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Wednesday Miscellany

I’ve tried to sit down and write something substantive here a few times over the past week and a half or so, but for whatever reason(s), the words haven’t come. Maybe it’s just because the last few weeks have been unusually full. Maybe I’m out of words. Maybe my spirit (and the Internet) is in need of a prolonged period of digital silence. Maybe I just need a vacation.

At any rate, in place of a more substantive piece, here are a few unfinished thoughts on unrelated matters for a summer Wednesday morning.

——

UnknownNext week, I’ll be in Harrisburg, PA for the 2015 Mennonite World Conference. I’ve never been to one of these events before (they only happen once every six years) so I don’t have a great idea what to expect. But I’m told these are mostly celebratory events rather than decision-making ones.  And I’m all for that.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is gathering with sisters and brothers from the global south and hearing their perspectives on faith and discipleship. We in the “north” or the “west” tend to assume, implicitly or explicitly, that our issues are everyone’s issues, and that because we’re the ones that brought Christianity to the south, that we still get to set the agenda. We pay lip service to the idea that we are no longer the dominant voice in global Christianity, but there is often a barely concealed paternalism in our views of Christians from Africa and South America whose theology we frequently find unsettling. I wonder if we really are open to learning from and being challenged, taught, even corrected by our fellow Christians from the global south. Or, perhaps as is so often the case, we like the idea of being open to these things much more than actually being open to them.

So, I’m looking forward to the conference itself very much. I’m also looking forward to being there with my family, and to taking the train to New York City for a few days after the conference is done for a short holiday. Five days in NYC isn’t nearly enough time, I know, but I think just being there will probably be an experience. If we can stomach the expense, we may even take in a Broadway show. 🙂

——

images-1I have thus far refrained from commenting on the recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States regarding sex marriage. This is partly for the uninteresting reason that I don’t live in the USA. It’s also because we crossed this bridge in Canada over a decade ago and the sky has, so far as I can tell, not fallen. Additionally, I think it’s a very peculiar thing for the church to expect the state to legislate their moral convictions. Particularly in a pluralistic democracy. I also think that the institution of marriage is one of these things that people like to have very strong opinions about, but not as much resolve to actually live out.  Present divorce rates might suggest that heterosexuals have been doing quite a fine job of undermining the institution of marriage themselves for quite some time now, after all.  So, for these reasons (and others), I don’t feel too inclined to wade into the fray of what so often feels like a (foreign) culture war that can have no winners.

I am, however, interested in the shape our cultural discourse takes these days.  Particularly online. The SCOTUS decision was, inevitably, followed by the now customary mad rush to social media to register our, a) gleeful triumphalism; or b) shock and outrage. Instantly. And this was followed by our reactions of anger to a) and b). This predictable scenario took a few days to spend itself in righteous indignation, and then we all moved on, feeling suitably… suitably, well, what? Vindicated? Justified? As if our moral duty had been done? What, exactly, does all of this online shouting accomplish?

This morning I read a passage from the book of James that included these words:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Could there be a more awkward passage for Christians on the Internet? Do we even have the capacity for slow speech and deep listening in a context that seems engineered to reduce us to an unreflective herd of bleating avatars? I wonder.

Scripture describes the Lord as “slow to anger and rich in love.” So often we get this exactly backward—we are slow to love and rich in anger. We who are called to be “imitators of God.”

Christ have mercy.

——

noneSpeaking of social media, as we are now comfortably into summer I suspect that many of our newsfeeds are now being inundated with pictures of friends of ours vacationing in places that are far more desirable than wherever we might happen to be. Just this morning, I scrolled through pictures of friends in Rome… Amsterdam… London… Newfoundland… Wait? Newfoundland?! Yes, actually, it looks quite beautiful! More exotic than southern Alberta, at any rate.

Every time I see one of these pictures, it’s easy to think Aw, that looks so awesome… I wish I was there and not here… And, thus plunged into dark brooding over the first-world injustices that I am subjected to, I often find myself raiding around in the cupboards of my mind, scrounging around for memories of the cool places that I’ve been, the Facebook-able experiences that I’ve had to keep the bad feelings away. Because, really, why bother with difficult things like the cultivation of contentment and gratitude when you could just dive right into the mental arms race that is ranking ourselves based on who’s winning the cool experiences and travel contest?!

But I wonder if there might be some seeds of truth and goodness behind all of this immaturity and petulant whining. Have you ever recalled an experience and felt something like a twinge of longing? Maybe it was lingering with good friends over dinner in an out-of-the-ordinary place. Maybe it was having coffee with someone who you get to see far too rarely. Maybe it was a walk on a beach with your spouse or a memorable afternoon spent with a child. Maybe it was seeing something that took your breath away. Maybe it was visiting somewhere that you never thought you would get the chance to be. Maybe it was that moment when you realized how very big the world is and how very small you are. Maybe it was that time and place where you came to the crashing realization that the love that holds you will outlive all of your frantic striving and clutching and grabbing at things as you pass them by.

I’ve had each of these experiences. Maybe you have, too. And now, when I think of them, I get these twinges. They’re not exactly sad feelings, although there are shards of sadness within them. They’re not even the grasping desire to replicate these experiences or go back and experience them again, although, again, there’s a bit of this as well. As best as I can describe them, these twinges represent the longing for what is temporal and always passing away to be rendered permanent. For the feelings associated with these moments to be stronger and more durable than the less admirable or enjoyable feelings that so many of our days contain. And, I think these twinges—however tainted by self-interest and greedy desire they might be—could even represent some dim sense that we know that we were made for joy, for love, for relationships, for beauty, for peace.

Which is all, perhaps, a way of saying that these twinges are an expression of faith—that they represent a hunger for the God who has set eternity in our hearts, and turned us loose to seek, to love, and to be found.

31 Comments Post a comment
  1. Howard #

    Miscellany. Well said Ryan hope to catch u at mwc. Our former pastor Anna Lisa salo is starting at didsbury I think she would appreciate your perspective pray mc USA doesn’t get too caught up with Western Hemisphere navel gazing. See benner editorial

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    July 16, 2015
    • Thanks , Howard. Will keep my eyes open at MWC.

      July 16, 2015
  2. Every legislative action affirms a moral conviction. It is a weak faith indeed that will not defend it’s moral convictions. To not defend the sanctity of marriage, between one man and one woman is a betrayal of faith. Christians must have the courage to defend what is right. People are free to choose otherwise. God will judge. Those who would sanctify same sex unions are not of Christ.

    July 19, 2015
    • Yes, every legislative action does affirm a moral conviction. And, not surprisingly in a pluralistic democracy, the moral convictions affirmed are informed by voices other than Christian ones. The kingdom of God is not synonymous with the kingdom of men.

      I would be very careful about throwing around language like “betrayal of faith” and “not of Christ” in reference to people whose theology does not line up precisely with your own. None of us has perfect theology. Like James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven in Luke 9, we Christians have so often proved far too eager for God to demonstrate that our enemies are his enemies.

      As you said yourself, God will judge.

      July 19, 2015
      • I have no ego here, Ryan. I tell you what I know from Christ. What do you know from Christ? What does he tell you?

        July 19, 2015
      • He tells me that whoever is without sin should throw the first stone.

        July 19, 2015
  3. I see, so in context, my observation that sanctification of same sex relationships is not from Christ is in fact a call to barbarically execute those who would both seek and offer said sanctification? The “stoning” episode as related in scripture was not a metaphorical denouncement. It was a literal situation whereby the Lord teaches us that no one may punish sin by taking the life of a sinner, unless they are sinless. Only God judges mortality. But what of sin? Do not the prophets remonstrate against it. Do not the Saints? Does not Christ himself? And what is the punishment for sin? What does Jesus tell you about that? If same sex relationships are holy, if surgical and chemical treatments to deny biology are holy, if a woman’s realization of her truest, best self requires the death of her unborn child, then you’d better make the case and make it quickly. Make the case that these actions are sinless and holy. If you cannot then it is time for you to decide if you are a Christian or a pluralist. You cannot be both.

    July 20, 2015
    • I was not commenting on your “observation that sanctification of same sex relationships is not from Christ.” I was commenting on your writing off all who might not share this view as betrayers of Christ or “not of Christ.”

      Re: my comments about stoning, it seems to me that Jesus in the gospels has an awful lot to say to very pious and religious people who are eager to demarcate the boundaries of sin and to mete out punishment to sinners. This goes far beyond this one instance in John 8, and points to a general theme of Jesus’ ministry.

      July 20, 2015
      • My comments though theologically grounded are spirit centred. They are said as a result of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I invite you or any other reader to test these spirits as to their validity. I offer them as prophesy, not as opinion. His words, not mine…..I say this to help you with your understanding of my purpose here. As I told you before, these claims are without ego. Do not judge me as you would a Pharisee Judge me as you would a prophet. Are my understandings here, true or false. What does the Spirit tell you?….btw you are no fool, Ryan, far from it. You know full well I am asserting that sin is a reality and that in love we are called to confront it, in ourselves and in others. Lives and souls are at stake. No spirit filled Christian should accuse another spirit filled Christian of eagerness to demarcate sin and mete out punishment…..my brother that is such a bullshit comment…… it bears repeating, lives and souls are at stake, what are your discernments?

        July 20, 2015
      • The problem is, Paul, all kinds of people claim that their views are “theologically grounded” and “spirit-centred”—including people whose views about sexuality you would be in profound disagreement with. So just asserting that you have “no ego” and that your views are “spirit-centred” or even “prophecy” is fine… But lots of people say that. Lots of people claim that their words are God’s words.

        Frankly, labeling the comments of others as “bullshit” is a rather succinct illustration of my comments about the book of James in the post above. What if I were to tell you that my comments about “eagerness to demarcate sin and mete out punishment” were the discernments of the Holy Spirit that I felt were appropriate to the conversation? What if I were to describe it as “prophecy?” Where would we go from there?

        I do not dispute and have never disputed that sin is a reality or even that we are called in love to confront it. I have simply expressed (consistently, I think) reservations about our eagerness to do so. It seems to me that Christian history could easily be read as a litany of “spirit-filled” people throwing stones at one another in the name of truth and purity. I have little interest in this game.

        July 21, 2015
  4. mike #

    “Some people may say okay, society is more accepting of homosexuality now. So, it is cool to accept it. I am not a homosexual. So, do I have to determine whether or not it is immoral or think about whether it is or not? Really, no one except for someone that is drawn into that life style, or identifies as one, has to make this determination for themselves. If you aren’t why think about it?

    So, how does it impact me? It doesn’t. I am commanded to love everyone as I love myself. There really aren’t any exceptions to this. Someone else’s identity be it race, sexual orientation, religion, political orientation, etc is not an exception. I think the story of the good Samaritan pretty much spells this out. The good Samaritan gave love freely, gave of himself freely to a man that belonged to an opposing group that was hated by his community and the Jewish community hated Samaritans. That was the thing to do–yet his actions were given as the picture of how we are to love.” (an interesting perspective by “Middle Sis” copied from another Blog)

    July 20, 2015
    • I think your thesis here depends on how you define the word homosexual. I do not equate homosexuality with personhood. It is a sexual behavior/orientation. Like any behavior then it is open to assessment. I will offer more later, Mike…BACK TO WORK LOL

      July 20, 2015
      • Hey, Mike. Another busy day. On reflection perhaps it would be more useful to conversation if I asked a couple of questions. Mike if I asked you to define yourself, how would you answer? Who are you, to you? On a list of priorities where does your hetrosexual orientation fit? To what extent does being a hetrosexual define you, to yourself?

        July 21, 2015
    • To my artful dodger, brother Ryan…..The Almighty says, “Just answer the fucking question(s).”…..”Braveheart” is never wrong….Down the rabbit hole again my friend? Let us make haste! ….Yes Ryan lots of people make “spirit centered” claims. Jesus, The Apostles, Saints, prophets….It is the operative power that sustains our faith. You sound as if you don’t believe in it. Do you? Jesus foretold of this power at His Ascension. The Pentecost confirmed it’s arrival. We were told we would do greater things with this power then Jesus had done. We were told to pray and test spirits so as to discern their legitimacy. We were told to examine the “fruits” so as to aid in discernments. Yes, I could be lying, yes I could be delusional. Pray for me, please. Discern with me, please.

      July 21, 2015
  5. Jesus claimed to be spirit centred. So did the Apostles, the Saints, the prophets. At His Ascension Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. The Pentecost confirmed His promise. The Holy Spirit is the operative power of the church. We are delusional without it. You sound as if you doubt this power. Do you? If you doubt me, say so? I will take no offence. 🙂 It is a prudent disposition. Pray about my discernments. Tell me what, if anything, the Spirit tells you. And brother, if my questions and concerns are from God you would do better to answer them directly.

    July 21, 2015
    • I prefer response #2 to response #1. Sometimes I get pissed/bemused by what I perceive to be fear.

      July 21, 2015
      • Pope Francis is at the beginning of his pontificate, Mike. For me, it is too soon to come to decision about the quality and character of his mission. What I will say so far is that for me, I am somewhat uneasy about his initial postures. Not necessarily in their specifics, but more with the general tone. I agree with some (His advocacies for the poor and marginalized) and not with others. Your first quote is such an example. Church canon (law) is clear and definitive. Homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered”. It is a misunderstanding of his office by him and others to think that he has the authority to contradict canon. He has no such authority. If over time and through spiritual discernment and right process the church modifies canon regarding this issue, then and only then, may a pope affirm what Francis affirmed. Further, this issue is a decisively explosive one. To say that it has a potential for schism not seen this the time of the reformation is neither irresponsible or exaggerated. Churches have and will divide over this issue. The church must provide the faithful and the world with a detailed encyclical on this matter and other related moral issues. Not a twenty second sound byte.

        July 22, 2015
  6. mike #

    “”When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.” His Holiness Pope Francis

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/pope-homosexuals-who-am-i-judge

    July 21, 2015
    • mike #

      ..And then there’s this:

      “We talked about the statistics regarding Pentecostals with the bishops on Brazil in a meeting yesterday. I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.” (His Holiness Pope Francis)

      July 21, 2015
  7. Ryan, I think we frustrate one another at times through obfuscation. I believe neither of us is being wilful. Perhaps responding to simple questions directly, is the way to go here. Two simple questions……Do you see homosexuality as a sin? If no, would you then as a pastor sanctify (offer God’s blessing) to a same sex relationship?

    July 22, 2015
    • My answers will not satisfy you, Paul. This is largely due to the fact that these are matters that I am still wrestling, praying, reading, and relating through.

      The short answer is, no, I don’t think “homosexuality” in and of itself is a sin for the simple reason that sin is a choice and I have heard far too many stories from people who would never in a million years have chosen to be gay, with all the inner turmoil that this has caused in their lives (not to mention the pain and exclusion from the outside). How this homosexuality is expressed is a different matter, but I’m not going to provide a nice clean answer here either because I honestly struggle with these matters.

      On the one hand, I am convinced that our current cultural context is one that simultaneously exhibits a deep confusion about and obsession with sex as a defining feature of our personal identity. I think this is profoundly unhealthy and, in many cases, sinful. I think we often sexualize our identities in ways that leave us fall short of our full humanity. And I think the church, in particular, often goes chasing after the culture in this obsession when it writes off the possibility of celibacy as a vocation to be affirmed and honoured.

      On the other hand, I have heard from gay Christians whose “fruit” far surpasses that of many good straight Christians, and whose stories of struggle make my heart break. I honestly don’t know how I can, in good conscience, say that they cannot enter into committed monogamous relationships such as the one that I enjoy. I have read enough of first century context to be reasonably certain that the sexual mores of Paul’s day looked little like they do today, and to be at least open to the possibility that biblical authors were condemning things like pederasty and not committed same sex relationships. I am also open to the possibility that I and others are completely wrong about this and that matters are (almost) as black and white as the church has taught for long years. (I say “almost” because even enthusiastic quoters of Leviticus are not, so far as I am aware, advocating stoning homosexuals). Above all, I am painfully aware that I have no idea what it is like to be gay and that everything I say comes from a position of power and privilege that is not personally affected by these decisions in the same way as my gay neighbours.

      Re: marriage, I won’t provide a binary answer here. I will simply say that my inclination would be to be very hesitant to go against what the church has taught for thousands of years here. But I would not make a decision until having a conversation with the couple in question about holiness, faithfulness to the way of Jesus, and what this looked like in their lives. My decision would come out of these conversations.

      So, as I said, I know this will not satisfy you. No need to come back at me with an armful of arguments and accusations. I can assure you that I have heard and read many if not all of them. I suspect that you think that I am a coward or an unworthy pastor or a bad defender of the truth or some other combination of things. Again, I can assure you that there is nothing that you can say to me here that I haven’t already encountered, even if only in the privacy of my own mind. I simply offer you some of my own reflections on this matter thus far in my journey. Perhaps greater clarity will come in the future. In the meantime, I err on the side of mercy.

      July 23, 2015
      • Thank you for such a thoughtful and detailed response, Ryan…with all my heart, I thank you…with the love of Christ I thank you. 🙂 You are a good brother in Christ to me and in the end, in spite of all our verbal, “wrestling around the living room” you serve my interests. You are Christ like to me. You “pastor”….How may I serve you :)….Ryan, I too am convicted that I affirm Christ’s mercy. Encouraging self and others to rise above base impulse, IS mercy…you hit the nail on the head in paragraph three. There is deep confusion, when sexual impulse defines us as people..like the homosexual does, when he defines his person based on his sexual orientation, based on his sexual impulses….deep confusion…mercy would seek to enlighten and alleviate confusion….mercy is only mercy if it is cloaked in truth. St. Paul is clear homosexuality is the sign, idolatry is the sin. Homosexual culture and politic is the tipping point. Idolatry…idolatry….idolatry, the tipping point. The point where the foundations of culture become anti ethical to the word and will of God. All who conform and affirm this anti Gospel choose death..”I have not judged you for you have chosen death”…Mercy compels me to sound the alarm. “Brothers, sisters please don’t choose death.” To those trapped in this sin I believe this. My first response should be to weep with you.See my disordered sexual self within you, recognize my contribution to your affliction….then finally my responsibility to help you to holiness, sharing your burden, sharing your cross. Mercy demands it of me. Mercy demands it of us all.

        July 23, 2015
      • Ryan, l have a “word” for you. Pray more, read less. You are sufficiently girded with intellect. You need more prayer. Your mind is sharp and true. Your spirit needs strengthening. I still think a great commission awaits you. 🙂

        July 23, 2015
      • With respect, Paul, you really don’t know how much I pray or how much I read or the quality of either. And frankly the assumption that if I would just pray more and read less my views would more closely align with yours is more than a little condescending.

        July 24, 2015
  8. That’s it, Ryan. That’s all you got. 🙂 Ah….you are a sensitive one my friend. If you intend to shepherd a large flock and every pastor should so intend, you need to be made of a little sterner stuff. I’ve read you for years, Ryan….for years….I’m no fool….ok, well sometimes…..but maybe, just maybe I might have learned a thing or two about you over the years. It would speak well of us both if I had. Likewise you may have learned something useful about my character.( which by the way I would encourage you to share) …..so here’s the deal. Almost all your efforts here reflect apologetics of one sort or another. Sometimes an anti apologetic apologetic….always popular with the young…sometimes an emotionally poignant apologetic that feigns spirituality but often isn’t….real spirituality concludes with joy, always! Even in the grimmest of circumstance….every crucifixion is another resurrection moment….we must never lose sight of that truth…..you have…..read yourself. Where is the abiding joy? The sense of honour and wonder and thanks that the creator has so blessed you with aptitude and vocation? An intellectual assent is always a weak root. Vulnerable to the next idea. Vulnerable to the next failed experience of it. True faith, like true love never wavers, never breaks. No sensory experience can destroy it…
    All crucifixions lead to resurrections with faith. Without faith all that endures is degrees of pain, distress, bewilderment a hardening of hearts…children of the crucifixion….
    Faith is never an intellectual assent. If it is the evolutionists are right, it is simply a social construct useful, up till now, as a means of adapting but like every other social construct it outlives usefulness and is ultimately replaced. Faith transcends intellect. Faith is a spiritual reality mediated by the Holy Spirit through our relational participation; through prayer. You struggle always, as you indicate in this thread with spiritual discernments. Spiritual discernments are the fruit of faith, the fruit of prayer. You struggle, like we all do, with prayer….”Ask and you shall receive. Knock…..”

    July 24, 2015
    • Nothing for you to say to this one other then it offends your request for privacy…I get it…am spending the morning, among other things, listening to the prophets….. Marvelling at the subtle genius of love and the tender touch of God and his people….my wife knows my circumstance, she knows my heart and treasures it…she has set her phone to play the entire video of Ron Sexmith’s album, “Blueboy” …My favourite album of all time….it reminds me of my “magnetic centre”….In my heart and mind I believe you, me and Sexsmith share vocation. We are all called to be prophets….you and Sexsmith still operate from the aforementioned subtle genius of love….how necessary, there can be no true prophecy without this understanding…and yet alone, this genius is self defeating. Influencing no one, not even the prophet himself. Prophecy requires an audacious faith

      July 25, 2015
      • Prophecy requires a relentless, veering on obnoxious advocacy. That kind of guy not afraid to call a spade a spade, pick a fight, call sin a sin and even, if necessary, warn of damnation. Not his judgement; Gods judgement…. this is what a prophet must do….a schizophrenic undertaking…
        The subtle genius of eternal love combined with the cold hard truth of sin, damnation and death…it take’s two…one like you combined with one like me..
        After all this time and years all I’m trying to tell you is that you are a prophet….I know it…the time has come for you to know it too. His peace be with you, brother.

        July 25, 2015
    • Thank you for your concern, Paul. I apologize for not responding quickly enough for you. I am at a conference all week, and my days are very full.

      I don’t really know how best to respond to all of your comments/critiques above, especially given that I have limited time. All I can say is that it can get exhausting for posts of mine to so often be reduced to apparent litmus tests for the authenticity of my spirituality (“feigned” or otherwise) or prayer life or leadership qualities or whatever. As I’ve said many times before, this blog does not represent the sum total of who I am. Blogging is, in my view, a very limited medium with modest ends. I do not set myself up here as an authority or an expert or a prophet. I very often do not even consciously write as a pastor.

      I write as a pilgrim on the way. I tell stories about how I encounter God in daily life. I share who I am and the things that move me. I ask questions. If this seems not enough to you, then I’m not sure what else I can say. I’m sure there are many other writers out there whose approach would resonate more with you.

      His peace be with you, as well. Enjoy Ron Sexmith.

      July 25, 2015
      • You are a generous man, Ryan. You take my hounding graciously…publicly at any rate lol… Is a writer the sum of what he writes? Probably not. But an honest writer reveals the sum of what he would like to be….”The Church is really a beautiful thing” is among your best work. Teach as one with authority. Don’t be afraid to confront culture. You are more than just a pilgrim. 🙂

        July 27, 2015
  9. howard wideman #

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone—- Begin Forwarded Message —-From: anabaptistlyDate: Aug 20, 2015, 1:25:34 PMTo: Subject: [New post] Guest Post: Jeremiah for the Western Church

    Chris Lenshyn posted: “It is good to be firing up the ol’ blog again. This is a guest post from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. I enjoy these artistic, prophetic ventures into the depth of scripture. It paves the way for us as community to journey into the places whe”

    August 20, 2015
    • Read this yesterday—great post. Thanks, Howard.

      August 21, 2015

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