Sandi and I went to Ontario a couple of weeks back to join my family at a cottage for my parents’ 30th anniversary celebration. It was relaxing and rejuvenating. At the end of the week, we had a vow renewal ceremony, for which my dad had asked me to lead. We invited a few close family members and friends, and celebrated. It truly was a celebration; everyone who was there knows how my parents have struggled throughout their marriage, and how much they have fought through. Their marriage was never a good one, but about eight years ago or so, it completely collapsed. I don’t know anyone who had much hope (or could find much reason) for them to pull it together, and even marriage counsellors had told them to give up.

They did. And then they didn’t. The past few years have been very hard for them. For me, visits back home were painful and tense, as my parents lived together and couldn’t get along. But they worked through some shit. My dad had to be almost reborn. The two years that have just past have been much, much better, and the last year has shown a couple who actually thoroughly enjoy one another’s company, a couple who are in love and who feel safe together.

This is what I shared at our little ceremony at a cottage:

Welcome, everyone.  Thanks for coming out to celebrate with us.  We are gathered here today as witnesses of God’s faithfulness in the marriage of Nancy and Rene Gagne–Mom and Dad.

You guys look great. Dad’s even wearing a tie this time. Good job. Thirty years. And it even looks like you guys like each other.

So, In September of 1980, this couple of young, hopeful kids figured, “Hey, we’re in love!” and that that was about a much as they needed.  They didn’t know each other too well, so they decided to take their time before getting married.  After a couple months of that nonsense,  they asked a minister when his next available slot was to get them hitched.  They were new and excited Christians; Dad had traveled halfway across the country to find Mom, which I guess was proof that he would always work that hard for the love of this little redhead.  They were married, had some kids.  They lived in a lot of different places, tried a lot of different jobs.  They dreamed together of farming and of being missionaries or something like that.  They raised us boys to be honest, hard-working and respectful, and to think for ourselves.  They taught us that following God is the always the best plan.  And here we are.  Here you are, Dad and Mom.  Three decades of sharing a family, houses, and money, and from what I can tell, you are more in love now than you ever were.

But we all know that’s not the whole story.

Mom said that of all the wedding anniversaries she and Dad have had, this is the one she can truly say she is looking forward to, and that she can say is truly a celebration.

It only took thirty years.

In the early years, Mom’s family didn’t trust this scheister of a frenchman.  And he probably deserved it.  He didn’t know how to treat a woman right.  But, who was ever around to show him?  And Mom never knew how to build him up and help him be a better man; how could she have?  Where was her example?  They fought and had a hard time trusting one another.

Oh, it wasn’t all bad.  There were good times–and they loved each other, but never from a place of strength, never from true selflessness.  They had fallen in love, and had nothing to stand on.  Through the years, their bond grew stronger, and they did their best to raise a better family than either one of them had known; they worked hard to follow God.

Because back in 1980, before these two married, they gave their lives over to God.  Their lives were in the hands of their Creator now, and they never went back.  And now God was able to take two broken people, and begin something beautiful and painful.

I know that Dad, deep down, always wanted to love his wife with his whole being.  I know that the same guy who wandered across the country to find this beautiful woman always wanted to prove that he could hold her heart, but his fear and selfishness too often got in the way.  (Just like the rest of us, eh?  It’s hard to do the good that we want to do, isn’t it?)

Mom was always a strong support for us boys, but struggled to shine as a confident wife.

For about a year, back in 2002, Jordan and I lived in Beamsville, near St. Catherines.  That was when these two had first split up.  Mom and Adam came to live with us for a while.  It was an awkward and difficult time for all of us.  During that time, even though it seemed impossible, and maybe even a bad idea, I filled out this little card–a simple and honest request.

It went something like this: Dear Jesus, I trust you with bringing my parents back together.

>I had only enough faith to put the words down, that’s it.  Sometimes, in the years after, I was tempted to throw this stupid thing away.

But our God is faithful.

You know, I’ve been watching our families as I’ve been growing up.  I remember the stories of Memere’s little encounters with God through the years, and how she has slowly been caught up in the story of His work here on earth.  I remember the joy that Pepere found in salvation.  I watched our aunts and uncles and cousins, with a keen interest in their spiritual journeys.  I have watched Mom and Dad struggle and fall and tell us kids what is right, even if they could barely follow it themselves.  I have seen them grow in strength and faithfulness, and in joy.  It has taken a while.  As a kid, being the “Christian family”–the ones who don’t party, and who were never cool–wasn’t fun.  We were finding out all together what it means (and what it doesn’t mean) to follow this God of love and mystery.  But what I’m noticing now is how much this God is faithful.  How much he loves to take what is broken and make it whole.  Just in the same way that in the beginning, before history, God took the chaos and made a universe out of it, he takes messes of people and brings them along in the process of reconciliation.

And it may seem restrictive, the whole marriage thing.  It’s hard to submit ourselves to something so lasting and unknown.  But it is designed by God.  To be completely submitted to it can show us just how weak and awful we are, and it can also show us just how much wonder and beauty there is in the world.

Although my parents have had a rough go at things, I have only deep respect and admiration for the both of them for picking up again and giving it everything.  It was so hard.  So painful. But see where it has brought them!  They are an inspiration to me, and to so may who have heard their story.

And I don’t want to brag on our behalf, but for the sake of a good God. He has been working in our family, showing us love. When Jordan and Alida got married, six years ago already, they had a head start. Even then, there were a lot of good things that my parents had passed on to us.  And I watched them, too. I figured that if I could ever have a relationship even almost as good as theirs, I’d be pretty satisfied. They enjoy each other; they support each other. They are strong together. Adam and I followed a few years later, with wonderful women, and we are also enjoying the goodness of marriage–happy in what we have. And this is what we are finding now in Mom and Dad.

You want to see a couple who works hard for their marriage?  Here they are.  You want to see a man who treats his wife with tenderness?  A woman who supports her man?  They’re right here.  My parents have learned to never take one another for granted, and they have discovered the beauty of life together.  They won’t tell you that now it’s easy.  But now they know the price, but more importantly, maybe, they know the reward.  And they know that they couldn’t do this on their own.

And I hope that you can see, as I have been seeing, the goodness that my parents share. I hope that we all can recognize that they have learned some deep things about life together, and that God has been at work the whole time.

10. RE-AFFIRMATION OF MARRIAGE VOWS

Mom and Dad; Do you here, in the presence of God and this congregation renew and affirm the vows you made to each other when you bound yourselves together in holy matrimony? We do.
Will you seek to nurture and daily affirm your love and commitment to each other in the light of the love that God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ? We will.

Dad, vows:
Mom, vows:

Please take your partner’s right hand in yours and say together,
I renew my vow to you, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish
till death us do part, according to God’s holy grace.

Let us pray.
Gracious and eternal God, look with favour on those who have come to renew their marriage vows. Grant them your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with steadfast love they may continue to honour and keep the promises they have made; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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“Fear the damnation of Hell fire! Escape while you still can, and enter into the glorious presence of the Father in His heavenly kingdom.”

Ah, the soothing words of sermons gone by. Most Christians don’t talk like that anymore, though. We seem to have lost our gusto. We’ve gotten all nice and Canadian-like. In fact we don’t really talk much about what we believe at all. It seems that Consumerism has dressed this Christian generation comfortably in our death garments, and strokes our hair as we consider how relevant we have become. These days, Jesus is my homeboy, God is love, and Christianity can seem about as potent and life-changing as a half-hour with Eckhart Tolle. Sure, we’re into the social justice and environmental things now, but we’re just on the bandwagon, and barely. When it comes down to it, though, we still can’t get these ideas out of our heads–the dread of Hell and the glory of Heaven. Two far-away places.

I always had a hard time imagining either one. Being in the presence of God forever and ever and ever, praising him and walking on golden streets, and having all of my questions in life suddenly answered seemed terribly anti-climactic and dull. On the other hand–especially when I heard that the flames in Hell may be just a metaphor for the feeling of eternity spent apart from God–it was hard to imagine that Hell would be as terrible as they say.

Here’s why. Christian people always talked about how godless this world is, how awful and senseless. We can’t wait to finally get to heaven and leave this earth. We shouldn’t love this place too much, because God is coming to take us away, and he’ll destroy it altogether (for some reason–even though he made it and called it good). If this world is so bad that we just can’t wait to leave and go to heaven, if this world is as godless as we say, then if you ask me, Hell may not be so awful. If God’s “presence” here in this damned world is hardly worth noting, what difference does it make if God isn’t in Hell?

But in this life of mine I have found so much greatness and wonder all around, so much joy to take in.

If we consider that God shows himself in and through this universe, as the Bible says, does that make a difference? We can experience him around every corner and in every new day. So then, if God the Creator is actually, himself, revealed in the created world, if knowing goodness and beauty and true love is to truly know God to some degree, then that changes things.

Doesn’t it?

In my little hometown of Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, I had a friend named Ryan. Ryan was the son of divorced parents, a guy trying to survive in high school. When I got to know him, in grade ten, he had carefully gelled dark hair, pushed forward with the ski jump in front. He dressed nicely. Everything was in order. He was always dropping names of the cool kids he was friends with, and talking about the conversations they had together, although it seemed apparent to me that this tight bond he seemed to have with them was not mutually felt. He didn’t really have a group that he hung out with, so he was usually available to hang out with me. I was embarrassed when he would schmooze with popular kids in the hallway–probably partly because I was embarrassed to talk to popular people at all–and try to impress. I wasn’t impressed. But he was my friend.

I wasn’t cool. Bifocals and acne, among other hindrances, make it hard to break in with the hip kids. But I had my posse, and we welcomed Ryan in. That’s how our group seemed to grow: the misfits and crowd floaters made their way over to us, and there was always room. Even stinky Bobby hung out with us, despite a couple of my friends telling him every day to leave because his stench was disgusting (“Bobby, you know how, like, 50% of what we taste comes through our noses? …Well, you’re fucking up my lunch.”). There were enough good vibes around, apparently, to keep us all together, despite abuse.

Ryan was definitely higher up on the cool meter than Bobby, though. On weekends, he would go see his mom in Sudbury. The big city. Her boyfriend had a classic Jag. Twelve cylinders. Ryan had a lot of friends there, he would tell us. We heard about these happening parties Ryan got to go to, and about the seriously cute and popular girls that were crushing on him. He almost made out with one of them once. For real. I should’ve seen her, man. They all thought he was pretty fly (for a white guy). The glorious essence of Ryan, though, seemed to wear thin by Monday, back in little Sturgeon Falls. For some reason, us Sturgeonites were unable to see how awesome he really was.  I remember the new video game system he was supposed to get, but that never really materialised. And when the oh-so-hot Reebok Shaq Dunkmob basketball shoe came out, he was going to get a pair on the weekend. For real. From his grandma. On Monday I asked about them, and found out that he got a pair of Saturn’s. I had never heard of Saturn’s, either, but it was fun hearing about Ryan sliding around the court in his new kicks during his basketball game that night.

I liked the guy. He was kind and had a unique wit. He liked decent girls and loved being a little crazy. We were desperate teenagers trying to figure out life. Whenever we shared about the issues that plagued us, he was honest and sincere. It was too bad that he didn’t know he was indeed worth something. Nobody had told him.

Time spent together afforded us the luxury of candidness and comfort. It took a while, but I think that for him a sense of security was cultivated. On one hand he was simply maturing into a man, but there was also a subtle but palpable change in the way he was approaching life and people. I think that with us, the rag-tag group of stragglers, Ryan could see with his spirit that he was not going to wow us or disappoint us based on the circumstances of his life, like whether he was wearing the Shaq’s or the Saturn’s, or even whether or not he was actually a talented ball player. We were just people enjoying a great and quirky little man, whose mom’s boyfriend had a rusty old English car.

This past while, there have been a few blatant challenges for me to think about what I have and what I can give. The truth is that I don’t have very much. I’m a working class man. I can afford what my wife and I need, and not much more than that. But I can afford more.

I’m a carpenter. Often I build higher-end custom homes for people on the higher end of society. Recently, my boss was considering a contract for an 11000 square foot home (for two people), which would keep our small crew busy and well taken care of for a good while. It was supposed to be exciting news, since there isn’t a ton of work out there lately. We had been working at a packing plant, where a few executive people make a “good” living off of Mexican workers who are happy to make minimum wage and bunk together in run-down houses on-site, far away from their families, since the conditions where they come from are apparently much worse.  There is no way that these men and their families can ever eke out a living here in Canada with what they make, and they don’t even make enough to be able to live well in Mexico when the season is over, so they keep coming back. Wealth is built on the backs of the poor. And it’s starting to make me a little angry.

The guy I was working with also thought that 11000 square feet is crazy, but said frankly that if he had the money, he would definitely do it too. I told him there is no way that I would. I said that I don’t think that just because you happen to make a lot of money, you should spend it all on yourself, especially when there are poor people who can’t seem to escape the cycle of poverty because the rich keep them down. “You say that now, but if you had millions of dollars to spend, you would do the same, too,” he replied. He was so sure. I responded with something about having something I actually believe in, but as ignorant as his comment was, it stayed with me.

“Would I?”

I believe in taking care of Earth, but sometimes when it’s easier, I make a lot of garbage. I believe in loving people and in being responsible with my time and in seeing beautiful women as fellow souls on a journey rather than as nice pieces of ass. I can’t follow up on even one of those, though. So, if I had, say, ten million dollars all of a sudden, or over a certain period of time, might I make some excuses and build a monster home? I could say that it’s because I want to have gatherings at my place, so my friends and family won’t have to rent halls or picnic grounds–they can just come on over. I could say it’s an investment, and when I get my return, I’ll give a whole bunch away. Maybe since I have so much money, I need to live somewhere I won’t get robbed, in a wealthy neighbourhood (and in a home that fits in there) where people won’t always be after my money.

None of these excuses are good enough. Unless I’m having the poor fill up my home, where I care for them, or I have my whole family living with me, with room for nieces and nephews galore, I will never need a house like that.

We tend to believe here that when we make a lot or a little bit of money here, this is what we deserve. This is what we have worked for. We don’t consider that the goat farmer in Bangladesh might be working much harder to make a living than the farmers down the road from where I live. Does he deserve less? If I work hard and make a “decent” living, do I deserve to have a nice, tropical vacation every once in a while? Do I deserve the best house I can afford? As soon as we think we deserve anything like that, we place ourselves above everybody around us who doesn’t get any of it, as if we inherited some monumental birthright–as if we were royalty. A person living in wealthy extravagance cannot actually believe that people are created equal (even if that person gives millions away to charitable causes). If I was a millionaire, and my brother Adam lost everything he had and was living on the street, what kind of man would I be if I refused to help him when he asked? Even if I had worked up the construction industry over years of hard work, and my brother had lost it all through recklessness, I should at least do what I can to get him on his feet. Right? 

What if the same thing happened to my next-door neighbour? or a friend? What if was someone I never met? Do I still have any responsibility to people I’m not personally connected with? Because if not, I should be able to litter when I’m out of town, I should be able to steal from corner-stores, and I shouldn’t have to do anything if I see a lady about to get creamed by a bus–if I don’t know her, of course. We are all connected. We are all equal. What we do either brings people up or crushes them. As much as we would like to believe it, there is no middle ground. You can’t just do your own thing. Life is movement, and we can move in life-giving directions, or the other way. Sadly, we seem to be bent in the wrong direction. I want to serve myself. I want to take the easy route. …I want to make myself happy.

John the Baptist, in his sort of deranged fashion, announced to people about the coming Messiah, or Christ, and what that would mean for us. Of course, he mentioned that this Christ would be great, but one thing he also said, which I haven’t really heard a lot about, is this:

“Whoever has two coats should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”

When you get down to it, this is what it means when we hear that we should do to others as we’d have them do to us. When I think of how the world works, and how it should work, this makes sense to me. I don’t want it to. I just want to keep my coat, or maybe I’ll give away my third-stringer with the hole in the elbow, the one that’s hopelessly out of style.

And so I think about that humongous house, about people who drive Maserati’s or Lexus luxury cars, those who shop and shop and shop, whether it’s for shoes or saws or diamonds. Obviously, these people have something they can easily give away. And they should. But–and here’s where I want to stop–what about us? What am I doing, wanting an “average” 2500 square-foot house? I could use the space, but I sure don’t need it. Why am I buying another pair of jeans when I already have a few? It makes me feel good when I give another pair away to a charity thrift store, but I’ve just spent fifty bucks so I can look great and I gave my crap so that people can give five to someone who actually needs pants.  

I can probably go on and on about materialism and consumerism, but I don’t need to, I don’t think. The fact is that we all have something we don’t need more of, something we can share. I can share my time with other lonely people instead of with my television. I can make dinner for a student who’s been living on K.D. for the past week. I can give five bucks to a homeless man (even if he buys something stupid with it–do you spend all your money only on good things?).

If I understand that how I live, and how I spend my money can keep Mexican migrant workers down, or that the tons of money that I spend on stuff for me could help my brothers and sisters around the world, then it is robbery if I do nothing different from following my selfish path. I can’t go on stealing. Now that I know, I can’t take the easy way. I can’t crown myself king above my fellow man.

I went to college and realised that reading is a wonderful thing, something that I can fall in love with. But I mostly just got to read assigned texts and mandatory research books and media. Then I sort of forgot, but now I have this consuming need to discover and learn from the great minds that have graced this earth. I just don’t know how to catch up. I want to know, I want to experience what I can from great literature and keen socio-political characters.

This weekend I decided I needed to know about Noam Chomsky, so I took a couple of books out from the library and checked out some things on the web. The more I learn about things, I am trying not to become too radical for my own good, but just enough for the good of humanity, and I know that Chomsky may not be a good place to be if that’s my goal, but I really need to find voices who can give guidance to the convictions inside of me, and libertarian socialism seems like a great but nutty kind of professor.

I need, too, to immerse myself in literary classics. I didn’t want to read fiction when I was younger because it didn’t seem productive enough, but I am currently kicking myself. I have some ideas of books to read, but if you have a book, a classic of some sort, which you believe is truly significant, please let me know what it is and why I should read it. Then I probably will.

Thanks.

I have a hard time living in Suburbia. I just see it as proof positive that the American Dream is a lie, although most people here, buying houses and cars they can’t afford, of course don’t believe that they have bought in. Also, the fact that my neighbours won’t make eye contact with me, or that the people across the street are petty and vindictive when it comes to keeping cars away from their property, drives me mad, yet they are justified by words like “property” and “privacy.”

There is a better way.

I think it’s crazy that every person on my street should have their own lawn mower, their own second, third, or fourth car, their own pressure washer, even their own yard. There’s a good chance I just lost you on that last one, but imagine the freedom and space we could have if kids from a few families shared a play area, with all of their parents being able to watch from their homes, or from a garden that anyone and everyone can tend to and sit in. We can all learn to live with our families (it’s true), and we can all learn to live with our neighbours.

Also, I wonder what kind of sense it makes that a producer of a terrible television show with little imagination and no benefit to anyone (pick one, there are many), should make multiple times more money than my boss. My boss has worked hard in his trade for decades and builds high quality homes for families to spend their lives in, but he’s still paying his mortgage. Who ever figured it makes sense that a mediocre stock broker should be a wealthy person (depending, of course, on the year)? Why, in God’s good name, is Jessica Simpson rich and famous? Does she have more talent or drive than a journalist for the National Geographic? Does she improve our culture more than, say, Margaret Atwood? Many of us have known great school custodians; they take care of the grounds, and help brighten the lives of many children, making our communities better places. When you really look at the world, is it just that these good people actually struggle to bring opportunties to their kids because they don’t have enough money?

My family lives about four thousand kilometres from me (4,235 to be exact). I miss them terribly. We always talk about the next time we’ll get together, but often, I talk to my brother about having him move here (I’m working on the others, too). He has a baby my wife and I have never met. We don’t just want to be in the same town, though. We figure it would be great to build a home together (or maybe two right near one another). We could split it down the middle and share a large living room and laundry, or we could split floors. Maybe we’d have a dining room we could share for nice, planned meals once in a while. I don’t know what we may or may not ever do, but that’s what we talk about. Raising our kids together would be so much fun, and so good for their development. If my wife and I could live with my brother and his wife, we could get so much richness out of life that you just don’t get by being more separated. Of course, it would be hard.

I have a cherished friend, Richard, my old college roommate, who thinks that it might be a good idea if he and I did the same. We’ve only casually mentioned it, but there was a seriousness in his voice. And you know, it would be a good idea.

I have believed for a while now that communal living can profit people wonderfully, but what has got me thinking more vigourously along these lines was a recent conversation with another friend, who is living in Asia. I dont’ know but I’m almost certain that he was serious when we spoke. He was asking me what I thought about communal living. He says he’s doing research, and he thinks that either Ontario or British Colombia would be a good place to settle down with some like-minded people. He thinks I might like to be part of it. …I think.

Naturally, we all think of Amish people or Waco when we hear the word commune. I do. I remember working at a camp in Manitoba years ago when we had “Hutterite Days.” They had amazing cookies and really nice video cameras. One of the girls invited me to a family dinner, I think in hopes to bring in some fresh blood to the colony. I remember, though, being very put off by the sense of grandeur that especially the boys carried. Their world was too small, and there was noone to inform them that there are bigger fish out there than their best corn shucker. Not only that, they were not aware of the injustice around their community. With their incredible resources, it seems that Hutterite people could make a positive difference in the world around them.

They are happy people, though. Each person is loved, and seems to have a great capacity to love. Oprah once asked some Amish people how satisfied they were with life. Completely, they said. One hundred percent. I’m don’t suppose the average Hutterite is very different. We don’t understand that way of life, but there is something to be said for having no worries about job security, for being known and loved by a whole community. There are no trends one feels obligated to follow, throwing hundreds and thousands of dollars away on new shoes, new funiture, a new car, a revamped kitchen. Family time is honoured and friends are friends for life.

Those who form or lead small, communal-type places usually begin with great and noble intentions of creating a warm, healthy, vibrant place. But what we usually find is that over time these idealistic pioneers become small-minded, controlling, and usually it’s the very religion they sought to protect that they twist to ensure cooperation. They forget what the point of it all is. It’s the same sort of idea with communism. Great idea, but it gets forgotten pretty quickly. 

There are communes around the world that work, though. Yet somehow we have come to believe that our way of doing things is the best way. I’m not so convinced. Crime rates, although down a bit in the last five years or so, are wildly high. Our high value placed on individuality means we can’t “intrude” when people are in familial, emotional or other kinds of trouble. And there are lots of those. It’s “none of our business,” apparently. Rich people are getting richer. Our poor are increasing in numbers while their wages decrease. It’s hard to move to a new city and make friends. Somehow we have more information and ways to contact each other, and we know less about the world than ever before (try asking a teenager what a warbler looks like). Our North American culture gets more comfortable, and as a result, the lives of millions of others are made more miserable.

I still love life. I get a thrill out of learning about people and places, and hearing new music. I’m impressed by the recent upswing in humanitarian interest and the easing of racial hatred in the West (in some ways, anyway). It’s so cool that people are rejecting old forms of obligatory religion and seeking to find a truer way. It just seems to me that we keep trading one generation’s evils for new ones. We don’t have the cold rigidity of our parents’ or grandparents’ days, but we have swung around and embraced a warm sort of chaos. We don’t learn from the last generation, we just throw it all away and start anew, ignorant as ever.

Somehow, it must be possible to move forward. I believe that God has intended for his children to be part of improving this world, and I also believe that if you aren’t helping you’re hindering. You’re either part of the cure or part of the disease. I wonder if maybe people can start a communal way of life that actually works, that benefits the broader world. What if some friends and I really did get together, started growing our own organic food, and took time to enjoy Life around us? What if we encouraged artistry and imagination and hard work? We could have writers and philosophers and carpenters. We’d all help with the farming, perhaps; being a part of the soil really connects humans to the earth, and to our own souls. We could actively engage in the communities around us. We could share goods and ideas. We could foster children who know that there is a safe place where they are loved and pushed to be better human beings, and who also are part of the larger community around us. We could pray as one people. We could use our resources to ease suffering, while none of us becomes rich. We could shelter the helpless and offer them dignity. We could love, because we know what love looks like. We would respect the earth. We would allow people to be who they were meant to be. We would be family. We could make it clear that our leaders are chosen first to serve, for the greater good. Older people could learn from the young, and the young from the old, and wrinkles would be a thing to envy. We could be a place where real, authentic, capital L Life happens.

It all sounds really good in my head right now. I don’t know if it can happen. I don’t know if this is what I want. …I don’t know if my wife thinks I’m crazy. All I know is that I want to bring this world a little closer to the way it was intended, and I would like to find a good way of life that carries me in that direction.

What do you think?

We are all brought up with certain assumptions, a unique set of beliefs. I have had most of my core convictions — my entire worldview — challenged in this short life of mine. I’ve had to re-evaluate what is valuable and right, and how small I allow truth to be. My outlook had been churned about, and I wonder when I’ll ever get off the tire swing. But the supernatural has goaded me in (even when I questioned its existance), and with all of my staggering about, I have found a need to discover some one thing that can keep me moving forward.

Posters and album covers are littered with swirly tree branches with cute leaves. The green movement in on with full force, with bandwagoners like me toting recycling symbols and reusable bags everywhere.  Maybe the theme for 2008 was green, and I want 2009 to be Life. Life might sound like a sort of Buddhist/modernist nice sort of trend word for the year, but lately, this is what I have allowed to guide me through my day-to-day. 

So I’ve given it a go for a while before I said much to anyone. I am sort of a prince of “phases.” Starting in 1993, every new T-shirt I bought, every hat I bought, was Blue Jays memorabilia. I counted my baseball cards regularly, and re-organised them. I stopped in 1996. I’ve had a lot of “things” which have phased out or ended abruptly. I guess we all do. I have made declarations of faith or moral standing that today make me rouge a little. I love new ideas and I seem to embrace and advocate things I don’t really even understand. So I try to let things settle a little more now. I let it percolate, and hope that the product I share is beneficial.

I have been eager to jump on these recent bandwagons. I’d like to think that I was on them already “before everyone else,” but that’s hardly true. My suite is all earth-toney and I’ve been eating more organic and making a bigger deal of consuming less. I’m just a little more hardcore than most people I know. I made a messenger bag for myself out of leather, which made some people, not knowing where else I fit, to put me into a little conceptual box made for hippies. I am not a hippie. But I do like what they had to teach us.

With a slight sense of irony and pride, I like to wear my CCCP vest. I read Marx’s Manifesto with gusto. The evils of capitalism are too clearly seen for me to be able to follow along with the American Dream, and if we could somehow live like the early Christians from the book of Acts, I’d be thrilled. I am not a Commie, though.

I have lived around a lot of Mennonites, who are supposed to be stalwart clingers to nonviolence. “Conscientious objectors,” is what they liked to call themselves. They see no reason to lash out in violence to anything or anyone. Bush’s war regime was as ungodly as any other American government before, and I don’t think that I would ever volunteer to fight in a war. I hope that when I pass on, I can somehow give Lennon a pat on the back, who just asked us to “give peace a chance.” Even so, I don’t think you could really call me a peacenik.

And on it goes. There have been so many movements standing for so many great things, which get tossed aside by the population at large, because it gets out of hand. Flower Power is a great example. These young, idealistic people knew that there was something terribly wrong with American culture, and they had an idea of where to go, but they had no tradition to follow, no intact principle guiding them, and it all fell apart. All that’s left is colourful peace symbols and old hippies driving around in RV’s, who probably aren’t much able to make love anymore. Communism, a great and noble idea, has also failed. Most Mennonites have little connection with their true heritage. Our national Human Rights tribunal, and a woman who didn’t want to wash her hands (or work anywhere but McDonald’s) showed us, once again, that Human Rights people have gone off the deep end. Artists don’t realise what self expression is for, and get all huffy when their art is deemed inappropriate for regular humans. George Bush was after some sort of great ideal, and thousands (millions?) of people have paid dearly for it.

Christian theology swings from extreme to irrelevent tangent to heresy and back, all in the name of “truth” or something. Separation, mistrust, and name-calling result. I listened to J.I. Packer talk about “liberals,” in his thick British accent , with such disdain that I thought he was going to call down fire from heaven if anyone in the room questioned the way he interprets Scripture (role your r like they taught us in the old “Roll up the Rim to Win” commercials, and say it like a slave owner says “niggers.” … “Liberals.”) Somehow I worked up the nerve.

Obviously, I’m not any smarter than Packer. I assume I’m not as well-read or well-informed as Bush was in 2001. I’m not able to figure out many things on my own, left to myself. Great people, educated men, godly women, charismatic leaders, humble servants — people greater than I ever will be — disagree on such fundamental life principles. “Even” Billy Graham has done some serious rethinking of what he has preached so fervently in his younger years; I cannot claim have a better ear to the voice or guidance of God than he. Even so, I believe that I was made to be a person who has some sort of theological/spiritual influence on others. I want so badly to lead my life well, and to bring up a family in the best way possible. How do I decide what to believe? How can I know what to follow? How do I teach anyone anything at all?

I’ve been reluctant to bring things directly from the Bible on this blog, for a collection of reasons (one being that, for a theology student, I have shamefully little knowledge of the Bible), but now I will attempt to put something coherent together, as concisely as I can.

Painting with broad strokes, I see God, revealed in his Scriptures, as a life-giver. I wonder even if describing him as “Love” falls short of the greater, deeper nature of our creator, the great life-giver.

In the beginning, he took the chaos and made it inhabitable. He ordered it into a place, a place upon which life can happen. When he made and breathed life into creative humans, he said that it was very good. He told them to be fruitful, and to multiply (Side note: I wonder if he would tell that to us, today?).

The story of the Fall is a narrative explaining how death entered into the world. The rest of the Pentateuch (first five books of Hebrew Scripture) is about YHWH (God) making deals (i.e. covenants) with certain people to get them to live in a way that promotes life. He set down guidelines (which we don’t fully understand, but whatever) to help them have healthy family relations, vibrant communities, and rich lives. At the end of Deuteronomy, he makes it very clear that what he is presenting is not arbitrary laws, made for kicks, but a choice for life. The very explicit choice was between life and death, blessing or cursing. Since God tends to love his children, no wonder he got pissed off when they went off track and disobeyed. He didn’t want them to be choosing the path of death. I know my mom isn’t too happy when I tell her about my near-death experiences. YHWH set down new covenants over and over, becuase the people continually rejected the path they had been given to walk.

So fast-forward: YHWH sends prophets to warn the people of doom and death and invasion and sickness sent from God unless they return to the same God of life. These people sometimes repent, sometimes saw the prophet in half, or something like that. Sometimes they are packed off to another country, sometimes they prosper in the land God gave them. Repeat about a million times.

Remember that people are under a curse, ever since the Fall. They are under the curse of Death, and death is always the enemy. Sin and death are always found together, you’ll find. You know, “The wages of…”

Then Christ breaks into history. Death came through a man, so he came as a man to break that curse. He showed us a few things about life, then he was killed by some jealous people (sinful people). After three days, he rose again. He rose victorious over death, and the grave now has no power over him. Oh, and he took on sin, too.

There were a handful of people who witnessed this, just as a few people were around to witness the first covenants made by God. They now had a message, a mission, a kingdom to spread. This is the kingdom of righteousness, of God, of life. They formed a vibrant community that advocated right, rich living and healthy family relations. They told everyone that even if people don’t know it, God is actually their king, and the way to have life is to accept that fact.

They left a robust tradition, a wonderful legacy. There were blunders and terrible mistakes. There were individuals and civilisations turned around and improved. Christianity helped bring about order and peace and prosperity to much of the world. We also know that Christians fought unjust wars and killed people needlessly, out of vain ambition rather than love and justice and mercy, and history has not forgotten. Christianity, too, has fought for women to have a voice, for lepers to be cared for, for slavery to be abolished. When Christians are doing what Christians should do, they are promoting life.

Acting against the proper care of Earth (as misdirected as the green movement is) is not promoting life. (If I hear another Christian talk down people with a concern for the earth, calling them “earth worshippers,” I’ll … I’ll … well, I’ll not be happy; you better believe it.) Allowing denominational differences to keep us apart is not promoting life. Raging against the “immoral sinners” usually doesn’t promote life. Pride, anger, jealousy, adultery, and the like, do not promote life. These are death patterns.

What does God require of us? To love mercy, to act justly, and walk humbly with our God. I think I read that in my Bible somewhere. Take care of widows and orphans and the like. Spend time with our families. All these things that just sort of make sense; this is what God wants for us. What is moral or immoral is not based on some arbitrary grid that we’re supposed to fit into, but on the way the world works, because God made it like that. That is why people who pay attention to the natural, healthy rythms of life and of the earth often live in ways which are quite congruent with the Bible I follow. God made the earth and told us to take care of it. The earth, in a sense, is a mother to us, since it raises us up and nurtures us. It makes sense to protect it. He gave us community models, so that we can have a good place to raise families, so that, ulitmately, we as individuals can thrive and create, as God himself does. This is the best way for us to have unhindered communion with him, and that is what he wants for us, and for himself. The great God of love has shown us how to live in love so that we can all have life, and have it more abundantly.

Oh yeah, when Christ rose again, he made a way for all of us to live forever, in the way I just described. I don’t know what “heaven” will be like, but for some reason Christ prayed that God’s will would be done on earth the way it is there. I make it my goal to go along with that idea, here on earth, for the rest of my life. I want to ask myself, with every decision I make, with eveything I support, with everything I do: “Does it promote life?