God is a Mystery

While talking with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu commented on the greatness of God, saying, “The glory of God is a mystery.” In a world where lives, families, communities and nations have been built upon our knowledge of God, where this information determines our politics, our ethics, our beliefs, and how we treat our sisters and brothers of humanity, Tutu reminds us that God is a mystery.

It is his following reflections that really begin to make us think: “God is actually quite incredible in many ways. But God allows us to misunderstand her…but also to understand her.”

“He can watch us speak, spread hatred, in his name. Apartheid was for a long time justified by the church. We do the same when we say all those awful things we say about gays and lesbians. We speak on behalf of a God of love.”

It is the Christian that can do (and has done) the most damage to the faith of another, or the faith of multitudes. We have watched Westboro Baptist Church drag Christ’s name through the mud, and we’ve watched Christians committing hate crimes, burning down mosques and treating the LGBT community with the kind of hatred only found in the self-righteous Christian.

As Tutu reminds us that part of God’s glory is in God’s “incredible reverence for [our] autonomy,” we are reminded that we can use this freedom and our knowledge of God to oppress God’s people, or we can use this freedom to liberate God’s people.

In these instances and thousands of others, Christianity is used and abused for the sake of power, to control, to maintain the status quo, to promote and sustain the elite. Isn’t it ironic—a little too ironic (sorry)—that God has created a world in which we are given autonomy of thought, belief and speech even at the hindrance of God’s work, yet we use this precise freedom to control and create power structures over others, stifling this God-granted autonomy.

Our God is omnipotent and chooses to love us in a way of pure sacrifice. We, in turn, choose to run with this love and freedom to create and gain power, which our loving God is relinquishing. Ironically, these are our feeble efforts to imitate our loving God…to hate, to oppress, to attack. These are our efforts? This is our legacy? This is our impact on our communities?

In following his thoughts through, Tutu sheds light on religion, “And you have to remember that religion is of itself neither good nor badReligion is a morally neutral thing. It is what you do with it…Religion is good when it produces a Dalai Lama, a Mother Teresa, a Martin Luther King.

He asks, “What does your faith make you do? Make you become?

This is the question to ask of our faith. The fruit of your vine is your witness and the glory of God.

 

Find the full story of Tutu’s interaction with the Dalai Lama in THE WISDOM OF COMPASSION: Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan.

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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.

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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 Home.org.
We are Catholic, welcome home.

 

Is the Church Radical? Jesus Was

Reposted from my Maple Ridge News article July 27, 2012.

Jesus was radical, but you wouldn’t always know that by looking at his followers. I am consistently amazed at how Jesus re-envisioned the heart of the scriptures.

Radicals are scorned, hated, attacked and persecuted. Jesus was, as were the early Christians, but most of us today (save those facing intense persecution in places like China) are generally unaware of persecution due to our radical Christianity.

If these are true statements, we need to ask two questions: what was radical about Jesus? and, what isn’t radical about our Christianity?

When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he replied with two. Both of them came direct from the legalistic laws of his misguided adversaries. “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbour as yourself.”

This is not new information to his audience. They know these laws forwards and backwards. The message, however, has been re-envisioned and radicalized. Jesus expands neighbour to include the broken, the impoverished, the outcast foreigner, and even your enemy.

Jesus consistently asked his audience to pause and rethink the religious order, not to refute the law, but to challenge his listener to a higher authority found in the author and the intent.

He was scorned and hated, because his message challenged the status quo and threatened authorities. Jewish leaders feared the passion and challenge, and Roman authorities feared the threat of disruption to societal order.

Christians do have a growing sense of persecution in North America, but I’m pretty sure it’s not because we love our neighbour in a way that threatens the fabric of society.

What if it was?

A recent Nat Geo documentary (When Rome Ruled: The Rise of Christianity) had an interesting story to tell of the early Christians. The radical Christianity, inherited from Christ, which led to their persecution and scorn, may also have had an impact on the growth of the church.

They even suggested that Christians lived longer, fought off diseases more frequently and survived better in harsh times. This documentary attributed much of Christianity’s growth to how they cared for their community, the poor and the outcast.

That is to say that, “love your neighbour as yourself” was a radical message that caused both growth and scorn, liberation and hatred.

What if we did love our neighbour in a way that threatened the fabric of our society? What if the scorn Christian’s faced today was not because of our piety and condemnation but because of our radical love, passion and care for people?

Is there a problem with that? Sure, in the process we will also disrupt the religious order, the status quo of our churches. In the process of living our faith, we’ll probably give in to all of society’s pressures and fall victim to secular culture. Well, that’s what I’m told.

Radical faith has to constantly fight against the human desire to create a new law that makes obsolete the radical message and love of Christ.

Pastors Are Searching for the Same Thing You Are

My article from the local paper, Maple Ridge News, reposted here:

The church is in crisis mode, as the number of people leaving church each Sunday continues to outnumber the number that return. The crisis, however, isn’t about the numbers, an increasingly ‘secular culture’ or some kind of societal pressures to dismiss God.

The crisis is internal. It is in the reality of our faith, and the numbers are simply a symptom. We have ended our genuine and persistent exploration of God’s love in lieu of doctrine, programs, services, and contentment.

Just this week I opened my email to read, “Bradley, you know I had trouble with church and ‘God’…” The trouble with ‘God’ is an expression of the trouble with church, it is the ‘god’ we’re representing, a ‘god’ that is not present, a ‘god’ that doesn’t transform our life or our community, a ‘god’ that doesn’t impassion us to live and breathe our faith, a ‘god’ that doesn’t reflect the most perfect expression in the life of Jesus.

Our faith isn’t touchable or real or visible. At least it doesn’t appear to be. Countless of my conversations begin just like that email, because the world cannot see what a Christian community is supposed to be in the midst of our crisis of faith.

Hugh Halter asks in The Tangible Kingdom, “If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested?”

Halter was met with an exuberant response, because, like the rest of us, the man was searching for tangible faith, a place where faith impacts life in our community, a place where Jesus’ words come to life.

I assure you that pastors are aware of the crisis (although sometimes misunderstood as a crisis of numbers), but we, just like you, are searching for this tangible faith. We sense too the inconsistencies between Jesus’ passionate message of love and our internal and un-impactful faith.

Seven words have become increasingly significant to my personal understanding of the Christian’s call. You’re probably familiar with them, “on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re not simply called to pray about it; we’re called to live out our faith in a way that God’s kingdom is present on earth.

Your pastor is searching for the same thing you are: a tangible faith that produces a “tangible kingdom.” Real, visible, touchable faith is hard. Our God has endless mystery and a love that should infiltrate our entire beings, our lives and our community. Exploring God’s love is an act of receiving and expressing that love in our community; it is an act that brings God’s kingdom to earth.