len on September 19th, 2017

And this is my prayer,
that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight .
Phil. 1.9

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.
Song of Songs 6.3

Speaking out of Philippians 1 last week, I focused on v 9-11. What is the relationship between love and knowledge? This letter and Paul’s own life help in exploring that question. It’s a deeply human and deeply spiritual question, and it resonates in this letter with the warmth of Paul’s own heart.

Along his rough and tumble road, Paul ran suddenly into Jesus. His heart was crushed then expanded by the experience. Jesus and his kingdom became the passion of his life. ANd in that passion this question loomed large, because when we fall in love everything changes. It’s impossible to put it into words — and so, we try to put it into words. Other lovers have made the attempt.

I am filled with you.
Skin, blood, bone, brain and soul.
There’s no room for lack of trust, or trust,
Nothing in this existence but that existence.

ANd other apostles have explored the relationship of love and knowledge, a relationship which has only become more complex since the Enlightenment. From one of his hundred sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard of Clairvaux writes,

Let us love affectionately, discreetly, intensely.
We know that the love of the heart, which we have said is affectionate,
is sweet indeed, but liable to be led astray
if it lacks the love of the soul.

And the love of the soul is wise indeed,
but fragile without that love which is called the love of strength.
“In Cantica” Sermon 20

What is love without knowledge? It goes astray. What is knowledge without love? It makes proud.

Love without knowledge fills the space with errors and guesses. And so you have Buddhists spinning prayer wheels and trying to empty their minds. And you have Hindus worshipping cows and stone idols.

Love – but without knowledge.

And love without knowledge also gives us every kind of moral error. Because the love of the heart is sweet, but it needs to be protected with the love of the soul – or the spirit. Otherwise, we just follow where our affections lead.
And in our time, that is generating a LOT of error and a lot of pain.

So the love of the heart is protected by the soul. And the SOUL’S love – is the wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit. But it’s fragile unless the soul has a clear vision – knowledge and revelation. And so these three loves travel together – a three-fold cord. The love of the heart — the love of the soul — and revelation.

And this is something of what Paul is getting at in his prayer here in ch 1. He prays for us for discernment. A most uncommon gift. Discernment calls us to hold the Word and the Spirit together. It calls us to maturity. Love becomes mature as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

Lots more to say — this was more or less the first half of my sermon.

len on September 16th, 2017

“Attention is a strange thing. It’s often thought that the way to retain power or influence is to hold onto people’s attention—to keep it active, front and center. That’s how iPhone rose to prominence, after all: by ripping a hole in popular understanding of mobile telephony and introducing a totally new paradigm.

“But over time, active attention recedes into the background. It has to. Extraordinary events, products, and ideas cannot survive as wild curiosities. They must be made ordinary. Such is the fate of every influential media form, from the electric light to the automobile to the refrigerator to the television to the smartphone.

“Media’s true power comes from this habituation. When everyone relies on electricity. When everyone unloads a dishwasher. When everyone commutes by personal automobile. When everyone connects and reads and works and plays on a smartphone…”

The Empire of Apple. The Atlantic. Sept. 12, 2017

len on September 15th, 2017


len on September 15th, 2017


len on September 9th, 2017

image“Because the very foundations of American society, including the family, are crumbling, we MUST seek and find strong leaders. But we need a new kind of leader—beyond the celebrity, beyond the pragmatist—to show us the way to the abundant life, the food life that God originally intended for his children and still longs for us to have..

“No medium or method of conveying the Christian gospel can meet people’s basic needs for recognition, involvement, worthiness, growth, and indeed salvation itself without the loving give and take of person-to-person interaction over a long period of time. This is what community really means, and this is exactly where popular religion and its leaders are not successful.

“In a secular society, in a world where homelessness is the norm, the only way religion can really be “successful” is to provide a home for the homeless—a family that includes not must my kind of people, but God’s kind of people, who love him with everything they have, and who love their neighbor as much as they love themselves. The church does need to become God’s ideal family, both in word and indeed. And its leaders will have to be heroic leaders ho really live and exemplify the life they preach and teach, whose authority is recognized in their nobility, in their concrete modeling of the love of God, the only force that can save and transform a world plagued with the consequences of sin.”

Richard Quebedeaux, 1982

len on September 9th, 2017

The inertia of the pragmatic church is often startling. When a movement grows in size and popularity it becomes like an ocean liner, requiring a huge expanse of space in order to negotiate any change in course. New movements are like lifeboats, small and flexible, diverse and empowered, and respond rapidly to their new environments. This is particularly true with a decentered movement like the emergent church. New movements don’t have the vested interest in system maintenance that older movements possess; they have less to lose and so are willing to experiment and take risks. Margaret Wheatley, in “Leadership and the New Science,” comments that we need explorers, those willing to venture where there are no maps. We need tinkerers.

“Tinkerers have skills but no clear plans. They make do with the materials at hand. Tinkering opens us to what’s possible in the moment.”

“Life’s tinkering has direction. It tinkers toward order – toward systems that are more complex and more effective. The process is exploratory and messy.”

“All this messy playfulness creates relationships that make available more: more expressions, more variety, more stability, more support. Who we become together will always be different than who we were alone. Our range of creative expression increases as we join with others.”

len on August 26th, 2017

A year ago, as I finished the first draft of Broken Futures, I wrote in the acknowledgements: “Yesterday I stood in a new doorway – one I created with a hammer and a crow-bar. I first had to expose the ancient plaster and lathe on the interior wall of our 100 year old home, and then the work began. It was messy. My right hand was beginning to ache. I was occasionally choking on dust, and it was irritating my eyes. After an hour of work I had created a path that will be used by a generation I will never know.”

Oddly, I now find myself building a new door. It’s not for the same doorway — but it feels like there is more to it than the door. As in the first case the doorway seemed to be linked to a process, so the door feels timely. But in what way, I don’t yet know. Perhaps when the opportunity appears, I’ll recognize the connection.

Meanwhile, the course I’m overseeing at Tyndale is moving along nicely. I have eight students in a cohort exploring models of spiritual formation. The class is very diverse in their interests, and so their approach to the maps they are exploring is similarly diverse. Fun stuff!

I’ve been reading an old Philip Yancey book on prayer, as well as finishing John Walton’s latest, “The Lost World of the Conquest.” This is his third in the series, and the first, on Genesis, was enlightening.

Last night we ventured out to the annual rib-fest. This event is well attended, very smoky, and always includes a band stand where the bass is cranked so loud that eventually your brain shuts down and the music becomes just noise. Not sure why this approach is still popular with the greying crowd. I can take it for about a half hour and then it becomes too painful. Otherwise a great event and with the streets closed to traffic it’s a nice event in the old Port Arthur core.

len on August 21st, 2017

Geography is simply a visible form of theology. (Levenson, 1985. 116)

How do we get to know our cities? How do we identify the spirit of a place? What theological and social frameworks will contribute to our understanding? We have begun to sketch these above, but our theological frames are likely to be diverse, shaped by the contexts and traditions which shape us, and so the complexity of our analysis becomes uniquely dialogical and contextual.

We can reflect on a particular place in terms of what we may call the spiritual geography, extending the theological task into an exploration of how context impacts faith. We use the word “context” to describe a particular environment, including but not limited to the physical dimensions. We include the historical, economic, social and cultural factors. Not only does context impact belief but also it provides a window (perhaps, an “imaginary”) through which one may relate to God. Moreover, the rise of virtual and networked space complicates context. The authors of Networked Theology remind us that “geography becomes irrelevant as time-space barriers dissolve.” (Campbell and Garner, 2016. 58)

When we extend the theological task to discern the spiritual geography of a place, we add another factor to the story: the interweave of attitudes and environment, postures and politics, and the ways this interweave calls to the spirit or denigrates it. These things are commonly felt as intangibles, and are difficult to identify and articulate. Theology is a reflective task because it asks questions and makes statements it cannot understand. It’s the nature of the craft. But our work helps us evaluate the human environment at levels that are more than merely phenomenological. It contributes to the richness of a spiritual vocabulary rooted in the rough and tumble of life, “sails and ships and ceiling wax.” It is not just holy places which inspire us, but places which inspire us become holy: they transform our human journey into a pilgrimage.

Linda Mercadante warns that discerning the spirit of a place could be reduced to a vague delineation of how a place is or is not conducive to human flourishing. She offers two safeguards to this tendency. First, the awareness that God is continually trying to reach us, to break through our defenses, and to offer divine grace. Second, as Calvin stressed, that God accommodates to our condition. “Our particularity creates the need for God to come to us in ways we can understand, and … God has the consummate ability to do this.” (Mercadante, 2004. 62)

The most fundamental way God has met us is in the Incarnation. The Incarnation combined the human and divine, matter and spirit, and was preeminently a phenomenon of spatiality. Jesus was placed, a first century Jew meeting us in place and time. This may cue us to some important questions relative to our urban contexts. The physical space of our humanity is not just flesh and blood, but also steel and glass. Our bodies do not interact socially apart from physical places. And in the nature of culture itself, our bodies participate in both a natural environment and cultural artifacts, so that the city is more than mere container, as place is more than space. The city is us.

And this means that the city remains both graced and fallen. We avoid reducing our discussion of the city to polarities, and are assisted by the social critiques of writers like Zizek, Bauman, and Chomsky. So when Rob Crosby-Shearer notes of Victoria that there are “shadows in paradise,” we know similar realities in our own cities. When Cory Seibel describes the darker “frontier” realities of Edmonton he notes that these are “acute manifestations of phenomena that occur across the life of the city.” That cues us to the way that Zizek addresses social symptoms. He uses the word “irruption,” which moves beyond the external psychological sign of an inner disturbance. (Zizek, 1989)

For Zizek, a Symptom can work within a culture to expose an unfulfilled drive, the unspoken void around which that culture has been formed. “An image, an explosion of media activity surrounding an event, a popular movie, a flurry of publishing can expose something hidden and unspoken that drives a culture’s meaning system.” (Hesiak, 2007) What we see and hear on the surface may be compensations for what the culture itself lacks at its core. Exposing these kinds of Zizekian Symptoms in our cities opens them up for change and transformation.

For Zizek, cultural symbolic orders exist to legitimize something; as such they are ideologies. These meaning systems mask an absence which no one wants to face. So every cultural system is prone to “irruptions of the Real” which reflect back to its participants what is hidden within the ongoing system of meaning. Thus the homeless populations amidst capitalist societies reveal the immanent logic of the politic of capitalism. Capitalist ideology may say that its goal is to rid humanity of all poverty, but Zizek would suggest that the homeless person reveals the true drive behind capitalism, the way it plays upon the fear of poverty and the fear that we all might become homeless if we don’t work harder. Global capitalism is a force that impacts the soul of every large Western city, and its Symptoms are available to any observer.

From the Introduction. Urban Loft Publishing, 2017.

len on August 11th, 2017

len on August 11th, 2017