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Thursday, October 27, 2005

big fish

welcome to northVUs' 100th post!
"your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams..."

well, i had one the other night which caught me off guard. i awakened with the sense that this was not simply some twilight zonesque collage of images caused by the random firing of subconsious SCUD missiles across the synapses during rem sleep. this one had a purpose.

it went like this:
we were on this island. i don't know who 'we' was, just that i was there with others. although it was one island, this island had a mote-like fjord which would fill up and empty out depending on the tide. when it was full, there was no way of crossing it to get to the other side of the island because of all of the hungry little creatures that came in with the water. you simply had to wait until the tide went out.

eventually the tide drew back and we stepped down into the dry trench. off to the left of where we had chosen to cross, there was a shape. you know how sometimes in dreams you can't speak when you want to, or you can't run when you need to? well in this one, no matter how hard we tried to see what this thing was, it was basically invisible... but whatever it was appeared to be dying.

i walked over to it, now no longer interested in going exploring on the other side of the island. as i drew closer, i was able to discern a basic physical form: it was this huge head of a fish- still trying to draw water into its empty gills, opening and closing its mouth, rolling its eyes at me for help.

i called the others over and we started to lift the fish head, discovering as we lifted that it was, in fact, attached to a body which, although virtually transparent, seemed to extend back from the head almost indefinately. this thing was huge, and more of us were needed to move this leviathan back in the direction of the sea. it was like trying to move a gigantic carpet that had been rolled up and left in a ditch between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the transcanada highway. it was obvious that all of us would be needed to save this thing that had 'beached' itself in the narrows as it fed upon the creatures that it followed in with the tide. it appeared to have lost its course in its quest for food, and was now in danger of literally fading from existence as it died.

diligently, we worked together to get the thing turned around and basically flopped back into the sea. it was strenuous work, but as the big fish swam off, drawing strength, colour and definition from the sea creatures that swam unwittingly into its gaping jaws, we all knew that a big fish in the narrows is doomed- it's place is in the ocean.

i woke up, wondering what was with that?

i asked God, who replied with some ideas to consider.

perhaps this big fish is the church ofwhich i am a pastor. the ocean, where all of its definition and purpose is best expressed would be the global community. the narrows seems to be the city inwhich we are located- more specifically, the neighbourhood in the city inwhich we are located.

for the last twenty years (or more- i arrived there as a university student in 1985) this church has been, for the most part, caught in the narrows... slowly but surely fading from view and relevence as the narrows to which it followed its 'food' (perhaps the people who are to be taken in, that the church would grow in strength and purpose) dried up, leaving something that was a mere shadow of what God had called it into existence to be. she has tried many things over that time, but they have all been mainly about the immediate church community, not the global church envisioned in matthew 28.19-20 and realized in revelation 7.9.

if this is the correct interpretation (or A correct interpretation) then the only hope for this church is to get her back into the ocean, and this is purposefully and missionally taking place as we band together to take on new challenges and new expressions of our faithfulness.

the place that this rather closed interpretation breaks down is with regard to involvement in our local community. i mean, a church must be of use to God here as well as elsewhere.

(not much point in being an exclusively 'elsewhere-minded' church when there are people in the neighbourhood that also need to experience God's love as it is distributed to them through the local church, right? that would blindness... passively saying to everyone who lives in the vacinity that they can all go to hell as far as we are concerned... this continued involvement and dialogue is the reason for the mural being graffitied on the wall: )

no, i think that maybe the point is not so much the geography or the topography as it is the living creatures that freely swim throughout. people are people in God's eyes, and Jesus commands the church to be engaged in real life 'here, there and everywhere' ("jerusalem, judea, samaria, and to the ends of the earth" as per acts 1.8) it means thinking not 'either the ocean or the narrows' but acknowledging that 'both the ocean and the narrows' have work for the big fish to do.

as for the church eating people, that might be a bit too literal an interpretation! LOL

i don't know. it was a vision of something infinite, shared with one of rather finite intellectual capacity. it is, however, really cool to see the expressed mission of this assembly being realized in the greater context...

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Thursday, October 20, 2005


i think i figured something out the other day.
it began with a quotable from a friend of mine. he said:
"a visionary is someone who believes that the invisible is more real than the visible."

well now, in and of itself that is pretty good. i mean, who can add to something like that without cheapening it? comparing my intellectual assimilation processing to mathematics, my processing rarely has anything to do with addition, however. in most cases, it is about factoring and then using those factors in new equations.

so here's where this quote took me...
the whole problem with the visible world is that everything is already defined and limited. what we can experience physically is all that there is. everything is identified and categorized by it's impossibilities- it's dimensions will not permit this to happen; it's location will not be conducive to the realization of this or that objective; yada yada yada...

the great thing about invisibles- hopes, dreams, visions etc- is that they are defined by their possibilities, not their impossibilities. suddenly you are thinking in terms of what can be, not what can't. rather than talking yourself out of adventures, you talk others into joining you in them.

i think that that is being visionary. it all comes down to which world you choose to invest your best energy into: that which is or that which is to come.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

was only joke

my russion friend mikhail is painting a graffiti mural on the outside wall of the church.

i don't know if it's just east/west communication breakdown or what, but something happened this weekend. he was painting on saturday while i was in my office trying to add some structure to what i was going to say to the good people on sunday morning. mikhail provided me with my sermon intro...

i was punching away on my computer, probably procrastinating by answering email or writing blog comments or something, when my friend peered through the bead curtain that serves as the door to my office. he opened with 'can come outside, yes?' (he's been in canada only two years, and has a remarkably good handle on the english language, but sometimes he takes the reductionist route to communication in order to save time...)

'sure' i said and followed him down the hallway.

'there are five guys outside- they ask why i paint on their tag.'

context: the tagging of our building was one of the things that, in fact, spawned this whole project. the north wall of the church was scribbled all over in the summer of 2004. none of it was blasphemous of anything- it just appeared to claim the 'turf' for someone other than God. so one day as i was driving by it, this notion popped into my head: the reason that unwanted graffiti appears is due to a lack of wanted graffiti. a huge white wall is an invitation to leave your mark.

so i hooked up with a friend who hooked me up with mikhail. the connection stuck. over some really strong coffee and numerous little scribblings on pieces of paper, we developed the plan which is moving closer to realization even as i type here on this monday afternoon.

i said 'pardon?'

'they are mad at me- we are going to have fight'

although i hadn't expected this, my limbic system started to work with numerous alternatives to fighting, all of which would involve diplomacy and grace. as we stepped out the door, i took a deep breath.

'oh- must have left. were pretty big.' mikhail said, much to my relief. i don't really know anything about relating to gang members who are feeling disrespected.

then he proceeded to talk to me about some design plans he had- the whole time i nodded my head and pretended to listen when in fact i was wondering what i should do if the five big guys decided to come back.

so eventually we made a decision about whether the all-important stripe was going to go over the doors or not and i prepared to head back in...

'well, listen, if those guys come back, let them know that i'd like to talk to them. say that i have invited them in because i'd like to get to know them and hear what they have to say' (i was picturing david wilkerson leading nicky cruz to Jesus in the cross and the switchblade.)

mikhail looked at me blankly and blinked.

'no, was only joke.'

i was totally caught in the headlights on that one. like i said, i swear it was an east/west thing.

then it occured to me that i could probably use this story in my talk. see, humour is cultural. that's why you have to be really clear on who your audience is going to be before you launch some specialized material. that is exactly why i had refrained from trying to be funny at all in sri lanka on the couple of occasions that i spoke to groups there.

i was planning on talking about God's sense of humour being not howls of derisive laughter at our fallenness and the shortness of our vision, but surprise outpourings of his grace, mercy and blessing.
(see, this blog)

yep, humour is most definately cultural, and whereas we are of a culture of fallenness, God is holiness culture personified. that's why we so often fail to get it when miracles happen.

epilogue: mikhail and i had no sooner had our talk when a police officer pulled up in his cruiser to make sure that there wasn't anything illegal going on. as mikhail explained to the cop what the finished mural was going to look like and symbolize, i realized that i was witnessing something powerful. mikhail doesn't know Jesus personally... Jesus is still an idea found in the bible. yet in this picture, a BC mikhail preaches the word of God as he explains the biblical concepts contained in his mural to someone who stands there listening because the initial word has been presented in a language not usually associated with bible teaching: graffiti.

it is as if God is up there laughing, going "is only joke! is only joke!"

i get it.

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Friday, October 14, 2005


so in class this kid asks me, seemingly out of the blue (although not really because we have been listening to and talking about the beatles' 1968 soundscape revolution 9...

not to be confused with revolution which was a hit single by the band, but related to this avant garde masterpiece only in name

...and students have made the association with psychological horror film soundtracks such as that of the recent 'based on a true story of the paranormal' hit the exorcism of emily rose) :

"being a pastor, do you believe in demons and possessions and that?"

that's a pretty spiritual question to run with in a public school. immediately i'm scrolling through possible responses that could be deemed as somehow politically correct enough for a public school setting without being some sort of weak-kneed, faithless compromise. the moment is surreal as i find myself trying to sort out how i can honestly, yet responsibly answer this kid's question now rather than wait three years until after he has graduated.

the answer:
"what would be the point of being a pastor if i didn't?"

answering a question with a question- worked for me as a student, still works for me as a teacher/bivocational pastor.

yet, buried deep within my relieved psyche, there nags another:
"jollybeggar, your faith has not yet cost you your job- how can you even imagine dying for it?"

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

radio raves

driving to work this morning, i heard one of our local radio personalities talking about what a joy it was to get together with a 'clandestine group of ladies' who gather monthly during the new moon to self-indulge. the radio station is currently running a promotion called 'girls just wanna have fun,' a contest which involves sending women to their choice of san francisco or las vegas, and this 'support group' sent a letter of invitation to her which sounded too tasty to ignore. she went on to say how, upon answering the letter and attending a meeting, she was made to feel completely wonderful and welcome.

although some of the 'self-indulging' was said to involve nakedness and couldn't be discussed on the radio (although attempts were made to de-scandalize the story a bit by mentioning massage therapists) the whole experience was spoken of glowingly.

does any of this sound a little 'eastwick' to you?

anyway, there were also comments made about how incapable men are at getting together in ways that require any relational effort... that when guys get together, all they need is a couch, some beers and the tv remote.

that generalization just gets really old. you don't have to be mr metrosexual to be a guy who is both capable of and prone to investing more emotionally in relationships than you receive from others of either gender. let's quit putting people into boxes.

men regularly get naked together after a night of deeply emotionally satisfying interaction... it's called 'hitting the showers' after hockey.