Thursday, February 28, 2008

Where Has Your Money Been?

I was reading a housechurch blog today and came across this post. Very interesting. I wonder what the statistics would be in Canada??

In New Zealand On average, every $2 coin in your pocket has been through a poker machine six times in the past year.

The first data from a new $35 million electronic monitoring system, to be presented at a gambling conference in Auckland today, shows that people sank $2.4 billion into non-casino gambling machines in the past year.

Almost $900 million of this was in $2 coins - which was 6.7 times the total value of $2 coins in circulation.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Maintaining Focus

We had a great discussion at our last men’s breakfast. Someone presented the scenario of wanting to be a passionate follower of God, having devotions and prayer in the morning but then falling short in so many ways by the evening. It seems we are stuck in Romans 7 where Paul talks about wanting to do the right thing but not being able to get there.
We want to do well but often the day drags us down;
- or we get frustrated
- or someone rubs us the wrong way
- or temptation has its way with us
- or our prayers are ineffective
Life is just so “daily” sometimes. But why does that happen if we have been praying, and committing our day to God?

We came up with five responses.

1. Vision and Desire
2. Faith
3. Know who I am in Christ
4. Don’t lose heart
5. Walk in community

I'll look at the first one in this post.

1. Vision and Desire
We need to focus on God’s vision for us rather than a legalistic or moralistic approach to our Christian life. Ethics and morals are hard to maintain if they are only being done as a list of correct things to do – especially since morals have become so relativistic in our culture. In the workplace morals are being compromised at the very highest level. In movies, and in almost every sitcom the “conflict” is almost always about selfishness and dishonesty. Someone gets in trouble, lies about it and then needs to face the relational consequences. In the end the lie is justified and life goes on.

It is extremely tough to be honest merely for honesty’s sake (even though sometimes it is the only motivation we can muster). To act with consistently high moral standards we need a vision and a goal – something that gives us (or will give us) joy. We cannot maintain a lifestyle that is moral or obedient or ethical out of blind obligation. It must be motivated by a higher vision and desire. We need to have a reason for our behaviour. The writer of the book of Hebrews says it this way:

Hebrews 12
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The three higher motivations expressed here are:
i. witnesses.
There are people who will watch us doing good - cheering us on to do good. We are accountable. This is external motivation and is very powerful if the people cheering you on are those you respect and want to please.
ii. joy.
This is internal motivation. This is “doing it for me.” There is a joy that needs to be envisioned to carry out a difficult task. It may be the joy of accomplishment. It may be the joy of a reward. It may be the joy of knowing that what you believe was right actually worked the way is was supposed to.
iii. Jesus.
We need to focus on the author and perfecter of our faith. We need to consider Him who endured much more opposition. The goal is to follow Him and become like Him.

The apostle Paul puts it this way:

Philippians 3
10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I will continue the rest of the five points on another post.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Only Real Hope

A friend of mine has just discovered that his headaches have been the result of a tumor growing in his brain. He has been diagnosed with a glioblastoma (grade 4, most aggressive type) tumor with oligo features. The surgeon says he can expect 12-18 months with radiation (6-9 without), and possibly a further extension with chemo, but both treatments can only delay the inevitable.

Wikipedia gives the following description/definition: Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and aggressive type of primary brain tumor, accounting for 52% of all primary brain tumor cases and 20% of all intracranial tumors. Despite being the most prevalent form of primary brain tumor, GBMs occur in only 2-3 cases per 100,000 people in Europe and North America. Treatment can involve chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery, all of which are acknowledged as palliative measures, meaning that they do not provide a cure. Even with complete surgical resection of the tumor, combined with the best available treatment, the survival rate for GBM remains very low.

This friend is about my age (around 50) and he has two teenaged children - one in university and one in highschool (just like my kids). I've known him for almost 25 years and have worked fairly closely with him for the past 4 or 5. I have a hard time imagining how he's feeling. The email that I got informing me of the diagnosis finished with the statement: "The only real hope now is for a miraculous healing."

Isn't that always our only real hope? In our church service on Sunday morning one of the girls from the Philippines told the story of her friend experiencing a resurrection from the dead just this past week. I'm not sure of all the details but I believe it happened in Hong Kong as a group of Philippino domestic care givers were in a refugee area waiting for visas and transport out of the country. A woman died from heat exhaustion and heart failure (I think that was the reason). After the initial shock the rest of the group started praying for her. After not breathing for a long time (an hour?) she suddenly stirred and started breathing again.

That story stimulated a long discussion about why we hear of more miraculous healings in the "global south" (what we have traditionally called the third world) than we do in the Western nations. It comes back to that statement "The only real hope now is for a miraculous healing." Miraculous healing is often the only hope for many in the global south. Sickness is not always accurately diagnosed. Medical care is spotty. Living conditions are detrimental to good health. Nutrition is often poor. But faith is high and miraculous healings are more common.

Needless to say our prayers for my friend that morning were more passionate than normal and our faith was stirred.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Modest Proposal for Middle East Peace

I enjoy politics if by that you understand that I like watching it from a distance. The USA primaries have been the most interesting one in decades. The turmoil in Pakistan has caught my attention. The uproar over comments by an Anglican bishop seems to have Britain in a twitter. And the Middle East always has a front page story. Living in a Jewish neighbourhood the talk sometimes turns to Israel and my neighbours have included me on some of their email lists. The following piece (written by Victor Davis Hanson is the author of "Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.") has been the most thought provoking in a while and I thought I would share it. It was originally posted in The National Review and can also be found at AISH.COM. An interesting read.

A Modest Proposal for Middle East Peace

The U.N. need only take five simple steps.

There seems to be a growing renewed animus against Israel lately. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the purported humanist Mahatma Gandhi, thinks Israel and Jews in general are prone to, and singularly responsible for, most of the world's violence. The Oxford Union is taking up the question of whether Israel even has a right to continue to exist. Our generation no longer speaks of a "Palestinian problem," but rather of an "Israeli problem." So perhaps it is time for a new global approach to deal with Israel and its occupation.

Perhaps we ought to broaden our multinational and multicultural horizons by transcending the old comprehensive settlements, roadmaps, and Quartet when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a dispute which originated with the creation of Israel.
Why not simply hold an international conference on all of these issues -- albeit in a far more global context, outside the Middle East?

The ensuing general accords and principles could be applied to Israel and the West Bank, where the number of people involved, the casualties incurred, and the number of refugees affected are far smaller and far more manageable.
Perhaps there could be five U.N. sessions: disputed capitals; the right of return for refugees; land under occupation; the creation of artificial post-World War II states; and the use of inordinate force against suspected Islamic terrorists.

In the first session, we should try to solve the status of Nicosia, which is currently divided into Greek and Turkish sectors by a U.N. Greek Line. Perhaps European Union investigators could adjudicate Turkish claims that the division originated from unwarranted threats to the Turkish Muslim population on Cyprus. Some sort of big power or U.N. roadmap then might be imposed on the two parties, in hopes that the Nicosia solution would work for Jerusalem as well.

In the second discussion, diplomats might find common ground about displaced populations, many from the post-war, late 1940s. Perhaps it would be best to start with the millions of Germans who were expelled from East Prussia in 1945, or Indians who were uprooted from ancestral homes in what is now Pakistan, or over half-a-million Jews that were ethnically cleansed from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria following the 1967 war. Where are these refugees now? Were they ever adequately compensated for lost property and damages? Can they be given promises of the right to return to their ancestral homes under protection of their host countries? The ensuring solutions might shed light on the Palestinian aspirations to return to land lost sixty years ago to Israel.

A third panel would take up the delicate issue of returning territory lost by defeat in war. Ten percent of historic Germany is now part of Poland. The Russians still occupy many of the Kurile Islands, and Greek Cyprus lost sizable territory in 1974 after the invasion by Turkey. The Western Sahara is still annexed by Morocco, while over 15 percent of disputed Azerbaijan has been controlled by Armenia since 1994. Additionally, all of independent Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1950-1. Surely if some general framework concerning these occupations could first be worked out comprehensively, the results might then be applied to the much smaller West Bank and Golan Heights.

In a fourth panel, the international conference should take up the thorny issue of recently artificially created states. Given the tension over Kashmir, was Pakistan a mistake -- particularly the notion of a homeland for Indian Muslims? North Korea was only created after the stalemate of 1950-3; so should we debate whether this rogue nation still needs to exist, given its violent history and threats to world peace?

Fifth, and finally, is there a global propensity to use inordinate force against Muslim terrorists that results in indiscriminate collateral damage? The Russians during the second Chechnyan War of 1999-2000 reportedly sent tactical missiles into the very core of Grozny, and may have killed tens of thousands of civilians in their hunt for Chechnyan terrorists -- explaining why the United Nations later called that city the most destroyed city on earth. Syria has never admitted to the complete destruction of Hama, once home to Muslim Brotherhood terrorists. The city suffered the fate of Carthage and was completely obliterated in 1982 by the al-Assad government, with over 30,000 missing or killed. Did the Indian government look the other way in 2002 when hundreds of Muslim civilians in Gujarat were killed in reprisal for Islamic violence against Hindus? The lessons learned in this final session might reassure a world still furious over the 52 Palestinians lost in Jenin.

In other words, after a half-century of failed attempts to solve the Middle East crisis in isolation, isn't it time we look for guidance in a far more global fashion, and in contexts where more lives have been lost, more territory annexed, and more people made refugees in places as diverse as China, Russia, and the broader Middle East?

The solutions that these countries have worked out to deal with similar problems apparently have proven successful -- at least if the inattention of the world, the apparent inaction of the United Nations, and the relative silence of European governments are any indication.

So let the international community begin its humanitarian work!

Greek Cypriots can advise Israel about concessions necessary to Muslims involving a divided Jerusalem. Russians and Syrians can advise the IDF on how to deal properly and humanely with Islamic terrorists. Poland, Russia, China, and Armenia might offer the proper blueprint for giving back land to the defeated that they once gained by force. A North Korea or Pakistan can offer Israel humanitarian lessons that might blunt criticisms that such a recently created country has no right to exist. Iraq and Egypt would lend insight about proper reparation and the rights of return, given its own successful solutions to the problems of their own fleeing Jewish communities.

But why limit the agenda to such a small array of issues? The world has much to teach Israel about humility and concessions, on issues ranging from how other countries in the past have dealt with missiles sent into their homeland, to cross-border incursions by bellicose neighbors.

No doubt, Middle East humanitarians such as Jimmy Carter, Arun Gandhi, and Tariq Ramadan could preside, drawing on and offering their collective past wisdom in solving such global problems to those of a lesser magnitude along the West Bank.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day

I found a great Valentine's day story written by a good friend. I have been looking around for a good Valentine's story that wasn't too sappy on the one hand or too theologically clinical on the other - for I think most of us have experienced the extremes of each end. In the past couple of days I have come across an online article on the Grammy's and read the Wikipedia post on Fleetwod Mac. Both revealed the anguish experienced in relationships that are in the spotlight. It must be extremely difficult to be married to someone who is constantly in the spotlight. Every activity publicized; every expression photographed; every blemish exposed and every failure ridiculed. Any relationship built on anything but solid love and commitment will be tested and found wanting. Anything that can be shaken will be shaken. My heart has been going out to all those in our world who have been looking for love in all the wrong places.

My friend Tim Huff, who works with homeless youth with an organization called Youth Unlimited in Downtown Toronto has been someone who has brought love and compassion to young people who have been forced into all the wrong places. He shares this story on his blog and I wanted to post some of it here. If you want to support a worthy cause in Toronto - this is one of the best. Thanks for all the work you do Tim.

Three Other Words

Deza won’t tell me her age. (But I would guess 25 or so?) Won’t tell me where she’s from. Won’t tell me where she goes when she’s absent from the street for days, weeks, even months at a time. Still, I have known her on-and-off for at least 3 years. 3 years that have aged her no less than the equivalent of 10. Still, despite her secret existence of survival, she seems mildly amused by my redundant presence and failing persistence. On Monday, I offered to help dig out her lost belongings covered beneath the 25cm snowfall that landed while she slept, somewhere beneath the Jarvis onramp. But, “no thanks”.

On Tuesday, I brought her hot chocolate and a bagel and begged her to let me walk her to a shelter, submitting to the -25 degree wind chill. But, “no thanks”. And on Wednesday, I brought her extra socks and hand warmers. And again, with raised eyebrows and a polite nod, “no thanks”. Tell-tale signs of abuses at the hands of men who had posed kindly in her past, and ended up tearing at her soul.

So, I walked on. A 30 minute meeting at a donut shop, a 20 minute conversation with a frostbitten teenager, and a 10 minute chat with 2 drunk seniors on a heating vent, and I had circled back to Deza’s corner for the day.

I looked at Deza, smiled and sighed, “I know, I know, no thanks.” And she smiled back. But then, straying very far from the norm, she called out, “Hey, hey…”

My heart leaped. She was always a responder. And in that, always kind and courteous. But distant at best. Never, in any way was she an initiator. Perhaps this was a new day though – I thought, I hoped, I prayed.

“Yes, yes, what is it?” I all but leapt at her.

She drew her shoulders back as if to say – “too close”. So, indeed, I stepped back instantly and repeated myself in softer tones, “Yes, yes, what is it?”

Her hands fidgeted beneath her worn sleeping bag and then one reached towards me. In her grey mitten was a shred of paper. I reached out and took it slowly between my fingers.

Much more than a simple note, it was a Valentine. Not a glossy store-bought. Not a romantic poem or sonnet. No ribbons, bows, or tinfoil glue-ons. Something much, much grander than those could ever be.

Deza had hand-torn the red back of a cigarette pack into the shape of a heart and written 3 words on the opposite side…

“Thanks for trying.”

Measures for success in my career do not exist. Trying to create such a yardstick would and could only announce the unbearable failure in seeing too few lives changed, bettered, or made new. So, people like me cling to “ministry” terms, so that we can at least get out of bed in the morning without feeling completely defeated; sigh – “the only measurement for success is being faithful”.

But if there was a gauge in place that would at least identify the true highs – well, simple and profound things like notes on the backs of cigarettes packages would peek the mercury. And 3 words like “thanks for trying” are worth more than silver or gold.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This is just for fun. As you may know there are thousands of free programs floating around out there. Some of them are quite amazing like Abiword - a free word processing program similar to Microsoft® Word.

As I have been searching to restock my computer with programs that I had been using I came across Mozodojo - a really neat freeware that creates mosaic pictures. (Mosaic is when you take lots of little pictures and make them look like one big picture.)

To use this software, just choose a picture to make, then choose a folder of pictures to create it from. (Most of us have collected thousands of digital photos). You can choose how many pictures to use and just how detailed you want it to be. You can even choose the final image to be poster size and print it out in good detail. Check it out here or here. There may be similar programs in the PC world but both these are Mac.

Well I took the photo included in my profile and made a mosaic of it - the result is below. A composite of over 3000 pictures.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Feeling Small

Maybe this is a good followup to "My Imaginary Friend." My son Jared sent me a link to some pictures of various stars and their relative size to Earth. Seeing stuff like this reminds me of how small we are compared to the universe. It also reminds me of how powerful God is compared to the Universe. Wait 30 or 40 seconds to let the pictures scroll through.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Imaginary Friend - the Problem with "True for You"

I was over at the Off the Map site (and their Church Rater site) the other day where they are having ongoing conversations stimulated by the book Jim and Casper Go To Church. It is interesting and in some ways a beneficial conversation. As Christians we need to always be open to evaluation and correction because it is easy to get off track in our world. The view from an atheist has been helpful in correcting some of the things we take for granted in our sometimes cloistered church world. I made a comment on their blog (some of which is repeated below) which got me thinking a lot about this whole conversation.

A guy in Canada (Drew Marshall) also “copied” the project and attended half a dozen churches in the Toronto area with two “atheists.” Some good comments there as well. I reviewed the book here and also responded to the Canadian version here. Each of those has links to the original works.

My main “critical” comment directed to atheists reviewing church life is one that they have probably heard before and probably have responded to somewhere, sometime. It’s simply this - that as atheists they don’t really “get” the God piece. Maybe it goes without saying and maybe that’s part of the point of the book. But I’m not sure that they really get that deep real experience of those who simply connect to God.

The "certainty" about God that Christians have that drives atheists nuts is the certainty of a real experience and a real conversation with God/Jesus. So spending time interacting with that God in worship and adoration is never wasted or pointless or irrelevant to life. Deep personal interactive worship of God (alone or with a group) is always worth the time and the effort - even if at times it produces no tangible "result." God always deserves to be worshipped and it is the chief end of humans to worship God. However, I do agree with Matt Casper that it certainly doesn’t need all the bells and whistles that some of the churches he visited attach to it.

I mean I stumble in the dark as much as the next guy. I wish I could control or explain more articulately how I interact with God or he with me. But what keeps me coming back to God is this certainty for me of this knowledge that I’ve interacted with the creator of the universe. The fundamental reality of the experience of connecting with God is what makes sense of the world.

The argument about "certainty" can definitely lean towards being quite condescending to those who are firm in their faith. Really, skepticism can be quite "certain" as well. Matt Casper asks us to affirm that faith is empirically unprovable and so by nature uncertain. He says this on their blog:

That’s the nature of belief and faith! It cannot be empirically proven, that’s why it can never be wrong. Faith is, in essence, your personally held belief. Like an opinion, it requires no proof to be true for you.

My goal is to get people of faith to be people of faith. Because when you start calling your faith “right,” then others’ faith must be “wrong.” And that leads to statements like “We’re good, they’re evil.” And that leads to conflict. And conflict leads to an ongoing horrorshow of people of different faiths killing each other (and millions of innocents, too), which simply has to stop.

While I agree that the church has a history of forcible conversions that often resulted in wars and the death of innocents, I take exception to some of the comments he makes because of the unspoken implications. Yes, there are stupid people out there who take wrong actions because of their faith. It doesn't mean their faith is wrong or untrue. Nor does it necessarily make someone else's faith more right or true. He also makes a logic leap from being "right" and "wrong" to being "good" and "evil" (which is a whole other post).

The implication he makes is that what I know to be true is considered only personal truth - which then is not really truth at all - and I really shouldn't take it so seriously. After all I can't risk offending someone else who might actually be wrong. Is there an empirical truth outside of myself? Yes. Can I prove it? No, not with a "scientific" empirical means because it is not necessarily scientific.

When we speak this way, faith then only becomes what I imagine to be true in my head. The implication is that I am out of touch with reality and only imagining it. It becomes "true for me." This is a polite (or perhaps politically correct) way of saying I'm crazy.

Because the only options available to me are:
1. My experience really is true and real. I know God and speak to Him and He to me. My assumption must be that if God is God there should be some consistency in His behaviour and that my experience should be somewhat similar to yours. We should be able to compare notes and determine some common denominators about who God is and how He speaks and the nature of His character. This is what Christians affirm the world over in different cultures and times and places. Their experiences are similar and they line up with the general flow of Scripture.

2. This experience is actually not true or real. Therefore I am either ...
a. deluding myself (thinking that I am actually speaking and listening to something I think is a divine being who is actually not really there). This is the affirmation of most atheists and most of the "pluralists" in our world. The god I interact with is actually a god of my own making and a god of my own understanding (true for me). I have made him up and I have conversations with my imaginary friend as if he is real. Therefore I am basically insane or schizophrenic.

... or,

b. I am being deluded (which means that someone or something has deceived me). This may be as a result of my upbringing or my culture or the preacher/pastor/televangelist that I listen to. The implication is that I am simple, gullible, dependent, brainwashed, stupid, uneducated, naive, uninformed, not intellectual, etc., and the religious scam artists have got me believing their schtick.

So for Christians to line up with Matt Casper's thinking, we should say the thing we are experiencing (that we call God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit) is actually a product of our unscientific, unprovable faith and therefore it provides no real certainty. It is just my experience of God (which may be different than yours). However to say that my experience of god is fundamentally different than your experience of god means that god is not actually real and not consistent in his actions with people - which means he does not exist except in my (or your) delusion.

That is the whole point of the atheistic argument. If there is no God everyone can have their own idea of God or even be god. But if there really is a God, I can be certain about it because He is found by those who seek Him.

Glorious Insults

I enjoy the English language. A well written piece of prose can delight the heart. A wonderful turn of phrase can put a smile on my face all day as I attempt to find some excuse to incorporate it into a conversation. The great writers and conversationalist of our time (and in history) are able to remember these unique turns of phrases and use them in daily communication. I tend to forget them once the day is done - until I hear someone else use them. Or until someone sends me an email like the one below.

There was a time when words were used beautifully. These glorious insults are from an era when cleverness with words was still valued, before a great portion of the English repartee was boiled down to four-letter words! Enjoy.

'He had delusions of adequacy.' - Walter Kerr

'He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.' - Winston Churchill

'He is a modest little person, with much to be modest about.' - Winston Churchill

'I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.' - Clarence Darrow

'He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.' - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

'Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?' -Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

'Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it.' - Moses Hadas

'He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.' - Abraham Lincoln

'I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.' - Mark Twain

'He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends' - Oscar Wilde

'I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend -- if you have one.' - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

'Cannot possibly attend first night but I will be able to attend the second night -- if there is one.' - Winston Churchill, in response

The exchange between Churchill and Lady Astor: She said, 'If you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea.' And he said, 'If you were my wife, I'd drink it!''

Gladstone, a member of Parliament, to Benjamin Disraeli: 'Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.' 'That depends, sir,' said Disraeli... 'On whether I embrace your policies or your mistress'.

'I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here.' - Stephen Bishop

'He is a self-made man and worships his creator.' - John Bright

'I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial.' - Irvin S. Cobb

'There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure.' - Jack E.Leonard

'In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.' - Charles, Count Talleyrand

'Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.' - Oscar Wilde

'I've had a perfectly wonderful evening.....but this wasn't it.' - Groucho Marx

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Culture of Death

A couple of weeks ago I attended a breakfast hosted by the Canadian Urban Institute - a group that hosts regular forums on issues that affect urban life. The one I attended was geared towards how to make faith more a part of the urban landscape and they talked about ways to value, support and include the "social capital" provided by churches.

In the USA the conversation is about funding and valuing "faith based initiatives." Canada has marginalized faith based organizations to a much greater degree even though we have a strong history of co-operation between church and state. For example the church has run native schools, the provinces have funded Catholic schools (in Ontario) and Pentecostal and Salvation Army schools (in Newfoundland). Much of the work with the poor is done by faith based organizations like the Salvation Army (homeless shelters, rehab centres, etc.)

One of the presenters was Rob Joustra from the The Work Research Foundation whose mission is to influence people to a Christian view of work and public life. They seek to explore and unfold the dignity of work, the meaning of economics, and the structures of civil society, in the context of underlying patterns created by God. They have a great website with lots of resources and a very interesting report that should be out in a month called Stained Glass Urbanism.

One of their resources is called "Think." Here they have a number of podcasts about urban, work and cultural issues. I listened to one of them last week (by a guy named John Seel) and I have been thinking about it ever since. Fred Petross at Abductive Columns posted about it and gave me a link to a hard copy. That is great because I was ready to actually transcribe it word for word from the podcast because I feel it is such a significant resource in understanding our current culture.

I've quoted a few sections of below. The links to look at all of it are in the previous paragraph.

On Postmodernism

Identity, morality, and society itself are impossible to maintain unless they are premised on an existing sacred order.

Philip Rieff. (Sacred Order/Social Order: My Life Among the Deathworks), a non-practicing Jew, argues that identity, morality, and society itself are impossible to maintain unless they are premised on an existing sacred order. Cultural formation is a process of translating the sacred order into the social order. Until recently, all societies depended on a vertical relationship with the sacred. All social and individual life made this assumption. This is not true today.

Rieff identifies three historical epochs or worlds, captured in words: fate, faith, and fictions. The first world is the classically pagan, based on fate; the second world is theistic, based on faith; and the third world is postmodern, based on fictions. The third world differs radically from the former two. For the participants in this third world, which represents our culture, “transliterate no sacred order into social order but instead propose a world in which there is no truth and no sacred order, only fictions and various rhetorics of power and self-interest.” This is unprecedented. “Every world, until our third, has been a form of address to some ultimate authority,” Rieff warns.

Consequently, the culture war we face today is not like that of the past. Past conflicts were between competing sacred symbolic systems. They were in effect family feuds. Not so today. Sociologist James Davison Hunter, in his introduction to Rieff’s book, writes, “What makes the contemporary culture war distinctive is that it is a movement of negation against all sacred orders and directed, in its particulars, against the verticals in authority that mediate sacred order to social order.” The third world cultural elites are insistent on instructing society in this “higher illiteracy.” This world, anticipated by Nietzsche, Rieff calls a “deathwork.” “Deathworks are battles in the war against second culture and are themselves tests of highest authority.”

Abandoning the wrong approach

Our past efforts at cultural renewal have not been effective in part because the faith perspective is underrepresented in many of the institutions of cultural leadership. Consider geography. There are four main centers of national cultural influence: Boston, New York, San Jose—representing the Silicon Valley—and Los Angeles. Evangelicals are concentrated instead in places like Wheaton, Colorado Springs, and Orlando. Institutional evangelicalism serves institutional evangelicalism, but rarely the wider culture.

Politics reflects culture; it doesn’t direct it.

Culture is shaped by a small number of gatekeepers. Majority perspectives have little bearing on culture formation. Instead, elites dominate. Neuhaus notes: “Even though [these elites] may be a minority of the population, they succeed in presenting themselves as ‘mainstream’ through their control of powerful institutions in the media, in entertainment, in the arbitrations of literary taste, in the great research universities and professional associations, and in the worlds of business and advertisement that seek the approval of those who control the commanding heights of culture.” Increasingly, grassroots political efforts to reverse the current cultural direction are proving futile. Politics reflects culture; it doesn’t direct it.

Moreover, by focusing on mobilizing majorities and legislative coercion, these faith communities have alienated their opponents while squandering their cultural and biblical capital. They have failed because the convictions that underlie culture cannot be coerced. They can be proposed, never imposed. Culture changes when a society’s assumptions and aspirations are captured by new ideas and images that are developed by thinkers and artists, expounded in both scholarly and popular forms, depicted in innumerable works of art, literature and entertainment, and then lived out attractively by communities of people who are committed to them. By narrowly focusing on Washington and state legislatures, faith communities have forgotten how to assert cultural influence. Today, most Christians in America are known for self-serving power politics rather than humble service for the good of others.

That many faith leaders are now viewing “the culture” as a new strategic goal is laudable, but such recognition also needs a deep theological perspective and appropriate cultural discernment to have any renewing effect.

Ya Might be a Redneck if ...

The Jeff Foxworthy schtick is probably getting pretty old for most of us already. You know ... "Ya might be a redneck if the grass growing in your front yard is so out of control that it hides the fact that you have two abandoned cars parked there."

Well I was reading a portion of a book by Paul Vieira (a Canadian author) called "Jesus Has Left the Building." In it he talks about his call to move outside the walls of the church to interact with the community and be the Church where two or three are gathered. In the book introduction he spells out some of the characteristics of the "institutional church."

So, how would I define “the building”? What is it exactly that Jesus is supposedly walking away from? Well, you might be dealing with an institutional understanding if you maintain or accept the following ideas about “church:”

So (in my words): "Ya might be part of an institutional church if ..."

• it’s somewhere you go
• it happens on a special day of the week
• you have a professional to tell you what to do
• all it requires of you is attendance and fees paid
• there exists a hierarchical command structure
• meetings come before people
• it has committees
• it has programs
• it has a corporate vision
• it has a corporate name
• it segregates itself from other believers
• it is more concerned with structure than content
• quality is sacrificed for quantity

He continues some of his ideas with these comments ...

In my experience, I loved being with God’s people. But there was something else interfering with our relationships and life together. This subtle, but very powerful system of values and practices does not seem to have its root in Jesus. I often use the following words synonymously (sometimes humorously), to describe this hindrance: institutional church, organized church, the religious system, the system, the corporate machine, the monster, the building, the matrix. Periodically, I will make statements that question the legitimacy of “church.” When this happens, please know that I am not referring to the true church, made up of all believers in Christ, but to the organization typically called “church.”

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Error Message

If you have spent enough time here to have read the past day's blogs then you should take a look at this site. I'm turning off my computer right now and following his advice.

The Argument is Over

Some of you may have heard of the Journal called "First Things." It is a mostly Christian, conservative, intellectual journal discussing all things political, cultural and moral. You need to be fairly conversant with social and political issues, and you probably need a bit more than a sixth grade reading level, but it is very thought-provoking and informative. The editor, and real personality of the journal, is Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor who converted to Roman Catholicism. He writes a major article for every issue, and always writes a number of what I would call blog posts (called The Public Square) attached to the end of his article.

In the April 2007 issue he writes a very good article called "Christ Without Culture, etc." He follows that up with a number of comments on the current atmosphere of anti-intellectualism prevalent - not in the church - but in the current politically correct way of discussing issues. In the Public Square section he posts this little tidbit.

“The argument is over,” announced former Vice President Al Gore. The subject was global warming. The television interviewer then asked, “You mean there is no argument about global warming?” Gore solemnly nodded and said again, very much like a judge pronouncing the final verdict, “The argument is over.” When and where, one might well ask, did the argument take place? Who was invited to take part in the argument? There are many very reputable scientists expressing skepticism or disbelief with respect to global warming. Never mind, they’re too late; the argument is over. As the presumed moderator of public discourse, Mr. Gore declares that the argument is over and that his side won.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Ellen Goodman goes further, comparing global-warming skeptics with Holocaust deniers. They are not only ignorant, they are culpably ignorant. In fact, they are evil. One detects a growing pattern of refusing to engage in argument by declaring that the argument is over. It is not only global warming. Raise a question about the adequacy of Darwinian theory, whether scientifically or philosophically, and be prepared to be informed that the argument is over. Offer the evidence that many who once coped with same-sex desires have turned out, not without difficulty, to be happily married to persons of the opposite sex and you will be told politely—or, more likely, impolitely—that the argument is over.

The Public Square
by Richard John Neuhaus
Copyright (c) 2007 First Things (April 2007).

So How Many People Do You Have? 5

This is the conclusion to David Fitch's posts on how church planting is changing in Canada. It has been an enlightening read for me and it is something I plan to study in greater detail. It reveals that what I have been doing almost instinctively in trying to respond to my community and the changing Canadian cultural scene, others have been doing as well. Maybe God is up to something.


All of the above paints a picture of a leader mentality drastically different from the church planter of the past. Yet most (not all) of the missional leaders I have met possess strains of this new mentality. I believe this bodes well for the future. For I believe this next generation of pastors (in my experience coming mostly out of evangelicalism) provides hope for a renewal of Christianity in Canada.

Like a fermenting revolution evolving out of a tired and reified ancien regime, these tiny bands of Christians have come on the scene committed to live a life together of worship, spiritual formation, community, hospitality and service to the poor (of all kinds). In ways never imagined by the machinations of the mega church, many of these bands are already infecting their neighborhoods with an embodied gospel that cannot be denied, only responded to. Knowing Christendom is gone, they carry no pretension. Instead they embody the gospel in its most compelling, authentic, non-coercive form.

This new wave of Christians is small in number and possesses little to no resources financially. Most do not impress with their grandiose visions. They do not hang in the halls of power. They do not make a show of their successes. Yet their vision of a simple Christian habitat as witness in the world reminds me of the Irish missional orders God used to effect a profound conversion of European society in the 4th century. We have seen the world changed like this once before (read How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill). Could we be in the early stages of seeing God move in a similar fashion once again? Let us pray it be so.

So How Many People Do You Have? 4

This continues the (copying of a) series of posts by David Fitch. In the last post he described how Canadian missional church planting is changing. Here he describes how leadership is changing.



Enduring missional leaders learn how to survive financially and spiritually for the long term. They must be able to hold down a job that does not consume him/her, merely enable them to live simply for the long term. In Christendom, the denominations used to pay someone to get a self-sufficient church going in three years. This person was in essence paid to extend an organization, open up a franchise, and set up a version of church with the distinctives of the denomination.

In the new post-Christendom, this doesn't make sense. In my opinion it takes at least 5 years of "seeding a community" before one even begins to see an ethos of community and new life develop that can be a cultural carrier-transmitter of the gospel. As a result, the new missional community leaders must have patience, steady faithfulness and the ability to live simply. They must have a mental image of how they are going to sustain their lives financially, relationally, spiritually and personally. It all must take the shape of a sustainable rhythm.


I have found that missional leaders are most often shepherds of an overall ethos of a community. They are not starting and managing an organization. They may not even be good at organization. Instead they are cultivating a communal sense of mission identity among a gathering people "for this time and place".

It used to be every church planter had to be an extravert entrepreneur, someone who looked good and had the perfect family. This person had to be a good salesman (woman) and had to have endless energy. He or she had to set a vision, direct a course, motivate and sell. Yet I have seen, in this new era, that the missional leader is most often someone who can take time and be with people. He or she will listen to people, discern the needs, articulate where we are going, knit the community together in a common struggle with gentleness, encouragement, listening.

For we do not gather as we once did to hear a charismatic leader preach an entertaining piece of inspiration. We do not gather for a professional piece of programmed worship experience. In the new post-Christendom we are coming together to be formed and shaped, supported and edified for the Mission as a band of brothers and sisters. Yes we do gather on Sundays to hear the Word, to be nourished at the Table, and respond to what God is calling us to, but we do all this not as individual but as a community, a community "sent out" into mission.

Missional communities will not grow unless there is a nurturing sustaining presence prodding for the long term. Leaders that can adapt, roll with the punches, and shepherd communally are more valuable than the high-powered "strong starters" who wish to be gone in two years. These leaders are mentored not through leadership conferences and books. Instead, we must have regular times together to practice together listening, mutual submission, responding with love and guiding instead of dictating. We look together for what God is doing in our lives and in and around our community.


Rarely do missional leaders lead their communities as a feature Bible teacher who dictates the a.'s and b's of Biblical doctrine. Rather they are interpreters of what God is doing communally through the teaching and preaching of Scripture. They read Scripture in community and preach looking for what God is calling us to in the neighborhoods. It used to be that every church planter would be this high-towered charismatic gifted preacher. He (normally a man) would draw the crowds. Soon a crowd would be gathered to hear "the show."

These days are past, not because you cannot attract dissatisfied or thrill seeking Christians from other churches with a great preacher, but because we have seen that true spiritual growth occurs communally only when the whole congregation is involved in times of praying, hearing, submitting and responding to the Word. Interpretive leaders do not dictate from the pulpit a list of do's and don'ts and solutions from God for every problem. They interpret the Scriptures to open our eyes to what God is doing and where He is taking us.

In a different way then, we must mentor leaders who are more than great preachers. They must lead their communities in interpreting what God is doing via the eyeglass of Scripture. Where is God taking us, where is he calling us? His/her sermons therefore fund the corporate imagination of God's Kingdom in our midst and where He is at work in our everyday lives. And when conflicts arise, we sit and pray, submit, pray for courage and humility and discern the Scriptures for the journey we are in called God's mission. This kind of leader often does not come from our (all too often) modernist seminaries. They are grown in a community who gathers to worship the Triune God so as to discern Him at work in our midst.


I believe that missional leaders must know how to guide the community in a spiritual formation. Admittedly, this kind of leadership is not common among younger evangelicals at least. Yet I still believe that the development of communal worship liturgies that are historically thick yet still local and organic, is crucial for these times. For we now recognize that the consumerist forces of our post Christendom Canada (and even worse United States) cannot be resisted as an isolated individual. An individual alone cannot resist the forces of desire that tell us things are more important than Mission, the life itself we share with the Triune God. Our communities therefore must be places of spiritual formation, of resistance to the forces of distraction, unsatiated desire and exploitation of those we choose not to know.

This means that our Sunday/Saturday? gatherings must be places of spiritual formation, encouragement and sending out for Mission. We must ever navigate against putting on a show that will attract, yet develop a liturgy that is simple, accessible and Scriptural that thereby guides our lives into Christ and keeps us from the distractions that would take us from Mission. But there will be no missional community of people formed and shaped for mission if we just preach Mission as a legalistic requirement. Mission requires patience, a sense of vision and a self-denial that can only be trained in the simple organic disciplines/liturgies of the historic church.


Missional leaders that have served for any length of time have learned how die to their ego's and allow God to use every man and woman's gifts in the community for the furtherance of His Kingdom.

Hierarchy is the product of Christendom. It hails to a day when Christianity still held power in society, when, Jesus was still established as a given in Canada. Hierarchy made sense in a day when the preacher in the town was looked up to and held power. This world, when one man could wield influence and get things done in the name of Christ, is waning. As a result, no one man or woman can lead a community from the top down and expect the church to go on as a viable social reality. We cannot be the very Body of Christ if we do not empower the manifold gifts in the community to minister the kingdom as part of everyday life. If we even try to operate out of the old hierarchical ways, missional communities will flounder and their leaders will die from exhaustion. I have seen it happen over and over.

This model subverts the CEO pastorate style we have all become so used to for each pastor gives away power instead of consolidating it. This kind of pastoral leadership models a kind of community for the rest to see instead of dictating the rest of the church to just do it. In this way, all shall own the leadership of this community and the journey we are on in the Mission. This kind of leadership needs to be modeled and practiced and it does not come easy in our day.

So How Many People Do You Have? 3

This next post by David Fitch describes the general movement toward new understandings of planting churches. This was the "aha!" post that suddenly named what I had been doing for the past 8 years. I had been cultivating a garden. There were a couple of comments after the post that I really enjoyed and I've copied them too. My apologies but I often enjoy the comments people make as much as the original post and I wanted to make sure you were able to see them connected to the post.


For those of us born before 1970, this change (to post Christendom) is truly stunning. The landscape of post-Christendom demands we think about church planting with a new eye for faithfulness, truth and integrity. Among the new missional leaders, church is the name we give to a way of life, not a set of services. We do not plant an organized set of services; we inhabit a neighborhood as the living embodied presense of Christ. Missional leaders now root themselves in a piece of geography for the long term.

We survey the land for the poor and the desperate, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. We seek to plant seeds of ministry, kernels of forgiveness, new plantings of the gospel among "the poor (of all kinds)" and then by the Spirit water them, nurture them into the life of God in Christ. We gather on Sunday, but not for evangelistic reasons. We gather to be formed into a missonal people sent out into the neighborhood to minister grace, peace, love and the gospel of forgiveness and salvation. The biggest part of church then is what goes on outside gathering. If the old ways of planting a church were like setting up a grocery store, now it is more like seeding a garden, cultivating it, watching God grow it amidst the challenges of the rocks, weeds and thorns (I owe this metaphor to my fellow co-pastors at Life on the Vine). What do these leaders look like? How can we walk alongside them? After hanging with a hundred or so of these leaders over the past few years, I offer the following observations. I'll post on this next.

len said ...
david, glad this has been an opportunity to put these thoughts on paper. Here are some thoughts from Michael Toy a few years back reflecting on the implications of organic gardening..

• take crap and use it to nourish things 

• it isn't "dirt," it is soil, and the preparation and maintenance of the soil is really important

• things that are garbage are used to grow the garden 

• vigilance is important 

• be willing to take smaller fruit in order for it to be truly healthy 

• gardening requires a systems understanding

• gardens die every winter and require replanting 

• things can only grow in certain climates 

• hybrids don't reproduce 

• if you use miracle grow to start, you have to keep boosting the amount 

• what you plant next to what is important 

• you have very little to do with the success of the gardern, photosynthesis is still a mystery, you can't make it grow, it is a miracle 

• backs and knees are sore because you are down in the dirt, you don't stand above the garden

• we need to protect the garden from bunnies. Worms are good, bunnies are bad. 

• organic fruit doesn't all look like the stuff in the market. Quality is over beauty, and there is no uniformity.. you share from the excess.

bigmikey (not me) said...

Great post. Very enjoyable. The more you explain the metaphor of the garden, the more it resonates with me.

Len, great additional comments. If I may be so bold, the "bunnies" in my experience are the disaffected evangelicals who hop from church to church. They come in so gently and softly, saying all the right things etc, but you turn your back for one minute and ... the radishes are GONE. Those evil b*st*rds!

So How Many People Do You Have? 2

David Fitch has created a couple of posts on his blog on how church planting has changed over the years - especially in Canada. Although you can go over there to check it out, I want to post here a lot of what he is saying so to create some continuity with what I am thinking in terms of what church will look like over the next few decades. I will also tie some of this stuff into my DMin work.


Over the last three decades, I have watched church planting change dramatically in Canada and the Northern parts of the United States. Back in the sixties/seventies, we used to send fifteen or twenty people from one local church into another place several towns over that was "under-churched." We would hold worship services, teach Sunday school, have a children's ministry. We would set up shop. We would choose a pastor who had all the tools as "they would say." He (most often a male) would be young, energetic and able to work like crazy. We would send out announcements expecting many who were looking for a church to show up. And if we did the basic services well, then we assumed the little gathering would grow into a self-sustaining church in 3 years. We might call these churches franchises.

Church planting worked like this because there were still large numbers of Christians to draw from for a congregation. We were in the great post-WW2 expansion in North America. New towns and subdivisions were springing up left and right. And just as each town needed a supermarket, a library and public schools, it needed a church. One could assume that out of the many thousands moving here into these new habitats, some would be Christians and need a church. So we planted churches like franchised local grocery stores. This was still an era of Christendom.

In the Eighties, the focus on church planting changed. Post WW2 expansion had slowed. More and more of the suburban boomers had not returned to the churches of their youth. The focus of church planting shifted to recapturing these now unchurched people for Christ. Now when we went to plant a church we needed first to conduct marketing surveys. We asked what we could we do to make church more relevant and user friendly. These surveys focused on finding out what these unchurched people were looking for? What turns them off of church? How can we do church in a way that relates to these people?

How can we make church relevant so that the "unchurched" would want to come to our services. What could make church more attractive? We focused on delivering the services with "excellence" and "efficiency" characteristic of the marketplace. In this way we planted churches like Wal-marts. The seeker service and church growth methods were invented. Hundreds of boomer generation people came who had left the church a decade before. Many hundreds of people in traditional churches left as well for "the new and improved" big box churches. Today, hundreds of mega-churches exist across North America as a testimony to "the success" of this approach to church planting.

Church planting like this worked because there were still huge amounts of unchurched people who had once learned of Christ in the earliest years of their upbringing. These unchurched had some familiarity with "who Jesus was." Deep within their boomer psyches, Jesus still carried credibility, even authority, even if they did consider the church obsolete. We assumed therefore that if we could just make Jesus relevant and attractive (as opposed to their former experiences of church) they would come. If the Bible could be communicated in a way that was meaningful to people's everyday life and needs, these unchurched would surely listen. They did come. People making "decisions for Christ" multiplied.

Church-planting like this however, still depended upon what was left of the vestiges of North American Christendom. A majority of the conversions were former high-church catechumens "coming back to Jesus." They had never made a "personal" decision to follow the Jesus they had earlier been taught about (most often in catechetical rote fashion). In this way, the seeker church movement was built upon Christendom.

To most Christians living in Canada, the days of Christendom are fading fast. There has been a change in mindset of those who would plant churches. As the number of Christians without a church shrinks, as the number of unchurched who once were catechumens of Christianity grows extinct, I have witnessed first hand the new wave of church planters who think of church planting in completely different ways. They are not interested in competing for the leftovers of Christendom. They resist the notion that the church is in need of just one more innovation. They are interested in nothing less than becoming missionaries, to plant churches cross culturally, across the barriers to people who have no knowledge or language about Jesus.

So How Many People Do You Have?

There are times in life when you meet someone or read something or see something that creates an "Aha!" moment. That happened to me this week.

For the past eight years we have been in the process of establishing a faith community, (planting a church, starting a new work, pioneering - whatever term you might like to use) in our community of Thornhill. When I meet people who know I'm doing this one of their first questions is "So how many people do you have now?" When I say "20-25, if everyone comes" they kind of look at me funny. If they are just making conversation, the conversation usually ends there. If they really want to know, I start telling my story.

I approached church planting the way I thought I was supposed to - because I really thought I had heard God calling. So I read all the books on church planting, attended a church planting bootcamp, had a church planter's assessment done, established a prospectus, read books about establishing a mission statement and core values, set up a time line, gathered a core team and started to pray. I did the demographic studies and determined that the least churched place in Ontario was Thornhill, got approval from the district, sent out prayer letters, decided on a name and started planning a kick-off event.

Even at the beginning I had the real sense that what we were supposed to do would be different in the church planting world. First of all, when I read other people's plans and looked at their organizational structures it just made me tired. I did not want that! I wanted to establish a community that was more organic than organizational. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant but I was sure that I was not going to begin a church plant with a structure that included 17 committees.

So we started. We did what we were good at. We had a great worship team. We had a couple of kick off events (a "shout from the Hills"), met in a church for a while on Sunday evenings and then took the leap to meet on Sunday mornings in rented facilities in a school. The evenings were good worshipping times but meeting in a school was kind of deflating. The school was expensive. We had to set up and tear down every week and transport our stuff to and from the school. It was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. It was usually not cleaned up from the week's activities (because the janitor used Sunday mornings to clean). It was a long walk from the parking lot (at one end of the school) to the gym (at the other end of the school). When visitors did come we couldn't spend time visiting with them because we needed to clean up and get out by one o'clock. I felt like a failure every week.

I know now that what we were trying to do was establish an attractional model of church in a neighbourhood that was not (and would never be) attracted to church. I had done my demographics - 80% of the community was Jewish! I only realized later that because of the demise of Christendom very few unchurched people are attracted to church (Jesus - yes, authentic Christianity - yes, but not normally a Christendom style church.)

After a year and a half of meeting in the school we decided to meet in our home. It was in the middle of the community. It was large enough to host the 15 to 20 people who came. Surprisingly enough we grew as soon as we moved into our house - 3 or 4 new people. And as soon as we moved into our house this artificial pressure to "be" something disappeared and I started enjoying church again. We started a process of sharing with one another, praying for one another, calling people up if we hadn't seen them for a week or two. We started becoming a community.

We started focussing on our community (or more correctly our communities). People began to realize that they were not there to run a machine called church. There were no ushers. There were no Sunday school teachers. There was no building committee or finance committee or outreach committee. It was just us trying to figure out how to make an impact on our world. So we started praying for one another's work environment and co-workers and neighbours. When someone was sick we laid hands on them - all of us! We went to one another's houses to bless their homes and to prayer walk their neighbourhoods.

Sundays became not the main focus of the week but a time and place to share with others the significant events of our weeks, the answers to prayer, the divine appointments. Ministry wasn't what happened on Sundays but what we were experiencing during the week - not just a place to hear sermons but to tell our stories. It was not about me pastoring a church but all of us pastoring a community (neighbours, family, co-workers and one another). People have come into relationship with Jesus but they don't necessarily connect with us as a worshipping community.

There are times where I wondered if anyone else was doing church like this. Most of my colleagues were talking about their busy counseling schedules, committee meetings, the programs they were involved in or their preaching plans for the year. None of it really related to where I was. I wondered if I was completely missing the whole concept of church. I wondered if anyone else was experiencing what I was.

Then this week I read some stuff that David Fitch had put together about missional churches and the processes they were going through - and it reverberated with me. I will talk about it more in the next post.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Community Research

I've been involved in a couple of groups that are doing community research. Specifically we are looking at Indicators of a transformed city. I have mentioned this before (here and here). It provides us a way of determining if we are actually being effective in our church and religious activities. Does it really make any difference when we worship and pray? Can we influence our culture? If so how do we measure that influence? The research is trying to find ways of quantifying that influence.

Therefore as a start, I have been compiling a list of websites that help us get some sense of where to look for information on community change. This page may not be of interest to everyone. Actually at times it is downright tedious. But for our team and perhaps for some others who may want to browse around in city and community websites there are some real gems of information. Most municipal leaders really do want to have healthy cities and we need to partner with them and contribute to the shaping of our cities. Christians have a significant voice in helping our communities become healthy and healing places where lives are transformed.

This is just a start and I will be organizing and categorizing this further. The highlighted names of the organizations will lead you to the site directly. I also included the actual site address if you want to record it without going there first.

Official Municipal Sites

City of Toronto Related Sites

City of Toronto Website (
The City of Toronto website has a wealth of information - very specifically geared to neighbourhoods and city wards. Lots of info here on social profiles of the area (age, ethnicity, income, etc.).
Toronto Maps (
Portal to go to all Toronto Neighbourhoods (140) (
Each Neighbourhood has its own site and demographic statistics.
Portal to all Toronto Wards (44) (
Each Ward has its own site and demographic statistics.
Strong Neighbourhood Task Force (
Demographic Atlas (Census Canada Info)
including religious affiliation by census tract (
Absolutely fascinating stuff here.

GTA Regional Municipality Sites

York Region's Website (
York Region Reports on Regional Issues
Links to the official websites of all the municipalities in York Region.
City of Vaughan
Demographics for Vaughan (

Durham Region Website (
Link to the official websites of all the municipalities in Durham Region.

Regional Municipality of Peel Website
Peel's Statistics Website
Peel Ward Profile Maps
Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon websites.

Halton Region Website
Link to all Halton community websites including historical research links and municipality webpages.

Other Ontario Sites

Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO ( has useful research in a number of Ontario communities including the GTA.

Closing the Distance ( is a project of the SPNO that has a number of reports for various communities in Ontario.

Urban Research Sites (mostly focused on Toronto)

The Centre for Urban and Community Studies (CUCS (, part of University of Toronto, it was established in 1964, and promotes and disseminates multidisciplinary research and policy analysis on urban issues. The Centre’s activities contribute to scholarship on questions relating to the social, economic and physical well-being of people who live and work in urban areas large and small, in Canada and around the world.
This is a very helpful site committed to research of all kinds of urban issues. Lots of articles here too.
Greater Toronto Urban Observatory (
- monitors and evaluates regional urban conditions and trends.
Urban Research Links (
connecting to Websites of other Urban and Housing Research and Policy Organizations

Cardus (formerly Work Research Foundation)
Cardus' mission is to influence people to a Christian view of work and public life. Cardus seeks to explore and unfold the dignity of work, the meaning of economics, and the structures of civil society, in the context of underlying patterns created by God. Includes reports on:
Stained Glass Urbanism
Toronto the Good

Toronto Community Foundation (
TCF is a local centre for philanthropy and a leader in the community, working with individuals, families, corporations and not-for-profit organizations to carry out their charitable objectives and address emerging community issues.
Toronto Vital Signs (
Each year, the Toronto Community Foundation monitors the health of Toronto and shares the results through Toronto’s Vital Signs®. This annual check-up looks at important indicators of our City’s quality of life, using information gathered from current statistics and special studies. Vital Signs shows us the trends that are emerging in Toronto and some of the new realities of how we live, work and play.

The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) (
is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in urban areas across Canada and internationally.

The Toronto City Summit Alliance (
is a coalition of civic leaders in the Toronto region. The Alliance was formed to address challenges to the future of Toronto such as expanding knowledge-based industry, poor economic integration of immigrants, decaying infrastructure, and affordable housing.

Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force (
An ongoing study researching what elements make for strong neighbourhoods.
Issues Facing Our City ( provides policy reports on various City Issues.

Canada 25 (
- a site chronicling a youth research coalition that produced a number of interesting reports on healthy cities - now disbanded, but the site is still up and links to the reports and findings.

The Community Social Planning Council of Toronto (
is committed to independent social planning at the local and city-wide levels in order to improve the quality of life for all people in Toronto. It is committed to diversity, social and economic justice, and active citizen participation in all aspects of community life.

25-in-5 (
This is a Network for Poverty Reduction and is a multi-sectoral network comprised of more than 100 provincial and Toronto-based organizations and individuals working on eliminating poverty. We have organized ourselves around the call for a Poverty Reduction Plan with a goal to reduce poverty in Ontario by 25% in 5 years and 50% in 10 years.
Lots of links to homelessness and poverty resources.
Part of The Community Social Planning Council of Toronto

United Way of Toronto
Includes reports on poverty by postal code, and recommendations for strong neighbourhoods.
Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force (

National Sites

Statistics Canada (
Canada's national site for all kinds of statistical research - especially things like official census reports and electoral district stats.

The Metropolis Project in Canada (
Metropolis is an international network for comparative research and public policy development on migration, diversity, and immigrant integration in cities in Canada and around the world.

The Ontario Metropolis Centre (part of CERIS) (
This is a consortium of Toronto-area universities and community partners.

Census Data at Metropolis (

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (
This is Canada's national housing agency. They are committed to helping Canadians access a wide choice of quality, affordable homes, while making vibrant, healthy communities and cities a reality across the country. CMHC works to enhance Canada's housing finance options, assist Canadians who cannot afford housing in the private market, improve building standards and housing construction, and provide policymakers with the information and analysis they need to sustain a vibrant housing market in Canada.
For research info check out the Library link.

Find A Thesis lists every thesis on file at the national archives.

Christian Research Sites

Canadian Pentecostal Research Network
This is part of Trinity Western University. They are committed to developing research networks for all the major streams of evangelicalism. This is only part of a much larger site (most of which is still in development).

Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has established the Centre for Research on Canadian Evangelicalism (CRCE), which seeks to enhance the effectiveness of ministry carried out by Evangelicals in Canada and shed light on the character and role of Evangelicalism in Canada.

Outreach Canada
Outreach Canda works together with local churches and denominations in promoting a nationwide strategy of church planting and revitalization to reach Canada for Christ. a site that lists and locates every church in Canada (or at least 24 or so thousand of them). Part of Outreach Canada.
Canadian Denominations - a page at Outreach Canada with links to all the Canadian denominational websites.

This is a fairly new initiative. is a critical initiative that has grown out of a broader collaboration between various networks and researchers. They hope this website will become a valuable tool in an effort to connect people and share resources that will facilitate Christian ministry and mission among the diverse peoples of the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. They offer a good links page for ethnographic research under the link "Understanding Demographics".

Cardus ( (formerly called "The Work Research Foundation) Cardus’ mission is to influence people to a Christian view of work and public life. They seek to explore and unfold the dignity of work, the meaning of economics, and the structures of civil society, in the context of underlying patterns created by God. Includes reports on:
Stained Glass Urbanism
Toronto the Good

ARDA - The Association of Religion Data Archives
A great national religious info archive - unfortunately only for the US.

The Pew Forum is another American research site where many surveys have been done on religion, mostly in the USA, but also a number of surveys concerning the church around the world.

There is an interactive map of the world's Muslim population by nation also found on one of the The Pew Forum subsites.

The Barna Group does a great deal of research on faith and its interaction with culture. This material is used by many sacred and secular sources.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Conclusion (DMin)

Here's the conclusion to my first DMin paper that I entitled "The End of the World As We Know It". It has certainly a long drawn out process - both the writing of it and the subsequent posting of it here. If you want to find all the posts go to the category labels at the left hand side and click on the label "DMin" and all the post should be listed in reverse chronological order. There may be a couple of other DMin labeled posts in there as well - but I'm sure you will figure out which one is which. If you really want a hard copy of the paper you will have to come to Thornhill and buy me lunch - or at least a coffee - and we can talk about it.


There are at least two fundamental understandings required when attempting to renew the church. The first is a clear understanding of the ability and purposes of God – or in the words of Alan Hirsch, a “primitive, unencumbered Christology.” Jesus said He will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We must have full confidence in the ability of Jesus to build his church. He will lead and guide and inspire and empower his people for the task at hand. He has already given much direction through the principles and clear commands of Scripture. Do we have the courage to follow them? Or will we, as Kierkegaard said, be “a bunch of scheming swindlers?”

The second fundamental understanding required when attempting to renew the church is a clear understanding of culture. If we don’t have the first understanding we may fear the second. If we lack the spiritual fortitude we will, as Bishop Spong did, recapitulate to the pressure of the culture and be “fuzzy, imprecise and relatively unappealing … and have no real message!” Culture has been divinely moved to this post-Christendom state for the very purpose of loosing the Gospel from the chains of tradition. The Kingdom of God has an enduring story that is not quenched with the ambiguities of Postmodernity. But the church needs to rediscover and relive the powerful, wonderful, subversive Story. The demise of Christendom may be the opportunity for the rebirth of vital, relevant Christianity.

Reclaiming “apostolic genius” will require some structural changes in the church (and then result in even more). Moving away from a dependence on the use of church buildings, eliminating ponderous, hierarchical, business-like systems requiring CEO type leadership, and scrapping fossilized programs would certainly help. Recovering incarnational thinking would encourage meeting in neighborhood hangouts, in small groups, in homes, or other “non-sacral” space. We also require a radical rethinking of the church’s financial structure. Many churches, as they exist today, are unwilling to try radical experiments, even though most are looking for ways of having an impact on their community. Too much focus is placed on understanding or tweaking the system when the system really needs to be fundamentally altered or even abandoned.

However, some individuals and groups are attempting to recreate the simplicity of first century Christianity. Some of the manifestations of this recreation include a revival of house churches; an experimentation with new monasticism where people are covenanting to live together as community (the return of communes?); a renewal of our understanding of vocation so that those working in the marketplace are seen as advancing the Kingdom of God; and experiments in new church models that are more effective in reaching marginalized, primarily urban, subcultures. The varieties of renewal movements of the last 50 years provide some indication that the Christendom model has been faltering and that a fresh wind is blowing. The inability of these movements to sustain change and transform our society may be one indication that Constantinianism has not completely lost its grip. . House church movements have come and gone. Charismatic style renewal (like Toronto and Pensacola) has made an impact but has not really had any long-lasting influence. The Emerging Movement is one more wave of renewal that is affecting many areas of the Western church. Yet it too may go the route of the Jesus People Movement of the Sixties and Seventies. However, each one has chipped a bit more off the monolithic, imposing presence of Christendom.

There are many other questions raised by much of the literature reviewed here - more questions than answers. How long will this transition take? How long will the change from Christendom, to whatever comes next, take? It may still be a hundred years before the full effect is manifested. Or we may see change more quickly, as China did. A radical shift in governments or a natural disaster could change the world as we know it in a matter of weeks or months. Questions still need to be asked about how the Third World church differs from the West in its perception of Postmodernity and Post-Christendom.

There is another series of questions to ask. Does the general Christian population understand Postmodernity and the demise of Christendom? Does the general non-Christian population understand it? What is their awareness of postmodernism and its nuances? Is there really a consensus in the world? What can be done? How? Is it even on the typical pastor’s radar screen? Is it an urban or suburban phenomenon? Do we see it in rural areas as well? How do we effectively disciple people in the midst of the rampant consumerism in our culture? Although hospitality is being renewed, how do we influence change in the monolithic, hospitality-resistant, suburbs? How do we transition good-hearted, well-intentioned, but Christendom-bound, tied-to-their-buildings congregations into missional, incarnational, “artistic, politically subversive, activist communities of mystical faith?”

Finally, where is all this leading? What if the church, with the grace of God, actually manages to recreate the dynamic of the early church and sees phenomenal growth and “success?” What if it is able to influence many of the world’s top leaders (which in some places is already happening). How will these leaders react? Will the tendency be to embrace a new form of Constantinianism all over again? Hopefully, not. Perhaps we might admit there is an eschatological purpose in all this. The Kingdom of God is among us. Perhaps we will be the generation to see the new heaven and new earth where "the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"” Maybe we really are coming to the end of the world as we know it.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Living Well In The Emerging Milieu 5 (DMin)

Fifth post of the day with the last of the five implications for the Church. The question of the previous DMin posts was "How Shall We Then Live?" We looked at living incarnationally and simplifying our lives - and the third response was hospitality. The fourth response is that of living in unity as the body of Christ in our communities. The fifth is to live in such a way that we eliminate the false distinction between the sacred and the secular to see God at work in all areas of the world we live in.

Sacred or Secular

One of the things that has hindered the gospel is the artificial separation of the sacred from the secular. It has contributed to the divide between the clergy and the laity and has elevated spiritual tasks and space above secular work and space. This also is a product of Christendom. Identifying prayer, preaching, witnessing and Bible study as spiritual, while relegating work, play and much of the rest of our lives to the “secular” realm has done great damage to the understanding of the Kingdom of God.

One of the most significant results has been the neutering of Christians in the workplace. We must begin to affirm that people are called and gifted to work where God has placed them. An engineer is just as “anointed” as the preacher. We are to take the kingdom of God to where the kingdom of darkness is still entrenched and Jesus will build his church there. We must see the kingdom of God in its fullness, as transforming all of society. “Lay people” who fulfill their calling in their workplace are the ones who will accomplish that transformation.

We all want to live in neighborhoods that are safe and free of discrimination, poverty and oppression. We want our schools to be places where real learning takes place. We want our justice system to serve everyone fairly. We want economic decisions made that benefit the residents of every community, of every class, kind and condition, not just the investors. We want people to be set free from the binding and blinding oppression of destructive habits, substances and ideologies. And most of all we want people to hear and respond to a call to radical discipleship - one that fills our city with transformed people who truly follow, and are filled with the life and love of Jesus. Pastors, even those that run their churches well, cannot accomplish that. The body of Christ in its full expression accomplishes it.

Living Well In The Emerging Milieu 4 (DMin)

This is my fourth post of the day (we had a snow day up here in the great white North). I thought I would finish off the posting of my DMin paper with the last two of the five implications for the Church. The question of the previous DMin posts was "How Shall We Then Live?" We looked at living incarnationally and simplifying our lives - and the third response was hospitality. The fourth response is that of living in unity as the body of Christ in our communities.

Unity and Christian Love

“Nothing in the past has been more detrimental to the plausibility of the Christian message than the destructively fanatical controversies among Christians. Perhaps the gospel of love cannot be expected to change the basic conditions of life in this world before the final advent of God's kingdom, but that gospel should be powerful enough to enable Christians to keep peace among themselves and to present their communities to the world as models of reconciliation. To be sure, controversy and division cannot always be avoided so long as questions of doctrine, questions of truth, are taken seriously. But controversy should not be dominant in the picture that Christianity presents to the world, nor should Christians today remain divided simply because their ancestors were divided by controversies in centuries past.” (A quote from Wolfhart Pannenberg. “Christianity and the West: Ambiguous Past.”)

One of the key manifestations of this love for one another is the movement toward seeing the church not as a local congregation but as the church of the city. We have become accustomed to view the Church as either the local church (a single church congregation), or as the Church universal (the worldwide body of Christ), or perhaps as the church in a nation (which sometimes becomes synonymous with Republican, “family values” ideals). Although the local church is vital for effective evangelism and discipleship it can no longer meet the complex needs of the city by itself. We have all but abandoned the parish or neighborhood concept as more and more people commute to church (which sometimes alienates the church from the very community that hosts it). Instead of co-operating at the denominational, national or global level, we need to begin to see the church becoming effective at the city level which requires a significantly deeper level of unity and love for one another. This is where transformation can be ignited. It is in the city church that people can begin to see the unified body of Christ effecting measurable change in a geographic area. The vision of one church in the city that meets in many congregations, is becoming a reality and a necessity.

The key elements that need to be set in place for the city church to become a reality are many but they must include: a functional unity of believers, a relational bond between pastors and leaders, the emergence of a city eldership (comprised of humble, servant leaders), the articulation of a clear vision for the city and a commitment to passionate, unified prayer. There are also problems that arise in trying to envision and accomplish such a process. Cities can be large and diverse.

Communication, language, administration and even transportation through the city are all challenges to be faced. Churches and Christians have a track record of competing for resources and people instead of sharing them. Unity among the many streams of the Church faces theological challenges. Establishing a vision for the church in a particular city is a daunting task. There are still strong vestiges of denominationalism and theological idiosyncrasies (resulting in isolationalism) that need to be overcome. And the time pressures faced by busy leaders leave little energy for a citywide focus. Our culture resists the movement towards a revitalized Christianity. There is a spiritual darkness blinding the minds of people, and there is a demonic oppression attempting to maintain strongholds that exert influence over many aspects of city life.