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Wednesday Miscellany

A few completely disconnected thoughts on an early summer Wednesday…

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I went to see the latest Transformers movie last night. I wish I was joking, but, alas, it’s true. My kids are at the age where they have evidently graduated from little kid Hollywood crap to big kid Hollywood crap, so off we went. I was expecting very little and my expectations were barely met. Lots of explosions and digitally generated creatures and explosions and lame dialogue and explosions and tired old Americana and explosions and—oh, look! The robot trucks have discovered some robot dinosaurs and they will together vanquish the other robot things!—and mass destruction and chaos and explosions and a lame teen love story and a lot of very bad acting.  And very loud impressive explosions.  Did I mention those?

As I was walking out of the theatre last night, nursing my explosion headache, it occurred to me that perhaps Transformers movies and their ilk are to our expectations for entertainment what porn is and does to sexual expectation. In both cases everything is ridiculously artificial and sensational and wild and exciting and sense overloading and God knows what else. And in both cases, consumers are left with impossible expectations and an inability to be satisfied with normal, everyday, human fare. Our brains and our souls are simultaneously overwhelmed and stunted. Our demand for more—more exciting, more explosions, more monsters, more titillation, more noise, more fury, more everything—exposes us as the very small creatures that we really are and are becoming.

After the movie, we went to the local Canada Day fireworks by the lake.  The fireworks seemed very small and meagre in comparison with Michael Bay’s expensive pyrotechnics. But they made me smile. My kids even seemed to enjoy them. I felt that those twenty minutes by the lake were far better spent than the previous 2+ hours spent at the Hollywood trough…

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imagesEarly July is birthday time. First, our nation’s birthday on July 1, then my own birthday the day after, and then our noisy neighbours to the south a few days later :) . I’m discovering that my attitude toward birthdays—whether it is the birthday of nations or my own—are becoming largely the same. They are, shall we say, a bit muted?

I am a pretty lousy patriot, it must be said. I am very glad to live in Canada, very grateful for the opportunities and freedoms that I am afforded. But the rhetoric around these events so regularly outstrips reality. We’re the greatest nation on earth! Well, not really. Other nations seem to do things quite well too, it seems to me. Possibly even—gasp!—better than Canada!  But I suppose it doesn’t sound very good or inspirational to say, “we’re a thoroughly decent nation that is above average in many ways, below average in a handful of others.  Hooray for us!”  No, that probably won’t sell.  Far safer to settle into the warm, comfortable embrace of breathless superlatives…

Well anyway, happy belated birthday Canada. I’m glad to be a part of you. I think it is very good that you exist. But don’t expect me to paint my face red and white. And could you do something about all these mosquitoes?!

(And my own birthday? Well, I suppose I am not all that unique in failing to be terribly excited about the inexorable march of time.  As a friend grimly reminded me the other day, “you’re one step close to some unpleasant medical exams :) .”  I am glad to have been born, though. Yes, I’m glad there was a day for that…)

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2014AssemblyLogoSidebarEarly July also means Mennonite Church Assembly time. I’ll be flying out to Winnipeg tomorrow morning to attend the Mennonite Church Canada Biennial Assembly. The theme this year is “Wild Hope: Faith for an Unknown Season.” The summary/synopsis goes as follows:

The western world is rapidly moving beyond Christendom. The church must take Christian faith into a new cultural and civic landscape – one that is already well entrenched in Europe and Australia. There is disorientation for God’s church in this new wilderness, but also a strong sense of hope that this represents a tremendous opportunity to hear God’s call anew and shape a new kind of church for the future – a future that may be more like witness planting than church planting. The beliefs and convictions of individuals will be influenced in ways we have not yet imagined nor discovered.

… How we choose to face this new season, and how we experience Christ in this new season, will influence how it concludes.

On one level, I’m growing a bit weary of this whole way of framing things. Post-modern, post-Christian, post-everything…. And the church frantically tries to keep up, like the dog chasing the car. It feels a bit like we are always scrambling to keep up with/appease/negotiate a cultural reality that is leaving us behind. “Challenges and opportunities” language abounds—which often seems to be code for, “our churches are shrinking, the culture around us is changing, and we’re struggling to figure out how to cope! Help!” It all seems a little, I don’t know, reactive or desperate instead of… well, instead of what? I’m not really sure.

This is, after all, where we live, these are the waters we swim in. Skepticism, apathy, individualism, consumerism… name your “ism,” I’m sure they are all to be found in the mix somewhere. We don’t get to choose our context. So, in this context I’m looking forward to being invited into this “wild hope,” for I am convinced that there is hope to be found, even here in twenty-first century post-everything Canada (where things probably aren’t as different or unique as we often like to imagine that they are).

I’ll also be doing a short workshop in Winnipeg on religious pluralism, the (potentially) disorienting effect that it can have, and what exclusive allegiance to Jesus might look like in a cultural context that expects, even demands inclusivity. Among other things, I will be looking at whether/how our cultural context exiles all religious belief into the realm of the private and harmless, and how we as Christians ought to respond to this.

But most of all, I’m looking forward to connecting with some good people and having some good conversations over meals. In my experience, these are the things that stick with me long after the plenary sessions and workshops and “official stuff” has come and gone.

So, given the full week ahead.  I probably won’t be posting anything until next week some time, at the earliest.  Enjoy the first days of summer, wherever you are.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. You need to make sure you represent MennoNerds in Winnipeg… I want pictures of you and other MennoNerds of the Canadian variety that you encounter. :-)

    July 2, 2014
    • I’ll see what I can do, Robert :) .

      July 2, 2014
  2. mike #

    A book just recently found me, it’s title:” Why Christianity Must Change or Die” by John Shelby Spong. I’ll send it to you when I’m through. :)

    Happy belated CANADA DAY, Ryan ! ..and Happy Birthday to you.

    July 2, 2014
    • Thanks, Mike :) .

      I have read a bit of Spong… I wish I could say that it made want to read more, but the truth is that, at least to me, his approach seems like the dead end of modern liberal theology. The “Christianity” that he leaves us with is often virtually indistinguishable from a social club with a nice social ethic. But that’s based on a very narrow slice of reading. Perhaps he’s written other (better) stuff…

      July 2, 2014
    • mike #

      “The Spirit became a sign of the intrinsic unity of all human life, creating a community beyond every human difference. The defining marks of the past –tribe, language, race, gender, or even sexual orientation-faded. Inevitably, so will the most difficult and painful of all aspects of human behavior, namely, those barriers erected by the religious convictions of human beings. For a brief reading of human history will reveal that the religious systems of human beings, more often than not, have set the members of the human family against one another in a fratricidal, killing struggle.
      So it needs to be said clearly that the God presence of this Jesus will lead us ultimately beyond every religious definition. Indeed, it will lead beyond Jesus himself. That becomes essential to human development whenever our idolatrous convictions identify the messenger of God with God. So the Ground of Being will finally be worshiped apart from any system of religious thought. It is a startling but real insight into the future of worship.
      I believe in that gift of the Spirit who is called “the giver of life.” Once we located God only externally and called this God the Father Almighty. Next, we located this God in Jesus, and we called him the Son Incarnate. Now we locate God in every person , and we call this God the Holy Spirit. I believe that this Spirit inevitably creates a community of faith that will come, in time, to open this world to God as the very Ground of its Life and Being. We call that community “one” because the source of life is one. We call it “holy” because the holy God is seen through it. We call it “catholic” because it is universal and must embrace the whole creation and all the families of faith. We call it “apostolic” because it was recognized as present in Jesus, and it flowed to us through the witness of his apostles and disciples. That is our point of entry. It will not be our conclusion.”– “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”_ John Shelby Spong (pg 224)

      July 2, 2014
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Fast thoughts- hilarious entry Ryan. For a kid in a drab black suit too short at the ankles and a funny round hat, you are awesome on the rant! :)…still laughing over “little kid/big kid Hollywood crap”….too true. Unintentionally, thanks to this post, someone will now create a line of adult toys under the “transformer” banner and yes, there will be explosions. I find myself nodding in assent to your kind of patriotism, wish more people had it. And would describe the “Wild Hope” and Spong references as to why everybody needs to come home to the Catholic Church….yeah I know, I know but in my defense, it’s been a while. :)

    July 3, 2014
    • Thank you, Paul. It’s been a while since you’ve exhorted me to become a Catholic, so I suppose we were due :) .

      July 4, 2014
  4. Paul Johnston #

    On a more serious note, Mike what do you make of the lines…So it needs to be said clearly that the God presence of this Jesus will lead us ultimately beyond every religious definition. Indeed, it will lead beyond Jesus himself. That becomes essential to human development whenever our idolatrous convictions identify the messenger of God with God. So the Ground of Being will finally be worshiped apart from any system of religious thought. It is a startling but real insight into the future of worship…Is he advocating abandoning Christ for Buddhism?…Ok, I get that he thinks he isn’t, but it sounds that way to me.

    July 4, 2014
  5. mike #

    He is simply stating that eventually we must come to realize the error of Christianity in misplacing the over-emphasis of worship on Jesus the Messiah (whom God sent) and not giving Preeminence of our worship and attention to YHWH/The Father himself.
    Christ worshipped God The Father and he directed us to do the same.

    When we finally get this , then we no longer require the sign post’s(“religious systems”) that are established to point us to God, …we’ve found HIM.

    July 4, 2014
    • mike #

      Let me add that it is at this stage in our development that a Divergence should be taking place between our growing Intellect that is being nudged and quickened/enlightened by the Holy Spirit and the initial Christian indoctrination that we wholeheartedly accepted (in the beginnings of our spiritual life) without any question whatsoever. We are NOT abandoning our theology, we are merely giving it a space to expand and evolve…As It Should.

      July 4, 2014
    • I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize Jesus, nor do I think that we ought to give preeminence to the Father/YHWH. Jesus is described in the NT as the in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell… the exact representation of God’s being. Jesus is what God looks like. When we find Jesus—when we follow him on the way—we’ve found God.

      July 4, 2014
      • mike #

        .”when we follow him on the way—we’ve found God” Follow Jesus where? where to? ..we follow him to The Father. IMO :)

        “And this is eternal life, to know thee the One true God and Jesus the Christ whom thou hast sent”

        July 6, 2014
      • Follow Jesus as in follow his teachings, follow the pattern of his own cruciform life, seek to become conformed to his image.

        As Jesus reminded Philip in John 14:

        Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

        July 6, 2014

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