Friday, June 22, 2012

Consumerism

con·sum·er·ism/kənˈso͞oməˌrizəm/

Noun:
  1. The protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.
  2. The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.

We want more stuff. I need a two-car garage. I want a 30/30 hunting rifle. I want a new Honda SUV. I want more stuff. I feel a need for more stuff. I want to acquire goods. I am a consumer. I consume.

In order to restore equilibrium, I need to constantly consume. I buy something because of a felt need. A few days or weeks later, I feel the need again; like a cocaine addict needing another hit. I want something again - another toy, a book, something... anything. There is a immediate sense of elation, relief, and peace when I purchase something new. But it doesn't last. Sometimes it takes a few days; but sometimes that sheen is rubbed off already within the hour. Then I want something else. I am a consumer. I consume.

Why this constant yearning for the next purchase? Why this sense of temporary relief after buying something? Why is my heart and mind so dissatisfied with the gift of life as it is? Why do I want these things outside of myself? Is life not a gift? Is life not sufficient? Why this constant yearning for more? Why is this yearning never satisfied?

The Early Fathers said that the Eucharist is this feast in which we consume bread and wine, which in turn causes us to be consumed by the Body of Christ. Could it be that here, in these earthly elements, we find a 'product' we can love, which then also loves us in return? Could it be that in the bread and the wine we find a consuming relationship in which our mastery is faced by a Mastery that doesn't destroy, but heals and lifts-up, restores and empowers? I am a consumer, but here I am consumed.

In our sin, we want such passive objects to take-in, to master, and spit out again. In our sin, we seek the passive image that we can master by lust. In our sin, we want the passive object that we can consume for our personal gain and desire. And still, we are being redeemed. We are being welcomed to a feast where the food nourishes us, heals us, restores us, and makes us partners in a beautiful economy of mutual love, of giving and receiving in self-sacrificial servanthood.

My hope: more of the bread & wine... and much less of me.





Thursday, February 23, 2012

Putting ideas into practice

One of the criticisms that I ran into, every once in a while, when I was back in University studying the bible, theology, etc… was that Christian studies were far too ethereal, philosophical and impractical. My regular response was to suggest that real life is completely entangled with philosophy, theology, ideas, and worldviews. But I think what people meant was that ideas need to have some clear applications. I can appreciate this desire more now than three years ago. You’d think that after studying the theology of Christmas and the Incarnation (one-flesh-ment) of God’s Word, I would catch-on that ideas need to “put on flesh”. They need to be practical.

Now that I’m realizing that more and more, I’m excited that my congregation has invited me to join them for a longer period of time as their pastor. It gives us time to work at putting good ideas into practice. And what better place to put good ideas into practice than a place like Gretna – since this has been going on in this town for many years: like the idea to work together and make a hockey rink happen; or the idea to have a Hot Spot festival that’s family friendly in every way; or the idea that local youth could invite folks in town to donate food for the food bank; and the list goes on.

I know that, by now, many of you have given up on your New Year’s resolutions (ideas?); perhaps some are gearing up for a completely different kind of resolution during Lent; either way, good ideas only become great ideas when they’re put into practice. What are some great ideas you have for this community? How can you ‘put on flesh’ to the vision you have for Gretna? The Christmas message of peace, joy, and hope doesn’t have to get shelved come January… that message took on flesh two thousand years ago, and it’s just itching to become a reality in your life today! What message do we need to hear, and to see happen, this year in Gretna? How might you put it into practice?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Fear

Spent some time reading news articles about the Middle East tonight.

Iran. Israel. Egypt. Pakistan.

These nations are at the centre of attention these days. Could there be another World War around the corner? Does our current globalized economy allow for World Wars or just continual War – pure war!

How should I, as a Christian, navigate these stories? As a pastor, how do I speak about them to others?

Do I allow fear to set in? To be honest, it wouldn't be that hard for me. Somewhere, tucked-in deep, there's an end-times fanatic just waiting to burst out – I'm sure of it. But reason still prevails.

And then I read about a Canadian woman that wants to end her own life with the aid of medical staff – assisted suicide. I can't imagine her emotional pain. I love my life. She said she loved living as well – that she didn't want to die a terrible death. If she was going to die, she wanted it to be dignified?

What does it mean to die a dignified death? I would want dignity as well. But what counts as dignity? Strength? Beauty? Having my 'wits' about me?

Isn't my life dignified from the outside? Do I not receive my dignity from the identity gifted to me in Christ? Was his death dignified?

Why fear war? Why fear weakness? Why fear these things when I have a community that loves me, a wife that ravishes me, friends that listen to me, a dog that comforts me? Why fear these things when our good Lord, Jesus, takes me on a journey of joy and beauty every day?

Whether War, pestilence, Lou Gerig's disease, cancer, or whatever else – why fear? I'm in the hands of the Potter... I am clay in His hands. Why fear? Because I don't, by the grace of God. I don't.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Changing Ingredients of Gretna

Change isn’t always fun. Moving to Gretna was great fun, but unpacking the moving trailer in -40 C wasn’t. Having Karen move-in after our wedding was great, but figuring out how to mesh two opinions into a peaceful solution… well, that was a challenge. Change isn’t always easy or fun; but then there’s the kind of change that’s really exciting. For example, we’ve had several new people move to Gretna in the last little while. That’s exciting, and I extend my welcome to you! I’ve been here three years and I love it! I hope you come to love this peaceful town as well! But then there’s also some people that have moved out of town; farewell, and may God grant you joy in your new home communities.

With people moving out and some moving in, it almost feels like we’re trading ingredients in a recipe. The people that constituted the town of Gretna are no longer the same group of people – how will this change affect our flavour? Speaking of replacing ingredients, I tried that today with my mom’s famous ‘Ruhrei’ recipe. Ruhrei is a German-Dutch dish that is basically scrambled eggs with some extra flour added. It’s not a breakfast dish, but rather a replacement for noodles or potatoes. I didn’t have any milk and so I looked in the fridge and found some Yoghurt. I added the new ingredient, hoping that the flavour of the Ruhrei wouldn’t be ruined.

When there’s change in the ingredients to the usual recipes of life we often become anxious. Will we be able to find joy in the new home we’re making in a different town? Will the people we left behind cheer for us as we move on, or will they hold it against us? I trust that the residents of Gretna will let their hospitality shine brightly as we welcome newcomers into town. When we switch ingredients in our community life, the result is a new flavour… but that can be great thing! The Ruhrei I made tonight was fantastic; and I’m guessing that the new mix of people that make-up the town of Gretna will expand our palettes with new found friendship. I am looking forward to meeting you! And for those of you who are curious – here’s the recipe to my Mom’s famous Ruhrei:

2eggs/serving
1 cup flour/serving
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp rosemary (optional)
Milk (or Yoghurt!!!)
2 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Beat the eggs until well mixed; add salt, pepper, and rosemary.
2. Add flour and mix well; then, while mixing, add enough milk to make a smooth mixture (like pancake mixture consistency)
3. In a large frying pan heat vegetable oil; pour in all the batter and use a spatula to mix the batter (like scrambled eggs). Keep mixing the batter as you fry it until the pieces become smaller and browned. Remove from heat and enjoy as a side to a favourite meat dish (I recommend sausage).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Airplanes, Money & the Bedroom

There are few things in life that terrify me more than being a passenger in a landing airplane. In the beginning of July I had the terrible experience of flying to Ontario and back for meetings. There’s something horrifying about being strapped to a large piece of metal that’s speeding towards the earth. I feel helpless and terrified. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it’s the knots in my stomach – a kind of motion sickness. Or maybe my fear is the result of my lack of control; after all, I’m usually the one behind the steering wheel when Karen and I go for a drive. At least part of my problem with airplane landings is that I’m not in the driver’s seat. A similar feeling of dread gets to me when I go driving with some people. I also hate going on rides at amusement parks where, again, I’m not in control.

I know I’m not the only one who’s afraid of not being in control. Listening to the news these last couple of weeks, it’s become quite obvious that economists, politicians and bankers, in America, are also not in control. The language they use when talking about macro-economics betrays a lack of confidence and clarity about what exactly is happening, and where things will go. There’s a climate of fear and trembling that’s overshadowed the media, and it reminds me of the thick air of fear in a West-Jet plane that’s about to land. It seems we’re not in control and that capitalism won’t be tamed; at least not in my lifetime. Perhaps it is greed that’s taming us – we’ve wanted so much that now our debts are like a tightening noose.

Why, you ask, is a pastor speaking of fear, a dying economy, lack of control, and other terrifying realities like flying? Why not speak soothing words of calming trust? Well, because I’m also asked to speak truthfully. And truthfully speaking, much of our world is out of control – at least out of my control, and out of your control. The only answer I have is “trust God”, but that’s no simple answer. It’s not just some spiritual platitude; to say a prayer every night – as important as a deep prayer life is. The God I invite you to trust has some clear things to say about greed, economic practices, and how we order our communities financially. ‘Trust God’ at least implies that we also re-order our own practices so that they fit closer to God’s vision of what a human community is supposed to look like. As many Christians speak boldly about how others should organize their bedroom life (their sex life), they are often silent about how God has clearly spoken about our economic life. I’m guessing that both of these realities (our economies and our bedrooms) will remain terrifyingly out of control unless we submit our practices to the wisdom and beauty of God’s truth in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Signposts of a Good Life

Philosophers of ancient Greece debated with one another about what makes for a good life. Does a good life consist in fulfilling one’s desires? Does a good life require leisure, and the time to contemplate life? Is it bound up with work or play, busyness or rest, or both? Does the good life involve fulfillment of duty, both public and private? The Greek men would gather at the city school and market to discuss these ‘finer’ parts of human existence. In Gretna, we don’t have men dressed in Togas. We don’t have Plato’s Academy or Aristotle’s Lyceum; a place for people to “spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new”. But we citizens of Gretna are no less philosophers than the people of Athens. We are no less able to give an account of what a good life is; but we like to live it out and not just talk about it.

One central piece to a good life is community. Gretna community life is marked by a variety of practices; including a park fundraiser, watching hockey games at the rink, visits at the local coffee shop, and walks down the calm and friendly neighbourhood streets, covered and surrounded by tall majestic trees. But one of our most treasured practices is the annual Hot Spot Festival, where we join together for fun and fellowship, parades and talent shows, and much more healthy good fun. A good life is marked by a community that knows how to play together, laugh together and even sing together, although not always beautifully (in my case).

But a good life is also one that is ‘at work’. The other important half to rest, play and fellowship is work and production. A good life is carved-out in the hard material of labour, sweat, early hours at the office, a long day of harvest in the fields, fruitful days in the classroom, hot meals served with cheer, a home kept in order, and a family cared for with attentiveness, discipline and love. A good life is wrapped-up in good – but not always fun – work, even as it is a life marked by rest and play.

How is it that I call this life ‘good’? Well, one way I can answer that question is by pointing at the lives of those who have lived it, and then say, “isn’t that a beautiful life?” “Isn’t that good?” Whether that kind of answer convinces others, I don’t know; but the lives of those who have welcomed me into this community exist as a powerful argument, to me, that Gretna is a place that nurtures a “good life”, if we allow it. An example of this generous welcoming spirit was Clarence Toews, a friend of mine, and a beloved man in our community, who died in August. His life would have had any ancient philosopher re-thinking their definition of a good life. In faith, he received a tool box with which he hammered out a good and beautiful life. His tools were love, charity, kindness, peace, joy, and patience. He loved his wife, he cherished his children, he served his neighbours, and he trusted Jesus in all of it. In the aftermath of grief – as I let go of my brother Clarence – I am prodded towards joy and a harvest of laughter. He gave us a wonderful glimpse of a good life; and he gave me a good example to follow.

What is the good life? Well, at least part of it is the privilege of continuing-on on after the many folks before us – saints and sinners somehow drawn together in this town where a good life happens by the grace of God.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Holidays and Other Worries

It’s good to be back from holidays. We took some time to visit family in Saskatchewan and I spent some time at meetings in Calgary. I even had a chance to catch up with a childhood friend who lives in cowboy city. Karen and I usually leave our dog with my parents; but this time, we left Lucy with a local dog-sitter, who did a great job. We had confidence in Lucy’s dog-sitter; and we knew that we had nothing to worry about. That’s the best way to enjoy holidays; when there’s nothing to worry about.

Putting it this way makes it too simple, though. There’s plenty to worry about. A number of our friends in the community are sick. The fields are saturated, and much of this year’s harvest is in limbo. The BP oil spill down south threatens the environment. The Afghanistan war continues to rage with no apparent end in sight. Assaults, murder, thievery, and all kinds of criminal activity are signs of an eroding moral fabric.

Our world is shot-through with frailty and brokenness. Our bodies are frail. Old age begins to weaken the joints, it wears-away at vision and hearing, and undermines our capacity to think clearly. But even younger bodies suffer frailty, as lumps are found in a young boy’s brain, and a young girl fights off the swine flu. Lungs that used to draw deep breaths are hampered by infections and lumps that shorten every inhalation.

Some call these frailties ‘a cycle of life and death’, as though this should lend us a stoic calmness when confronted by our own limitations. “This is just part of what it means to be human,” is what people say, in order to cover-over the shocking reality that all we have ever known (our living) is pressing towards its end (our dying). There are many ways in which our culture moves us to flee from a healthy confrontation with our own mortality; and these reassuring gestures at death’s normalcy just name a few.

Having ‘nothing to worry about’ has little to do with whether or not you can trust your dog-sitter. The question is not whether you have worries or not, but rather: What do we do with our worries? How do we continue-on living in light of life’s frailties? Do we avoid talking or thinking about them? The Christian faith doesn’t have easy answers to my frailties. Heaven, resurrection, and eternity do not spare me from broken bones, ravenous cancer, and relationships that fall to pieces. But I have been moved to place my trust in a man named Jesus, who was as frail as I am; and who, in his frailty, found victory through the gift of a resurrecting Father. And so, in this frailty, I’ll keep going until my time’s up. And what then? A surprise, hopefully, by faith - the surprise of something more restful than holidays in Saskatchewan, more plentiful than a southern Manitoba harvest, and more enjoyable than a dry sunny day.