"Life comes again to us as Gift, a free and divine gift.... Adam is again introduced to Paradise, taken out of nothingness and crowned king of creation. Everything is free, nothing is due and yet all is given. And therefore, the greatest humility and obedience is to accept the gift, to say yes- in joy and gratitude."
"And Adam, when he left the Garden where life was to have been eucharistic–an offering of the world in thanksgiving to God–Adam led the whole world, as it were, into darkness. In one of the beautiful pieces of Byzantine hymnology Adam is pictured sitting outside, facing Paradise, weeping. It is the figure of man himself."
-For the Life of the World, by Alexander Schmemann
"If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No–it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God's vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death."
-The Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be uponhis shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isa. 9:6
OK, so I'm not really planning at this point on taking the trip down from Vancouver to KC for the World Series. However, I must say this is a remarkable feeling seeing that the last time KC went to the World Series, let alone the playoffs, was 1985. I was a 14-yr-old kid at the time and able to attend game 2 of the Royals vs. the Cardinals in KC, a series the Royals would go on to win in seven games. A stranger who was sitting next to me said that I may not realize it at the time, but that the memory of being at the World Series will stay with me for many years to come- he was right; it certainly has. And now the Royals are going back! Wow, what a magical run it has been.
To the surprise of many, I have exercised remarkable restraint through the years by not writing very much at all about cigars and my passion for them : ). I have received criticism for standing by this passion; to this day, I correct my mother explaining the difference between a passion and a habit. I began my blogging journey back in 2008 by talking about the "taboo" subjects of motorcycles and cigars (http://hsumike.blogspot.ca/2008/05/motorcycles-cigars-and-other-taboo-misc.html). Now that I am deep into my passion on the centrality of vocation, so for the one who has eyes to see, perhaps even a cigar shop like this one serves as a foretaste of heaven; look and listen for it.
“Gathering for celebration on Sunday and dispersing to begin the work of doing justice on Monday, a cadence of one and six, forms the essential rhythm of a week in the life of New Song Community Church. Because God’s activity in worship is a piece with God’s activity in the world, the worship of the church is a piece with its life in the neighborhood. The worship of God is flowing out into the streets of Sandtown, where it belongs in order to have integrity and authenticity (Isa. 1:11-17; 58:3-7; Amos 5:21-24; Heb. 13:15-16). For liturgy and justice belong together. Liturgy,… is not authentic unless the activity of justice is also present. New Song’s participatory worship, life of prayer, patterns of testimony, struggle for reconciliation, announcement of pardon and grace, and labors for a more just and joyful community form a single life dedicated to God.”
"The idea of equality is a good one, so long as it means 'equality before the law.' Beyond that, the idea becomes squishy and sentimental because of manifest inequalities of all kinds. It makes no sense, for example, to equate equality with freedom. The two concepts must be joined precisely and within strict limits if their association is to make any sense at all. Equality, in certain circumstances, is anything but free. If we have equality and nothing else- no compassion, no magnanimity, no courtesy, no sense of mutual obligation and dependence, no imagination- then power and wealth will have their way; brutality will rule. A general and indiscriminate egalitarianism is free-market culture, which, like free-market economics, tends towards a general and destructive uniformity. And tolerance, in association with such egalitarianism, is a way of ignoring the reality of significant differences. If I merely tolerate my neighbors on the assumption that all of us are equal, that means I can take no interest in the question of which ones of us are right and which ones are wrong; it means that I am denying the community the use of my intelligence and judgment; it means that I am not prepared to defer to those whose abilities are superior to mine, or to help those whose condition is worse; it means that I can be as self-centered as I please. In order to survive, a plurality of true communities would require not egalitarianism and tolerance but knowledge, an understanding of the necessity of local differences, and respect. Respect, I think, always implies imagination- the ability to see one another, across our inevitable differences, as living souls."
"If the word community is to mean or amount to anything, it must refer to a place (in its natural integrity) and its people. It must refer to a placed people. . . . 'community' must mean a people locally placed and a people, moreover, not too numerous to have a common knowledge of themselves and of their place."
My co-pastor, Mark Swanson, sent this to me recently. Mark knows how passionate I am about the topic of vocation. It really is amazing to think about how what we may assume from day-to-day to be "ordinary work" can be full of artistry, skill and wonder. Pictured are some London street workers who were captured doing "glorious work" in their daily rhythms.
"If Christians could be clear that the gospel entrusted to Christians is also about land, perhaps a new conversation could emerge, but it will not so long as we misunderstand our faith in categories either existentialist or spiritual-transcendental." The Land: Place as Gift, Promise and Challenge in Biblical Faith, p. 203
"Our study of land suggests that . . . . the central problem is not emancipation but rootage, not meaning but belonging, not separation from community but location within it, not isolation from others but placement deliberately between generations of promise and fulfillment. The Bible is addressed to the central human problem of homelessness (anomie) and seeks to respond to that agenda in terms of grasp and gift." The Land: Place as Gift, Promise and Challenge in Biblical Faith, p. 199-200
"In the Old Testament there is no timeless space, but there also is no spaceless time. There is rather storied place, that is, a place that has meaning because of the history lodged there. There are stories that have authority because they are located in a place. This means that biblical faith cannot be presented simply as a historical movement indifferent to place that could have happened in one setting as well as another, because it is undeniably fixed in this place with this meaning. And for all its apparent 'spiritualizing,' the New Testament does not escape this rootage. The Christian tradition has been very clear in locating the story in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Galilee."
"Family function and community competence lie at the heart of the distinction between aloneness and hollowness. Hollowness is produced by the way we deal with being alone. We are alone in the world, and that is immutable. The question is how we deal with the loneliness. Hollowness is the lack of resources or competence to deal with the aloneness. We then turn to the consumer culture to fill it with purchased experience."
". . . in too many cases, we are disconnected from our neighbors and isolated from our communities. Consequently, the community and neighborhood are no longer competent. When we use the term community competence, we mean the capacity of the place where we live to be useful to us, to support us in creating those things that can be produced only in the surroundings of a connected community."
This letter makes me proud to have spent fifteen years in Nebraska. I do not know personally the one who wrote the letter, but he is from Lincoln, and I held back the tears as I read. If you did not catch it, recently, Richard Dawkins advocated that it was a moral imperative to abort Down's Syndrome babies. Ugh- to call such evil good hurts my heart. During my early years in youth ministry, I drove a school bus to supplement my income. I drove a bus for mentally and developmentally disabled kids; and it was one of the most joyous times of my life. I think of one boy in particular named Jeff. Jeff had Down's Syndrome and greeted me each morning with a hug and a smile. I learned about a year later after I had moved on to attend seminary that Jeff had passed away because of a heart condition. I often think of Jeff and the joy he brought during his short life. http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/08/an-open-letter-to-richard-dawkins
"A community is not something you have, like a pizza. Nor is it something you can buy, as visitors to Disneyland . . . . It is a living organism based on a web of interdependencies- which is to say, a local economy."
"But this is where the error (of pantheism) lies: everything is not God; God is everything. God does not manifest himself to an equal degree in everything. On the contrary, he manifests himself to a varying extent in different things, . . ."
"In his Spirit he sighs with the enslaved creation for redemption and liberty. What is true of the Shekinah which dwells in Israel and wanders with Israel into exile, is in its own way true also of the Shekinah of the Creator in his creation. Through his Spirit the Creator is himself involved in his creation. The Spirit is capable of suffering. He can be 'quenched' and 'grieved' (1 Thess. 5:19; Eph. 4:30). For he is the power of the love from which creation has issued and through which it is sustained."
"He (Paul) finds it ('longing', or 'yearning') first of all among believers, who 'have the first-fruits of the Spirit' (Rom 8:23). They long to be the children of God and wait for the redemption of the body. Secondly, he finds it in the whole anxiously waiting creation (Rom. 8.19ff.). Creation waits for 'the revealing of the sons of God' and therefore longs together 'with us' (Rom. 8.22). Finally, he perceives in the Holy Spirit himself 'an inexpressible sighing' (Rom. 8.26). So what believers experience and perceive in the Holy Spirit reveals the structure of the Spirit of creation, the human spirit, and the Spirit in the whole non-human creation; because it is to this that their experience corresponds. What believers experience in the Holy Spirit leads them into solidarity with all other created things. They suffer with nature under the power of transience, and they hope for nature, waiting for the manifestation of liberty."
"The human being does not merely live in the world like other living things. He does not merely dominate the world and use it. He is also able to discern the world in full awareness as God's creation, to understand it as a sacrament of God's hidden presence, and to apprehend it as a communication of God's fellowship. That is why the human being is able consciously to accept creation in thanksgiving, and consciously to bring creation before God again in praise."
"Once you believe that the Spirit is at play in the neighborhood, that wisdom is calling out in the streets, that God was at work before you got there, your task is listening- listening to join in with all the redemptive hopes of the people in your neighborhood. Imagine that every person who has meaningful hopes for some aspect of the new commons (social, economic, environmental, educational or civic well-being) is a potential partner in the reconciliation and renewal of the parish. If you develop a sacred imagination for all of life and all of the people and systems living out the drama of their lives in the setting of your parish, then this everyday rooting process reveals astounding possibilities. But there is an adjustment that needs to be made, one that we are finding ultimately quite powerful. It requires even more humility; it's fair to say that when we change our imaginations to being in relationship with all that God is doing in a particular place, we become co-caretakers alongside our neighbors for the whole of the parish."
"The New Urbanists may also want to hear from the Christian community about our doctrine of sin. I mean this in all sincerity. Any attempt to understand our patterns of sprawl and private consumption that fails to deal honestly with the human condition of sin is going to miss the mark. As G.K. Chesterton claimed the doctrine of original sin is ‘the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved.’ Chesterton made this observation from an early-twentieth-century English perspective, but anyone who has observed our American culture over the past century could come to the same conclusions. Even James Howard Kunstler (who is not a religious person) observes in his coda, ‘I begin to come to the disquieting conclusion that we Americans are these days a wicked people who deserve to be punished.’ Perhaps we can help the New Urbanists better understand this insight, so that they can make wiser policy-level decisions. In reintroducing the concept of the reality of sin into the public arena, we may even find some new opportunities to share the good news about the stronger reality of grace. After all, people often will not have the courage to face up to their sin until they are assured about the good news of grace.” Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, pp. 163-64
"As our culture renewed its appreciation for the environment, the Christian church discovered that it had a unique voice to add to the movement. We learned that dominion had more to do with care taking than with exploitation of the created order. We learned that the God whom we serve included animals in the Noahic covenant restricted work for beasts in the Sabbath laws, and forbade the wasteful destruction of trees in the Deuteronomic laws. And we learned that creation waited with us for the time when it would be freed from its bondage to decay. The shock wave of the environmental movement was felt in the Christian church most tangibly in a renewed appreciation for the idea of stewardship. We learned that stewardship has as much to do with our natural environment as it does with our personal finances. In particular we learned (or remembered): 1. that the created order reflects the glory of God and has inherent worth independent of our use for or appreciation of it; 2. that we did not create the natural world and we therefore must receive its benefits with humility and gratitude; and 3. that the created order is fragile and that we have a mandate to preserve it and care for it."
"Private Christians have a cultural problem. They have rejected the dominant culture out of a sense of fear but have not envisioned a replacement for the dominant culture out of their own communal life, because they have been focused more on the moment of conversion than on the fullness of salvation. In the absence of a coherent cultural vision, they have inadvertently appropriated more subtle elements of the dominant culture (such as individualism and consumerism) into their daily lives. . . . Public Christians, on the other hand, have a political problem. They have hitched their cart to the dominant cultural institutions and have lost some sense of their own distinctive identity as Christians. They have focused on the institutional elements of their churches and have lost touch with both the people in the churches and the people of the world whom they purport to serve. . . . Church politics could lose some of its oppressive and irrelevant character if it were once again seen at a local level in a relational context. Church politics, like its secular counterpart, is really just an attempt to live and work together within our distinctive covenant identity. . . . ultimately, we need to make sense of our cities from our distinct theological perspective. We have a rich theological heritage to draw from, but we need to apply it anew . . . . A great constructive project awaits us."
Here are four words that have become precious to me: Stewardship, Neighbourhood, Economy and Vocation.
As a pastor, I've spend a lot of time through the years teaching on the concept of stewardship. Of course, stewardship narrowly defined is often thought of as a reference to financial management. In the context of the local church, it usually comes with the negative association of the pastor urging the congregation to give more money to the church! While financial management is a significant part of a proper understanding of stewardship, nonetheless, the concept is broader, deeper and far more all-encompassing. In the New Testament, the Greek word used to describe the steward is oikonomos. The word is derived from two terms, oikos and nomos. Oikos is a reference to the household and nomos to the "law" or to "rule." So oikonomos literally translated is "household ruler." Some modern Bible translations will sometimes take the word and translate it "household manager."
How can seeing our lives as a proper stewardship extend to our understanding of faithfulness in our homes, neighbourhoods and in the broader society in which we, by God's grace, "live, move and have our being"?
If we pause for a second and extend the idea of "household management" to an entire community, so now we are talking about economic life. How are goods and services exchanged in order to serve the common good and to contribute to human flourishing? Maybe before going so broad, we might think of a local neighbourhood. What constitutes the proper management of my resources so as to benefit and serve my neighbour? In a healthy neighbourhood, how are "goods and services" exchanged out of concern for others? Have you ever needed a cup of sugar from a neighbour? help with lifting a heavy object? When my son Calvin was a toddler, I was responsible for him and must confess, I lost him. When my neighbour Kevin heard the frantic plea in my voice as my heart pounded and I combed the neighbourhood calling out, "Calvin! Calvin!" Kevin rushed out of his house to join the search, saying to me in my dazed and frightened state of mind, "you go to the southwest, and I will go to the northeast and when we get to the end of the block, let's move counterclockwise." A few minutes later, when my other neighbour down the street Vicki came walking back with Calvin in her arms, I felt the enormous pressure of fear release from my body. Calvin had made his way down nearly an entire block and my neighbours had extended the gifts of comfort and common mission (Kevin) and childcare (Vicki) in my momentary lapse.
In my new neighbourhood in Vancouver, I have come to appreciate the carpentry gifts of my housemate Pedro, so Pedro has built a custom-made bookshelf in my office at Grace Vancouver Church, to assist with my sense of belonging in the space of my employment. Pedro has done this not as a member of the church, but as a member of my neighbourhood. Also, Pedro and his wife Hiyori have a little one and my teenage daughter cannot wait to babysit once Kai gets old enough to be watched. On so many levels, while we may not entirely think of these "exchange of gifts" as gifts of gainful employment (with the exception of Pedro's carpentry), nonetheless, we are speaking of marks of a healthy community and a loving and caring economy.
Is the world we inhabit and seek gainful employment not simply a "larger household" or "neighbourhood" in which we are called to love and serve as members? As Wendell Berry has said, a healthy economy "turns on affection." Elsewhere, Berry has written in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, p. 14: If we speak of healthy community, we cannot be speaking of a community that is merely human. We are talking about a neighborhood of humans in a place, plus the place itself: its soil, its water, its air, and all the families and tribes of the nonhuman creatures that belong to it. If the place is well preserved, if its entire membership, natural and human is present in it, and if the human economy is in practical harmony with the nature of the place, then the community is healthy. Bouman-Prediger and Walsh in Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, p. 143,reinforce the notion of how the concept of Stewardship extends to the broader community:
The Greek word oikonomia "means the management (nomos), or care exercised by the economist, or steward (oikonomos), for the household (oikos) and for that within it that is entrusted to him." Will the household be managed in such a way that public resources are developed and shared to the benefit and livelihood of all members of the household? Only such a household is considered to be a good economy; only such a household is obeying the rules of the household. Because this world is the "household" into which Jesus "made His dwelling" (Jn. 1:14), so a proper stewardship of the good gifts of God in service to neighbour is our call, our vocatio, to discharge. Vocation matters as well.