Guns, Germs & Steel

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Jarod Diamond is an evolutionary Biologist who spent some 30 years in and out of the jungles of Papua New Guinea. A question asked by an indigenous tribal person sparked a decades long research project that culminated in the writing of this book. The Tribesman asked Diamond why the white people came to his Island with the big ships and amazing inventions, and not the other way around.

Why did some people groups remain locked in the stone age while others advanced into the modern era, ultimately using their superior technology to dominate, displace and in many cases all but exterminate less developed peoples?

It’s not biology — The gap in advancement between Eurasian peoples and the primitive cultures they conquered should not not be explained by means of slower evolutionary development, or anything that might construe biological inferiority. He cited all sorts of scientific data to push the reader away from such superior race conclusions, he also used many personal anecdotes from his time with tribal peoples. Diamond is absolutely convinced that “primitive” peoples minds are not less evolved than his own, in fact, he argues, to the contrary. The real question to ask, according to Diamond, is how intellectually inferior Europeans managed to invent so much stuff! Time and time again in the jungle it was the natives intellect, know how, and savvy that kept him alive. But even still, why hadn’t they figured out how to move beyond the use of stone tools and hunting and gathering as their way of life?

Location, Location, Location — Diamond is convinced that Eurasian peoples, were predisposed for success because of their environment. Diamond realizes that many a judgmental finger will be raised at this point, cursing him for his  “environmental determinism”. He is quick to point out that geography is only the primary cause. Many other less deterministic causes played roles as well, but those roles must be considered secondary.

Domesticate or die — To advance, a society must be able to domesticate seeds and learn to mass produce food. Having regular crops allow a society to settle down into permanent places. Sedentary life-styles with reliable food supplies mean more population, more population increases power and the potential of invention. The domestication of animals also provides a huge leap forward in productivity and sustainability, all creating more space and time for innovation. The cold hard facts, according to Diamond, is that South and North America, Australia, and Africa simply did not have the same number of domesticable seeds available to them. In some cases, like Australia, they didn’t have any domesticable seeds at all! It also turns out that some animals can be domesticated and some can’t. The above mentioned continents just had bad luck with animals. The Eurasian horse can be tamed, the zebra cannot. The Asian bovine, from which all modern day cattle come from is domesticable, the African water buffalo and the North American bison are not. All large possibly domesticable animals went extinct in Australia giving the early inhabitant’s only the kangaroo to work with! The llama in South America was domesticated but it use pales in comparison to that of the horse. Diamond imagines how history would have been rewritten if African tribes had managed to domesticate the rhino and use it with mounted shock troops to wreak havoc all over Europe, but, alas, a rhino doesn’t take kindly to being mounted and will not be mastered.

Germs are nasty! — The possibility of sickness through germs increased as populations grew and began to cluster into cities in Europe and Asia. Natural trade routes established themselves on Eastern and Western lines and germs were free to travel. The germs that caused black death and countless other plagues ravaged Europe and Asia in the middle ages, but the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” certainly proved true. The unprepared immune systems of largely isolated populations of North & South America and Australia were vanquished by the germs inflicted upon them by European explorers. In some cases entire populations of indigenous people were exterminated.

Belief does impact behaviour — Indeed, one of the greatest misfortunes of the wide acceptance of Darwinian evolution is the assumption made by industrialized countries that they must be farther along in the evolutionary process and thus superior. Just like Cro-Magnon exterminated, the Neanderthal, so to must those of the modern age, destroy those of the stone age. In the last 250 years countless millions were subjugated to unspeakable atrocities on the slippery footing of these evolutionary assumptions. Diamond halts to speak of right or wrong because as an evolutionary biologist it is really difficult to speak of morality with any sort of authority. For him things must remain a matter of fact. But the facts, according to Diamonds research, prove there is no connection between intelligence and industrialization and thus any sort of racial or developmental superiority should be done away with. The harsh conclusions of inferiority levelled against less developed people have happily fallen out of favour in the main stream, however, Diamond laments that even so, these prejudices remain deep in the psyche of many moderns.

As a Christian person this is one of the reasons I am not overly thrilled to embrace wholesale the origin theories of evolution. Whenever, “lesser humans” factor into our story, there is precedent to destroy them. This of course, become more difficult, if one has the perspective that all humans are created in the image of God and thus intrinsically valuable.

The sad story of Christianity’s conquest — Unfortunately, not all who claimed Christianity as their world view developed a perspective that valued human life regardless of the state in which it was discovered. Such was the case with the conquest of the Incan empire by Pizzaro.

The story is remarkable: With brilliant trickery, superior weapons, and incredible bluster for being so totally outnumbered Pizarro and 168 soldiers defeated over 30,000 Incan warriors in one day. On that day of battle they managed to capture the Incan king and kill thousands of his soldiers without sustaining a single fatality of their own.

Several of the first hand accounts of the events remain. In them we discover a spirit of gratitude, there is  thanks to God for his grace and mercy in allowing such a miraculous conquest. They sincerely believed a great victory for Jesus had been won that day. Why? Because now the infidel hordes would have a chance to learn about the love of Jesus. They would be prevented from carrying out their terrible human sacrifices, and they would learn their place, for no infidel should be in a position of authority over a Christian. What happened to Atahualpa the Incan King? After using him to extort vast amounts of gold from his people. They condemned him for conspiring against Spanish rule and sentenced him to death. However, if he converted, he would avoid being burned at the stake and receive the lesser sentence of strangulation. He converted, was baptized, and then sent to his reward in heaven. Somehow, there had to have been a better way to bring the “good news” of Jesus to South America 😦

The curse of unity — European city states, constantly fought each other, constantly competed. This forced them to innovate, to develop, to incorporate new ideas. China on the other hand was unified and authoritarian. The emperors word was law. One or two bad idea’s by a Chinese emperor could prove to have enormous negative consequences such was the case with shipbuilding and iron smelting, China was the world leader in these two areas long before the Europeans were. But the emperor decreed that nothing good could come from the outside, so he had all of China’s ocean going ships burned and all designs destroyed. As far as iron development was concerned, the emperor, didn’t like the burgeoning middle class that was resulting from iron innovation, so he decreed all iron developments to cease and so it was. In Japan a similar situation happened. Thanks to early Portuguese exploration, Japan acquired guns. Immediately Japan saw the potential, and quickly developed advanced weapon technology, that is until the ruling class Samurai, offended that commoners could wield such deadly power, outlawed guns. An so it was.

Of course we eat humans — Diamond is so matter of fact in his writing style. In Papua New Guinea we discover cannibalism. This is easily explained. There is a lack of protein because there are no large mammals so naturally humans would eat each other. So there you have it. And so it is, with the natural world. We do what we must to survive, some people win and some people lose. Gun’s germs and steel came to Europeans and Asians because they were able to domesticate seeds and animals quicker. Asians & Middle Easterners fell behind for secondary reasons, so Europeans took over the world.

In my heart I long for more than just naturalistic explanations for what is and I find myself wanting to believe in something that transcends the natural world and gives ultimate hope. Why do I feel that way? I won’t find that answer from Diamond, but even still his explanation for why New Guineans didn’t colonize Europe, is very convincing.

Out of a Far Country

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This book combines two stories into one.

Chris (the son) — He is gay, that’s not cool by his Asian American parents. There is a nasty blow up. He moves out, gets into the gay club party scene, discovers drugs, excels at selling them. Life is perfect for him, money, power, drugs, gay sex and complete acceptance. All of that ends, with an arrest, incarceration and an HIV diagnosis. In prison he finds a Bible in a trash can, reads it, and accepts Jesus as his saviour.  He also finds a man to help him grow in his new found faith. The man tells Chris to become a minister when he gets out of prison. At first this idea sounds preposterous, but Chris’ prison ministry grows and he wonders if maybe…but what about the whole gay thing? The chaplain at the prison says “not a problem” and gives Chris a book teaching that Christianity was for gay love and not against it. However, the more Chris studied his Bible the more he discovered the opposite to be true. The chaplains book ended up in the trash can.

Chris did get out of prison and he did become an internationally respected conference speaker, and theology professor at a Christian university. In fact, I purchased his book at a conference he recently spoke at. From all points he seems to be doing well. He is reconciled to his family, he has joy and a transcendent purpose now. But what about his same sex attraction? Christopher will tell you that he remains gay, however, he has become content to resist those attractions and remain celibate. He believes that celibacy is a legitimate option for human beings and that he as a person is in no way incomplete, unfulfilled or somehow deficient just because he is not sexually active. His allegiance to Jesus and God’s Word have led him to deny himself in this area. Self denial, of course, is a major tenet of Christianity so he doesn’t feel as though he is different than any other Christian.  Chris thinks it’s unhelpful and unhealthy for humans to be identified primarily by their sexual orientation. Chris does not want his identity to be “homosexual” or “heterosexual” His identity is that he is a child of God. He is also emphatic that singleness is not a curse or a burden. There is only one thing Chris can’t live without, that is God. Everything else can go. For so many years, Chris was a prisoner to his need for popularity, dance music, sex and drugs. Liberation came when he tore those idols down and began to follow the God who is love. Ironically, true freedom came for Chris while he was in prison.

Angela (the mom) — She is Chinese, locked into an honour/shame culture. The ultimate shame was Chris’ coming out. That despair combined with a lifeless marriage brought Angela to the brink of suicide, but she did not go through with it. Instead, by means of a series of incredible providences she discovered Jesus. Her life changed. Now, because of Jesus she could forgive her husband, because of Jesus she could love her son regardless of his attractions or his actions. Before Jesus, Angela manipulated her husband and children through guilt, shame and “drama” now as she oriented her life around Jesus, she began to practice sacrificial love instead. Her husband was compelled by the change and became a Christian as well. With healing on the home front, Angela set to work in prayer and love for her son whose life was clearly spiralling out of control. Chris was very hard on his parents when he was doing and dealing drugs, but Angela relentlessly stuck to her plan of love and prayer. Eventually Chris came to the same faith that had changed her life so much. Now she serves as his travel and ministry partner.

What did I learn? 

  1. I think Chris is right on when he questions our cultures assumption that a healthy and fulfilled life must have sex in it.
  2. A lot about the gay clubbing/party lifestyle, drugs, and prison life. Probably more than I wanted to know.
  3. The power of a faithful passionate prayer life. Angela’s story helps us see that prayer is not a pointless exercise rather it’s a vital means through which God draws people to himself.
  4. Singleness is not a curse, it’s a gift.
  5. Even though, Chris enjoyed the power, popularity, and exhilaration of his pre-Christian lifestyle, it all came at an increasingly terrible cost. Life was solely focused on himself, his needs, his wants, his attractions. This self focus made it impossible for any real relationships to last. This natural turn inward that we all have actually shrivels up our lives. In the end Chris turned his allegiance from himself to Jesus. This shift in devotion liberated Chris to serve Jesus by loving and serving others above himself. The result for Chris has been the exponential growth of joy, peace, and purpose in his life, the abundance of which far exceeds any benefits his previous life afforded him.

The Subtle Sin of Selfish Ambition

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If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. (James 3:14-17)

It sneaks in quietly through an unlocked back door. A tiny little thought, a tinge of resentment and a pinch of disgust.

He seems to be more successful than I. He is better than me at something, people are noticing him and not me.  I don’t like him for this fact.

I need to be number one. I need to be the one that people talk about. I need to be the one that people are the most impressed with. I need to restore my preeminence, but I need to do it in subtle ways or I might be unmasked and shamed.

What’s my plan? At first nearly imperceptible boasts about myself followed by subtle, soft & gentle lies about my competitor. I mask my demonic plans with humour and sarcasm. “Just kidding” is a favourite camouflage of mine.  Slowly I build myself up and tear him down. I am the champion again.

This is the devil’s wisdom that destroys our world. God’s wisdom pursues peace and rejoices in the successes of others with a pure heart.

God give me that pure heart.

 Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering

A workaholic, and sub par husband and father get’s an invitation to dinner.  The invitation is signed by Jesus. It must be some kind of a joke, but it intrigues Nick enough to go to the high end restaurant in search of dinner with Jesus. Sure enough Jesus is there.

I settled in for what I thought would be a humorous, intriguing and provocitive conversation. The whole idea seemed so creative to me. However, by the end of the book I was not sure if Nick had sat down with Jesus or Josh McDowell. Essentially, after that first chapter had set everything up so nicely, the booked devolved into an overly simple and straightforward apologetics textbook. Nothing wrong with that of course, I have loads of those kinds of books on my shelf, but I was hoping for something more, like a real story where I could be drawn into the characters lives, where genuine wrestling for faith could happen through a compelling story line.

Instead Jesus effortlessly slices and dices through all of Nicks objections to God and Christianity. In almost bullet point form Jesus solves all of Nicks struggles with faith. By the end of the night Nick has learned from Jesus that universalism is a bad idea, Buddhism and Islam are bogus, Christianity is not about keeping the rules, hell is a good idea, suffering has a purpose, and that Scripture is reliable.  The bullet point argumentation is only broken up by brief descriptions of the food and drink they are consuming as they chat.

It’s an ok book, if you want to learn basic ways of arguing apologetics with someone who might be easily convinced. Since that’s not what I was looking for, the book was more a disappointment than anything.

Laziness is not an insignificant flaw

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He hasn’t disciplined them I Samuel 3:13
I suspect that Eli’s problem was laziness. All through this narrative we are told of his problem with obesity. In this spot in the story it says that he failed to discipline his children. He couldn’t be bothered to shape their character, that would require too much effort, anyway “boys will be boys” right? Eli’s bulk made him a slow moving vehicle, unable and perhaps unwilling to lead his children. He let them go their own way. “They will figure it out” he thought to himself, as he remained seated, stuck to his chair, munching on yet another lamb chop.
Laziness is the passive form of selfishness. Those who possess it in large quantities will not be a part of God’s kingdom no matter how religious they are, or how nice they are. To be a dad and to be lazy or disinterested about that responsibility is truly one of the great tragedies of humanity.
In 20 years of pastoral work, I see this problem to be among the most damaging for human flourishing. God help me to not shirk my responsibility to be a loving, involved dad, who is absolutely committed to the hard but wonderful work of shaping my children’s character.
Amen.

Life is hard. Is trusting yourself really the best option?

The Lord gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up. The Lord makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up. (I Samuel 2:6-7)

This is life. Complete with success and failure, triumph and defeat, good and bad, struggle and ease, life and death. For the Christian the overriding thought is that God is behind it all. God is to be praised when we succeed and God is to be trusted when we fail.

Dispense with the idea of God and what do you have? The very same problems and struggles only now you have no one to praise but yourself (and perhaps others who helped make you into what you are, if you are inclined to share credit). And you have no one to trust but yourself.

Which is the better plan? Neither eliminates suffering. However the benefit of the first plan over the second to me is obvious. The second has a greater likelihood of leading people down a path of pride, arrogance & self-righteousness. If my success is solely because of me and your failure is solely because of you. What’s to stop me from thinking I’m better than you? Nothing! So goes the world without God. We need God to help us deflect glory so we don’t swell. We need God to help us rise above absolute despair when the bottom falls out of our lives.

“Lord I need you, how I need you, every hour I need you,  you’re my one defence my righteousness, oh God how I need you”

A World Undone

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My first foray into World War 1 history. All through the book I was blown away by the scope, ferocity, and foolishness of the conflict. Below are a few of the highlight’s that stood out to me.

With Generals Like These Words like “insane” came to mind as I learned about many of these generals. My thought is that some of them should have been brought up for war crimes. I get it, it was a different era, and it’s easier to judge from a distance, but still…

  1. General Haige insisted that the solution against machine gun fire was cavalry, because we all know a horse can outrun a bullet. Ummm?
  2. The Germans were so successful with their first uses of gas that they punched a huge hole in the the French line. The only problem is they couldn’t exploit it because their own soldiers were not fitted with gas masks. oops.
  3. British Generals insisted at the onset of the war that airplane technology was an “Expensive and useless fad.” Brilliant.
  4. One of the biggest problems was pride. These generals jockeyed for power, influence, and glory at the expense of literally millions of soldiers. Pride also made it impossible to work together German General Ludendorff said of fellow general Falkenhayn “I can only love and hate and I hate Falkenhayn” The French and British infighting was even worse.
  5. General Haige, agreed to listen to French General Nevils military plans which were terrible, and proved to be insanely costly for both the French and the English, based on the shape of Nevils head! Haige was convinced that the French General’s head shape guaranteed wisdom and success. What the…??? Turns out head shape was a thing in those days.

The horror of it all. At the beginning of the war, the poetry was brave and patriotic. There was glory in war, but things changed midway through. Turns out there was no glory in trench warfare, only gore, blood, mud and suffering. Wilfred Owen wrote the following poem just a few months before he was cut down by the bullets of a German machine gun.

The title of the poem is “Dulce et Decorum” meaning “It is right/sweet” The title mocks the idea that it is good to die for ones country. Calling the notion an out right lie by poems end. Certainly treasonous talk especially in that era. But the war was so costly, so vicious, and so senseless that soldiers could no longer “put a good face on it.”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est  Pro patria mori.

The French losses were particularly devastating, (See why under Idea’s have consequences) To  a point that the French army almost deserted. French soldiers headed to the front could be heard on masse, bleating like sheep. To desert was to be shot, to go to the front was to die. So they protested in this way bleating as they marched forward “as lambs to the slaughter.”

A bullet for cowards. Never in the history of warfare was there so much artillery. Far and away this medium of destruction killed the most people. Sustained bombardments would go on for days even weeks. It became too much for many men. They couldn’t function, they shut down, couldn’t follow orders. At first these suffering soldiers were labeled cowards and many were shot, or harshly disciplined. As the war dragged on so many soldiers were shutting down that they realized it must be more than cowardice. They labeled it “Shell Shock”. Unfortunately many of the treatments to get the soldiers back into battle shape were little better than a firing squad.

Idea’s have consequences In France there came into focus at the turn of the century a philosophy of warfare that was held so tightly by the military establishment, that to even suggest other strategies was to end ones military career. In English the strategy was described with one word. “Attack”. It was believed with such fanatical zeal, that defensive maneuvers, strategic retreats or even leave for soldiers on the front lines were not real options. One general was demoted for his observation: “Attacking straight on with flesh and bone will have no success against the gunfire of the 20th century” This philosophy was pitted against, a German killing machine unlike the world had ever seen. The loss of life on the French side as a result is staggeringly difficult to comprehend. Charles De Gaulle would later say that “No amount of courage will be successful against machine gun fire.” He was right, unfortunately the French didn’t accept this fact until the war was mostly over!

You take the Romanians, No! you take the Romanians One would think, that having an entire country join your side of the war effort would be a huge boon. As countries watched the big powers slug it out they gradually joined sides, hoping to pick the winner and enjoy the spoils of victory. Romania decided to throw in with the Allies. Russia was completely against the idea. Of the Romanians they said “getting them to fight was like trying to get a donkey to do a minaret” The Russians preferred the Romanians to remain neutral. They did not. Sure enough, the Germans crushed the Romanians. Forcing the Russians to stop their advance on Germany and spread out their front line out an extra 250 miles. The whole of Romania was easily conquered and the spoils of that conquest helped to fuel Germany’s war effort for a couple more years.

Overcoming the odds to become a hero. He was from a colony, (Australia). (one strike against) He was Jewish (two strikes) He was of Prussian origin (three strikes) and his interest in military strategy was just a hobby (Four strikes) But John Monash rose up through the ranks to become the one of the few good General’s of the war. In addition to being very likeable he was also a master strategist, gifted organizer and creative innovator. His use of co-ordinated attacks using mortars, machine guns, tanks, airplanes and artillery, along with a philosophy that saw no use in wasting infantry needlessly made him not only successful but immensely  popular.

Propaganda and poor communication — the reason why millions more had to die. In Gallipoli, several Allied landings were successful. But the communications were poor, so instead of pushing in land and possibly securing the Dardanelles which would have ended the war a lot sooner the Allies waited on the beaches for orders. Giving time for Turkish reinforcements to arrive.  An opportunity lost. This is just one illustration of a hundred or more where if the communication was a little bit better the war would have certainly ended sooner.

Truth was never really a concern with the media (has anything changed?) All media outlets were controlled by the various war ministries. The job of reporting was simply to make the opposition look absolutely terrible and to make the home team look triumphant. After years of propaganda it was impossible for the belligerent nations to come to terms since they had such incredibly skewed views of each other.

Germany almost pulled it off. I was amazed at how close they seemed to come to victory. If  Ludendorff had gone all in on the attack at 2nd Verdun. If he the German generals would have shelled the supply line going in and out of that one city whose name I’ve forgotten in one of their massive attacks. If they could have kept the USA on the sidelines for one more year. If the Zimmerman telegraph hadn’t been discovered. If the generals from the West and Eastern fronts could have just got along. If General Conrad of the Austrian/Hungarian army had been sacked from his post in 1914. If they had implemented the creeping barrage & storm troop tactic’s on the Western front a year sooner. If they hadn’t been quite so cautious with Schlieffen plan. If 186,000 of their soldiers hadn’t died from influenza.

They were the better army, inflicting 2 million more casualties on the French and English then they themselves received, but it was not meant to be.

A not so great finish Ultimately it was the naval blockade that broke the back of Germany, they were starving to death, and running low on everything needed to carry on a war. Sadly, when the war ended, the Allies did not lift the navel blockade for another 6 months. Costing the lives of some 250,000 German civilians. The plan was not to rebuild Europe after the war, as much as it was to debilitate Germany to such a degree that she would remain feeble forever. This strategy set the stage for the Second World War.

Japan played a minor role in the war, but were at the bargaining table when the world was carved up. They did pretty well, gaining several territories. However, the main thing they were after was respect. They made a specific request that the Americans, Europeans and Australians recognize the Japanese people as an equal race not be discriminated against, fair enough right? Shockingly, or maybe not so shockingly, the great powers denied that request. White man was not yet willing to acknowledge that Asian people were equal to them. It was then that Japan washed their hands of Western influence.

The Shack

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I already know that the theology police are not super happy, their citation pads are out and they are furiously scribbling down infractions. What has them so upset? The Shack is now a movie. It’s not just the theology police either, I imagine the theatrical police have their issues as well. It’s always difficult for actors to depict convincingly for the screen spiritual struggle. I will leave the varying theological and theatrical policing blogs to do their necessary work. As for me, I only want to comment on how I believe the movie managed to capture powerfully the big ideas of what it means to be a Christian person connected to God in the midst of grief.

A Christian person — To be a Christian, is to get to a point where you agree with God that he is good and to be trusted. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the vital link in getting us to that place. We are told, that when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen God. You must walk with Jesus to avoid sinking into the black abyss of guilt, shame and bitterness. In this movie Christianity is portrayed simply as being friends with Jesus, trusting him. It’s not about religion, or keeping a list of rules, or paying for past sins. Both Mack and his older daughter blamed themselves for the death of Missy. The older daughter was fooling around in the canoe. In her mind it was her irresponsibility cost Missy’s life. For Mack he was sure that this unspeakable tragedy was the result of his own past sins. Both their lives became stuck in the quicksand of guilt and shame. Because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice they both came to believe that the time for blame and guilt was over. Bad stuff happens, our hearts break, we suffer, great sadness occurs, but we don’t get stuck, we trust that through it all God will do what is good and right and true. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Connected to God — God is depicted as a trinity so that we can see that the Christian God is fundamentally relational. Love is possible only in relationship and the Father, Son and Spirit have that in bucket loads. God’s invites us into this love. In the movie God reminds Mack regularly that he is especially fond of him and all humans. That was a tough one for Mack to accept, and it’s a tough one for all humans to accept. We all must suffer and we all must die. Reconciling human suffering with God’s goodness is not a new conundrum, and this movie offers nothing new in resolving that tension, except in this movie God gets to answer directly the charges levelled against him. I found God’s explanations in the context of this movie powerful and helpful.  All three persons of the trinity, are shown to feel our pain. That’s the reason all three have nail prints.  God changes his appearance in order to help us understand that he knows what we need when we need it. God is portrayed as all knowing, but yet keenly interested in our lives. And though God loves all his children, he is not disinterested in justice either. In the end we are told that God will make right judgements upon his wayward children, however, we are also told in compelling fashion, that this job of ultimate justice is better left with God. The perpetrator is never caught, justice never served in the movie. Even still Papa wants Mack to “remove his hand from the throat” of this terrible predator. Forgiveness is the only way forward, but by forgiving Mack is also entrusting himself to the judge of all the earth who will judge rightly.

In the midst of Grief — When we suffer, we have to realize that we don’t have the complete perspective. We can only see through the “knothole of our own grief.” The garden in the movie is an absolute mess from Mack’s perspective, but when the shot pans out and you see the garden from the air, mess turns into beauty. God is not the ultimate source of evil, human free will prevents that conclusion, however, God is actively working in and through evil to bring about a greater good, good that we can’t always see, but must learn to trust is there.

I think if every person walked away from this movie, having taken into their hearts the above conclusions about Christianity, God, and grief. The world would be an infinitely better place.

Challenges to Building a Missional Church — Three Observations. 

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Doing Just Fine Without You.

As people who are committed to living missonally a huge priority for us is the building up of loving inclusive community. We embed ourselves in a neighbourhood and practice hospitality and generosity for all. As people are drawn to these manifestations of love they begin to enquire and eventually they come to know the God of love who we serve. Sounds great right? Well, it is. To love people well, wherever they are at in life, to draw people in to this net of appreciation and mutual service is a beautiful thing, but what happens if the people you attempt to draw into community already have a community of their own?

After 5 years of tirelessly practicing generosity and hospitality we’ve come to see that people who have their own communities remain in many ways unreached. People collect naturally into small groups These groups of people form tight bonds, the result is that the vast majority of their socializing is done together, to the exclusion of others. They function as private groups once they achieve a size 4-8 people. The idea of intentionally welcoming others in, is a foreign and unwelcome concept to these friendship groups. They are not unfriendly to others, and they even participate in our larger community building events. But polite conversation and community parties is pretty much the extent of our influence. Understandably, we are not welcomed into the inner circle of their own communities, and they are not interested in merging into the community we’ve created because they have their own that works just fine.

In addition to this, we tend to collect up the broken, the wounded and the lonely because our community building ventures are truly inclusive. When people look for a community of friends they naturally want an environment that is safe and full of people who they are like. Our environment is anything but that. In fact the opposite is true, we pull together people with such profound dissimilarities it’s absolutely remarkable. There is no question that this fact is very distasteful for many of those in our neighbourhood who already belong in their own safe communities. There is no doubt Christians and non-Christians alike have scattered away from us, because we are a bit too inclusive for their taste!

So what do we do? Keep practicing generosity and hospitality, keep welcoming in the broken and lonely, keep extending the hand of friendship into these other existing groups,  grateful for any influence however small it might be.

Community Building is a nice idea but…

Community building is all the rage these days. The Missional church movement is not even leading the charge on this, the broader public is fully engaged as well. The Vancouver Foundation will actually pay anyone real money to build community! Thousands upon thousands of dollars have been given away so that we as a city can build community. The report’s are in, we all know that people are isolated, alone, and disconnected, we all know that welcoming people into community is hugely beneficial to all. “Better Together” is the oft used phrase that flutters around our city like the seagulls. But, when it comes right down to it, building community requires effort and sacrifice, time and energy. We are all down for an occasional picnic, or block party. Being responsible for polite conversation, a casserole and some wine are totally  doable for most, but if community building requires more that that, well, lets not get carried away! Truthfully in the minds of most the cost of community building still out ways the benefit.

We are a self absorbed culture, we do what we want to do when we want to do it. Christians are no different. We are all still consumers at heart,  which means we shop around and spend our time and money accruing pleasurable things and experiences for ourselves. Christian people want something that benefits them, the unasked question of most who look at our little church is “How does this church benefit me?” Non-Christian people appreciate our efforts as well as any Christian, maybe even more so, but at the end of the day they appreciate us based on how we perform. The actuality of being part of a community of people who genuinely function together as a “sent, family of servants” remains largely unrealized. Don’t get me wrong, we have our moments, and there are a lot of good things to be said for our efforts, But ultimately it’s still “What time does church start?” What do you offer?” or “When’s the next party?”

So what do we do? I guess, tell them that we meet at 10:00 on Sunday’s, tell them that we offer them a chance to be part of a community on mission in the everyday, and tell them to show up next Sunday night for our next big community building event. Celebrate the small victories as well, someone might not be totally intentional yet with their life but if they come to a block party and stay an extra hour to talk to someone they wouldn’t normally talk to, that’s a major step in the right direction! Over time, I believe that people will see that the church is more than an event, more than a religious good received. There will be those who cast off their consumeristic glasses and busy themselves with the work of living together in such a way that the love of Jesus shines brightly into every facet of the neighbourhood we inhabit.

No more room at the table 

We have room at our dinning room table for 8, 10 at the most then we are full. I feel like this is a true picture of community life. One family cannot experience true community with 50 people, not even 25 really. What that means is, the Wilkinson family is full. We have no more room at our relational table. So how do we continue to “build community?” I think, what that amounts to is networking. We bring people into Meta’s net, and then we connect them to other people in the net. Hopefully friendships will be built and the relentless scourge of loneliness will be pushed back a bit. Our work of community building means we bring people together and connect them with each other. What it cannot mean is that the Wilkinson’s become best friends with everybody. It’s just not physically possible.

The problem is we don’t have a way to connect people together in any sort of strategic way. We don’t have loads of Christian people waiting in the wings hoping for a chance at friendship with someone who has a different point of view, we don’t have multiple missional communities scattered around the city just waiting for people to welcome in. We don’t have a weekly Sunday gathering that draws people together, plus the people we connect with would not come to that anyway. There is just us, and we are full.

So what do we do? We continue to connect people with people regardless. We hope that the friendships that emerge will benefit the neighbourhood and that somehow through all of these seemingly random connections people will find their connection to God.

Lamb — The Gospel according to Biff Christ’s childhood Pal

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Christopher Moore in his afterword reminds his readers  “The book you’ve just read is a story. I made it up…I am not trying to present history as it might really have been, I’m simply telling stories…This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone’s faith; however, if one’s faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.”

The book is definitely irreverent, which is why Moore feels compelled to make the above statements. I wonder if Moore will ever decide to write a book about “Hank the childhood pal of Mohammed” — not likely, the life insurance policy would be to expensive. The religion of grace is always easier to pick on.

What is the book actually about? Biff takes Jesus on an epic trip of self discovery for about 20 years through Afghanistan, China, and India. On this trip there are Yeti’s, Monks, lots of wisdom learned, evil spirits vanquished, daring escapes, people rescued, discipline learned, miracles practiced with varying degrees of success, and lots and lots of sex, not for Jesus though, his father in heaven had told him “no sex” and he was going to obey. Biff had no such prohibitions coming down from heaven however and so was free to indulge. The benefit to Jesus with having such a promiscuous friend is that he was able to learn all about sex through Biffs detailed recounting’s but yet still remain blissfully pure as the son of God. — Lovely.  I’m not sure if there was a single chapter that was free from this tireless crusade to educate the son of God on all things sexual. Eventually Biff and Jesus make their way back to Judah just in time for Jesus to gather up a bunch of misfit disciples, bring in the kingdom of God, rekindle old romances with Mary Magdalene and die on the cross. Biff is not at all for Jesus’ death, and tries to prevent it, with all manner of cunning and deception. He fails, Jesus dies. In a fit of sorrow and rage, Biff tracks down Judas, kills him, then commits suicide. This inglorious end is the reason why the disciples of Jesus wrote Biff out of the official story recounted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Is sin real? Moore never excuses or justifies the actions of Biff. Biff is impulsive, careless, foolish, proud, and selfish but Jesus loves him anyway, but not with an “It’s all good” kind of false love. Jesus, with masterful patience genuinely speaks into Biff’s life with authority. There is a right and a wrong, and Biff finds himself regularly on the side of wrong, but Jesus’ ever faithful arm is always there gently pulling him back, but yet giving Biff the freedom to make his own choices.

Who is Jesus? Jesus’ humanity comes out strongly in this book, Jesus is confused at times, unsure of himself, unsuccessful, and wanting to hear from God more than he actually does, however the author without hesitation communicates Jesus to the reader as God in the flesh. This was one point that I was surprised at, through all of the twist’s and turns of this story there is never a doubt, Jesus is God enrobed in flesh here on earth to save the world through his own death and resurrection. This beautiful high ground that has actually changed the world is present in this book! One just has to wade through a lot of swamp land to get there.

Who is man? Biff loves Jesus with all his heart, his fierce loyalty is commendable but his constant use of unwholesome traits to protect and shield Jesus from the dangers of this world, not so much.  Biff is decidedly human, all of us can relate to him, but we are not left feeling comfortable with that. Sure, Biff’s escapades create lots of laughs, and at times leaves the reader shaking his head saying “really?” But in the end, It’s obvious that Jesus’ life not Biffs is the life we should long for.

Do all paths lead to God? Not hardly. Moore does not present a universalist understanding of the worlds religions. I thought for sure as Jesus traveled into the Buddhist and Hindu worlds I would be told that the Jesus way that was being developed would essentially be a repackaged version of what already existed. The tired old mantra that “all religions are the same” would inevitably come forth. It didn’t. Instead Moore has Jesus carving a new way forward in contrast to the eastern religions. Moore’s Jesus is radically anti caste. He is at his most aggressive in resisting the scourge upon humanity that has Brahmans on one side and untouchable’s on the other.  He is very critical of karma and the justification of doing nothing to help your fellow human as a result of it. Jesus is gracious but firm, meditation is over rated, and the perceived wisdom of nebulous guru’s is fraught with hypocrisy and pretension.

The book is entertaining, and it contains some food for thought. Moore is certainly a clever writer, but sadly he resorts to the familiar “must use sex and sensation to sell” motif. I wish Moore would use his talents to produce a substantive work of literature.