Broken for you

When I wrote about the Church as a dysfunctional family in my last blog post (https://frjakob.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/church-as-dysfunctional-family/)  I admitted that everything is not well within the body of Christ. I would suggest that our inability to see our brokenness as a body continues to be the proverbial log that prevents us from removing splinters in other people’s eyes with accuracy and efficiency. We struggle with recognizing our sin on a personal level which means that our sin affects the other person’s around us often without us even noticing it. As Church, as persons, we struggle together, if one member suffers all the other members suffers as well. Our denial of the presence of wounds in our body affects others, either we want it or not, by default. We were created as communal beings and when we deny this communal identity and misdirect the sacramental reality it holds, we end up blind to who we are as a body.

Would it help with some introspection perhaps? It might help with acknowledging the pain we have caused others. It might help to get a second opinion of our current predicament from a doctor as well. Admitting that the wounds are still there, that they have not been healed and that we need to go to the hospital. Wounds will not heal until they are recognized as such.

For this reason, I sat out to Vancouver to sit under Gordon T Smith’s teachings about the “Meaning of the Sacraments” for a week. During the time there I gained a deeper understanding of how these wounds came to be, why they hurt so much and what kind of wound the different parts of the body have. It is helpful to know each other’s history so that one can avoid offence and move towards an informed language and ways to communicate. During the week at Regent College in Vancouver, it became more and more evident to me that scholastic exercise and method helped in terms of diagnosing the wounds but falls short in terms of actual remedy. Study (which in a very real sense is incorporated humility) is needed in order to get to a point of understanding that we indeed need medicine, but it is not the fullness of medicine. Study and word points to the remedy, it might even be the beginning of remedy but it is still distinct from the remedy. It is interesting that we, as Church have been very faithful in studying but maybe not so faithful in terms of stepping out into the mysteries we don’t understand in faith and let the Holy Spirit do His work as only He can do. We have yet to share the fulness of the remedy…

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With this broken body, the Church, in mind, we approach the mystery of what Jesus says when He says: “This is My body – broken for you.” I believe that He is not only speaking about His own physical, historical body, nor only of the bread and the wine in front of Him. He is speaking about everything that has been broken due to sin. The universe, created by the Word of God suffered violence and brokenness because of Adams sin. In the Word of God, the new Adam, Jesus, that wound is first made manifest but also healed. Jesus faces the wound. He more than faces it, He takes it into Himself. He exposes sin and hangs it on the tree for everyone to see. Then, in a deep mystery orchestrated by the Trinity, the dead wood of the cross transforms into the path of the tree of life with an abundance of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The material, physicality, dead because of the fall, is resurrected to life once more. Inaugurated in the Church first but also unto the ends of the earth. (Just to be clear, I am not suggesting the guarantee of everyone’s salvation, that kind of calls we must leave to God)

When we confess Christ as Lord, it is this reality we confess. He is the Word of God through Whom the universe is created. Jesus body is still present on the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church because in Him heaven has landed on the earth. The Church’s claim to holiness (which have been somewhat overemphasized and turned into triumphalism through history) can only be incarnated in that she recognizes her own brokenness. Christ’s perfect nature is revealed through brokenness. If the Church must claim holiness (and claim it She must due to being the body of Christ), She can only base that claim in the process of repentance, in acknowledging that She is not perfect…

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It is because of what Jesus says in John chapter 17 that Church unity can’t happen outside of sharing the body and blood of Christ. It can not happen by the study of words and a common definition alone. Just as we need word and sacrament in the local church, we need word and sacrament in the catholic (worldwide) church, otherwise, it is not catholic (proper). To pretend that we are at peace and in unity without sharing the Eucharist would be like being married to someone without consummating the marriage. Or to be baptized in water only, dismissing the baptism in fire (Spirit), or to preach the word to the crowds but withhold love in action (Sacrament), hence the possibility of new life is not possible, to use the words of Gordon T Smith; “it doesn’t take”. Nothing is transformed, it is cerebral only. As God’s family, it is of the essence that we find a way to eat together, to receive the body and blood of Christ together. As long as we don’t, the world will not view us as a family. It will not see our loving Father if we as children always are at odds with each other, that we can not even eat and receive the most basic of human needs, food, together. As children of the incarnated One, we must incarnate what we have have been given or rather we can not claim Incarnation (Christ, the Logos coming in the body) if we refuse to eat His body as children in His family. Diverse, off course but still one.

Given that almost all expressions of Christianity have retained at least a remnant of the Eucharist testifies to the necessity of having a meal. What has been believed throughout time, everywhere, by all, we together with St Vincent of Lerin hold to be true. The issue that has been obscuring the partaking of this heavenly banquet in peace, love and joy seems to be based out of the family of God not agreeing upon the when, how, who and what of the Eucharist. And even though these questions do have value, (God wants to be known by our mind), they might just have gotten a little too much attention. When we give the mind the full attention, we often forget to listen to our heart, and when it comes to the mysteries of God, we must not forget the heart, the nous. We come to the table as adults, yes but we also come to the table as children. We know intuitively what is taking place. Maybe it is a revelation by participation rather than information by transaction?

Fundamentally, I do not believe Eucharistic unity/hospitality is a matter of getting the definition right. I don’t even believe it is about agreeing with the same statements of theology concerning the Eucharist. Fundamentally, unity is not attained by mental ascent. It is folly to believe that we somehow can encapsulate the exactness of how God is working in human language. (Even though these definitions most often arose as a defence of Christian faith. We should not let our passionate defence in war become the way we operate in peace.) That we somehow would be able to formulate a doctrine that we can apply carte blanche to every situation and person.

The way to unity is rather the way of love. The way to partake of the table together is for all of us to recognize that we all have fallen short in understanding and deed. It is a way of listening rather than assertion, of helping each other out rather than condemning. The way of speaking good things about one another rather than accusation and sharing each others pain rather than inflicting it. It is the way of covering each other in prayer, lending our space to one another and putting each other first. It is the way of knowing each other as persons, different but a part of one another. Trinitarian as it were. We need each other to bloom into our personhood. When we love each other, we actively engage the spiritual climate that is the modus operandi of the sacramental life. We lay down our lives for each other. We become broken for each other out of love for one another and at that point we become, in Truth, the body of Christ. Broken for the life of the world.

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The return of the transformers

The Evangelical Orthodox Church realized very early that there is a tension, an energy, between the things that change and the things that do not. It realized early that, for the Christian testimony to remain the same; it must change. The saying of fr. Alexander Schmemann “the Church must change to remain the same” is in a way our core “slogan”. It is not our slogan because it sounds good and kind of paradoxical, even though that is true. It is our “slogan” because Jesus Himself is the Metamorphosis Symbol of what this paradox entail.

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Monarch Butterfly emerging from it’s chrysalis

It does not mean that we change into something else. It does not mean that we become static and jaded. It entails that Jesus, in His resurrection, transformed us with Himself into the person we were intended to be. The change that happens to us is a restoration, a return to our “unchanged” origin before the fall as it were. Death does not have the final word but has become a doorway into life eternal. We change (i.e die) to resurrect into  who we are supposed to be. As a part of His body we are apart of His resurrection in the most real possible way, every day. The resurrection is evidence of the continuous  transformation and restoration of the whole world, the metamorphosis that is taking place everywhere. The transformation within our heart.

Life abundant is now the default mode rather then just “getting by” until we die. Life is possible once more. And life is found where there is energy. Energy is found where there is tension. Tension is found where there is proximity. And proximity is found where there is covenant. So let us be true to both our name, Holy Covenant Evangelical Orthodox Church and our borrowed “slogan”, they are both expressions that re-minds us of the transformation, the metamorphosis that is taking place in our lives right now because of Christ’s resurrection.

 

Christ is risen from the dead. Trampling down death by death and on those in the tomb bestowing life!

Deferred responsibility?

“- What happened to Christianity?” we ask. Nothing, it remains the same. The culture that surrounds it shifts slightly as time goes by, (even though cultural fundamentals also are slow to change).

There is a great designation to be made here. It is not the Church, the body of Christ that is effected by the changing culture. Jesus did not get stained by sin. His nature remained the same. It is actually Jesus and His body the Church that restores culture to it’s proper purpose and place. So beginning on a light note like that 🙂 where am I heading with this?

Myself and many of my peers sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that something must have gone terribly wrong with “Christianity” or with “Church”, especially when we read the latest “10 – list – of – something – that – made – me – leave – the – church – and – start – my – own – charitable – save – the – world – project” or about the sacking of Constantinople for that matter . We read on our devices about the personal experience of someone we have not met with angst and horror, hoping that we won’t experience the same thing. Or maybe that we will…? (Sometimes we want an excuse to leave the Church…)

We are scandalized by the Church’s inability to be relevant, forgiving, transparent, acceptant, honest, hospitable and loving. We know that if the Church only could muster the ability to apply these things, her true calling, the contemporary person would be drawn to Christ and His body. I believe this to be true. If the Church could apply these things it would very much offer what is needed in the contemporary person’s life, namely real relationship. We need to love and we need to be loved.

This need will not be satisfied by us sitting in front of our screens and voicing our concerns and/or our reasons to celebrate. The studies being done in this area, how digital interaction/connection affects us are starting to show this. We need more than the likes on our status updates. We need more than the FaceTime conversation. We need more than following the news on a distance. The development of the experiential travelling business is evidence enough. This generation of mine (and all generations for that matter) want to belong to something, want to know that we matter to someone and that we can contribute to the betterment of humanity. Our creative capacity and the tools available to us are astronomical. But , (there is always a but) I believe we are going about it in the wrong way.

We have been taught that we can consume whatever we choose to consume, including Church. We have been fostered to believe that whatever I prefer should also be my right. Whatever I choose, and the choices are endless, is what is true for me. So when we choose the Church we attend it is often based upon what this Church does for me. Yes, we have heard this before and we know that this is not the best way to go about choosing what Church to attend (only to our own preferences) but the deeper issue is not that we choose like this. The deeper issue is that we treat “Church” as something separate from ourselves. In essence, Church is not something to be chosen by the individual as we have been taught. Church is the personal encounter with restored reality, and we can only have this personal encounter in the light of Someone else’s face. Church is not a individual preference, it is Personal immanence.

See all these things that “the Church” struggles with; relevancy, transparency, integrity, honesty, acceptance, hospitality and love is really my struggle. The Church struggle with these things because we people comprising the Church struggles with these things. The moment we start to blame “the Church” for all the hurtful things done, in that moment you are increasing the distance between yourself and the Church. As a Christian, as someone anointed, you can not distance or cut yourself of from the body and still believe that you are going to have any intrinsic effect on Her life. It is easy to criticize and judge something you do not view yourself as being part of.

I don’t think it is mere chance that a lot of the blame that the Church is receiving is shared online. It is one thing to write generally about the dismal state of the Church on the anonymous Internet, it is quite another to talk in confidence and trust with another person about it. And this is the point of being Church in the first place. We need the real, physical encounter. We need to be encouraged but also held accountable by other real, physical beings. Short of that we will eventually escape into the pseudo reality of “gnostic internet”.

God knew that we would not be satisfied until He had revealed Himself in the flesh. We need to see, hear, touch, smell and taste love to be able to trust that it is real and true. We needed Him to share our life in the flesh. So God sent His Son to heal the broken world and to reveal His love in the world. God DSC_0022knew that it would not do with updating His status through the prophets. He knew that it would not do with just “liking” the likes of David and Jonah. He knew that it would not do to reply “maybe” on the invite from the Jews. He had to show up, in the flesh, and show up He did.

Would not His very own body do well if we did the same? If we actually showed up and were present where God is planting us? If we took all the time we spend online (ok, maybe not all the time) and used that time to build other people up? If we said “yes” or “no” and meant it? If we made promises and kept them? If we lived in covenant where we would be grateful for honest appreciation and admonition?

To act with integrity and inline with what I have just written, I then must invite you. If you do not already attend a Church I invite you to visit us here at Holy Covenant. We are trying (and failing) to live somewhat like this. We are here, present in the midst of North Park, Saskatoon and we would love to get to know you. We are in it for the long haul. We can not offer new emotional “super experiences” every week (or month for that matter). But we do offer what we have. Real people wanting to share the blessings and burdens of life. A steady prayer life. A helping hand. An encouraging word. You can visit our webpage (off course, here we go again…) but don’t stop with that, come visit us in real life because that is were Church really happen. And… if you are about to make big judgement calls concerning the “dismal state of the Church” please take a moment and read up on the actual nature of the Church, you might be apart of her…

It is about grit you know. About putting our hands to the plough. If you desire real relationships and real people it will claim your life, it takes work (lots of it). But then on the other hand what else would be worth giving your life up for? Welcome to Church, it will always be here, even after you have written your last status update…

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

The foundation of unity

The following text was offered as a homily at Holy Covenant Evangelical Orthodox Church during the Sunday liturgy that concluded the Evangelical Orthodox Church Holy Synod 2015.

Some of the text have been edited to fit the blog format better.

August 23rd 2015

HOMILY

The foundation of unity

Ps 16       Gen 28:10 – 17        Eph 4:1 – 6         Matt 28:16 – 20

As a Church we stand at a cross road, as we also should. Or rather walking a road that is a cross. True Christian witness has always been revealed by the width and the height and the depth of the embrace it invites the world into, without loosing it’s centre. Four directions, One Centre. Fact of the matter is that we can not know east or west, north or south without a centre, a point of reference, Who is Christ. The point of reference that is a Person, that’s the point. The world, us included, is creIMG_1276ated by Christ, for Christ and therefor we can only hope to know the truth about the world and ourselves if we view the world and ourselves through the eyes of Christ. And what eyes He has for us!

When EOC was birthed it had a youthful seal of compassion to reveal a tangible Kingdom in the world. As the journey went on the revelation of this heavenly kingdom grew. We came to understand that God is indeed here. He is not far away. He is not closer or further away depending on how we feel about Him. He is here. We can in truth call all the earth “Bethel” because indeed God have visited this place, it is the house of God and He will not abandon His people. The angels of the Lord keeps ascending and descending for the ones who have ears to hear and eyes to see. History itself, symbolized in Patriarch Jakob, finds rest and purpose when resting on the rock, the Church.

Today, almost 40 years later, a generation later, the seal is still here, the seal of compassion on the document of truth, but it needs to be broken. It needs to be broken so that the document may be opened. Once the seal is broken and  document is open then we can read the letters of life with new eyes again. A new seal, a new vigour needs to be birthed out of this transformational and sometimes painful process of handing down the document of faith. The document is the same. The book of life. There is One Lord, One faith, One baptism and One Father of all. But broken people needs to be allowed to break things in order to receive healing. In order to grow. This document needs to be read by future generations that offers their own mark and seal, their own time, as reveled by the living Holy Spirit. If we try to keep the same seal as past generations we will either fall in the ditch of nostalgia or in the ditch of nominalism. I will end up preaching to an empty building. We can not offer life to the world by living on the merits of our parents and past generations.

Past generations have given their all and sometimes I have resented them for it. But they, even if I didn’t like it sometimes, instilled in me an identity, a deposit. They let me now that I am loved, that I matter to God. They put themselves out there, laying hold of a Kingdom that reveled itself as they continued to love people around them. They offered themselves to see unity in the Church once more. Not a unity based on letters of the law but a unity based on sacrificial relationships in love. A unity that would have love and reconciliation reign in the body of Christ rather than divisiveness and politics. A unity that puts the Persons of the Trinity first. This is and always was at the heart of the EOC vision. How can the world believe that Jesus is present in it if we do not love each other as His body? It can’t. The unity of the Church plays, I dare say, an eschatological role in the faith of the universe. It must be given highest priority. If unity is sacrificed for the sake of conformity or individuality we, the Church looses Her power to transform the world by reflecting the mysterious glory of the Trinity.

What is unity? Is it a social construct of human imagination? Is it a organizational idea of worldly minds? Is it the adherence to the law only? No, It is the mystery seen by the prophets. It is the truth taught by the teachers. It is the faith handed down by the apostles. It is the care given by the pastors. It is the good news proclaimed by the evangelists. It is the service provided by the servant. It is the wisdom revealed by the wise. It is the love poured out by the parent to a child. It is the functions of the people of God coming together to worship Him in truth and love. It is when congregational (laity), presbyterian (deacons and priests), episcopal (bishop) structures within the Church realizes that they depend on each other to function properly. It is a meal. It is the mystery of the Trinity revealed in the world by the incarnated Son and His body through the Spirit. Unity can only be found and sustained in the Person of the Son of God through the Holy Spirit. It is the “two hands” of God the Father that brings us together.

EOC has always tried to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His promptings. To not lock any doors for eternity but to leave them unlocked as to remain open to paths that we maybe could not see before. Truth is One and eternal, but it is reveled in increments as we are able to receive it. We must allow for a structure firm enough to sustain prayer in situations of stress and emotional rollercoasters. At the same time there must be freedom enough to move where the Holy Spirit leads. This was always the tension in the Church so it remains as our tension. Freedom and the structure that is born from her must be allowed to dance in the dance that brings life.

We must remain a people led by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we are just another worldly organization. We might proselytize but we can not make disciples. Without the Holy Spirit, worldly power comes into play, denomination and dominion, and the greatest agenda of worldly power is to keep its power. For this purpose it creates systems of control. A system like that is unable to listen and be attentive to the unfamiliar and the surprising. It promotes conformity and clashes with the Holy Spirit Who fosters a life of diversity in unity and colourfulness, a life of true personhood. It is structured and it is free, in a holy paradox.

As long as the Christians refrained from assuming worldly power they conquered the world. When the Christians, when we, were dazzled by the power of the world that we assumed and started to make a system of the faith we were drained of our testimony. The Holy Spirit avoids intermingling with the one who desires to rule other peoples lives. Worldly power makes a person blind. Divine power is given to the humble. We need to be on guard, often the persecuted becomes the persecutor. As a communion we must always be weary of the person who aspires, on his own initiative, to carry spiritual authority. We must allow the Holy Spirit to move amongst us by allowing for our different personalities to bear fruit while remaining in the One tree of Life.

As we grew in understanding about who we are and as we learned more about the mystery of faith we also grew more confident and started to stand in our own ability as a Church. The tree of knowledge once again reared its ugly head. Once again we must go low, in service to the poor, in listening to the lonely, in recognizing our failings and shortcomings and in loving the broken. We probably won’t grow fast, In fact I pray we don’t, but that we might grow true. Truth sets people free.

As we look into the future and learn from the past we must face the present moment and grab hold of it because it is in the present that the great “I AM’ is at work. Our body is the temple of the living God and together we form Jesus own body, embracing the world with a love that transcends time and restores space. I am with you always He says, even to the end of the age. Go and make disciples! He says, and Go we shall.

General anaesthetic

Great Lent is approaching, below is an excerpt from the annual Lenten letter that I distributed to the saints at Holy Covenant.

Imagine yourself in the emergency room of a hospital. From where you are laying you can hear the noise of people in pain. You were one of the lucky ones that made it all the way to the hospital, not all from the car crash did. Blood is coming running down your cheeks and from your chins. A sharp pain from the elbow makes you aware of that not everything is as it should. The voices of concerned and stressed nurses disappears in the distance as you start to fade away under general anaesthetics.

Imagine yourself in the sanctuary of a church. From were you sit you can feel the uneasiness of people struggling. You were one of the fortunate ones to make it all the way to church, not all from the storm of life did. Tears are running down your cheeks  and  you feel stressed. A numbing pain from your stomach makes you aware of that not everything is as it should. The voices of concerned and stressed pastors and friends disappears in the distance as you start to fade away under the blanket of… Lent.

In many ways Lent is like a general anaesthetic. It does not necessarily take away pain but Lent can have a very calming impact on the essence of our being when we realize that it is not in our own strength that the purpose of Lent is accomplished. When we follow Christ out into the wild, into the quiet place, the sounds and noise of the emergency room and the busy city, fades away by default. There, in the calm, when we remain in one place, the Healer can do His intrinsic surgery. I would suspect that even Jesus finds it hard to operate on someone who is running around, splashing blood all over the operating room. Or even worse, someone who is trying to operate on all the wounds by himself.

Lent is like a general anaesthetic in that it invites us to  completely surrender to the Doctor. We are not even aware of all the procedures that are taking place in the operating room but we are there. We trust that the Doctor will perform whatever needs to be done to make us well. Lent presents us with the opportunity to let go of all those things that has kept us from going to the hospital. Coffee , screen time   or sugar is only bad if it makes it harder to go to the Doctor. Go to Him in the hospital and ask His advice on how to balance those things. We often seem to find excuses when we know we need to go to the hospital saying things like: “I’m not really sick, it will blow over.”, “I don’t want to bother the Doctor,  He is busy already.”, “I’m so busy, it can wait.” and on it goes until we fall off a chair  all alone with our body full of cancer. Let go of the excuses that keep your from receiving a proper diagnosis and from entering the operating room. Present yourself to the Doctor, He will take care of you.

I hope I’ll see you in the hospital,

fr. Jakob

What evangelization is not.

As I reflect on the nature of growing things it seems like things that grow to big – to fast, also often grows corrupt. This might seem like a big assumption to make but here are a couple of examples.

 If a company grows its market share and profit in a way that was not expected then that perpetuates more growth buy interested investors who want to be a part of this new ‘miracle’ on the stock market. Eventually the company is not able to sustain the growth expected by the new investors and the interest starts to fade. However, before this takes place often the leadership of the company has managed to make a good private fortune on the company, selling their shares. Knowing what would happen all along. (Hello global economic recession in 2008)

You can observe this pattern in plants as well. Plants that are given ‘speed’ nutrients’ to grow fast are not as high in nutrition (or flavor) as naturally grown plants. The same goes for animals. What we gain in time and size seems to be lost in quality. When maximizing physical profit is the solemn priority and transaction the method then things may grow fast by the optimization of the profit, but usually there is also some kind of crash or corruption of what was good in the beginning. The root and stem can‘t sustain the weight of the crop.

Unfortunately we see this pattern in church life as well. Churches often want to grow fast to get big because we make the mistake of equating the good and true work of salvation with the number of people that has said the ‘sinners prayer’. We view the ‘unsaved’ as a ‘market’ to convert to the ‘product’ we can offer (salvation). We believe that a good church is a big church. But we are not called to be successful as the world defines success (size) we are called to be faithful, full of faith. When Christ issued the great commandment to ‘go an make disciples’, He said just that, disciples. A disciple I someone who follows. He did not say: “Go-and-make-people-that-goes-to-church-once-a-month-because-they-agree-with-the-things-said-there-and-it-eases-their-sense-of-guilt.” This is not the essence of gospel life, yet this is what we experience in many, if not the majority of churches in North America. This is not the essence of the Good News of Christ. The essence of the Gospel is a living, ongoing relationship with the risen Lord, Christ.

To fill the pews on a Sunday morning in a 3000 seat church building is not rocket science. With the right marketing strategy you will eventually be able to do so. If we use the methods of the world, the world will respond. But to see peoples lives transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we carry the gospel with us all week, wherever we are, requires more than a great marketing campaign with a huge budget. It requires relationship. And in a way that costs a lot more than your monthly check to the church. Evangelizing requires getting to know people and their joys and sorrows, to enter a journey with them. To be there when life just seems to be a long line of unbearable situations and events. To preach the gospel is to be the gospel to people who has lost a sense of joy.

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People can get the worldly things anywhere, but the Church evangelizes and spreads the joy of Christ by taking time to build true relationships when the world won’t. During a couple of afternoons in Lent, clear your schedule from activities. Look around and start to listen to the people around you. You might be surprised how many people out there that just needs to be seen and listened to. If you want to be a light to other people, start to create time in your schedule where you listen to others hurts and joys. Don’t just wait to talk, but listen. To listen to someone is a rare gift to give these days and people need to be heard, not just considered as a consumer. They don’t need a ‘clean cut solution’ to all their problems but they need to know that someone actually cares, that they are seen. It may not be as glamorous as you imagined the Christian walk to be but then the Kingdom of God was not about glamour and quantity. It is about reality and quality. We don’t evangelize by great slogans, the best web resources and podcasts. We evangelize by making ourselves available to people that hurt.

There is an answer to the question that The Beatles posed back in the 60s. “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” They belong with God and His family, and if you confess yourself to be a Christian, you have a responsibility to leave your comfort zone, seek lonely and hurt people out and get real, to be a friend. To evangelize is to walk alongside someone on a journey towards healing, not a ‘one time stop’ where everything is solved right then and there. Because people are people, not machines. They need time to heal. Use Lent as a period in your life when you give of ‘your’ time to others. 

 

Statistics for the broken

This Tuesday I went to a ‘Christian leaders forum’ featuring the title “Changing stats. Shaking the Church.” I did not attend this forum because of the title (I don’t believe anything can shake the Church). I went to nurture relationships. However, I did not mind getting a bit of information about the statistics concerning religion in Canada. For instance, 80% of Canadians say they believe in ‘a God’. This is higher then I expected but 33% of Canadians between 15 – 24 years of age, have never attended a religious service. This presents a great opportunity for the Church. I also learned that Canadians spend 1.63$ for every 1$ they earn (I can hear that train coming, as Johnny Cash sung). In 2011 Canadians spent 1.5 billion dollars on Christmas while in 2010 the median annual, charitable donation was 123$. So there are some stats for you. Some more numbers to ‘think’ about in the ever –flowing stream of information that comes your way.

The problem with statistics are that they only highlight the surface. Statistics can, at best, reveal parts of the problem but can never offer healing. Statistics operate with the assumption that if we can identify the problem rationally then we can also find a rational solution. This is the same method as companies use in their thirst for increased profits. Even though the ‘crises’ of religion is reflected in the stats we must add another dimension to understand this crises, because as you have probably noticed, people are not rational. It is not enough with a ‘market survey’ to grasp the depth of the hole we are in.  Actually this very approach to ‘evaluate’ religion or church is part of the problem because it perpetuates the false notion that everything can be weighed, measured and defined by us. After definition is made then we can use our reason to choose in how to act. Right?

We can observe this in how people choose Churches, products and lifestyles over all. The ‘free’ market of preference and individual choice fosters this notion that we are the end-all-and-be-all of ‘our’ universe. We understand our problem hence we can solve it. Parts of the Church Herself have bought into this in trying to ‘attract’ people to Her doors by being culturally ‘relevant’, by using the same methods as the marketplace. “If we can communicate seven impressions of our message to a person that equals one new guest on a Sunday service.” (It does work because we are holistic beings, weare affected by our circumstance and impressions) Or;  “If we can emulate contemporary music in our services then people will be able to approach Church.” Or; “If we can offer a solution to the problems people perceive they have then they will come here.” To a great degree this is how the contemporary Church operates. But this is not going to work in the long run. The stats are starting to show this…

In my experience people go to Church because they are looking for something radically other then what they are culturally immersed in. If people where at peace with their life they would not seek the Church out. (And many don’t, but this only reveals the depth of our disillusion). They are tired of the shallow culture of profit, stats and non-committal relationships. They seek real, solid and true relationships and values. They come because they have not been able to solve their problem (be it busyness, relationship crises, poverty, addiction or straight up pain). I’m not saying that the Church shouldn’t go out of Her way to show hospitality but that does not mean that She become the culture She wants to aid because the Church, at Her very core is culture proper and the place where culture/religion is restored. Church (when functioning as God intended) is not a preference for people to choose but the way of life we may enter into. A culture/religion of life as it was intended to be. It is re-born life. And usually this life looks different from the life people are living right now.

Good News

Lent teaches us that life begins with us submitting to the Holy Spirit living in the Church. We submit to a rule of life rather than our own preferences. Not because the law will save us but because the law points to the Fulfiller of the law. Life begins by serving others because that gets the focus from us to Christ in someone else. We go from individual preference to communal relations. Let Lent be a period of life when you ask the Holy Spirit what He wants for your life together with the Church, instead of being seduced by the ever -flowing stream of shallow data.

In Christ,

fr. Jakob