Wednesday, September 26, 2007

School - Pride or Punk?

Recently students at Central Kings Rural High School in Nova Scotia made national and some international headlines with a brilliant response to bullying in their school. Their high school is an nearly twin like version of our own regional high school here where I live - similar in size, economic and social makeup. Now our regional school is poised to make a media splash of its own, but for an ironically opposite reason.

While students at the Nova Scotia school have spent time and their own personal resources to stand up against bullying the students at Greenall are doing the same in order to beat each other senseless.

Today I was standing in line at the local Subway during the lunch hour and overheard four lads from Greenall discussing the fascinating and finer points of fisticuffs. Youthful male exuberance is one thing but in our day and age it seems to me that teachers and authorities are hamstrung when it comes to responding to this issue. "Consensual" fighting is OK, or at least not a chargeable offense.

Parents may be able to influence some of their children, but frankly in my experience, if your young man or woman has a particular personality and perspective by the time they are 14 or so there is little if anything that can be done to change their way of behaving until they do something that truly has serious consequences. Some adults I know would even be of the opinion that the kids involved in these "cage rage" fights were showing good sense by wearing protective gear. The mind boggles.

While I have some thoughts on solutions, anything I might suggest wouldn't be worth two pins. What I wonder about is whether or not there are any senior students at Greenall with imagination, creativity and courage to match their peers in Nova Scotia. Are any of the senior class at Greenall upset by their sudden infamous notoriety - or are they all a little proud of their school's fleeting moment of media attention? Are there any students at Greenall who know why the fights going on among their peers are wrong - without having to have it explained to them?

The story from Nova Scotia was one of those ones that tends to restore my faith in the future and in the next generation. My own sons also frequently give me reasons to hope. I know that there are always some bad influences in every community - that is the reality - but we can make our communities better and give hope to ourselves and others when there are people of vision and courage in our community who will stand up to evil where it lives. I'm praying the Greenall story is in it's first stage - that the students who care are formulating their response. I'm waiting to see what the real character of the student body at Greenall is.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dollars to Donuts and Back Again

My friend Lee Distad has weighed in on the subject of the Canadian Loonie attaining parity with the US Greenback. I've commented already at his blogsite, but I found the whole subject so fascinating I decided to place some of my comment here and expand further.

What I found really interesting was how much has changed culturally since the last time our dollar was worth the same amount as a US dollar. As my beloved Professor of Church Leadership and Pastoral Theology, the Rev. Dr. Gary Nelson, reminded us, "Only three things matter in ministry. Context. Context. Context."

It has been a generation since the last time the Canadian Dollar was worth as much as the US Dollar. At that time -

- the Canadian dollar was not called a "Loonie".
- Prince Charles was still single, and by all accounts, not even dating.
- Oprah was unknown and middle-class.
- there were no cellular telephone networks in North America.
- the three best selling home computers were the Commodore PET, Radio Shack TRS-80 and Apple II and they all had just been introduced.
- no one had a debit card and "bank machines" did not exist.
- other than friends or family, no one knew who Johnny Depp was.
- all of the members of The Tragically Hip were too young to go to the bar, let alone play music there.
- it had already been a decade since the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup.
- there was no MTV.
- more people watched TV broadcasts off antennas than cable in Canada.
- Pat Robertson launched the first satellite-delivered basic cable service, called the CBN Cable Network, in the USA.
- no one had e-mail.
- the Toronto Blue Jays launched their franchise.
- "Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope" was in theatres for the first time.
- fuel injection, front-wheel drive and airbags were not standard equipment on most cars sold in North America or worldwide for that matter.
- Michael Jackson was still a member of his family vocal group - "The Jacksons"- and no one even knew they had two sisters named Latoya and Janet.
- Lloyd Robertson's hair was still a "natural" colour, he had only been with CTV for one year and was the co-anchor alongside Harvey Kirk.
- the only people on the "internet" - which still didn't really exist - were the US military, some government agencies in North America, Europe and Asia, a number of universities around the world and a relative handful of scientists.
- no one was worried about AIDS, West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease, SARS, Bird Influenza, Mad Cow Disease or Superbugs.
- the video console game "Pong" by Atari had only been in bars and arcades for two years.
- Microsoft Windows did not exist.
- there was no such thing as "reality TV contests".
- "environmentalism" was a minority lifestyle choice - not a growing worldwide political imperative.

Economists, social & political pundits are making much of this "Loonie" issue. This morning the CBC reported that the Loonie had slipped just below the Greenback only a few hours previously. People, media, governments and institutions will start watching the dollar now with all the neurotic regularity we display when we check our wristwatches. And they will tell the public what will happen and how they should react. And many, many, many of them will do just that. I think we have to realize that for a huge number of people the Canadian economy has crossed over onto uncharted ground, despite the fact that people like myself can remember "the day when".

Like it or not, we now live in a society where the majority of people have the attention span of an over caffeinated squirrel with ADHD. And when our politicians, economists and cultural pundits are also part of that group then I say it's time to listen to Bette Davis -

"Buckle up kiddies. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

When issues like this one pop up and we see that there is a history we can draw upon for wisdom, yet most don't, I wonder if the postmodern rejection of the "meta-narrative" - the story that tells us how we got here and why - is such a smart idea. The philosopher Charles Santayana observed that, "Those who refuse to remember the past are condemned to repeat it." My friend Lee observes that what has happened to our dollar has happened before - things go up in economics and they come down. But this present generation seems to make the myopia of my generation (called the "Me Generation" by some) seem like a momentary lapse of focus by comparison. It hasn't happened before "to us" so therefore we have no way to know how to deal with it. The media echoes that sentiment every day if not in every story they report.

The wise author of Ecclesiastes wrote, "There is nothing new under the sun."

This is especially true of money.

Jesus talked about money - a lot - because money was just as important to people 2000 years ago as it is today. His bottom line was basically this - who is in control, the money or God? One of them will be. You get to choose.

Choose wisely.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where I Find God

We were discussing the Nooma video "Trees" last night and I was really jazzed up by Rob Bell's question, "Where do you find God?"

I find Him in nature. Every day.

I find him in people of passion. Every day.

I find Him in art. Every day.

I find Him in well made and done things. Every day.

My wife is friends with a Prof. at U of R. He's got eclectic taste in music as we do, so we trade CD's from time to time to introduce each other to new music we hope we all will appreciate. He just lent me Elyza Gilkyson's new CD Paradise Hotel.

Do you remember when artists made albums that seems to have a thematic core because it was obvious that they were dealing deeply with very personal issues and compelling ideas - rather than just trying to make some "product"? Maybe you've never discovered such a piece of work.

Well Eliza has done this.

In spades.

And my life is richer today because God made Eliza and put her in the world and blessed me with the opportunity to hear her art. She probably won't win a Grammy, or a Juno, or an American Music Award, or an American Country Music Award - even though she should. But she has won my appreciation and if you give her a chance, she probably will win yours, too.

As Rob would say her art is "drenched in God".


Monday, September 17, 2007

Matrimony, The State & The Church

After being AWOL for many weeks I am returning with a serious post. Arguably not the best strategy to increase my readership, but I stand by my blog tagline.

The following is an excerpt from my ordination paper. This issue became clearer to me as I attended a remarkable Christian wedding this weekend. The worshipful atmosphere that permeated the entire ceremony threw into stark incongruity the moment of the "signing of the registry" - the insertion of the state into what was otherwise an entirely Christian service of worship.

While the comments that follow are written from the Christian, and particularly Protestant perspective, I hope that one can insert the name of any religious confession that is in agreement with the orthodox Christian view of marriage and maintain the same argument.


Recent changes in Canadian marriage law have raised the issue of the relationship between the state and the church in this matter. The historical and current position is that the state, for the purposes of legal recognition and establishment, licenses and sanctions marriage in Canada. The state, at the provincial level registers specific persons charged with the solemnization of this contract. These persons are state employees – justices of the peace – and clergy - who are not state employees, but are "agents" of the state in this particular matter.

The changes in recent court decisions as to which individuals the state will allow to enter into marriage have caused considerable concern within Christian denominations and churches as well as other religious groups. The issue, as I understand it, centers on whether or not denominations and clergy can and/or should remain registered by the state to solemnize marriages if they are compelled to do so for persons whom their religious beliefs would not allow.

The first issue for me is whether or not any Christian – clergy or otherwise – is compelled by teaching in Scripture to officiate marriage ceremonies under any circumstances. My study of this issue suggests the answer is “no”. Before the Reformation marriage was, and still is, one of the “sacraments” of the Roman & Eastern Orthodox Catholic Churches - a position the protestant reformers rejected. Indeed, the North American Baptist Conference (with which the church I serve is associated) – and most protestant confessions for that matter – recognizes only two “ordinances” – those being “communion” and “baptism”. Therefore the protestant Christian church and clergy’s involvement in the state-sanctioned solemnization of marriage has been and is a matter of cultural convention – not church doctrine.

While our understanding of God’s will through our study of Scripture directs us to celebrate and practice marriage as a specific, God-ordained relationship - when in the proper circumstances - between a man and a woman, we cannot impose this view and practice upon the state if it should deem otherwise. This is also the same principle in the matter of what the state allows as reasons for divorce.

One serious theological question raised by the church being involved in the recognition or solemnization of marriage is that the rite generally includes the declaration of vows by the participants – this in seeming defiance of Christ’s admonishment against taking oaths:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Matthew 5:33-37 - TNIV

I suggest that we carefully consider whether our Christian marriage ceremonies contain “oaths” or is our understanding that these "vows" are statements of intent – a “yes” or a “no” - and thus acceptable.

While I affirm that the church, as a community, has the freedom to celebrate the union of a man and woman in marriage in circumstances that are in obedience to the prescriptions of Scripture, there seems to me to be no compelling reason for Bible-believing Christian churches or clergy to do so for any union that does not meet the Lord’s standards. To do otherwise would have the appearance of giving tacit approval to this behavior in the name of the Lord - this hardly seems to be something that could glorify His name or be seen as intellectually and spiritually honest in view of Biblical truth and church doctrine.

We must be careful in how we discuss and present this position to those outside the church and those within the church who may not have thought this through fully. Individual Christians should attend and celebrate marriages with people who are their friends, regardless of the couple's religious practice or the circumstances of the union. We are not called to reject or abandon those who do not follow God’s teaching and direction. We are to witness to them and treat them with love and grace. Relationships are important and grace must be our method in all interactions.

Having said that, the church is not required by law to agree with, affirm, support or enact the policy of the state in the matter of marriage unless it is in a legal relationship with the state. Indeed, the law clearly states that it is now illegal for a government licensed person or organization to refuse to provide a legal good or service to any individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Churches who maintain their clergy’s legal status as registered marriage officiants, but hold to policy that would reject performing marriages for couples the state deems as legal, are in effect saying that they would disobey the law as established by duly elected and appointed officials. Ironically in such a situation the church or clergy’s “yes” would not actually be “yes”.

The church and its clergy should recognize and celebrate what God is doing in the lives of believers who come together in marriage in a way that is a worshipful and obedient corporate act before God. As long as the state requires a ceremony or rite before a registered official in order to legally recognize a marriage then Christian couples can do that also, if they choose to, before state officials at another time. Or even at the same time if the Justice of the Peace is agreeable to witnessing and officially recognizing the wedding. Wedding planners may get headaches trying to coordinate clergy and a J.O.T.P. but that’s why they get paid the "big bucks".

As a clergyperson, relinquishing my “official” status as a marriage officiant would be a powerful personal public spiritual statement, at least to me if no one else. It could only be done with the full support of the leadership and congregation of the church I serve. The political and social realities of our day will, at some point, most likely force churches and their clergy to face these tough decisions.

In essence I believe I am arguing for a clearer separation of the church and the state in our country. As long as churches maintain state-sanctioned and registered clergy for the purpose of the legal solemnization of marriage they have an obligation to observe and comply with the law of the land. But, the churches must understand that they are not compelled by law to maintain this relationship. Therefore those churches that do maintain this legal relationship should, in my opinion, honor the law of the land and honestly admit that they have placed it above the law and teachings of God.

The state does not agree with the position of the majority of the Christian churches in this matter. Such differences of position are allowable and, I believe, desirable in a truly democratic society that supports the concept of freedom of religion. If the churches of Jesus Christ choose not to be agents of the state in this matter I believe they will become free to follow Him in obedience and also to continue to be obedient and lawful members, albeit dissenting ones in this matter, of our society.

To do otherwise, in my opinion, is to try to "have our cake and eat it, too."