Thursday, July 31, 2014

Revised Edition of "Four Precious Words"

A revised edition of my post "Four Precious Words" recently was posted at the Washington Institute website:

The New Urbanist Open to Sin?

"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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stewardship as Creation Care

"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."

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, pp. 67-8 

Sidewalks in the Kingdom

"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."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Four Precious Words

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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tiny: A Story About Living Small

Having downsized from 3000 sq. ft. to 1200 sq. ft. in the move from Lincoln to Vancouver, I found this documentary to be very interesting. Maybe the difference with our situation is that Vancouver is so expensive that even if one were to build a "tiny house," nonetheless the land upon which it sits would be extremely expensive. All that to say, seeing that I am researching the notion of "home" and "homecoming" in my doctoral work, I loved some of the reflections:

"Since 1970, the average house size in the United States has doubled, but for some people, bigger isn't necessarily better." -Christopher Smith, producer

"Home is hard to define because it is not one thing; it is a collection of details that all contribute to tell the story of who we are and where we belong. . . . I learned that whatever it is, home is never something that we build alone." -Christopher Smith, producer

"I think for me, a sense of home is a sense of belonging." -Dee Williams