Too often we have preached a watered down, deformed kind of Christianity. Lets get back to the 6 core truths…

Too often we have preached a watered down, deformed kind of Christianity. Lets get back to the 6 core truths…

The American election revealed how significantly that country is divided, and as part of that, how significantly the Christian church is divided.

I have been left wondering whether we have had a major failure of Christian teaching and leadership… after all there must be a biblical worldview, mustn’t there?

Of course there is… it’s just that most people who call themselves Christian have a worldview shaped by all sorts of forces other than the bible.

Last November I gave a sermon called “How and Why do I read the bible?,” where I unpacked the 6 core elements of a Biblical worldview through which we could discern truth.

None of the six things were in any way controversial, and yet all of them are revolutionary in terms of our understanding of ourselves and the world.

I think part of the challenge is that as the Christian church, we have learned to give intellectual assent to these truths and not let them shape how we think and live.

The six truths of the bible basically chart the story of the bible from the start of Genesis through to the end of Revelation. They are:

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Self Sufficiency is the great lie of Alberta (and the Western World).

Self Sufficiency is the great lie of Alberta (and the Western World).

This is an article I wrote for todays St. Albert Gazette. You can see it here:

John Lennon wrote “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans” in the song Beautiful Boy. It is a lyric I don’t like because it is a little too close to home.

As Human beings we really want to believe we are in control of our own destinies. Here in Alberta we place a high premium on the idea of the “self made” man or woman. We put a lot of pressure on each other in Alberta, and particularly in St. Albert.

As the poet John Donne reminded us “No man is an island, Entire of itself.” As a pastor in this city, I believe the lie of self-sufficiency is one of the big reasons that we have so many mental health challenges.

Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book “Outliers” that no-one truly is self-made. We are all a product of our experiences and particularly, the community in which we grow up and now live.

For those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in Alberta, and more specifically, St. Albert, it is easier to maintain the illusion that we can control our own lives. Most of us grew up in families where money was not a big issue and our education equipped us to go even further than our parents did.

For a significant percentage of our lives we can pretend the steering wheel is in our hands, and we can look down on people who don’t have what we have, or who can’t make the decisions about their lives that we can. Too many of us living in St. Albert are living our lives in a way that is just setting us up for a painful fall.

Eventually, something will go wrong, and we will have to face the fact that our life is actually not our own. It can be a painful and disillusioning realization.

At the heart of Christianity is the understanding that we are not in control and that all of us have two fundamental needs: the need for a relationship with the God who actually is in control, and the need for relationship with others.

The bible’s version of John Lennon’s lyric is Proverbs 16:9: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Reading the bible regularly is a good recipe for humility, and humility is a good recipe for mental health.

Another good recipe for mental health is real community. In the same way we need to recognise that we are not God, we also need to recognise that we need others, and others need us.

In this remarkable city, that is continually in the top 10 places to live in Canada, we have two antidotes to the Albertan lie of self-sufficiency.

The first antidote is that every weekend local churches open their doors to anyone who has reached a point of realization that they are not God.

The second antidote is that our city leads the world in encouraging people to get to know and build relationship with their neighbours (see goodneighbourproject.org) through block parties and other initiatives.

You are not an island. Please consider engaging with a local church and getting to know your neighbours. I promise you won’t regret it

There are 6 choices you need to make if you don’t want to be sucked in by Trump (or anyone else).

There are 6 choices you need to make if you don’t want to be sucked in by Trump (or anyone else).

I have been grateful for the chance to be in North America at this time. It feels like there is a seismic shift underway in how the world looks at the United States, how the United States looks at itself and how everybody understands truth.

I used to teach people about Public Relations. I would teach that we have “media” because they “mediate” truth. These days, while that might be the origin of the word, the reality of the function is not so simple.

Yesterday I watched one of my favourite journalists, Chuck Todd, reach a point where he declared that he no longer had the words, quoting a sports commentator who once declared “I can’t believe what my eyes are seeing.”

It seems as though the biggest question facing us over the next decade will be “what is real?”

I wonder if part of the problem is that over the last 40 years we have been lulled into a dependence on media. We have allowed them to mediate, and therefore shape our reality.

In my Public Relations classes, I would teach that “those who know how to use the media have disproportionate power.” I don’t think anyone would doubt that Donald Trump knows how to use the media.

I don’t think that Trump is the problem. I think the problem is that we have all become lazy. We have allowed ourselves to have our understanding shaped by others, rather than doing the hard work of seeking truth ourselves.

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We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…. #TSEliot

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…. #TSEliot

T.S. Eliot penned the words of the title of this reflection as part of his poem, “The Little Gidding.”

The words have been running around my head lately because it they capture the trajectory of our next twelve months.

In 1992 my journey in ministry really started with a journey to the top of Mt. Wellington in Hobart. I was in the city on placement after finishing Fusion’s six month bible college intensive. A friend had challenged me to consider the possibility of “digging in” in Hobart and committing to Fusion’s work for the long haul.

I didn’t want to.

I was scared.

I knew I didn’t have the answers.

So for a couple of days I avoided the question, and then I went for a drive.

The view of Hobart from the summit of Mt. Wellington

I drove to the top of the mountain and after some minutes of staring at the lights of the city, and with some sense of dread, I uttered the words:

“OK God, you’ve got me; I’m willing to accept the challenge of this city.”

That sentence changed my life.

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Anderson Cooper is biased, he just hasn’t realized it yet. (So are you…)

Anderson Cooper is biased, he just hasn’t realized it yet. (So are you…)

I haven’t known how to make sense of what’s been happening in American Politics

I didn’t write last week. I just wasn’t sure what to say.

I spent last Friday glued to the television and much of that time I was shaking my head trying to understand what I was seeing.

It is hard for an Australian to really comprehend the forces that shape the thinking of Americans. While Australia certainly has it’s fair share of irresponsible media coverage, divisive issues and poor leadership, the country as a whole is actually fairly whole. Pauline Hanson is not Donald Trump (no matter what she believes), Centrelink is not Obama Care and Crikey is not Breitbart. To be honest our politics is much less interesting… in a good way.

America is divided in a way that Australia simply isn’t, so I have spent the last four and a half years in North America a bit bewildered by what I see on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

This morning I heard something that was extremely helpful at a number of levels.  Since becoming addicted to “the West Wing”, one of my favourite television shows has been Meet the Press. The host, Chuck Todd, has recently started a podcast called 1947 (after the year that MTP started), where he seems to have longer form, more informative dialogues than is possible on the one hour show.

Today Todd posted a conversation between himself and President George Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer. Chuck was attempting to argue that the media wasn’t systemically biased, and Fleischer systematically demonstrated why he was wrong. A key insight for me was when Fleischer said:

Chuck I submit to you it isn’t intentional, it’s natural, and that’s even worse.

It’s just reflective of a worldview that reporter’s have. Where I’ve been on sets, I’ve been talking to reporters and you just see them roll their eyes, “How can anybody be for Trump?”

It’s an institutional thought that is pervasive throughout journalism and it goes back decades frankly. I think it’s hit its peak with Donald Trump because reporters find him so personally offensive and ideologically offensive, and they let it rip.

Fleischer came across  as very grounded in reality and gave numerous examples that Todd simply had no comeback for. By the end of the conversation, both of them seemed to agree that the “main-stream” media had a “left-wing” bias. At the end of the interview, Presidential advisor Steve Bannon’s claim that the media was the real opposition seemed a little less crazy than it initially sounded.

What seems to be happening is that the American media is only just starting to become aware that they are not completely objective.

I almost laughed out loud as I watched CNN’s Anderson Cooper who looked shocked and hurt last night when he, and the media in general were accused of being biased. His defence was that Newsrooms were more “diverse” than ever.

For Cooper, “diverse” meant people from different ethnic backgrounds and people of different sexual orientations… however, as Fleischer pointed out to Todd, very few newsrooms have any socially conservative people at all, most of whom would not be excited by what Cooper calls diverse.

Anderson Cooper is biased, he just hasn’t realized it yet.

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Only people who have suffered, grown, matured and developed real values can actually have relationships of trust.

Only people who have suffered, grown, matured and developed real values can actually have relationships of trust.

These two men seem to have the kind of friendship we all long for.

It is interesting to watch America prepare for the transition from it’s first black President to its first President with no background in either politics or the military.

I caught Obama’s farewell speech, along with the ceremony where he bestowed the Presidential Medal of Honour with Distinction, on Vice President Joe Biden. What has been interesting to watch has been the way that almost no-one has criticized the character of either man.

Obama quoted a Republican who said:

If you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you got a problem.  He’s as good a man as God ever created.

Senior Republicans have almost been unanimous in the praise of the character of both the first family and the Vice President. In the very next breath they move to talk about Obama as one of the worst Presidents America has had, but they don’t criticize his character.

It was interesting that when Joe Biden got over the shock of receiving the award, it was Obama’s character that was what he mostly spoke about:

And we’ve disagreed, and we’ve argued, and we’ve raised our voices, one of which we made a deal we’d be completely open like brothers with one another.  But, Mr. President, I watched you under intense fire.  I will venture to say that no President in history has had as many novel crises land on his desk in all of history.  The Civil War was worse, the World War Two was worse, but, Mr. President, almost every one of the crises you faced was a case of first instance — a case of first instance.  And I watched that prodigious mind and that heart as big as your head — I’ve watched you.  I’ve watched how you’ve acted.

Last September, conservative commentator, David Brooks wrote:

[O]ver the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply. […]
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

It is true that the Obama Whitehouse has been largely scandal-free, and that all the real things that have focused people’s strong feelings about him have been about policy and not about character.

I watched the movie about Obama’s early life on Netflix a few weeks ago, and read his autobiography 8 years ago. In both it becomes clear that Barak Hussein Obama has had to fight to find his identity in the face of lots of competing messages he received from society and those around him.

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Lets stop settling for desires far below what we were created for.

Lets stop settling for desires far below what we were created for.

On Christmas eve I spoke about the fact that words like Peace, Love, Hope and Joy express deep longings we all have, but that we end up settling for “stuff” that promises to deliver these longings but never does.

Over the last couple of nights I have been reading a book that has given me new language to understand just how profound that settling for less actually is.

Regular readers of Faith Reflections will know how much the books of N.T. (Tom) Wright have had on my heart and mind. There has been a deep relief as I encountered his writing because I found him expressing the truth of the bible in a way that made sense intellectually but also challenged my heart and helped me understand Jesus and myself a whole lot more.

His most recent book is called “The day the revolution began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion,” and while I haven’t yet finished, the parts I have already read are helping me understand the dilemma of what it means to be a human being much more clearly.

When I was speaking on Christmas eve about our longings for Peace, Hope, Love and Joy, I knew that I was speaking about the human spirit that is common to everyone. In the book of Job, the courageous young man Elihu asserts that:

But it is the spirit in a person,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.
Job 32:8

I knew that whether the people who were hearing me would call themselves Christians or not, there was a spirit in them that that longed for hope, peace, love and Joy. I also knew that no words I could say would accurately capture that reality, because as the writer of Ecclesiastes points out, God has made everything beautiful in its time, however:

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Part of all of us is beyond our capacity to understand. Our hearts long for true love, true hope, true peace and true joy and those longings drive us, and as I wrote a few weeks ago, these are the longings that clever marketers try to tap in to when they sell their products.

What N.T. Wright helped me give words to in a new way is what happens when we settle for less than who we are created to be.

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