Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spiritual Sweet Tooth?

Do you have a sweet tooth?

How about a spiritual sweet tooth?

If you pay attention to the sidebar on this blog you may have noticed that over the past number of months I've been reading through a bunch of Christian classics. There's a cool little series of books called "Upper Room Spiritual Classics" (see them: here) that takes selected portions of Christian Classics and compiles them into nice little books of about 100 pages. They're cheap, easy to read, and I find them interesting because it's cool to see how people viewed their relationship with God throughout the centuries.

One of the books I finished recently was selected writings of the Spanish Carmelite, John of the Cross. I actually didn't really connect with much of what he had to say (when you're reading stuff written in the 1500s by a Spanish Catholic mystic in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition you want to have your filters up maybe a little more than usual!): I found that some of they ways he used scripture was questionable and that he leaned more toward philosophy than theology than I would like. Nonetheless, I couldn't question his sincerity.

Anyway, one thing that did strike me, particularly because of today's post-modern emphasis on personal experience, was his criticism of what he called a spiritual sweet

The major theme of his writings that I picked up was the need to imitate Christ in self-denial. I think he takes this theme to questionable extremes but was intrigued when he noted that often people convert to Christianity for selfish reasons (again, remember that he was writing during the Spanish Inquisition... people would convert to Christianity [Catholicism] in order to save their hide). Even beyond this, he says that people who are constantly searching (no matter how legitimately) for a fresh experience with God are usually doing so for personal benefit/pleasure rather than out of a desire to imitate Christ... who always practice self-denial rather than self-gratification.

He says of this attitude of self-serving spirituality: "Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth" (pg 37).

As I said before, I think this connects within our own context of post-modernism. In many ways Church is seen in a consumeristic way: "if I don't experience God in a way that I like I'll move on to the next church... and the next church until I find what I want."

You see people who become worship junkies... even worship connoisseurs moving from one religious experience to the next seeking their next spiritual fix.

"A person makes progress only by imitating Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one goes to the Father but through him, as he states himself in Saint John. Accordingly, I would not consider any spirituality worthwhile that wants to walk in sweetness and ease and run from the imitation of Christ" (pg. 38).

I think this is a much needed challenge for many of us today.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I know most of you probably don't follow soccer, but I do.

Toronto FC is the team representing Canada in the CONCACAF Champion's League this year. On Tuesday they played Arabe Unido from Panama. It was one of the most disgusting, laughable games I've seen... everything that people make fun of soccer for was present. Toronto lost 1-0 after having every single Panamanian player flop around on the ground until the ref called a foul. TFC had two players ejected for virtually nothing. And so, TFC's official website posted this clip to lighten the mood. Enjoy.
I'll try to have a real post up early next week.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Introducing Eustace

Yay! More clips from Voyage of the Dawn Treader!!

We finally get to see some clips of Eustace:

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Clip #3: Sea of Lilies from NarniaFans.com on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On Silence

The second portion of Henri Nouwen's book, The Way of the Heart, is on silence.

Obviously, the disciplines of solitude and of silence are interconnected. This is how he connects the two:

"Silence is the way to make solitude a reality... Silence is an indispensable discipline in the spiritual life. Ever since James described the tongue as a 'whole wicked world in itself' (James
3:6) Christians have tried to practice silence as the way of self-control. Clearly silence is a discipline needed in many different
situations: in teaching and learning, in preaching and worship, in visiting and counseling. Silence is a very concrete, practical, and useful discipline in all our ministerial tasks. It can be seen as a portable cell taken with us from the solitary place into the midst of our ministry. Silence is solitude practiced in action" (Way of the Heart, 35-36).

Essentially, he is saying that (at least in part) the discipline of silence is our way of practicing solitude without having to literally leave the world behind us. We see Jesus putting this sort of thing into practice quite frequently: Matt 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, 6:12...

Nouwen insists that in our "wordy" culture these times of silence are more and more important:

"Wherever we go we are surrounded by words: words softly whispered, loudly proclaimed, or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited, or sung; words on records, in books, on walls, or in the sky; words in many sounds, many colours, or many forms; words to be heard, read, seen, or glanced at; words which flicker off and on, move slowly, dance, jump, or wiggle. Words, words, words! ... The result of this is that the main function of the word, which is communication, is no longer realized. The word no longer communicates, no longer fosters communion, no longer creates community, and therefore no longer gives life. The word no longer offers trustworthy ground on which people can meet each other and build society" (38-39).

I think he is right about this, particularly when encountering post-modern philosophy where language is viewed as a power tool; a tool to manipulate others toward a personal/corporate agenda.

But, as always, there are similar pitfalls for those of us within the church as well:

"Often it seems that we who study or teach theology find ourselves entangled in such a complex network of discussions, debates, and arguments about God and 'God-issues' that a simple conversation with God or a simple presence to God has become practically impossible. Our heightened verbal ability, which enables us to make many distinctions, has sometimes become a poor substitute for a single-minded commitment to the WORD who is life" (39).

Whether this applies to each one of us is a matter of individual introspection... But, as he always does, Nouwen does not allow this spiritual discipline to foster individualism. Instead, it is a way for God to refuel us to accomplish His ministry:

"Silence is primarily a quality of the heart that leads to ever-growing charity... Charity, not silence, is the purpose of the spiritual life and of ministry" (57).

So, what do you make of all this?
What other scriptures can you think of that address words, language, and silence?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Solitude

Over the course of this Summer I've been striving to immerse myself in more spiritual disciplines. One of the wonderfully humbling things about practicing spiritual disciplines is that they immediately show you how poorly you practice them!

One of the books I picked up to help challenge me along this path was "The Way of the Heart" by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen asserts that in order to be an effective minister of the Gospel in today's culture we need to habitually practice the disciplines of solitude, silence, and prayer.

Today I'll provide you some of his insights on the spiritual discipline of solitude.

Are you the kind of person who longs for times of solitude or dreads it?

"Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general we are very
busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing. We simply go along with the many 'musts' and 'oughts' that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord" (Way of the Heart, 12).

Have you ever felt like this?
Have you ever wondered if the things you are thinking/saying/doing are worth thinking/saying/doing?

Nouwen says that solitude is the place where transformation happens. Of course there are numerous Biblical examples of this: Israel in the wilderness, Elijah fleeing into the wilderness, John the Baptist baptizing in the wilderness, Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, etc.

Nouwen says that as long as we remain (at least mentally/spiritually, if not physically) in our culture we will remain victims of our culture. And so there is a need (at least mentally/spiritually, if not physically) to flee into solitude were we can allow God to strip away all that needs to be removed in our lives.

"Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace ... Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter -- the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self" (15-16).

However, Nouwen challenges us to make sure that our times and places of solitude don't become places/times of selfishness: "... solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather, it is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs" (17).

And he reminds us that the purpose of solitude is NOT escapism. The purpose of solitude is not to flee the world forever; after all, our mandate as Christians is to engage the world. Rather, our times of solitude allow God to shape and form us and provide us with a perspective conducive to ministry: compassion.

"Here we reach the point where ministry and spirituality touch each other. It is compassion. Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion... It is in solitude that compassionate solidarity grows... What becomes visible is that solitude molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own sinfulness and so fully aware of God's even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry" (24, 25, 27).

What role has/does solitude play in your life?
Do you agree with his perspective on Solitude?
What other scriptures can you think of that connect with the spiritual discipline of solitude?

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Dawn Treader Trailer

Hey, check out the 2nd VTD Trailer:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

So, we just got back from our holidays. I'll do my best to have more "normal" posts starting next week.

We spent some time at Last Mountain Lake:
And we went and visited my parents in the Calgary area. While we were there we went to the Calgary Zoo. Kaleb loved all the animals but was enthralled by the animatronic dinosaurs!

I also enjoyed watching TFC beat CD Motagua to qualify for the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League: