Two Original Poems – The Canopy of Stars and the Cherry Tree

star1The Canopy of Stars

The earth stood still, my heart stopped beating,

The moment I found my love under a canopy of stars.

Secure, but not secluded,

Embraced but not smothered,

Enflamed but not ablaze.

The lovely duet of two violins playing,

Yet neither playing second fiddle.

The thoughtful glance of a young lover,

The generous warmth of a mature man,

The passionate kiss leaving warm honey on my mouth.

Though life often lacks clarity,

There is nothing confusing in this.

This shameless romance

That melts away all fear

And introduces all certainty

The moment you stopped my heart

Under a canopy of stars.

cherry_tree_in_bloomThe Cherry Tree

The cherry tree stood in the abandoned field urging me to eat its fruit,

But no, not I,

Another should go first.

What if the tree be poisoned,

The deadly sweetness,

This succulent seduction?

My heart,

Remain unmoved

For no cherry can love you like the apple blossom in fresh spring.

Go to another field and there await the apple tree that has been carefully tended and watered,

For this abandoned cherry tree will only lead to poisonous venom,

And my lover does not lay under its shade,

He is far away,

Find the apple,

And you will find him there.

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The Farm Wagon and the Apple – Thoughts and Reflections on Growing Up Mennonite

The following blog first appeared on: http://www.stateofformation.org/2015/05/the-farm-wagon-and-the-apple-thoughts-and-reflections-on-being-mennonite/#comment-172860

I actually became Mennonite when I was 16 after first being introduced to this movement at 11.  It gets too complicated to know what to consider that, so to make it easier I am just saying “upbringing.”  I do believe the teen years are the most formative…but I actually spent my childhood in a variety of different settings so I am quite ecumenical at heart.  Although I have shifted from “Mennonite” to “Charismatic Anabaptist” the lessons I learned from this group over the years will forever change who I am at heart.

wagon-of-apples267 Every time I get off the train, drive 45 minutes south of the nearest city, and breathe in the fresh and familiar farm air, I am reminded of a very vital piece of my past. A part that is missing and yet forever will integrally be part of who I am. A part that has transformed my life and changed the very core of my theology. That part is the fact that for my most formative years, I was raised Mennonite.

Oftentimes when I tell people that I have a theologically Mennonite background I am met with the strangest looks. People ask me “did you have electricity?” “Did you have a car?” and “Were you allowed to go to school past eighth grade?” These questions are rightly raised because there are a wide variety of Mennonite groups ranging from the most conservative (horse and buggy types) to the more liberal (ordaining women and progressive theology) streams. I find myself somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

For me, being Mennonite has always been more than simply a theological construct. It’s been my identity – an ethnicity that has embraced me even as I have embraced it. It’s been a culture, a place where I have been included and been free to be myself.

In this short post, I’d like to highlight three specific lessons I learned from my Mennonite upbringing that I would encourage everyone (regardless of your faith tradition) to also consider embracing:

1) Mennonites care about the earth.

Mennonites care about the earth both from a stewardship and a social justice point of view. We care about the environment and the dangerous effects that pollution is bringing to this world. We care about farming, about soil and the earth. We know that God entrusted it to us and so it is our duty to respect it and keep it thriving. That’s why Mennonites try to live a simple life. We reject war and violence not only because we feel that Jesus taught us to live a peaceful life, but also because it ravages our world. We try to be ethical about our meat consumption, to limit out-of-season fruits and vegetables, and largely to grow our own food whenever possible. Obviously this is not always possible because some Mennonites live in larger cities, but whenever we can, we try to look beyond ourselves and think about future generations.

Mennonites also care about the people who live on this earth. We care about the “least of these” – the downtrodden, depressed, and disillusioned. We believe that no one is greater or less than anyone else. This attitude results in us spending countless hours feeding the poor, visiting the orphan and widow, and protesting on behalf of the innocent. In everything we do, we seek to make our world peaceful and just – believing that peace and justice first begin with us.

2) Mennonites care about community

Often people who visit Anabaptist communities (particularly Mennonite and Amish) will remark that we are a close-knit community. Sometimes this can be to our detriment. For example, although certainly not all Mennonites fall into this category, many of us find it hard to reach out to people who are not within our group. Of course, we will stop and help anyone in the name of social justice, but when it comes to actually joining the church, many converts have remarked that they have never truly felt like a part of us because we are just so culturally confined. Other times, this close-knit circle can be downright irritating – who really wants everyone in the town to know their business before they have even officially told anyone?

Yet, at the same time, there is a profound sense of community that Mennonites enjoy that I think we can all benefit from. In the Mennonite church, decisions are made communally. Shunning hierarchy, we seek to hear the opinions of everyone present. We seek what is best for the community and if someone has fallen upon hard times, you can be assured that the community will surround this individual with prayer and material support to enable them to get through it. Mennonites don’t keep a record of who has helped who – it’s just expected that if someone needs your help, you go help them. I think if everyone in our society followed this principle, we’d be a lot better off.

3) The Old Order Mennonites Shun Technology

Obviously, I don’t practice this one. I have a personal blog, a laptop computer, and a cell phone. However, even though I own these amenities, I still believe there is much wisdom in what the Mennonites and Amish do by eliminating and avoiding technology.

Over the years, I have seen how technology has brought destruction to many. People become caught in pornography because it’s easily accessible to them. People start having impersonal online communication rather than face-to-face interaction. Our culture has become sedentary because of the computer and so our children aren’t forced to go outside, play, and meet the neighbours.

I’m not here to condemn technology altogether, but I would challenge us to limit our interactions with anything that is not human contact. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a Facebook account or Twitter – I have both. I’m not saying it’s wrong to text or to email. But what I’m saying is that people need to come first and technology needs to come second. We can’t let technology run our lives, instead we need to be discerning about how to use technology for the greater benefit of all involved.

I may no longer be fully Mennonite, but I still carry these important traditions close to me. They are traditions I hope to instil in my own children and grandchildren someday. I’d also like to encourage you to consider them yourself. By being good stewards of the earth, living communally, and limiting technology, I believe we can create a thriving world of peace, harmony, and love. A world that all are invited to take part in.

Is the Future of the Western Church Underground? 3 Chilling Predictions About What Comes Next

5535683616_629085ff4a_m The year is 2010. I pull into the driveway of the United Church Camp where I have been hired to be the Day Camp Coordinator for the summer. A newly minted Evangelical, I’m strung out on Jesus, want to tell the world what He’s done for all of us, and excited for this new chapter in my life. What came next was something I never would have expected.

Firstly, out of 15 staff only two of us were born again Christians the others self-identified anywhere from Buddhist to atheist to somewhere in between. Secondly, the camp director herself (although the daughter of a pastor) did not find the Christian faith to be that integral to the life of the campsite. Instead, crafts, games, and having a blast were more what she thought camp life was truly all about. Thirdly, the children who went to the camp were there more for cheap babysitting than for anything else – their parents did not really care what we were teaching them, they just needed somewhere for their kids to go while they worked full-time.

At the time, I was furious. I was in my second year at Tyndale studying Religious Education and I wanted people to be just as motivated and excited about the theology I was learning as I was. Yet, my anger soon turned to profound sadness as my heart ached for the children who were growing up in a Christless generation. Looking back, I realize I could have done things differently. Perhaps it was due to my naivety, immaturity, or lack of experience, but I just felt like everyone in the church should be on the Jesus bandwagon. Yet, even though today I probably would have been more calm and collected about the situation, it did get me thinking. It got me thinking about the state our church is presently in and where it is headed in the future. It got me thinking about whether the institutional church will even continue to exist 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. And finally, it got me thinking about whether a structured service is truly what this generation needs or if they need something more.

Below, I’d like to make the case that because we have had it easy for too long, we, as a North American society have grown apathetic about our faith. We no longer care about what people believe or how they live out their lives. There used to be a time when sin scared us. When sin was taboo and to be avoided. Today, because we have become so laizze-faire the church has fallen prey to the same temptations of lust, greed, and envy as the general society. I believe this may be the case today and indeed it may continue in this vein for quite some time, but I believe that it will eventually all come to an end. I don’t believe the church can continue to sustain itself with one foot in the culture and one foot in the Gospel – trying to please both sides. Jesus Himself said that we can’t serve two masters – we’re either going to love one and hate the other or else cling to one and despise the other. In this case, He was talking about money…but it’s actually much broader than that. We cannot love the media and the way it commodifies bodies and sells sex while also believing that God truly means sex to be an intimate expression of our love for only one other individual in the faithful and covenantal act of marriage. We cannot cling to society’s competitive pull to be the best at everything and at the top of the pyramid at any cost while also adoring Christ who taught us that the greatest person of all must first learn to be a servant. We cannot continue to thrive in an apathetic environment where we only care about ourselves and choose not to confront a sinning brother or sister for fear of being seen as judgmental while still believing the Scriptures which command us to save that erring brother or sister from hell. You see, friends, we cannot have it both ways.

Yet, even though we know we can’t have it both ways, we continue to try. We continue to watch pornography while leading Bible studies on Sunday night. We hold a jammed packed agenda book (with no time for God) in one hand while holding our Bible in the other hand. Monday to Friday we cheat and fight to get a promotion and Sunday we come rolling into the church in a Lexus.

See, I know that it can be difficult to live counter-culturally in this life-style, but if we (as a church) hope to maintain our testimony to the world then we really have no choice.

And it’s because of our lack of investment in all things eternal that the church is probably going to end up facing the following three scenarios and if they don’t think of these possibilities now then they are going to be ill-equipped to deal with them when they actually happen.

#1: The Western Church WILL Face Persecution if it Continues to Sleep

This line is actually not my own. Rather, it comes from a speaker who shared about  being physically persecuted in her own country during a Tyndale chapel. For safety reasons, this individual has asked to not be publicly named and so I can give no further details of who this person is. Nevertheless, I believe this statement has much merit to it.

I DO believe that there are ways that Christians are persecuted in Canada today. Being a Christian is not always easy and we can definitely face teasing, being overlooked, or even blackmail. I believe persecution is already happening, but at the same time, we have never had to resist to the point of death.

I’m not saying that all churches fall in this camp, but as a whole, the Western Church has been silent for far too long. We have looked on while people have been marginalized and oppressed. We have contributed to racial and denominational segregation rather than trying to quell it. We have lived in relative wealth while ignoring the hurting and broken. We are guilty of these things.

We have remained silent on issues that matter. We haven’t taken a stand and been vocal about human rights, the unborn, or those with disabilities. Again, I’m not here to completely shame the Western Church. I happen to know that there are indeed many churches that have stood outside in the rain petitioning for causes, have written letters to parliament, and have advocated for those who can’t advocate for themselves. BUT as a whole, our society has not done as much as we could have in this area. And it is for that reason – because of the fact that we haven’t been as invested in our communities as we should have and because we have lived largely apathetic lives that our churches will one day face immense persecution. If we don’t start caring now and if we don’t learn to stand for Christ at the risk of losing all we have (not just saying we believe in Him, but also living out His mission incarnationally) than when the time comes, we won’t care then either.

#2: That Persecution Will Likely Come From Within The Christian Church Itself

Martin Luther King Jr. once proclaimed that “Sunday is the most segregated day of the week.” He was speaking, of course, to issues of racism and prejudice, but I still think this statement remains true today. In North America Sundays are indeed segregated days in many churches. For example, have you noticed that most (though certainly not all) churches have their own definite composition. When I think about the various churches I’ve been to, I can tell you that some churches attract the wealthy and unfortunately look down on those who don’t have as much. They may not say that in so many words, but it becomes obvious through their actions and lifestyle. Other churches cater to the marginalized population and subsequently the richer folks choose not to attend. In many churches children and youth are segregated from the adults, singles from the married population, and people with disabilities often not attended to with the care and attention they deserve. Furthermore, we face denominational segregation. Surveying a certain block in my hometown I saw three different churches all within walking distance of each other – a Catholic, an Orthodox, and a Baptist Church. In the small farming community I lived in for a number of years, we had close to 40 different Mennonite Churches (some of them believing that the others weren’t even truly “Mennonite”). I’ve heard Protestants bashing Catholics and Catholics dissing Protestants. I’ve seen Lutherans rejecting Orthodox and Presbyterians shaming Pentecostals. And I’ve seen Pentecostals who think that unless one is speaking in tongues they must not truly have the Holy Spirit in them.

I personally find this mentality to be very childish. I know that many Christians don’t embrace this kind of theology, but I’ve also seen it acted upon far too many times. And I believe that it is because of our inability to get along that we will eventually face persecution. That persecution will not come from the outside, it will come from within the church itself.

#3: Eventually, the Institutional Church Will Cave into This Persecution and Inevitably Cease to Exist

My church camp experience was my introduction to what laizze-faire type of Christianity looks like. There are a lot of solid United Church members just as there are solid Lutherans, Mennonites, and Evangelicals, but without taking a stand and refusing to reject the Scripture, children are just going to grow up thinking the Bible is not important. Throughout my life I have seen a progression – I’ve seen church go from being a central family activity to being pre-empted by hockey, basketball or bowling (on a regular basis). I’ve seen Bible study go from being an important weekly endeavour to being just another thing to check off a long list of activities (and hey, if something else comes up, let’s go to that instead). Eventually, I’ve seen children go from listening to their Sunday school teacher to caring less about the lesson and showing attitude throughout the teaching.

I believe the liberal Christians have a lot of stuff right. I applaud their efforts to engage in social justice, to not just talk about being the church but to truly go out and do it, and to be open-minded and embrace those different than themselves. I applaud all of this, and yet at the same time I am gravely worried. I am worried because if we fail to keep Christ at the center of our theology then the church will cease to exist. If we simply tell people they can believe whatever they want – I’ll live my life and you live yours – then church doors are going to shut. Let’s be honest, no one wants to wake up early on the only day they have off work to be told they can do as they please. They’d rather sleep in, go to the driving range, or have coffee at Tim Hortons.

The stats should wake us up. Church rates are declining at rapid speeds, many people have ceased self-identifying as Christian, and apathy towards religious matters has become the norm. We may wonder why. People have done all sorts of research and have proposed various suggestions. They’ve suggested that we aren’t doing youth ministry effectively, we aren’t embracing certain demographic groups, or the church is behind the times. All of these suggestions may be true, but I honestly believe we are missing one key fact. The reason our church rates are declining is because we have entirely forgotten what it truly means to be the church. As a society we’ve forgotten what it means to care for each other, what it means to lay aside our own wants and desires to love another, and what it means to serve. I believe that as the Body of Christ we have forgotten Christ’s very injunction to tell the world about Him and to not care what scorn or ridicule may result. I believe that it is only when we truly take time to rediscover our roots that we will be able to prevent persecution. Unless we are able to do that, the storms of persecution will come and they will come right from within our very walls.

Exploring John Calvin By Reading “The Joy Of Calvinism” By: Greg Forster (A Book Review)

MTE5NTU2MzE2MTcyNDg2MTU1Elect or not elect, that is the question. For several years, the question of Calvinism and Arminianism has plagued my mind. By way of introduction, Calvinism is the Christian reformed belief system that God has predestined those who will be saved and Arminianism is the belief that humanity can freely choose to accept Christ or not.  On the one hand, I grew up in an Arminian household. I was taught that we can choose to become a Christian or not and that everyone has the potential to be saved. On the other hand, the longer I spend in the academy and the more time I spend reading the Scriptures, I find Calvinism to be at the core of what much of the Bible is saying. There are numerous examples of God choosing certain individuals over others (He favoured the nation of Israel after all, did He not?). Several English translations also include the words “predestined” or “foreknown” which when spoken out loud seem to follow in a similar vein to “election.” Due to my inability to choose which one of these two positions I favour and because I find merit in both, I describe myself as “a Calvinist with a soft Arminian underbelly” – a phrase that angers Calvinists and makes Arminians roll their eyes.

facebook_the-joy-of-calvinismNevertheless, I am not actually here to discuss in-depth the differences and similarities between Calvinism and Arminiansm since this is a subject I know relatively little about. Instead, I would like to spend some time reviewing a book that I find instrumental to anyone trying to understand the Calvinist position: The Joy of Calvinism by: Greg Forster.

In this book, Forster describes in great depth while still remaining a conversational tone what Calvinism is and what being a Calvinist implies. He shares how Calvninists have unfortunately portrayed their theology in a confusing light resulting in Arminians not knowing exactly what they believe or why. He makes the case that Calvinism should not simply be confined to the five point TULIP system (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election,, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). He even makes the bold assertion that Calvinism truly has little to do with predestination and more to do with understanding God’s sovereignty, His control over the world, and seeing God move even despite our sufferings. According to Forster, true Calvinism neither rejects the concept of free will nor does it disparage evangelism – instead it commands its followers to share the Gospel truth with others and yet at the same time, to rest in the assurance that Christ has the ultimate responsibility of saving another – not us.

Coming from an Arminian background, I felt that Forster took great care in explaining his viewpoints and laying out logical arguments. Although coming across as cocky at times due to his insistence that Christianity only really has a place for Calvinism, I still found his book to be gripping, powerful, and inspiring. It certainly cleared up a lot of misconceptions for me and although I still would not classify myself as a Calvinist, helped move me to a deeper understanding of who John Calvin was and why his work remains so vital to the church today. An addicting book that I couldn’t put down, I’d give The Joy of Calvinism an astonishing 4.5 out of 5 stars.