged into the word more this year. The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute; there are about 775,000 words in the Bible; therefore it takes less than 10 minutes a day to read the whole Bible in a year. Here is some resources wether you plan to get through it in a year or not, lets just get ourselves in it!
This is the one i use the most and they have free apps for IPhone, Ipad, Ipod, Android, and kindle. There are dozens of reading plans you can download with their app that will keep you in the word. I use it on my ipad everyday and it has some great features and free commentaries and resources. There are paid versions of Logos that I fully recomend for digging really deep!
Bibles designed for reading through:
One option is to get a Bible that has a plan as part of its design. For example, Crossway offers the ESV Daily Reading Bible (based on the popular M’Cheyne reading plan—read through the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice) or the One-Year Bible in the ESV (whole Bible once in 364 readings). [For multiple bindings of the ESV Daily Reading Bible, go here.]
The Bible Eater Plan (sounds super weird…but great approach!)
Trent Hunter’s “The Bible-Eater Plan” is an innovative new approach that has you reading whole chapters, along with quarterly attention to specific books. The plan especially highlights OT chapters that are crucial to the storyline of Scripture and redemptive fulfillment in Christ.
For Shirkers and Slackers:
For those who would benefit from a realistic “discipline + grace” approach, consider “The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers.” It takes away the pressure (and guilt) of “keeping up” with the entire Bible in one year. You get variety within the week by alternating genres by day, but also continuity by sticking with one genre each day. Here’s the basic idea:
Mondays: Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
Tuesdays: Old Testament history
Wednesdays: Old Testament history
Thursdays: Old Testament prophets
Fridays: New Testament history
Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters)
There are a number of Reading Plans for ESV Editions. Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats:
- web (a new reading each day appears online at the same link)
- RSS (subscribe to receive by RSS)
- podcast (subscribe to get your daily reading in audio)
- iCal (download an iCalendar file)
- mobile (view a new reading each day on your mobile device)
- print (download a PDF of the whole plan)
ARTISAN MARKET at THE WELL
Gentlemen, We All Act Like Men
Mark Driscoll is a magnet for controversy, and his presence at the Act Like Men conference earlier this month in Hamilton was no exception.
Many couldn’t help but be a bit suspicious towards the event, included among them, a group of people who decided to hold their own gathering called “Don’t Act Like Men.” This resistance is in part because Driscoll routinely draws on a number of gendered shortforms in his call for the church to “man-up”, such as when he describes Jesus as having “calloused hands and big biceps” 1 as opposed to someone “drinking decaf and in touch with his feelings.” 2 Often he gets blamed for mobilizing stereotypes, as Christian men who do not have big biceps and who refrain from caffeine wherever possible are left wondering if they have somehow been left out of the club. It seems that some men felt they couldn’t go to Act Like Men because they are not Ron Swanson.
All this kerfuffle surrounding Act Like Men points to a struggle in the church to grapple with issues of gender. I find that what is often missing from Christian debates about gender is an understanding that masculinity and femininity are largely performed. 3 That is to say, many of the things we read as being inherently masculine or feminine are not rooted in nature or biology at all. The conference name is perfectly fitting in this sense, because it indicates that we as men are all “acting.” With a limitless amount of possibilities for performing manhood in our culture, the logical progression for us as Christians, then, is to find a way to “act” that is becoming of men who call Jesus Christ, Lord. Rendering gender into an act, a performance, can help to filter out the more superficial and peripheral conventions of masculinity—for instance, whether or not a man drinks strong coffee or takes up symbolic space with his body—in order to get at the core of how we should perform Biblical masculinity based on the model that Christ gives us. We can effectively start talking about gender only when we start talking about it as theatre.
Gender is a hotly debated topic in our culture, and the solutions to the complex questions that arise are in no way simple or straightforward. But our starting point needs to be that Christ-like masculinity starts with our character, and has little to do with the cultural objects we surround ourselves with, the tastes and practices we engage in, or the ways in which we stylize our bodies, both in fashion and in our very gesture. Building off from this perspective, here are 4 important considerations that I think will benefit Christians engaging in dialogues about gender.
1. There are Biophysical Differences Between Men and Women
This is a given, but it often gets lost (or ignored). Biologist Gregg Johnson’s essay entitled “The Biological Basis for Gender” 4 argues convincingly that men and women are biologically predisposed to certain behaviors. Even Simone de Beauvoir, a key figure in the early stages of second wave feminism, maintains in her polemical The Second Sex that sexual biology is a significant plot point when discussing the history of dominant gender configurations. 5 However, it is very important to note that it is impossible to pin down exactly how much the differences in how we present our gender are directly linked to our biology. I might be tempted to say that men prefer violent movies because of the testosterone coursing through our veins, but this fails to take into account the ways in which the popular culture that men consume, including violent movies, shape masculine tastes and practices (It also, incidentally, neglects to account for men who don’t like violent, “guy” movies).
2. There is a certain degree to which the ways we display our gender are “made-up.”
I chose a picture of Louis XIV in 17th century garb above to illustrate how gender norms are quite fluid and versatile, and to emphasize that the conventions of gender we participate in are specific to our historical moment. It is not just the liberals and the queer theorists who argue that gender is socially constructed; John Piper, a staunch complementarian who contends for male headship in home and church, takes a similar approach. In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Piper argues that the apostle Paul’s insistence that women wear head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15 is really just an appeal to adhere to culturally specific codes of femininity and masculinity—to not contest those codes unnecessarily. He writes, “The key question here is whether Paul is saying that creation dictates a head covering or that creation dictates that we use culturally appropriate expressions of masculinity and femininity….We think the latter is the case.” 6
By positing the head covering as a signifier that is bound up with specific historical contexts and meanings, Piper complicates the notion that dominant codes of femininity or masculinity are dictated by “creation,” or by nature, leaving anything that digresses from those norms automatically “unnatural.”
3. There are benefits to adhering to conventions of gender (most of the time)
Paul’s insistence on head coverings for women as a cultural marker of femininity is incredibly important, because it is essentially saying that while the social codes of gender are almost entirely made-up, that does not mean that we as believers should just toss them out. Not only is this adherence to gender norms missional, but it is practical because we can accrue benefits by negotiating within and acting in accordance with these conventions, such as when a man opts to wear pants instead of a skirt to a job interview.
Let me limit this by saying that I think there are certainly times when our cultural gender norms need to be challenged or rejected. I am not advocating that we passively allow our culture’s gender norms to just wash over us, but that we actively negotiate with them with prayer and discernment.
4. Jesus gives us instruction on how to act like men
While gender is largely a performance, Jesus does provide us with instruction for performing masculinity in a way that corresponds with God’s design. There are performances of masculinity that are ill-fitting for Christians: irresponsible masculinity, self-seeking masculinity, violent and aggressive masculinity, video-game addicted masculinity. When the apostle Paul says, “husbands, love your wives”, it is using language that is unabashedly gendered to speak to a specific role and function of men. Ultimately, it is right for Driscoll to call Christian men to imitate—essentially, to “act” like—Jesus, because his sacrificial masculinity is the model we are to follow. If gender is like a play, we as believers must take the teachings of Jesus and his gospel of grace as our authoritative script.
Whether it is the abundant sports analogies and war metaphors in the Promise Keepers movement, the “heroic, slightly dangerous, alive and free” 7 masculinity presented in John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, or Driscoll’s insistence that Jesus is not a hippie who drinks herbal tea, evangelicalism is replete with very class-specific and narrow definitions of what it means to be a real man. However, if we can situate these tropes and narratives in their socially constructed state, it frees us to suspend them in order that we might appreciate the positive influences of these ministries. A central pillar in the legacy of Promise Keepers was the promotion of friendship between men across racial boundaries. Driscoll’s “brash, de-sissified” Reformed Christianity” 8 has not only lead to more men taking active roles in their local churches and families, but has also aggressively addressed physical abuse against women in a religious culture that tends to downplay domestic violence. 9
Let’s view popular conceptions of manhood for what they are—a collection of codes and myths that are situated in a particular historical moment, but which nonetheless can provide cultural entry points for mobilizing authentic, Christ-like masculinity. These entry points are useful for engaging with the world around us, but should not define us or determine how we define other men in the church. Ultimately, the call to biblical living is one which must always begin and end with the Cross and the claims of Jesus Christ. In one sense, the pressure to conform to cultural norms, values and expectations—be they located in the world around us or in the church itself—is entirely inconsequential. What is there for us to do as men and women but to know that Christ is Lord and, in the light of his outrageous self-sacrifice and incomprehensible grace, follow his example? 10
- Quoted in O’Brien, Branden. “A Jesus for Real Men | Christianity Today.” Christianity Today | Theology, Church, Culture. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/april/27.48.html (accessed October 14, 2013) ↩
- Quoted in Christianity Today. “Mark Driscoll takes aim at the ‘cowards’ in the British church | Christian News on Christian Today.” Christian News on Christian Today. http://www.christiantoday.com/article/mark.driscoll.takes.aim.at.the.cowards.in.the.british.church/29159.htm (accessed October 14, 2013) ↩
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit for this framework for thinking about gender to Judith Butler in her seminal essay, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” in Theatre Journal. Vol 40, No. 4 (1998). p. 519-531. There are many aspects of Butler’s theories that I find problematic from a biblical point of view, among them, the notion that heterosexuality’s normative status should be disrupted. But Performative Theory is helpful when trying to interrogate the fear of punishment from “performing one’s gender wrong” (p. 528) ↩
- Johnson, Gregg. “The Biological Basis for Gender” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Piper, John and Wayne Grudem, eds. Wheaton: Crossway, 2006. ↩
- Warnke, Georgia. Debating sex and gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. ↩
- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Piper, John and Wayne Grudem, eds. Wheaton: Crossway, 2006. p. 75 ↩
- Gallagher, Sally K., and Sabrina L. Wood. “Godly manhood going wild?: Transformations in conservative Protestant masculinity.” in Sociology of religion Vol. 66, no. 2 (2005). p. 135 ↩
- Harper, Ryan. “New Frontiers: Wild at Heart and Post-Promise Keeper Evangelical Manhood.” in Journal of Religion and Popular Culture Vol. 24, no. 1 (2012). p. 106. ↩
- Nason‐Clark, Nancy. “When terror strikes at home: The interface between religion and domestic violence.” in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Vol. 43, no. 3 (2004). p. 303-310. ↩
- Image taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Paris_in_the_1660s ↩
Great Financial Tools
Wanted to share some great financial tools we use to help, budget, pay bills and steward our finances well as a family.
There are two key programs we use at our home that have really served us in the past that have helped us budget well and give us understanding on where we are at financially.
Easily one of my favorite programs ever! Makes it really easy to set up a budget, track spending with an awesome new ISO7 app and plan for the future. Its available for both Mac and PC as well as an Android app for you non IOS users.
There is a one time $60 fee that covers you forever and gives you every update. Well worth the money if you are needing to wrap your head around your finances.
Currently only available for Mac and IOS, this app helps you track when your bills are coming up and the dates they are due. It gives reminder notifications via your Iphone for any desired days leading up to the due date. Really well designed and dead easy to use!
Q and A
In this video, Tope Koleoso and David Campbell answer questions about the use of the term “apostolic”, listening for the voice of God, and women in leadership. Tope Koleoso is lead pastor at Jubilee Church in London, England, and David Campbell is lead pastor of Trinity Christian Church in Owen Sound, Canada. This video was taken at the 2013 Ontario day conference in Toronto last summer.
Un-”Like a Boss”
I’ve just watched the documentary Somm by Jason Wise which follows four men as they prepare for the incredibly grueling exam to become Master Sommeliers—the most prestigious office in the wine industry. As I found myself hoping that these men succeed and stand exultant as the highest honour in their field is placed upon them, I couldn’t help but think about the codes of masculinity being drawn upon in this film. I enjoyed the Code Switch blog’s amusing inquiry into the meaning-systems surrounding the figure of the “Bro” in popular culture, and I want to take up another interesting figure dominating popular representations of masculinity—namely, the “Boss”.
The quotations are important for differentiating the “boss” from, just…the boss — characters such as Michael Scott in The Office or even Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock who often serve as objects of ridicule and derision. The boss that I speak of does not even necessarily entail people working for him (although that is often the case). When people use meme-speak to say that someone with finesse and style is engaging in an action “like a boss”, this someone is precisely the chap we’re talking about here.
Popular culture has given us such bosses as James Bond, Tony Stark and Dr. Gregory House, but the boss can also be Kevin O’Leary, Mike Holmes, and Gordon Ramsey. Of course no list of boss figures would be complete without Barney Stinson, the quintessential boss played by Neil Patrick Harrison on How I Met Your Mother. While there are certainly female exceptions (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada or Arlene Anderson), there is a sense that the term is predominantly gendered male. It seems to me that there is a whole collection of intangibles that go along with this inimitable archetype, one of the foremost being a very specialized knowledge or dexterity in a particular field. Some other intangibles a boss might be said to possess are charisma, swagger, drive, wit, and a certain aura of mastery over his world, including the people who populate it.
The Master Sommelier candidates in Somm each have all the trappings of a boss, and the fact that they occupy a field that is glaringly highbrow and moneyed makes them particularly easy targets. This is because at its core, the figure of the boss makes sense to us because of the lived hierarchical social relations we inhabit, which while not so easy to identify are nonetheless experienced by us every day. It comes down to power, and it is my predisposed fascination with power that allows me to be hailed as the sommeliers, in true boss form, identify the time period, national origin, subregion, and company associated with any given wine without so much as looking at the bottle.
But accompanying the standard feelings of reverence coupled with insecurity-driven aspirations to one day, also, be a boss, I can’t help but have misgivings. The fact that I am Canadian might have something to do with it; Margaret Atwood put it well when, on the basis of her research into the predominant theme of failure in Canadian literature, she asked rhetorically, “Could it be that Canadians have a will to lose which is as strong and pervasive as the American’s will to win?” 1
But humble Canadian sensibilities aside, I am disquieted by the way this masculine ideal is underpinned by a number of abjectly negative qualities, qualities that I think often go undetected. Many of the boss figures we see in the media are womanizers, their masculinity defined in large part by their power over womens’ bodies. A boss’ egomania, rebellion and lack of accountability often play into an idealized nonconformist image, where nonconformity does not hold the consequences and stakes that it holds in the material world we occupy. The boss is also necessarily insatiable in his ambition, often sacrificing family and genuine relationships for the advancement of career. The Master Sommelier candidates in Somm certainly tend towards this, with one of the candidates remarking that this type of driven pursuit happens “perhaps to the detriment of your marriage, your relationships” 2, while the partner of another candidate expresses resignedly a recognition that wine takes priority over her. The bosses we encounter in media representation are so shiny, so outwardly demigod-ish, that we may fail to see the problematics accompanying the types of behaviour that are integral to these masculine ideals.
My ambivalence towards the figure of the boss stems from an identity that is struggling to be validated in Christ alone and not in the value systems and measures of the world. As Christians, our worldview causes us to see any glory that we receive as always inevitably leading back to God, our Creator and the benefactor of all of our talents and opportunities. Paul uses a little “boss” language to say that we are more than conquerers, but this is not in the sense of the humanist ideal we see in popular media and advertising, but rather in the sense that God is enabling us to be more than conquerers. We are not defined by our talents, our class position, or the things we consume, but by our willingness to allow God to use us for his purposes and towards his glory.
Life is Not a Biopic
The arrival of the trailer for Jobs, a film based on the late Steve Jobs and the emergence of his Apple empire, confirmed for me something that I’ve often suspected: biopics are the worst. They are truly the nadir of popular film. I can name maybe one that I’ve actually enjoyed (The Aviator, if you’re interested, and only because it’s Leo).
I’d better explain, because this might be a sensitive topic for those eagerly awaiting Mr Kutchner’s rendition of the nonconformist captain of industry. Consumers of Apple products (guilty as charged) tend to have a pronounced emotional connection to their technology, not excepting Christians (I recall hearing a pastor jokingly stating that he only got an Iphone because he believed his fellow elders when they said he needed it to help him get closer to Jesus).
What makes biopics so bad, I think, is that they are touted as real-life when we as an audience know better. When we go into a fictional movie there is an agreement in place between the film-maker and the audience that this film is decidedly not positioned in real-life. As such, the film-makers are free to write their characters anyway they like, and to draw on the devices and shortforms that will enrich their films with drama. A little artifice is welcome for movie-goers who want to be entertained.
We run into trouble when a fictional framework is applied to a real-life story, like the life of Steve Jobs. In the biopic, the pedestrian and random circumstances of life have to be awkwardly massaged into something that has the appearance of a stable narrative, complete with a triumphant character arc, the mandatory sex scene, snappy dialogue, and comic relief. When these devices and tropes come into contact with what is ostensibly a nonfictional story, the whole thing just starts to feel icky. We know that real life is not that sensational.
I’m not saying that the life of Steve Jobs does not present us with the makings of a good story. The impact of his innovation and vision has been felt by millions. But I’m wagering that his actual life journey was not nearly as sexy as what we will see portrayed in this movie.
The truth is, real life is not action-packed or sensational. Even for one of the most revered creative minds of the century, life is mostly made up of the monotonous. Sure, we often try to make it seem otherwise. There is a pressure in the world to portray ourselves as mildly extraordinary, either by virtue of our careers or our families or our possessions. This tendency has translated into the church through the language of “finding my ministry”, where Christians desperately seek a position to prop themselves up as somehow exceptional.
But it’s never exceptional. Solomon expresses this well at the end of his life (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11). And when we try to present our own lives differently, we are living a kind of fiction.
*Photo by Open Road Films via Macrumors.com
Newfrontiers ‘Together in Christ’ Central Canada Conference 2013
Part of the vision of the Newfrontiers family of churches is to see individual church bodies empowered with a sense that they are part of a much bigger picture. This year marked the first ever Newfrontiers Central Canada Conference. Last month, a collection of churches gathered near Hanover, Ontario to worship, receive teaching, and have fellowship together over the course of a relaxed weekend. Below is a brief video to give a taste of what this weekend looked like!
Is Belief in God “Anti-Science”?
A recent article in the Guardian by Alice Bell questions the way that disputants of widely held scientific fact, specifically in the realm of environmentalism, are often othered through the word “anti-science”. Using this “crude term” amounts to a kind of facile monopolization of what is and isn’t rational, Bell argues. Speaking to the possibility that an environmentalist could exert political energy towards slowing down climate change, while still harbouring reservations towards genetically modified foods, Bell writes:
“[Moreover], I’m not sure we should expect a homogeneous response to something as diverse as science. When people use the term “anti-science”, I want to know what definition of science they’ve based their concept of anti on. Who’d be simplistic enough to be “pro” the whole of science? What sort of shallow, shampoo advert “science bit” approach to the complexities of modernity are they living by?”
This is a refreshing observation from Bell. The demand for uniform responses to what is often socially-sanctioned as scientific fact is perhaps an unrealistic expectation. Putting aside environmental debates for the moment, Bell’s critique of the term “anti-science” is useful when taking up the very widespread and voraciously negative responses to Yahoo News writer Virginia Heffernan’s article outing herself as a creationist last month.
Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan called Heffernan a “science-phobic angel-believing climate change skeptic” 1 . Slate’s Laura Helmuth says the essay “can’t be a good career move” 2. While the specific term anti-science is not issued here (though a quick google search of “Heffernan” and “anti-science” brings up a number of bloggers using the term), are these not the same tactics that Bell critiques UK environment secretary Owen Paterson of using to inscribe the green movement as somewhat off the mark? Do Nolan and Helmuth, along with the many other voices decrying Heffernan’s point of view as essentially irrational, carry the unrealistic expectation that a technology writer needs to be “”pro” the whole of science?”.
Perhaps we can rightly locate Heffernan’s perspective as unscientific, at least in the sense where “strong rationalism” and its impossibly high standard of the “verification principle” are being used as the litmus test for what is and isn’t scientific. Under this definition, Christians too hold perspectives that are necessarily unscientific since they cannot be empirically demonstrated. But is believing in something without empirical proof altogether irrational? In essence, altogether anti-scientific? Heffernan’s critics would do well to remember that the old Enlightenment narrative of strong rationalism — namely, that no one should believe something without empirical proof by sense experience — is considered impossible to defend by a number of prominent philosophers 3.
In reality, most of us do not possess the knowledge or expertise necessary to draw empirical conclusions from our own sense experience when determining what and what not to believe. For instance, when my doctor prescribed penicillin to battle my strep throat last month, I didn’t take a sample from my throat and run a bunch of tests to determine whether this was the best route for me to take. I wouldn’t know where to start! I relied on the doctor’s knowledge and expertise, as well as the expertise and knowledge of those before him whose work gave him the basis for holding this antibiotic as being particularly effective against the strep virus. What I’m trying to get at is for the majority of us who do not hold Phds in biology or genetics, there are degrees of separation between us and the empirical evidence that forms the basis for much of our decision making. It is hear-say. This hear-say may be peer-reviewed and credible, but that does not make it infallible.
We rely heavily on the empirical claims drawn from the sense experience of a handful of scientists and other experts, we weigh their conclusions with our own experiences and with the dissenting conclusions of others, and we determine what most makes sense to us. This isn’t “lazy” logic as professor Alberto Cairo would have it 4; this is merely living and negotiating within the limits of what sense experiences we can access to make claims for what we believe. When Cairo criticizes Heffernan on Twitter for not being “bothered to study genetics or evolution” before embracing creationism, he is implying that she should read the findings of experts in those areas of science, not that she should spend time in the natural world observing evolution and genetics for herself. The verification principle isn’t really being followed when proof is second-hand.
An article written by blogger Jack Stilgoe last year convincingly argues that “creationists, denialists, anti-vaccinationists” are not anti-science. He writes: “Climate deniers are not anti-science, they are anti- a political view that considers environmental protection as important”, and, drawing from the work of John Evans 5, “Creationists, too, have moral objections to the implications of an evolutionary worldview.” It is likely that many who took issue with the African slave trade were seen as anti-scientific in a world where the inferiority of certain races was dominantly taken as empirical, scientific fact 6 .
Whether it is debates surrounding genetically modified food, climate change, or the origin of the universe, it is unfair for pundits to demand an argument that all rational people must adhere to. Perhaps demanding such an argument epitomizes the true nature of anti-science, because doing so insensibly denies the inherently rich and complex field of science. Negotiation and debate, integral to the scientific process, are prohibited to the point where the mere expression of doubt becomes an occasion for the utmost incivility and demonization.
* Picture taken from Virginia Heffernan’s Twitter page
- Nolan, Hamilton. “Yes Virginia, There Is a Darwin.” Gawker – Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news. http://gawker.com/yes-virginia-there-is-a-darwin-756331777 (accessed August 4, 2013) ↩
- Helmuth, Laura. “Virginia Heffernan’s creationism: Why evolution matters. – Slate Magazine.” Politics, Business, Technology, and the Arts – Slate Magazine. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/07/virginia_heffernan_s_creationism_why_evolution_matters.html (accessed August 4, 2013) ↩
- For a start, see MacIntyre, Alasdair C.. Whose justice? Which rationality?. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988., as well as Faith and rationality: reason and belief in God. A. Plantinga and N. Wolterstorff, eds. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983 and Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Reason within the bounds of religion. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1976. ↩
- “Conversation with Heffernan and Zimmer (with image, tweets) · albertocairo · Storify .” Storify · Make the web tell a story. http://storify.com/albertocairo/conversation-with-heffernan-and-zimmer/ (accessed August 4, 2013) ↩
- Evans, John. “Religion and Science: Beyond the Epistemological Conflict Narrative.” Annual Review of Sociology 34 (2008): 87-105. ↩
- O’Brien, Suzie , and Imre Szeman. “Identity and Community.” In Popular Culture: A User’s Guide. 2004. Reprint, Toronto: Nelson, 2010. 239-241 ↩
The Dilemma of Chance
“Casting lots”, as it is referred to in scripture, is a practice whereby an outcome is left to chance. Casting lots can be located in the same territory as flipping a coin, throwing a die, or dealing a freshly shuffled deck because underlying each of these is the philosophy that certain outcomes are more fair or more thrilling if they are determined without the interference of human emotion or prejudice. The Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ belongings, and parents often mediate disagreements between children through “casting lots” in the form of a coin toss (“Don’t blame me, sweetheart, I didn’t make it fall on heads!”).
Curiously, the bible contains many instances where the will of God is determined by casting lots. I won’t take up the debates about whether or not this practice is still relevant for the church today; here is an excellent and succinct treatment of this issue by John Piper. However, I do want to use the practice of casting lots as an entry point for discussing how the sovereign activities of God can often be interpreted as the random corollaries of chance.
The presence of chance has troubled the humanist ideal of the rugged individual — the mythic,”self-made man”. Free market frameworks of justice like to view rewards in our society as entirely merit-based. The equation of the American dream that each one of us cannot help but internalize to some degree is hard-work + striving + dedication = success. But as John Rowls points out, success is not won through hard work alone, but by a whole collection of other arbitrary factors that are tethered to the “accident” of birth 1. Things like where we are born, our familial resources, our class position, and our natural talents and abilities are distributed outside of our control and therefore the success that results from these things can only tenuously be ascribed to our own agency or resourcefulness.
Harvard professor Michael Sandel made this concept concrete when he set aside for a moment the question of how social and cultural resources determine success, and asked his class by show of hands how many of them were the first-born child. The large majority rose their hands, including Sandel, underscoring that even the pedestrian circumstance of one’s place in the birth order plays into one’s ability to access an academic career at an ivy league school like Harvard 2. Indeed, chance is a very unruly opponent for those who assert that they live in a meritocracy while sneering at the poor because they don’t “pull themselves up by their boot straps.”
But while the world views these circumstances as a kind of cruel lottery arbitrarily dishing out fortune to some and poverty to others, Christians know that what appears to be arbitrary to the world is actually the careful ordering of God’s hands towards his good and perfect will. This is not to say that hard-work or the lack of it does not factor into whether a Christian is successful or not (Proverbs 6:9-11), but rather that hard-work is never the foremost reason for success. Rather, it is grace. This is what prompted David to write, “Wealth and power come from you…Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:11-14).
Significantly, while chance is a source of anxiety, indifferently and indiscriminately dispensing blessings and tragedies on a whim, God is a source of rest. The knowledge that he is superintending everything for his sovereign purposes, even the things that appear random, for the good of those who pursue him and love him helps resolve anxieties about the unpredictable acts of chance. Rather than being at the mercy of chance, we can rest in the mercy of God who knows us intimately and works every circumstance for our benefit and for the development of our character.
In the practice of casting lots, the widespread and complex consequences of chance—the ebb and flows of the market, the” birth lottery”, the spontaneity of the weather—are all reduced into their most basic form. The roll of the dice is a simple representation or metaphor of the broader systems that are influenced through random circumstance. But in the same way that God’s sovereign power overarches every power and principality, including the marketplace and every human institution, his sovereignty reaches into the mundane results of a simple coin toss or a roll of the dice. The chips will fall where they may, but know that when they do they will be ordered in accordance with God’s perfect will.
1. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Belknap Press, 1999. p. 77.
2. Sandel, Michael. Justice. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2009.
GOD HEARS YOU, HANNAH
Have you ever faced a problem that seemed unsolvable? Have you ever felt pressed down so hard you felt completely immobilized? Have you waited and yearned for something that just never seems to happen? What is going on in your life that makes you feel like God doesn’t understand you, doesn’t hear you, and doesn’t care about you?
What is going on in your life that makes you feel like God doesn’t understand you, doesn’t hear you, and doesn’t care about you?
A beautiful story in the Old Testament is of Hannah and her son Samuel, who eventually became Israel’s leading prophet. We are introduced to Hannah and her husband Elkanah in 1 Samuel chapter 1. The first thing we are told about Hannah is that her husband loved her (verse 4) – a wonderful statement, followed by a shattering one: “The Lord had closed her womb”.
Her husband’s love was not enough to satisfy the desires of her heart. After years of barrenness, years of being compared to – and taunted by – her husband’s other (and very fertile) wife, she got to the point of desperation. “She wept and would not eat” (verse 7). Poor Elkanah, incapable of comforting her, beseeches her: “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (verse 8).
We are told that Hannah goes to the temple and weeps and prays before God, where she is observed by the priest Eli. She cries out to God to fulfill her request for a son, and vows to pledge this son’s life to the Lord. Eli blesses Hannah before she leaves the temple, and she goes away with a sense of peace, her face no longer sad (verse 18). Then, “in due time” (verse 20) Hannah conceives and bears her son, Samuel.
WHO IS GOD?
When we are struggling, it can be very difficult to keep a clear focus on the character of God. Why, after all, would He do something like close Hannah’s womb – a good woman, with a good husband, a couple who were faithfully serving God and waiting on His promises? Why would a loving God do something so seemingly cruel as that? Yet, Scripture is clear that God was responsible for Hannah’s infertility.
We are taught throughout the Bible that God is sovereign, and that both good things and devastating things are delivered from His hand. Just think of Job. Or better yet, think of Jesus. Think of the devastation of the cross – the utter awfulness and darkness of it. A loving God, delivering such a death upon His own Son?
But yet, even in the face of that, who is God? God is the one who sent Jesus to the cross, but God is also the one who raised Jesus from the dead. God is the one who closed Hannah’s womb, but He is also the one who opened Hannah’s womb in response to her prayer and gave her the son she had longed for – and five more children after that (1 Sam. 2:21).
God always proves faithful to His promises. Scripture teaches us this, and if we were to look around we would see that there are countless examples of His faithfulness at work in our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters around us.
His utter, unwavering faithfulness sets Him apart from us – it is essential to WHO HE IS.
If He wasn’t always faithful, He wouldn’t be any different from us. His utter, unwavering faithfulness sets Him apart from us – it is essential to WHO HE IS. If we don’t believe He will come through for us as our faithful Deliverer, it’s very hard to serve Him as the Lord of our lives at all.
COUNTERING DISAPPOINTMENT WITH FAITH
In this sense, if we are deeply discouraged or disappointed about the way our lives have turned out, without faith in God we will gradually shut down our relationship with Him.
In comparison, when Hannah got to the point of desperation, she did not turn away from God. She didn’t squash down her bitterness. She brought that bitterness before God. She didn’t retract herself from Him; she bared her soul to Him. And that is the essence of faith: baring ourselves in our weakness before a God who holds all the strength, and acknowledging that only He has the power to do the impossible thing.
That is the essence of faith: baring ourselves in our weakness before a God who holds all the strength, and acknowledging that only He has the power to do the impossible thing.
We can’t convince God to do what we want Him to do. There’s no perfect prayer or perfect lifestyle or perfect set of choices that will somehow earn us any good thing. It’s just His grace, answering us in our hour of weakness. God wants to speak to us of His promises. The Psalmist writes: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Ps.119:50). The promises of God are meant to sustain us in our trials. But if we don’t ask for the promises, we simply won’t have them.
Asking is our responsibility. Asking is what speaks of our brokenness before God. Asking is faith. When we choose – sometimes again and again, over months and even years – to bring that impossible thing before God in our brokenness, He might not answer right away, but He will honour our faith by giving us the strength we need to get through that next leg of the race. He will speak to us of His promises, and of the joy that comes in the morning.
Asking is what speaks of our brokenness before God. Asking is faith.
Even the Old Testament prophets whom God called to prophesy destruction and doom to sinful Israel would always counter those statements with promises of redemption. God always has the good end in mind. And how much greater, now, has His grace towards us been expressed through Jesus! How much closer we can come to Him now, through Jesus.
God heard Hannah, and God hears you and me!
The Well Cafe
Exciting News! ACF is proud to announce that we’re opening a cafe right on the main street of Alliston!
God has brought us on a long, and amazing journey to get to the place we are in now!
The cafe, which we’ve decided to call ‘The Well’, is not yet ready for business. We’ve got a long way to go yet. We’ve got plenty of renovations, planning, and preparation that have to be done before opening, but we’re very excited for what God has in store for this place, and for the great potential that it has!
We, as a church family, believe that being missional and communal is key in life. Jesus Himself lived that way. He demonstrated to us the essence of living beyond ourselves, reaching outside of our own bubbles, and into the greater picture. In doing so we begin to see the way that God sees, to love the way that He loves, and to be broken for the things that break His heart.
This cafe, though it is going to be great fun, is not only that. It’s our hope and our prayer that this place is a vessel of love, hope, safety, community, and a beacon of truth to the town of Alliston. We desire that The Well is, more than anything, a place where relationships are built, where people are encouraged, where hope is restored, and where the truth of the gospel is demonstrated.
Along with all that good stuff, we’ll have GREAT fair trade coffee and tea, yummy treats and lots of fun events going on. We really want to encourage the artists, musicians and other talents in this community!
This has been in the works for quite some time, and it’s amazing to the see the hand of God in bringing this cafe to life.
There are many tasks that are yet to be completed – if you’d like to get involved in helping out, let us know! It would be HUGELY appreciated!!! Here are just a few (not so great) photos of our progress…
I just want to take this opportunity to say a HUGE HEARTFELT THANK YOU to Jeff and Janice Coulson for their vision, investment, time, energy, and everything else that they have poured into this project and all that they continue to do!!!!
We’ll be giving an in depth presentation on our visions, goals and values for The Well tomorrow morning, 10 am, at the Circle Theatre! Come on out for more information!!
Ebert: Give Movies a Chance
Last week, taste-maker and film critic legend Roger Ebert passed away. For over forty years, Ebert’s ‘wry and dry’ film reviews have had a marked influence on the film industry and the decision-making of movie goers everywhere. He also occupied a special place in the hearts of Torontonians, playing a key role in bringing our very own Toronto International Film Festival onto the global stage in its early days.
Ebert’s passing provoked me to think about the role of movies in the lives of Christians, and in our culture more generally. Many a Christian (myself included) has experienced conflicted emotions towards the cinema. Some manage those anxieties by rejecting it all together, others resign themselves to a ‘take the good with the bad’ attitude.
The Bible says very little on the subject of entertainment. Dance performers appear in certain places in scripture, and the skilled musician, David, entertained King Saul’s courts with song. As far as theater is concerned, there was certainly a performative element to the prophetic words of Jeremiah and Isaiah, although that was decidedly not for the purpose of entertainment!
So what do we, as followers of Christ, make of this ‘guilty pleasure’ of popular film? Is it to be altogether discarded as “of the world”? Or is there a possibility that watching movies can have a kingdom-building, gospel-sharing dimension?
Perhaps 1 Corinthians 6:12 is the operative verse for guiding this discussion: “All things are lawful…but I will not be brought under the power of any”. Certainly movies have the potential to enslave; Unfettered sex scenes, strong language, and dehumanizing violence are all powerful representations that can warp a person’s personality and behaviour. Nevertheless, there is no denying that films are the primary medium by which stories are circulated in our culture, and there pervasiveness makes them containers of our society’s fundamental mythologies and beliefs. Movies are important entry points for Christians who want to engage our culture with the gospel. Using Paul’s words as my primary frame, I will suggest some ways that the practice of watching movies can have a missional aspect.
1. Movies Can Be Communal
“All over the web there are some very good critics…it’s become a very good way to get to reviews and involve yourself in discussions”- Roger Ebert
I am not necessarily just talking about the communal experience of gathering together on a couch to watch a flick. Indeed, there is a measure to which sharing a good film can be like sharing a good meal, but movies can be shared even if they are watched independently of one another. Conversations about common passions and interests are a major part of community, and discussing the merits or shortfalls of a movie is akin to conversing about an excellent restaurant or a lively soccer match.
Most importantly, movies can be a great topic of conversation when fostering community with non-believers. Movies can act as a common interest that helps build a bridge with someone you might not have had a conversation with otherwise. Also, movies can often provide a useful frame of reference for sharing the gospel. For example, you might talk about how the scene where the priest forgives Jean Valjean for stealing from the church in Les Misérables is similar to the way Christ lavishes his grace on us so freely, offering to forgive us all of our wrongs and the debts we couldn’t possibly pay.
2. Movies Can Reveal A Lot About Our Culture
”By going to the movies…I became a lot more open-minded than the heritage I was born into might have suggested”-Roger Ebert
Films can speak volumes about the fundamental hopes, fears, and beliefs of our culture since movie-makers have to draw their codes and short forms from the surrounding culture in order to reach the broadest audience possible. Preponderant beliefs about race, class, social mobility, success, and what it means to ‘be a man’ (or a woman) are mediated through popular culture. To take one of the most obvious examples, we can look at how representations of masculinity in action movies are largely sourced in the mythic figure of the ‘rugged individual’, which, in turn, is bound up with American national identity. Movies provide Christians with an index to the dominant meaning-systems of our culture, and can help develop creative ways of interacting with non-Christians.
3. Movies Reveal How Power is Outworked in Society
”Class is often invisible in America in the movies, and usually not the subject of the film” – Roger Ebert
Popular movies can raise interesting questions about social justice because often representations in film work to subordinate certain groups while reinforcing the dominance of groups in power. This occurs when marginalized groups on the divisive axes of class, race or gender are prevented from distributing their own representations in the popular markets. If this sounds like a bit of a cultural ‘witch-hunt’ to you, consider that it wasn’t until four years ago that Disney presented its first African-American princess.
You might be surprised that some of the reservations you may have about movies are shared by critics who are not Christians. Christians disagree with the eroticization of women in the James Bond franchise because it conflicts with the value and respect God ascribes to women, while feminists take issue with these representations because they are seen as objectifying and delimiting to girls and women. The fetishization of Indigenousness in Avatar, the exclusion of people of colour from having a main part in the Harry Potter franchise, and the equating of violence with ‘authentic masculinity’ in Die Hard all have material effects and are all tied up with issues of justice and responsibility. Contemplating and thinking critically about the ways the realm of representation is connected to inequalities and racism in society is a great witness to non-Christians, and often makes for a lively debate!
4. Movies Are A Form of Storytelling
“If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked…You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen”- Roger Ebert
I started this treatment by saying that the Bible does not have much to say about entertainment. Perhaps that is the wrong angle to take when engaging with this topic. Despite not saying much about entertainment, the Bible has much to say about the importance of storytelling. Some of the most compelling parts of the Bible—Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel or David’s confrontation with the giant, Goliath—come to us in narrative form. Jesus often imparted deep, spiritual truths through parables.
The Bible says that God has placed eternity in the heart of man. We can see this when we look at some of the dominant narratives that continue to appear in popular film. Redemptive story-arcs where a character is transformed and changed, is no longer the same because of some trial or turbulence, still resonate with popular audiences. Movies can be missional when the stories they possess are not diminished as frivolous but are seen as communicating a deep, universal longing in the hearts of people. Indeed, movies are the primary mode by which stories are mobilized in our society—lets not be too quick to write them off entirely.
If you are interested in this topic, here is an interesting series by Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
*Photo courtesy of Chuck Boller at the Hawaii International Film Festival
worship without frills
I was raised in a tiny, small-town church that never had many frills. No fancy lights, no smoke machines, no glamour. Sometimes, no musicians, at all. Sometimes, a cappella, and awkward silences between songs.
A church that is low on certain kinds of resources is certainly in a tough place. It wasn’t easy for our wee little congregation in those long months and years of having no musical accompaniment. In the face of disheartening losses and difficulties that a lot of individuals were facing, it wasn’t easy to foster congregational participation either. There were many challenges to face.
However, a church that is high on resources – full of musicians, and creative people, full of lights camera action! – can face some pretty huge spiritual challenges as well.
Consider how the apostle Paul instructed us to worship in 1 Corinthians 14:
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
We all walk into church on Sunday morning, or into our weekly home groups, or prayer meetings, with deep personal needs and hungers. We all need to be strengthened within, all of the time.
But Paul is very clear that this sense of uplifting and strengthening does NOT come from a worship leader, but from a collective participation of the WHOLE body.
…strengthening does NOT come from a worship leader, but from a collective participation of the WHOLE body.
Being a worship leader, I have often felt the pressure to put on a good show on a Sunday morning. I remember agonizing over song choices, feeling like I always had to put together “the perfect set”. I had to make sure everything matched thematically. During a worship service I’d repeat choruses over and over again, waiting for the response I had expected, and becoming deeply discouraged when it didn’t happen as I’d pictured.
Even when I’m not leading, I know that I myself also have the natural bent to expect the worship leader to “produce” something to make me feel a certain way.
The glamour of performance is something that has seeped into church culture, and often stifles the development of individual spiritual gifts amongst the church body. We become reliant on the skills of a few, rather than becoming truly strengthened by the gifts of many. Musical abilities are undoubtedly from God, but they are just one colour in what should be a broad spectrum of gifts displayed when we gather together as believers.
What if all of our technical equipment just suddenly fried out on a Sunday morning? Would the sound of our praise be lessened if the music wasn’t there? Would we be scared to sing? Would we be able to enter the presence of God without the frills we are used to?
Would the sound of our praise be lessened if the music wasn’t there?
For those of us who enjoy the privilege of having regular musical resource in our church bodies, it’s worth remembering what exactly would continue to encourage and strengthen us if the only music we could create would be with the sound of our own voices.
Easter Sunday @ ACF
Sunday March 31st at The Circle Theatre we will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus! We really want to reach out and encourage you all to invite your friends and family as we celebrate the gospel!
This Sunday: The Word of His Grace
This Sunday we’ll be in Acts chapter 14, looking at verses 1-7 at the topic of “The Word of His Grace”. Read before you come out!
MYSTERY OF THE AGES
This Sunday Clyde Matava will be preaching at our Sunday Gathering. Clyde is spearheading a team that is planting City Light Church into Toronto out of ACF.
One In Christ
This is the first of 4 videos on ‘A church which wholeheartedly embraces the New Testament teaching of the one new man, demonstrating love and respect between the races, cultures and sexes.’