Catholics Come Home Campaign Off Target


Screenshot from Catholics Come Home ad campaign

Screenshot from Catholics Come Home ad campaign

The Catholic Church is running tv ads in the Vancouver area targeting former Catholics, asking them to return if they’ve been away. One included a testimony from a man talking about the feeling he gets when the priest forgives his sins. His story also implied that he left the church in the first place because he couldn’t live with a particular sin he had committed.

Another ad focusses on the identity and “accomplishments” of the church, and a third suggests that those living in sin may want to repent before it’s too late. Gary Mason at the Globe and Mail reports that the archdiocese is spending $500,000 on this ad campaign.

It’s not everyday that we get to see the outreach approach of a church put as succinctly as in a 30 second tv spot. The ads speak to a larger problem in the global church (well, maybe the Western church), as the vast majority of churches have failed to recognize the significance of cultural shifts in North America.

Instead of identifying problems and discontinuity within our churches and dealing with them, we place blame on someone’s life of sin and continue to operate business as usual. But business is not as usual. The world is changing (and not necessarily for bad), but it’s churches and Christians that are a primary reason for church decline.

If we fail to communicate or even understand the potential for God’s love to work in a changed world, the church will continue its downward spiral into utter irrelevancy. As I watched these commercials, I first laughed at the claims made by the church, given the harm  Christianity has done to all the same touted programs, and then I was discouraged to see the complete disconnect between their approach and the contemporary culture.

Our churches have turned from faith that is full of wonder and discovery to a belief system that answers to church decline with hatred and judgment for sinful outsiders.

In a recent conversation regarding people leaving the church and general disinterest, someone responded with a “biblical” statement about the gospel being offensive. As if to say, we don’t need to worry about what or how we express the gospel, because it is intended to be offensive. As if to say that we don’t need to question our traditions or our interpretations or our textual assumptions, because the gospel is supposed to be offensive.

The church will continue to fall, and Christianity with it, if we continue to preach this modern western religion instead of declaring the opportunity to share and explore the vibrant love and grace of God.

If we continue to turn our heads to the changing world, place blame on secularism and accept “offensive” as an escape route from the hard work of genuine faith, we will not be in a place to respond to those in need, spiritually or physically.

Here is the transcript of one of the Catholic Come Home ads:

Our family has spanned the centuries and the globe.
With God’s grace we started hospitals to care for the sick.
We established orphanages and helped the poor.
We are the largest charitable organization on the planet, bringing comfort to those in need.
We educate more children than any other institution.
We developed the scientific method and founded the university system.
We defend the dignity of human life and uphold marriage.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, we compiled the Bible.
We are transformed by sacred scripture and sacred tradition, which have guided us for 2000 years.
We are the Catholic Church,
With over 1 billion in our family, sharing in the sacraments and fulness of the christian faith.
Jesus started this church when he said to Peter, the first pope, “You are rock and upon this rock I will build my church.”
So if you’ve been away from the Catholic Church, we invite you to take another look.
Visit Catholics Come
We are Catholic, welcome home.


Pink Shirt Day: Lessons from our Youth


Source: pinkshirtday.caIn 2007, a 9th grader wore a pink polo shirt on the first day of school, and the bullying ensued. He was physically threatened and called a homosexual (probably not the bullies’ chosen verbiage) because he wore a pink shirt. Two older students had heard enough and decided to buy 50 pink shirts from a discount store for students to wear the next day. They contacted as many students as they could to provide a “sea of pink” the next day in an effort to stop bullying in its tracks. In addition to the 50 discounted shirts, literally hundreds of students showed up to provide a truly unique “sea of pink” to support victims and to stand up to bullies. There was never another comment about the pink polo.

This “sea of pink” envisioned by these two (17/18 yr. old) boys has sparked a movement, and yesterday was the 5th annual Pink Shirt Day, where more than 160,000 students and teachers across Canada will wear pink to demonstrate support and to shed light on the serious nature of bullying.

Fast forward to 2010, when another 18 yr old boy, Dharun Ravi, took a different road when he chose to use the webcam on his computer to view his gay roommate with another man, tweet about it, and invite others to view. As his trial gets underway, it is still unclear if there were any criminal actions involved; however, the intent to mock and bully (regardless of the reason) certainly appear to have been his motivation. Unlike the first story, nobody stood up to this bully. Instead of setting an example to follow, he followed the example that was set.

The truth is that bullying doesn’t stop when you turn 18 or 19. Some grow up and mature, but many more discover that institutions, politics or accepted beliefs can be used to mask their bullying as legitimate responses to minorities and outcast. Disparagingly, the church is often one of these institutions and Christian faith is often one of these belief systems manipulated to mask hate and bullying.

Ironically, it is the central figure of our Christian faith that is most notable for standing up against hate and discrimination. The shame of persecutors who marginalize and bully in the first century is consistently brought to light in our gospel accounts. Whether it be a Samaritan, a child, a sinner, a hated tax collector, a disabled beggar, an unclean disease ridden man or a woman, Jesus teaches through his actions of love that we are not to live with hate and superiority that has captivated the world. It is a constant in Jesus’ ministry.

This may be best exemplified by a woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11. As the story goes, the woman is brought before Jesus, having clearly sinned and broken a Jewish law that is punishable, according to the law, by death through stoning. Jesus calmly receives the crowd, asks “he who has not sinned” to throw the first stone, and tells her to be on her way and sin no more. She is at fault. The crowd has reason to hate. Punishment is written in the law books. Yet Jesus stands in opposition to hatred, even when it is masked by religious tradition.

I don’t know if the two boys with a vision for a “sea of pink” were Christian. I do know that they resemble Jesus better than many Christians. Our youth yesterday stood up against the oppressive powers and the passive bystander. Jesus taught us to learn from our children; however, we often fail to see their value in our society and expect little from them. In response they often live up to our expectations.

Religious-Political Rhetoric: Where’s the line?

The religious rhetoric seems to be at an all time high in the political campaigns of Republican presidential hopefuls, and interestingly, there is no evangelical to be found. Rick Santorum, however, is filling in quite well.

Last weekend Santorum made a media splash when he criticized Obama’s “phony theology.” The firestorm of responses from the media and the public required Santorum to “clarify” that he wasn’t attacking Obama’s faith, but only his worldview, which puts the value of the earth above the value of humanity. You can be sure that his highly charged language achieved their aims, and his conservative base heard the statements clearly, further engraining their skepticism of Obama’s faith. Similar to a lawyer leading a witness (and the jury), it can be stricken from the record, but the damage has already been done. Even if stricken from the record through clarification, the intention to cast doubt on Obama’s faith, or orthodoxy-ness, has already taken root (especially given Santorum’s history of similar comments regarding Obama.).

It may be one thing to talk openly about your faith informing your political decisions. Turning the political debate into a theological debate is quite different and is more appropriate in an elders’ meeting.

The Huffington Post Religion ran a great piece earlier this week that highlighted the first presidential candidate attacked for religious beliefs, Thomas Jefferson. What was Jefferson’s response to the accusations of being an atheist and a heretic? For the most part, he simply ignored the accusations, believing that his policies, actions and leadership would speak for themselves. He felt his personal life (and personal faith) should be of little concern to the American people.

Faith is certainly an indicator of decisions a candidate will make in the Oval Office, but Jefferson may have had the better campaign strategy here. If Santorum has crossed a line with his religious rhetoric, it will ultimately cost him a presidential election primed for the Republican Party.

Dirty political campaigns, especially when charged with theological and religious rhetoric, make great news and even better SNL skits, so I’ll watch with eager anticipation if Santorum gets the nomination.

Teen Suicide & Glee: What can Christianity Offer?


Source: I have to admit that I watch Glee to write this post? It’s not my fault, but I might as well get something out of it if I have to watch it.

Inevitably a show about a high school show choir, Glee, is forced to address major themes of hate, discrimination and societal pressures to conform. Glee has taken on a role of bringing to life the realities of bullying and hate that is pervasive in our schools and our society. Is it often done with over-dramatized storylines and unbelievable stereotyped characters? Yes, but due to a growing lack of responsible parenting, a disconnect from others in our community and celebrity (or reality) role models, our youth (and many adults) learn about human relationships, in a large part, from television and other media. With this in mind, one has to respect Glee’s work at better educating viewers in living with dignity and treating others with dignity.

This past Sunday I had to ask our congregation to pray for a 14 year old boy (a friend of one of our students) who attempted to commit suicide earlier in the week, the second announcement of the kind within a couple of months.

Last night, Glee’s storyline included an attempted suicide after, Dave Karofsky, a gay football player, was outed on Facebook and harassed.

With these two stories, albeit one fictional, I began thinking about a Christian response. What does Christianity have to offer?

As strange as it sounds, I believe you have to think outside the box to offer these kids anything of value in such a hypersensitive social awareness. Without wanting to be too simplistic, the world places so many expectations on us to conform to various standards, and these expectations play a large role in our identity, acceptable behavior, contentment and even our future hope. The result is imprisonment.

Glee writers did an excellent job of highlighting various pressures and influences leading up to Karofsky’s attempted suicide. It would be easy to pin this on society’s homophobia, as illustrated by his teammates and Facebook responses. Instead, the show rightly identified the counter pressures and failures from his peers, adult authorities, his mother, and a searing jar, from another gay teen, to “go back in the closet.”

The dialogue covered many of our common reactions to these events.
“I could never do that.”
“That’s so selfish. He not only wanted to hurt himself, but he wanted to hurt his family, his friends, and everyone else that knows him.”
“You just have to let it go.”

In this context of societal pressures and responses, traditional Christianity would simply serve as one more of these pressures. “Let go of your sin,” or, “God doesn’t approve, and we can fix you” is, without reservation, among the worst responses to address the real problems facing teens. I recently observed a woman evangelizing to teens in a mall food court. She had all the right religious jargon and theology, however shallow, to talk a young gentleman through being saved and accepting Jesus. I was shocked to see him actually listening, but he had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. It all made sense to me, a lifelong churchgoer, but neither the need for change, the theological jargon, nor the reward of life registered in this teen’s mind – at all. It’s just one more societal pressure expecting him to fit into a social standard.

If we’re going to offer our youth anything tangible in dealing with the pressures and imprisonment of the world, we have to see Jesus for who he really was and what he really did.

Jesus, reflecting God’s own heart, came to liberate people from oppression. Imagine here more the uprising in Egypt or Syria instead of some theoretical picture of a red-devilish figure torturing people with a trident. Imagine women standing up for the right to vote or Rosa Parks on the front of the bus or the Glee show choir defending Kurt from homophobic bullying. Jesus stood up and fought for these people in society…the oppressed…the least of these. We are great at oppressing others and ourselves through the constant imprisonment of desire to conform to others, whether it be peers, reality stars, pro athletes or what we’re told is good Christian behavior. Jesus offered something different.

I hope for a new life, a restored life when the time comes, but if that’s all I have to offer the teenager in the mall facing real-world imprisonment, I have nothing more than any other oppressive pressure she meets. I believe Christianity does have something to offer these teens. Jesus offered real-world liberation, human dignity, love, and gracious community. They have to belong before they believe. We can offer that too.

**There are many resources for teens and their families facing issues of homosexuality, discrimination, crisis and bullying. This USAToday article has some great links (and a healthy perspective on last night’s episode) to some of these resources for teens, parents and families, as well as some research on bullying and homosexuality in teens.

Baby Names: a Prophetic Act?

Giving meaning to baby names and the process of naming babies

Giving meaning to baby names and the process of naming babiesLast week, my second son was born (more on that in an upcoming post), and a long and arduous process came to a conclusion: naming our son. I’ve known parents who didn’t finalize a name until they were asked in the hospital to fill out the paperwork, and I know others who don’t have any kids but have three names chosen for each of their three forthcoming children. Jenna and I are not these parents, but we were both getting worried as we closed in on the “deadline.” Thankfully he wasn’t early, because he would have gone by the Real Canadian Superstore brand name “no name.”

The process of naming a child is difficult for most, and for the two of us, it was extremely difficult. Let me tell you why.

I have long found my favorite biblical characters to be the prophets (Jesus included) for their commitment to issues of social justice and the outcast. They speak out against the wealthy, the powerful, the sources of oppression, and they do so with passion and style. The eccentric and prophetic acts of these were probably what drew me in to begin with, as there is nothing more powerful than demonstrating God’s love and compassion for the oppressed. The old adage is true: actions speak louder than words.

In one of my favorite texts, Hosea is called to marry a prostitute, a woman who left him, as a prophetic act illustrating God’s love that searches incessantly and forgives immensely. She bears him three children, each of whom have their own role to play.

The naming of children is an oft-reported prophetic act in our text, and there is no better example than the harsh names given to Hosea’s children: Lo-ruhamah (not pittied) and Lo-ammi (not my people). In the prophetic tradition, however, pain, suffering, condemnation is never far from restoration and new life. And the names that follow in that community are Ruhamah (pittied) and Ammi (my people).

It was Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination that first led me to thinking about my own (and others’) actions and ministry in terms of the prophetic. Many are speaking out against the paradigm of privilege, but countless more are lulled into apathy by it. It is in this context and in this passion that we named our two sons, Khaim and Teaken.

Khaim is the Hebrew word life. In the context of scripture, it conjures up the breath of God being breathed into humanity. It lingers with the purpose and intent of God in every living and breathing creature. From the saving narrative, it evokes an understanding and hope for new life, renewed and restored in God’s creative process.

Teaken is taken from the Hebrew (Jewish) phrase tikkun olam, which means repairing (or restoring) the world. In the context of our faith, this is our call as followers of Christ, to restore dignity to the marginalized, liberation to the oppressed and hope to the hopeless. God’s power and graciousness is most visible in the restoration and renewal of a world undeserving.

My prayer for these two boys is first that they are able to answer the question, “What does your name mean?” and second, that they live in such a way that they do not have to.

Transcendance of Music

worship, praise, lift up to God
worship, praise, lift up to God

At Open Door, we're taking one Sunday a month to focus on lifting our voices and lives up to God

Sometimes I wonder about the manner in which the modern world has the ability to fill every moment of their lives with noise. It’s easy to do today, and most take the opportunity and run with it. The tv gets turned on in the morning, the radio on the way to work, texting on breaks, a phone call on the way home, the internet before dinner, texting during dinner and tv before bed. And with the rise of the Walkman, the portable disc player and now the iPod, it becomes even more accessible to fill every moment, but there’s something unique about the mp3 player that should be taken into account: the transcendence of music.

We haven’t had access to portable music devices for very long, but today it’s unavoidable. Everywhere you go, people have headphones on or ear buds in as they go about their business commuting, walking, working out, sitting, working or while doing other tasks. Music and singing takes us into a unique place, sometimes other-worldly even. What is it about music that allows us to transcend the moment?

Every night I sing “God Has Smiled on Me” to my son, Khaim before I lay him down in bed. Sometimes he tries to sing with me and sometimes he cries at first, but always he is calmed down and peacefully lays down and drifts off to sleep. Recently I’ve been singing some Jimmy Buffet after he gets out of the shower in the morning, and for maybe the only 3-4 minutes of his waking hours, he sits peacefully. We’ve noticed a stark difference in his behavior in the mornings if there is music playing in the background. Music and singing has a way of impacting our mood and experience in a somewhat unexplainable way.

It’s no wonder that praise and worship has been such a significant part of our religion for so long. Saul could only find peace from the evil spirit of the Lord from the tranquility of David’s music in his courts; this is a testament to the cross-cultural, cross-generational and cross-historical nature of music’s impact on our lives.

It’s the transcendence of music and song that brings me back again and again. It has a way of taking the mundane and interference out of life to provide clarity and focus. When we worship, the music and singing has an increased significance as that transcendence from the moment brings us to the realization that our God is beyond comprehension. In an even deeper moment of transcendence we are connected to God in a unique way that seems to be beyond explanation. It is not a coincidence that we often feel closest to God in moments of worship. It unites us with God in a way that we are able to understand God’s power and magnificence not with the words that are being sung, but greater comprehension comes with the fragility and openness of our worship itself.

Dirty Words

Evangelism is a dirty little word. To me it’s a dirty four-letter word that Christians before me have used to drag Christ’s name through the mud, ruining the reputation of my church, my sacred texts, my God and many opportunities to genuinely reach out into my community. Brian McLaren tells a story in which he was interrogated about his theology by an interviewer, who ultimately asked this question, “Tell me this. If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, will you or will you not tell him he is going to hell?” If this is the expectation, or goal, of evangelism, count me out. These and all the stories that follow suit are why evangelism is a dirty four-letter word to me. In the same sentiment, Jim Henderson writes A.K.A. Lost and asks the question: what then is evangelism?

I read a lot. I hate to be static, so I end up finding places around town to sit and read. One that has quickly become a regular is a nice comfy chair at a local slow-moving mall. Like a small living room, my chair sits in the middle of the large hallway with three other chairs. People come and go, taking a quick load off, waiting for a ride or their shopping spouse, etc. Last week I was reading when a girl in her early twenties sat down across from me. It’s rare for someone her age to not be on her phone. Several minutes go by, and she isn’t reading, texting, talking or fidgeting, just sitting. Just for kicks I like to offer people a book to read when they look bored. It’s funny to me, because I generally carry several books with me, and not a single one are of interest to most people. So I asked her, “Would you like a book to read?” as I pointed to my bag of options.

“What?” she asked, a bit perturbed.

“Would you like a book to read?”

“Oh, no thank you. What are you reading?” she asked. I was reading a book about church models and processes…fun right? She said, “Oh, I’ve been reading a book called Goodbye is Not Forever.” And she continued to talk about the pain and suffering people experience in the story. Then she continued to talk about pain and suffering she saw around the world, things that she could never even begin to bear or comprehend, things that didn’t add up with her own worldview. I didn’t prompt any of this; it was simply something that she was trying to wrap her brain around. Because we, in general, and she, in particular, had life so easy, pain and suffering didn’t fit.

Maybe she would have burst into this conversation with anyone. Maybe the Christian books gave her enough security in how I would respond that she felt comfortable delving into this serious topic. Maybe she doesn’t often get an audience willing to listen. Whatever the case, she needed someone to hear her voice, her struggle, her conflict. I’d be lying if I told you I intended to provide that opportunity. I only intended to offer her a book…in jest.

I ask you: is this evangelism? There was no sales pitch or an invitation to repent. She doesn’t know what I do or why. All she knows is that I’m a Christian, and I listened to her. She didn’t show up at my church the next Sunday, and she probably never will? How could she? She doesn’t know where it is.

Is this a story about evangelism?

You’re not a sales person. Like me, you may not even be outgoing. But can you listen? Can you be in your community?

conscientious objective

Regardless of your theological or political views, the conscientious objector offers an excellent example for all who wish to live a life that serves God and those around you. The decision to be a conscientious objector requires one to practice their theology in the real world. The theological legwork required is significant and complex. The objector, one prays, has taken the time to work through a theological stance of pacifism, and if they intend to follow through faithfully, the decision carries with it many implications, even consequences, that they have determined to be the practical application of their theology. One of my favorite theologians, John Howard Yoder, lays out his exceptional understanding of Jesus in the The Politics of Jesus. Understanding Yoder’s pacifism as both a political and theological conviction that follows in the footsteps of Jesus, calls us to better understand our own theology as it has significant practical applications that are relevant to the 21st century Christian. We cannot address the subject, even in brevity, without noting the momentous impact and sustained results of Martin Luther King Jr. As it cost Dr. King his life, the objector/pacifist recognizes that there may come a time when their theology applied faithfully carries the same consequences as Jesus’ own ministry.

While the objector is a very serious and significant example, many (if not most) of us fail to see how our theology should impact our daily lives or how our life experiences impact our theology. Maybe it’s because we are distracted by the many different aspects of life that demand our attention; maybe it’s because we are not given the theological tools to begin with, or it’s because we fail to comprehend the holistic nature of Jesus’ calling amidst our compartmentalized lives. Regardless, it is a discipline that is necessary and life-changing, a discipline that helps to better emulate the life of Christ. With this blog, I hope to better orient myself to the theological nuances around me everyday, and I hope that it will be revealing and encouraging so that you can see and faithfully act on your theology daily.

the conscientious objective, like the objector, attempts to focus on faithful and practical applications of Christian theology, recognition of challenges to theology in everyday life, and reflections on experiences with theological implications.