Saving Face

In the light of the golden gate that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday we can identify the shadows that are present as well. The beginning of Holy week is a microcosm of the whole lenten journey. It is a bright sadness. The ones who have journeyed through lent in honesty can now see the end of the journey. But the vision we end up seeing might not be what we expected when we set out some 7 weeks ago. Tears tend to clarify the vision. For some reason the destination we are heading towards looks like a cross, a death rather than the jubilant celebration of overcoming sin and darkness. Much like the disciples we might have expected a conquering of the forces that is oppressing us. We thought that clinging to Jesus, following Him as His disciples would eventually lead to the physical enforcement of true justice. That we could skip the cross section of our walk by trying to obey the law.

Head in Hands

To be fair, Jesus entering into Jerusalem is the beginning of the culmination of a very physical enforcement of true justice, but not like we expected. Not like we anticipated it to look. It is physical in a different way.

It is the physicality of it all that presents us with the reality of the depth of our depravity. We thought that He came to throw the Romans out. Instead He is thrown to the ground. We thought that He would ban capital punishment and torture. Instead He is unjustly tried, tortured and killed. We thought that He would bring the biggest army ever seen to enforce justice, instead He walks the way of pain alone. We thought that He would whip evil out of the world. Instead He is whipped. We thought that He would stop the shedding of blood by one final battle, instead His blood colours the ground red. What is going on here?

The physicality of it all becomes a testimony against us. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that my sin and my shortcomings are just thoughts, that they are “spiritual” only. That my sin is somehow separated from any physical reality. Jesus suffering and pain forces me to face myself and the reality of my sin. I am part of the mob shouting to have Him killed every time I close my heart to the suffering and lonely. The least of these are still dying.

It might begin as a thought but if left to grow, that sinful thought will eventually manifest itself in physical reality. Either by doing what is wrong in the light of truth or by ignoring to do what is right in the light of truth. Christ receives blows from my hand every time I sin. The least of these are still crying.

Jesus road to the cross this week forces us to face the reality about ourselves and if we are being truthful, that reality might not look that great. In our efforts to manage the parts of our lives that we try to hide we forgot that nothing can be hidden from His sight. How is that possible? How can Jesus possibly know our innermost struggles and secrets? How can He know our shame? Because He is the victim of it. He physically carried it. His suffering brings light into the darkness because His body is bruised for our transgressions. Through His body reality is revealed.

When He faces the forces of darkness and sin He is facing the things that I have been trying to hide away, keep under lock and key. The things we have done in trying to avoid shame and saving face.

Jesus taking the humble path as a servant is truly astounding because in doing so He lets us know that He is not after shaming us. He is not after to “get us”. He is not enforcing justice from “above” in a way that we have to be afraid of. No, Jesus comes from below to carry the shame we could not carry. He meets our heart in the secret place when that is what we need. All we have to be is honest so that we may encounter our true self and the reality of our situation.

Instead of trying to save face we have to encounter our true face because when we do we will encounter the Face that saves.

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

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

Pure motives?

“Many human activities, good in themselves, are not good because of the motive for  which they are done. For example, fasting, vigils, prayer, psalmody, (the singing of hymns), acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good. But when performed for the sake of self-esteem (vainglory, self glorification) they are not good. In everything we do, God searches out our purpose to see whether we do it for Him or for some other motive… quite clearly He bestows blessings only when something is done for the right purpose. For God’s judgment looks not at the actions but the purpose behind them.” – St Maximos the Confessor

By nature, the way we are created, we know that some things are good to do. We know that it is good to help the poor, the sick, the old, the homeless, the broken and the lonely. We know this by heart. What is harder to realize is who and where the broken are? There are so many ways that a person can be poor, broken or lonely. How do we know who they are? Sometimes it’s obvious just by the very situation you observe. Brokenness can be openly manifest in addiction, sickness and in situations of abuse. But often it is hidden and the only way to find out who is broken and needs help is to recognize ones own brokenness, it takes one to know one. We must face our own failures and sin to be able to see who needs help. If we hope to help other persons without recognizing that we need help as well we run a great risk of falling into the pit of pride. We risk projecting our own sin and struggles on others instead of helping them. We risk helping others in an attempt to ‘take away’ the guilt we feel for failing to help before or for other wrongs we committed. We might help others so that we may feel a little bit better about ourselves. These are all false motivations that changes good works into something else. Good works only remain good if they are done with good and true intention and motivation. Good and true intention and motivation finds it’s source in acknowledging that it is only Christ that can bring peace to the war in your heart. To the big empty hole you try to fill with everything from ‘good deeds’ to dulling chemicals. Everything done repetitively without Christ will turn into an idol/addiction. In terms of restoring the brokenness of our hearts, a legal approach is not sufficient. “I do one good thing so that I may cancel out one bad thing.” The legal system is only there to show us that it does not work; the brokenness is still there and out of recognizing that it is, we turn to (repent) Him that He may heal us from the inside out. Christ and the Holy Spirit works with vessels that are empty (or wants to be). Good deeds only remain good when we yield to Christ and let the Holy Spirit do them through us. Empty your heart during Lent, ask the Holy Spirit to fill it with His grace and healing power.

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”  2 Timothy 2:20 – 21

The other side of eating

We throw away about 40% of the food we buy and households are responsible for 51% of the waste. Martin Gooch, director of the Value Chain Management Centre says that: “A lot of food waste is an outcome of behavior that is shaped by attitudes that really themselves are based on perceptions of abundance and affluence,”  (for the full article please go to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/how-much-in-food-do-canadians-waste-a-year-think-billions/article4580509/) This is alarming because at the same time we know that 870 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment (http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm) It is easy to just give up and call it a day in light of the enormity of the problem. It is tempting to believe that we can do nothing to change this situation to the better. But we can. The Church presents a way to balance the scales.

If we take Martin Gooch words to heart then our habit of throwing away perfectly good food depends on our attitude towards food and us taking it for granted. We forget to give thanks for the gifts from the earth. We believe that food is cheap and easy to replace. “I decide what, when and how I want to eat.” This attitude is gluttony in the most common form, the overconsumption of gifts given, in both speed and quantity.

Fasting is the antidote to gluttony but as a rule it will only be beneficial if we start from a posture of thankfulness. Thankfulness transforms the obligation to follow the rule into following the rule out of a place of joy. During Lent make it a habit to give thanks to the Lord for every meal you receive. In doing so you acknowledge that you do not take the gifts of God for granted. We admit that we do not only live for our own sakes. As strange as it may seem, fasting begins with giving God thanks for the food He provides. Fasting is not so much about abstaining from food as it is about reviving the purpose of eating. To find the purpose of eating (life) we need a balance to what we put into our bodies. Too much will lead to heaviness on both body and soul as well as apathy. Too little food will lead to a weakness of the body that in turn will lead to the neglect of prayer and charity. The extremes of both will lead to death. In Canada we almost exclusively have an issue with the ’to much’ side of the scale hence Great Lent and some fasting rules cutting our intake of food back, may be to our benefit in terms of understanding how we can honor the gifts God gives to us. During Lent I urge you to give thanks for the food God provides, to eat a balanced diet, to avoid eating in haste, to plan your shopping so that you do not have to throw away food, to invite people to your table, to help and pray for the ones that lacks daily nutrition. Let us enter this season with a hunger for the heavenly manna.

In Christ

fr. Jakob

 

God’s own fool

Some 30 years ago a Christian artist and song-writer, Michael Card wrote a song called “God’s own fool” for which he received some critique for. Michael Card used a language that some people thought offensive. A language not appropriate to use when describing God own Son. You find the song at the bottom of this post. Personally I love the song and the idea it presents, namely that the ways of God are so much higher than the ways of the world that they seem like foolishness to the world.

With Great Lent around the corner many Christians in the world (but not of the world) are starting to evaluate their liturgy, their way, in life. Lent has the potential to shake us up from a status quo that has turned nominal by shifting the routine, tempo and strategy of our life. Lent lends space for us to think about where we are headed if we continue the path we are on. Lets use food for example. If our normal routine is to eat seven times a day and that routine has brought us into overweight then Lents rule of fasting creates a space where we can start to see why this is so. By changing the routine we can expose the routine that does not bear good fruit. It seems like foolishness to the world to voluntarily abstain from food but then God’s strategy is different from the strategy of the world. It seems like our person as a whole is better of if we do the things that are counter intuitive to our passions.

Lent can become another ‘to do’ list if it is only utilized as such. Lent does not try to introduce more laws and regulation (don’t drink coffee, don’t do Facebook). No, the purpose of Lent is to re-introduce the purpose of the law. And what is the purpose of the law, to reveal our utter failure in trying to fulfill the law by our own strength and therefor our total dependency on Christ. The purpose of the law is to reveal our weakness and our poverty. It almost seems contradictory does it not? ‘Follow these Lenten rules so that you may realize that it is not the rules that will set you free and give you peace’.  Why follow rules if they don’t solve the problem? Why obey when the act of obedience is not the solution? These are hard questions that theologians have pondered ever since Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (probably before that as well…) The Christian paradigm proclaims that we are not saved by what we do, perform or accomplish. It states that we are being saved due to Gods good will towards mankind. We are being saved because He loves us. This being the case does not mean that what we do does not matter. We will turn more and more into the thing we worship and love. Works does not save us, but that does not mean that works does not matter. Works manifests in the physical what is going on in the spiritual. The law regulates works, our action, our liturgy, so that we may realize that our works always fall short of the glory of God and the purpose He has for our lives. Fact of the matter is that we will always do something. Even if we say that we are ‘doing nothing’ we are doing that. If we say that we are worshipping nothing well then we are doing just that as well. The human person is a living creature and therefor she operates, she is active whether she wants to or not. She can’t choose to operate or not. Her freedom is limited to how she operates. Do we choose to follow our own set of rules, our own law? (Contemporary individualism) Do we choose to live after a religious system? (Judaism, Islam) Do we choose to cling to Christ in a living relationship so that we no longer see the law darkly but clearly? So that we may see, ‘from the other side’, what the purpose of the law was about all along.

Christ in His Person fulfilled the law. He did everything that the law required. He bridged the rift between our ‘being’ and our ‘doing.’ In Him, our doing is a natural extension of our being. Without Him we say one thing and do another. It is when we trust Him for our salvation (healing) that we are able to perform the true liturgy and the acts of charity that are characteristic for His very own body. Not out of compulsion (As a Christian I have to be kind) no, but out of a natural desire found in knowing that your good action is only a natural consequence of being in Christ. These works of love and charity will probably seem like foolishness to the world because they more often than not do not fulfill the requirements of what the world believe to be ‘a success’ or a ‘good investment.’ God’s wisdom seems foolish to men who rely on their own definition of the law. Not because the law is ‘bad’ but because I make myself the final judge and interpreter of the law. Lets pray for poverty during lent so that we may see God. Here is the song.

Seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life

As the wisest of all of mankind

But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to men

He must have seemed out of His mind

For even His family said He was mad

And the priests said a demon’s to blame

But God in the form of this angry young man

Could not have seemed perfectly sane

 

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise

He played the fool and He opened our eyes

When we in our weakness believed we were strong

He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God’s own fool

For only the foolish can tell-

Believe the unbelievable

And come be a fool as well

 

So come lose your life for a carpenter’s son

For a madman who died for a dream

And you’ll have the faith His first followers had

And you’ll feel the weight of the beam

So surrender the hunger to say you must know

Have the courage to say I believe

For the power of paradox opens your eyes

And blinds those who say they can see

So we follow God’s own Fool

For only the foolish can tell

Believe the unbelievable,

And come be a fool as well

The lent of a shepherd.

As a pastor (shepherd) of a flock your main concern and work is about the flock of sheep you have been put in place to care for and protect. You repair fences to protect from wild animals (a living tradition and theology), you look for new pastures when old ones does not feed your sheep any longer (pastoral care and prayer) and you feed and nurture the sheep  (distributing the sacraments and the Word). This is your main task and concern as a shepherd. Sometimes you spend time investigating or thinking about how you can find lost sheep (evangelism). How do you find the sheep that does not have a flock? You meet lost sheep from time to time and your heart desires to see them fed. To see them protected and in good care. I myself am from Sweden (one of the most secular countries of the world and also with the not so flattering title, “The loneliest country of the world”, hmm maybe there is a connection between the two?) so I run into sheep like this quite often when I visit my home country (in Canada, where I live now I meet them quite often as well). My heart goes out and wishes to see them whole not because I am extra “pious” but because I know that I am lost without my Shepherd as well. I know that until we find refuge in the Shepherd we will eat and eat from the table of the world and never be full. So you long to tell the lost sheep where the pasture and where the water is. Not so much because you want to have “a thousand sheep in your flock” (this is “pastor hubris” and a very common affliction in the Church today) but because you desire to see them whole and at peace. A shepherds heart goes out to the lonely and hungry sheep. At the same time you do not want to leave your flock of sheep unattended for to long. You need to be able to fight of animals and fix the fence. So this tension is created for the Shepherd, this movement but at the same time remaining. This tending the flock and seeking for lost sheep. It is no coincidence that the pastor finds himself in this tension. The Shepherd of all is in the same “tension” and He is the one Who can really do it. He remains what He Is as He enter Jerusalem (the world) to find His lost Sheep. He tends the lost sheep, seeking them out at the same time as He is keeping close attention to His flock. He faces the enemy (the ruler of this world) in a fake trial but at the same time He remains faithful to the task that lies ahead.  His task of entering the roughest place of all. Looking at Him I realize that I am lost without Him. Without the Tree of Life I am just a broken off palm branch, a lost sheep. But He seeks me out, He invites me in to His flock, to His family. My desire as a pastor becomes to imitate Him as much as I can (and I fail all the time), to remain with the flock but also to seek out the lost. And when Christ seeks out the lost He does not come with a “ready to sign pamphlet in what and how to believe”, He comes on a colt of a donkey, close to the ground, so that He can hear the concerns and prayers of the lost. He comes as a servant, to attend to your soul (what an awesome mystery this is). He comes as a caring Shepherd ready to lie down His life for you, His lost sheep. If we that are pastors truly wish to see the lost sheep healed, there is no other way than this. We also must lie down our lives for the flock and for the lost. We must follow His example, entering the world (Jerusalem) in a humble manner.

In Christ,

Fr. Jakob