Positively Separate

Romans 8:38–39 pro­vides a list of all kinds of things. You’re prob­a­bly famil­iar with it. It goes some­thing along these lines, “Nei­ther A nor B, nei­ther C nor D, nei­ther E nor F, will be able to sep­a­rate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” While I have always loved the verse and always loved what it was say­ing, I some­times missed what was going on. I, pos­si­bly like many oth­ers, knew the out­line of the verse but didn’t have it mem­o­rized. In my mind I sup­pose I was think­ing that it men­tioned things like: death, famine, pain, poverty, oppres­sion, etc.

But as I’ve reread the verse and reread it again and again, I’ve real­ized what you per­haps saw long ago: many of the things on the list aren’t neg­a­tive. In fact, I don’t know if they could be inter­preted as neg­a­tive in any light. I’d put life, angels, present, future, and cre­ation in that cat­e­gory. And then there are the neg­a­tives (death and demons), and those that are in the mid­dle. If I go back to what my ini­tial assump­tions were, I was think­ing this verse was about all the neg­a­tives. About things tear­ing God and I apart, and about the writer’s assur­ance that none of those things could con­quer the bond between a believer and their Lord.

But in many ways, it isn’t. It’s about the positives.

The pos­i­tives?

Strange, I know. We don’t often see life or angels or cre­ation as things that can tear us and God apart, but appar­ently they can. Nev­er­the­less, we have assur­ance from Paul that through God’s con­quest, they can’t.

We’ll get into some of those things next week.

Tak­ing Heart,

Paul Loewen

Why Environmentalism is Set to Fail

At the cor­ner of St. James St and Portage Ave in Win­nipeg is a build­ing which has pro­vided the can­vas for some mas­sive murals for Win­nipeg Hydro. As I passed by the mural today I saw two kids lay­ing back on the grass at the edge of a lake. They were look­ing up into a blue sky made lighter with the pres­ence of dis­tinct white clouds. It was the clas­sic sce­nario of see­ing ‘some­thing’ within the unique and ran­dom shapes that pass by. The clouds, how­ever, betrayed the clear and unmis­tak­able shapes of an energy-efficient light bulb and wash­ing machine. There are an increas­ing num­ber cri­tiques out there of how cap­i­tal­ism con­tin­ues to entrench itself within envi­ron­men­tal­ism pro­vid­ing the ther­a­peu­tic oppor­tu­nity to buy and con­sume your way to a cleaner world and there­fore feel good about your­self with­out hav­ing to change any­thing (I can remem­ber a hybrid car com­mer­cial with the ques­tion what is this car doing and the answer clean­ing the envi­ron­ment.

This mural, how­ever, struck me as even more sin­is­ter. Instead of offer­ing a sim­ple seda­tive to the prob­lem of what­ever our envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis may be this mural actu­ally attempts to co-opt the very pos­si­bil­ity of imag­i­na­tive alter­na­tives. Go ahead and dream of what is pos­si­ble but the game is fixed, we now posses the mate­r­ial of your imag­i­na­tion and can mold it for our gain. Am I wrong? There is a cult grow­ing around envi­ron­men­tal­ism that I am hav­ing lit­tle faith in. It seems dis­in­ter­ested in and detached from the larger issues of equal­ity and social restoration.

I found the image online and as I looked at it again it keeps get­ting worse. The light bulb and wash­ing machine are actu­ally placed as the exclu­sive vari­ables for a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion the sum of which equals a green tree. This is a bla­tant lie. The vari­ables in this equa­tion are no dif­fer­ent then the vari­ables of an old bulb and wash­ing machine (per­haps with a slightly lower numer­i­cal value). This ad is try­ing to tell you that these new prod­ucts are of a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent order and com­po­si­tion. They no longer add to dis­as­ter but now add to sal­va­tion. This is a load of crap.

End-of-Summer Worship

After the sum­mer of peo­ple com­ing and going, hol­i­days, and uncer­tain sched­ules, we finally returned to wor­ship. Although it felt strange com­ing back up the hill after so many weeks away, enter­ing the space of wor­ship and excit­ing greet­ings of old friends and a few new faces, I sensed famil­iar­ity, warmth, and rejoic­ing in community.

The theme of wor­ship through the sum­mer had con­nected with gar­den­ing. From prepar­ing the gar­den soil, to sow­ing seeds, to nur­tur­ing plants, to the har­vest, we jour­neyed through the metaphor of our lives and spirit. Some­times we were the gar­den­ers, some­times the soil, some­times the seed, and some­times the weed.

On this week of return­ing, though, the final cel­e­bra­tion had come. The har­vest! One by one, mem­bers brought bas­kets and plates and bowls filled with colour­ful fruits, veg­eta­bles, and flowers.

We sang and danced, giv­ing thanks to God the giver of all good things: for the har­vest of food in our gar­dens, but even more for the har­vest of God’s work in the life of this community.

Rela­tion­ships sowed in ready soil, nur­tured over the past year as we fel­low­shipped together, and a har­vest of joy at being reunited in wor­ship to the One who enables us to call strangers, “sis­ter” and “brother.” A true cel­e­bra­tion of thanksgiving.

Hero or Heretic?

Do you know Bradley Man­ning?   And no, he is not related to Pre­ston.  Some would argue he is a new Amer­i­can mil­i­tary hero.  Some would argue he is a trai­tor.  We have no idea how the his­tory books will paint him.  We don’t even know the details of the case because there is a pend­ing legal inves­ti­ga­tion around it, but here’s what I’ve gath­ered from the var­i­ous quasi-news sources.

As a young man Bradley Man­ning enlisted in the mil­i­tary and was soon dis­patched to Iraq.  Even though he was away life was good for Bradley.  Back home his high school sweet­heart was wait­ing for him to come back.  In the field, because of he was a smart man and because he had demon­strated him­self as a loyal sol­dier, he quickly moved up within the ranks of intel­li­gence offi­cers.  Pretty soon he was inter­cept­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion between Iraqi com­bat­ants and prop­erly relay­ing high level top secret Amer­i­can doc­u­ments.  It wasn’t long though before his life became a lot more com­pli­cated.  His work was becom­ing quite stress­ful and his girl­friend unex­pect­edly broke up with him.  Whether it was his increas­ingly dif­fi­cult job or his sud­denly tur­bu­lent love life, some­thing snapped in Bradley.

You see, Bradley’s job required him not only to dis­cover the enemy’s secrets, but also to keep his own country’s secrets.  It seems as though Bradley had prob­lems with both parts of his job.  His job was to look for secrets that would demon­strate how evil their enemy was.  It seems to me that Bradley didn’t dis­cover as many of those secrets as he needed.  But the secrets he was being asked to cover up, that was a whole dif­fer­ent story.  We don’t know what Iraqi secrets he dis­cov­ered, but we do know some of the Amer­i­can secrets he was asked to cover, only because he stopped cov­er­ing them up.

Wik­ileaks is a web­site that invites peo­ple to make anony­mous sub­mis­sions of clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion.  A while ago, a lot of clas­si­fied Amer­i­can mil­i­tary infor­ma­tion started appear­ing on this web­site.  Then, what really got people’s atten­tion was when a secret Amer­i­can mil­i­tary video appeared on youtube.  The video showed Amer­i­can sol­diers in a heli­copter shoot­ing at Afghan chil­dren with­out ade­quate evi­dence and then laugh­ing about it.  The response to his actions have been swift, he was quickly arrested and is due to be court mar­tialed for high treason.

It needs to be said how­ever that he has only been charged with doing these things, and it will be up to US mil­i­tary lawyers to prove in court that he is guilty.  My sense how­ever is that it will quickly become clear what he did and didn’t do but much more atten­tion will be paid to whether or not those things are ille­gal.  Cer­tainly releas­ing clas­si­fied mil­i­tary secrets is ille­gal by def­i­n­i­tion, but some­times peo­ple get away with doing ille­gal things if it uncov­ers the more ille­gal things that other peo­ple do.

Read­ing about this story and the com­ments peo­ple post on those arti­cles makes clear that this is a hugely polar­iz­ing issue.  Peo­ple are love him or hate him.  So far though it’s really only seemed to be an eth­i­cal and legal dis­cus­sion, but I’m sure it won’t be long before some influ­en­tial reli­gious peo­ple weigh in with their opinions.

If you want to find more infor­ma­tion, you can fol­low any of these links:

It’s unclear how pub­lic this trial will be, but I think this is only going to get more interesting.

Face to Face, Part II

I’d like to con­tinue to add to last week’s post. There I made the point that, although we are cer­tainly using tech­nol­ogy more and more for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, human beings will always rely on (and get the most joy from) face-to-face inter­ac­tion. Some of you may have heard of the iPhone 4. It’s Apple’s new smart­phone that’s sell­ing faster than borscht at a Men­non­ite Church potluck. One of the most adver­tised fea­tures of the iPhone 4 is “Face­Time,” a video con­fer­enc­ing tech­nol­ogy that allows you to chat with friends, fam­ily, and ene­mies face-to-face. When Apple launches the next gen­er­a­tion iPod Touch (tomor­row) and iPad, they’ll bring this fea­ture to the entire platform.

I’ve been fol­low­ing Apple for a long time, and they are actu­ally often behind the curve in tech­nol­ogy. Cell phones with front-facing video chat­ting cam­eras have been around for a long time. And com­put­ers with web­cams have been on shelves for years. Video chat­ting has been out there. But what’s inter­est­ing about Apple is that they don’t bring a prod­uct to mar­ket until they think the mar­ket is ready and, more impor­tantly, until they think the tech­nol­ogy is ready. Video chat­ting has been fraught with com­pli­ca­tions: cruddy cam­eras, poor inter­net con­nec­tions, and really badly writ­ten soft­ware. Apple has put a decent cam­era in the iPhone, writes great soft­ware, and is only allow­ing you to use wifi for Face­Time (not over the phone net­work). What this means is very sim­ple: the world is finally ready for video con­fer­enc­ing. Tech­nol­ogy has pro­gressed to the point that your 84 year-old grand­mother will be able to video chat with­out ask­ing you for tech support.

Seri­ously.

And here’s the whole point: while the world (read: the older gen­er­a­tion) has screamed and cried about the lack of face-to-face inter­ac­tion, tech­nol­ogy is slowly bring­ing us back. And the world (read: the older gen­er­a­tion) will have no prob­lem embrac­ing this tech­nol­ogy when they real­ize how easy it is.

In other words: we’re head­ing back to face-to-face, and that’s a good thing.

Tak­ing Heart,

Paul Loewen

PS. Check out the video YouTube Preview Image and the arti­cle: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13506_3-20003192–17.html

The Miracle of Rest

Photo by Scott Kim

There’s some­thing about being in God’s cre­ation that seems to stretch time. I feel a sense of abun­dance and re-connection with the Cre­ator of all. Time taken in rest, away from the people-creations which focus on time, money, pro­duc­tion, and con­sump­tion, I remem­ber who I am, I re-centre my self and life in Christ, and I re-commit myself to the com­mu­nity of faith which seeks to live in the king­dom of the Creator.

I might just be ready for a new semester.

Face to Face

Let’s face it, we all use tech­nol­ogy. The fact that we’re read­ing from oth­ers on a blog is evi­dence to that fact. Jeanette and I use email as our pri­mary com­mu­ni­ca­tion method. It’s quick. It allows peo­ple to respond on their own time. And it doesn’t inter­rupt life the way a phone (espe­cially a cell phone) does. As we’re get­ting used to all this tech­nol­ogy, many peo­ple of older gen­er­a­tions (mine included) are opposed to some of the move­ments among the younger crowd. Tex­ting, face­book­ing, etc. They scare us. “It’ll reduce face-to-face inter­ac­tion,” we say. “They’ll spend all their time in front of a screen,” we add. And it’s prob­a­bly true — we’re spend­ing more and more time in front of screens. “We didn’t spend that much time watch­ing TV,” some would say. But the plethora of con­tent on TV and the myr­iad of infor­ma­tion avail­able on the inter­net really makes that point irrel­e­vant. There wasn’t all that much to see on TV back then. Now there is. And at first the inter­net wasn’t all that great either. Now it is.

And now those con­ve­niences can fit in our pockets.

I have no doubt that the level of face-to-face inter­ac­tions has gone down over the past fifty years. But the other day I had a thought — when the phone was intro­duced, what were the ini­tial reac­tions? I can’t know for sure, but I can ven­ture a guess: “It’ll be a time-saver,” would say the opti­mists. “It’ll limit inter­ac­tion,” would say the pes­simists. I have no doubt it did both. With each tech­no­log­i­cal shift comes a back­lash. From face-to-face we went to phones. Before that we had mail. Each time we lose a dimen­sion of the con­ver­sa­tion. With phone we lost the facial expres­sions. With let­ters we lost the tones, pitch, and empha­sis of the human voice. With our cur­rent tech­nol­ogy, we still lack the nec­es­sary dimen­sions to have a full con­ver­sa­tion. Any­one try­ing to sort a prob­lem out through email knows what I’m talk­ing about.

At the same time, the phone and let­ter did not destroy human inter­ac­tion. Email cer­tainly hasn’t. Face­book won’t. Tex­ting is inca­pable. We don’t need to be so afraid of these tran­si­tions. Peo­ple will always need human inter­ac­tion. No screen can replace that. The changes in tech­nol­ogy are com­ing at a faster rate, and at some point we’ll all find our­selves a lit­tle behind the curve. If that’s the case, don’t fret! Human inter­ac­tions will always rely on face-to-face relationships.

Tak­ing Heart,

Paul Loewen

Abortion: Are we Ready?

It’s easy to be a trav­el­ing preacher.

Well, I don’t actu­ally know that first­hand. But that’s the kind of thing I would expect. The beauty of a trav­el­ing preacher is that you can:

  1. Preach with­out full aware­ness of the congregation’s context.
  2. Preach your heart out, because you may never be back.
  3. Preach the truth, full and unfil­tered, because you know you won’t have to deal with the mess.

When peo­ple leave a church (whether a pas­tor or a mem­ber), they often have strong words for what the church needs to do. “You need to change the wor­ship.” “You shouldn’t allow _____.” “You should allow _____.” It’s easy to say these words when you leave. If you’re going to tell a church to change, you gotta be there to help see the change through. It’s that simple.

In many ways, we approach abor­tion the same way. We say:

  1. Abor­tion is wrong.
  2. Give it up for adoption.
  3. Keep your baby.

Yet, the fact of the mat­ter is that many of the moth­ers going through abor­tions are ill-prepared for being a mother. Per­haps they’re not finan­cially sta­ble. Per­haps their rela­tion­ship is falling apart. Per­haps they sim­ply have no clue what to do. When we con­vince them to leave the clinic, what do we do? We go back to our lives, thank­ful to have saved a baby.

Yet we haven’t really.

If we’re going to preach see­ing a baby through from con­cep­tion to birth, we need to be ready to be there. We can’t just yell at the mother. We need to help pay for med­ical bills. Drive them to the hos­pi­tal. Buy them mater­nity and baby clothes. Be there at the child’s birth, 1st birth­day, and grad­u­a­tion. If we’re going to preach against abor­tion, we need to be pre­pared. The church is, after all, called to love the baby and the mother. Are we ready?

Tak­ing Heart,

Paul Loewen

Reviews of The Gift of Difference

I will be sub­mit­ting a shorter review for print but any­one inter­ested can read a longer engage­ment with a great new col­lec­tion put out by CMU Press, The Gift of Dif­fer­ence: Rad­i­cal Ortho­doxy, Rad­i­cal Ref­or­ma­tion.

Part I

Part II

Silence the horns of hatred

I want you to image a soc­cer game, a game where play is going on, but a strange and dis­com­fort­ing noise is com­ing from the stands.  Some play­ers can play through it, but a few of them are quite dis­tracted by the noise.

So what should be done about the noise?

Some say that this noise is just a part of the game, espe­cially in cer­tain coun­tries, and that inter­fer­ing wouldn’t be effec­tive and would only stir up resent­ment in these parts of the world.

Oth­ers say that the noise is not only annoy­ing and unnec­es­sary, but poten­tially dam­ag­ing to play­ers and spec­ta­tors, and is fun­da­men­tally detri­men­tal to the game.

FIFA and the other sports gov­ern­ing bod­ies haven’t done much about it, likely hop­ing that the whole issue will just dis­ap­pear, and maybe they’re right about that.  Gen­er­ally peo­ple feel that either they are rad­i­cally opposed to it, or they under­stand the dis­com­fort it causes but see the over­all bat­tle as not one that can be one and hope­fully it is just a fad that will soon pass.  Where do you stand?

I don’t need to clar­ify my own posi­tion first do I?  If I do, then I will say unequiv­o­cally that I am anti-racism.  If you’re ask­ing what race has to do with vuvuze­las, my answer is that I’m not talk­ing about vuvuze­las.  I love the vuvuze­las.  It’s a noise-maker at a sport­ing event, get over it.  What I’m talk­ing about doesn’t hap­pen in Africa, it hap­pens when play­ers of African descent  play in Europe, espe­cially in the home of the most recent World Cup cham­pi­ons, Spain.

So I ask again, what should be done about the noise?

The ones who chant in this way are not in the major­ity, but there are enough racist fans that the chants are audi­ble through­out the sta­dium and this isn’t a sit­u­a­tion where build­ing secu­rity could sim­ply eject the indi­vid­ual offend­ers, they wouldn’t have the man­power to do this.  The revolt from these fans would be immense.  Or would it?  FIFA has spo­ken out against this behav­iour, but has done lit­tle as far as imple­ment­ing pun­ish­ments or con­crete solu­tions.  What would it look like if there were a World Cup of Racial Tol­er­ance?  I’m guess­ing the tro­phy would be awarded to a dif­fer­ent country.

I recently went to a CFL game and a fan had brought a vuvuzela, and I heard a num­ber of other fans around com­plain­ing about how those horns had neg­a­tively impacted the World Cup soc­cer tour­na­ment.  I chose to see things dif­fer­ently.  I’m sure nobody in South Africa blow­ing these horns intended it this way, but I saw it as a kind of revenge.  I didn’t hear an annoy­ing horn, I saw African peo­ple using an African inven­tion to make noise that annoyed white Euro­pean soc­cer play­ers and white Euro­pean soc­cer fans.  To me, that wasn’t annoy­ing, that was funny.

For every toot of a vuvuzela horn in South Africa this sum­mer, a racist chant is shouted in Europe.  Which one should be silenced?  I say we all blow the vuvuzela until the racist chants stop.