Friday, August 11, 2006

I work here...

Jonny Page sent me a link to this photo asking if I had been responsible for it. I wish I could say yes, but it's actually one of our seniors who does it. And in a world of church signs that say shit like this, I'm glad ours doesn't.

Those crazy Mennonites...the quiet in the land and all. Always doing what all the other churches say we ought to. Very few bench warmers in our pews.

Way to go team!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gotthammer not among the Oilers faithful

I came across this news item from the Edmonton Journal I was interviewed for back in May when the Oilers were in the playoffs. Got a couple of decent quotes in, so I thought it was worth printing here.

Count churches among Oilers faithful
Messages root for playoff success appearing on signboards
Lindsey Norris
The Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - The one-sentence sermon usually found on the sign in front of McDougall United Church was replaced last week with something less preachy but just as pithy: "Go Oilers Go."

Church signs cheering on the Oilers have been popping up all over the city this playoff season. It's "godvertising" with a hockey twist, and it's all part of the effort to fill church pews.

"We are living in a society where only 30 per cent of people participate in organized religion more than once or twice a month," said Rev. John Henry Weinlick of the downtown McDougall church.

"We're competing with everybody else out there, and coming up Bellamy Hill, thousands of people see our sign. We're unashamedly using it for that. We need to get people's attention."

Weinlick said signs offer churches a chance to engage with the community, and hockey allows the church to express civic pride.

Some church signs engage with the public using humorous messages. Some are sentimental. And some are like a stern grandparent, warning you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- or else.

"The church is confused about their role in society, and you can see that even in the signs," said Sam Drew, pastor at Evangelical Covenant church at 85th Street and 82nd Avenue.

"Some just want to generate interest. Some want to generate a sense of community, and you get the Oilers signs. Some still see themselves as a position of authority, and so you get the sterner messages."

Drew said he, too,refers to hockey in sermons. "I use hockey examples in sermons because it's relevant to Canadians. To not reference hockey would be inefficient."

Some churches avoid the politics of sports and anything else that requires choosing sides. Associate pastor Mike Perschon from the Holyrood Mennonite Church said he wouldn't use his church's sign to cheer for the Oilers.

"I saw a sign in front of a church in the west end that said, 'Pray for the Oilers,' and I thought, well, someone is also praying for the Flames, or Detroit, or whoever," Perschon said.

"I wasn't aware that God had favourites."

Regardless of the tone of the church sign, the underlying purpose is

the same: to inspire interest in the church.

"The sign is saying, 'Check us out,' " Perschon said. "I don't think many people would want to admit to that. They would say church signs have a higher calling, but at the end of the day, it's a marketing strategy."

So do signs actually get people into church?

Weinlick said they do, sometimes. Once a month, McDougall holds a healing service that is advertised on the sign, and it brings in new people every time. The church also advertises special sermons or events. Several churches in the city have advertised sermons discussing The Da Vinci Code.

While the sign may not get people in the door, it does inspire interest.

Rev. Clay Kuhn of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Banff changed his sign from "Go Flames Go" to "God Forgive Us. Go Oilers" when Calgary lost.

"People who had ignored our sign forever are noticing it now," Kuhn said.

Kuhn said he always strives for funny signs. "Jesus was a master of humour," he said.

"Shouldn't I follow the master?"

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mel is the Man

I really like Mel Gibson as an actor. And I’ve loved him as a filmmaker. So I, like many others, was disturbed by’s expose of the police report which quotes Gibson making crude and racist remarks about Jews. The fact that the news has centered on this supposed “anti-Semitism” shows the opportunistic nature of this form of journalism, hoping to cash in on the controversy surrounding Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, rather than addressing his long-time battle with alcoholism. Jewish movie producer Dean Devlin claims Gibson as one of his best friends, with the caveat that “he is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said…I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man."

Last year Gibson was the evangelical church’s newest pop-saint. Now he’s likely going to be dragged through the mud for screwing up in front of everyone. Which is what happens when you’re famous in America. We all make mistakes, but if you’re famous, someone is likely there to take a picture of it and sell it to a tabloid. We’re a sick society – we love our celebrities, but as Don Henley sang, we love dirty laundry even more.

I’ve been to a few sites while researching my sermon for this Sunday, wading through one sarcastic tirade after another.. Most of the sites and articles (even the ones at Newsweek, which featured Osama Bin Laden giving Gibson anger management advice) are far too smug to be considered good journalism.

We can afford to be smug when our experiences of sin are that of the voyeur, be it reading about Gibson’s latest fall off the wagon, or when listening to the story of David and Bathsheba on Sunday morning. After all, we’d never do such a thing. I wonder if the reason we’d never do such a thing is because we simply don’t have the opportunity. When I was a kid, I didn’t do the things my parents forbade me to do, not because I thought them expressly evil, but because I was afraid that I would get caught. I think we often lead righteous lives because we’re afraid of what people will say, of losing our standing in the community, of damaging the relationships we are in.

David was the King of Israel…who was going to give him a slap on the wrist for sleeping with Bathsheba? Many of us do not act as David did simply because we aren’t Kings. Our roofs aren’t as high as David’s was. We can’t send a man to his death and cover it up. I’ve never walked in David’s shoes, so I certainly can’t say how I would respond to a stroll on the roof that ends in a peepshow. There but for the grace go I.

We say love the sin and hate the sinner, but we find it easier practice to hate the sinner, and secretly love the sin. I know that in my own heart my reaction of horror to certain sin is only a ruse, a put on. In my heart I secretly wish that could be me.

Eugene Peterson writes, “The subtlety of sin is that it doesn’t feel like sin when we’re doing it; it feels godlike, it feels religious, it feels fulfilling and satisfying—a replay of the episode in Eden when the tempter said, “Ye shall not die…ye shall be as gods”

However, as good Christians, we throw on our Sunday best to cover up the hate, lust, pride, greed, envy and gluttony in our hearts and attend service on Sunday morning (exhibiting all manner of sloth in padded pews as the height of our Christian duty), and when we hear the story of David and Bathsheba, we can point our finger and say, “oh how the mighty have fallen.”

If all we know of David’s story is the adultery with Bathsheba, the lie of bringing her husband Uriah home to cover up the pregnancy, followed by the murder of sending Uriah to the frontlines to be killed, then our finger remains pointed. But the story of David never lets us off the hook.

Enter Nathan the prophet, who comes to the palace after David and Bathsheba have been married. He tells David a parable of a rich man who stole a poor man’s sheep and asks David for a punishment. When David makes the pronouncement that the rich man should be put to death, Nathan points a finger at David, and says “You are the man.”

There’s another famous story of adultery in the Bible. We don’t know the name of the woman involved, but she’s another Bathsheba. Caught in the act of adultery, and thrown at the feet of a controversial Jewish Rabbi. The men who brought her for judgment, a collection of religious leaders who apparently go around peeking in windows just waiting for someone to screw up so they can drag them into public for maximum humiliation (this sound familiar to anyone?), ask the Rabbi what ought to be done with her. The Jewish Law explicitly states that she ought to be stoned.

The Rabbi starts writing in the dust. No one knows what he wrote, though some scholars would like to think he wrote down the individual sins of the assembled lynch mob. I’d like to think he drew a happy face or a heart or something equally uplifting to console the woman. What he didn’t write was SLUT and an arrow pointing at her, given the words of his judgment on the woman, a phrase which is still used today. “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”

One by one, stones are dropped to the ground. The mob disperses. The woman is left to face the Rabbi, who by his measure of justice has the right to throw a condemning stone. Instead of a stone, he speaks again.

“Go, and don’t keep sinning.”

David writes Psalm 51. Mel Gibson issues an apology to the Jewish community. We try and say sorry. Dubious, the public will not forgive. Someone had the balls to call their post on Gibson’s current circumstances WWJD, and then launch into a lengthy accusation. The intention was to show what hypocrites Christians are. I’ve got news for him. The church has no monopoly on hypocrites, alcoholics or adulterers. Paris Hilton could give anyone lessons in debauchery, but despite a lurid homemade porn flick, she’s getting paid 1 million dollars to go and tell Austrians why she loves their country. Did I mention what a sick society we are already?

I have a sticker on my bass guitar that says SINNER. It’s meant to be a badge of pride in party circles, and is commonly thought of as a badge of shame in Christian ones. I think Christians ought to start claiming it as a badge of hope. I’m a colossal screw up. I’ve made major mistakes in my life. I have blown it big time. I am a sinner. But in that condition lays my hope. Jesus said he hadn’t come to heal the healthy, but the sick. And I need the cure. The Bible claims we’re all in that boat. If we’re going to start throwing rocks, we need to all line up facing each other and have at ‘er. As novemberdawn wrote in an excellent blog entry at ‘Nuff Said:

“When Paris Hilton called an aspiring black designer the n-word, we barely heard a peep. There were certainly no cries from Hollywood to derail her acting, modeling or singing career. According to The Smoking Gun, phone transcripts from an angry voicemail from Charlie Sheen to Denise Richards revealed that he called her the n-word. We still see him every week on 2½ Men. While the hip-hop community has adulterated the term, it is still hate speech. Where are the Hollywood powerbrokers protesting these atrocities? What does Barbara Walters have to say? Perhaps she is too busy offending black women thanks to her incessant need to touch and grope her African-American guest host’s hair, inquire if it is real, and call their children “creatures.””

I could add to the list all the invective that gets spewed in the direction of Christianity on a regular basis without anyone so much as batting an eyelash. To say nothing of the lampooning of Muslims. If Hollywood is supposed to spank Gibson for this incident as some have stated, then it needs to give Trey Parker and Matt Stone a caning at the very least for South Park and Team America.

I’ve already mentioned Gibson’s controversial Passion of the Christ. When Diane Sawyer confronted Gibson with accusations of anti-semitism by skewing the story to blame the Jews for Christ’s death (I still chuckle at Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan’s response: “Who the f**k do you think did it? The Mexicans?”), Gibson replied by “The big answer is, we all did. I'll be the first in the culpability stakes here,” and quoted Isaiah: “He was beaten for our iniquities, he was wounded for our transgressions and, by his wounds, we are healed. That's the point of the film. It's not about pointing the finger, it's not about playing the blame game. It's about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. It's a reality for me. I believe that. I have to. So I can hope. So I can live.”

We forget that what Jesus would do, is forgive. And that the words about casting the first stone are meant for us all. Nathan the prophet does not merely point the finger at David, he points the finger at us. “You are the man.” David was that man. Mel Gibson is that man. And you and I, are that man.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

10 Years

This past weekend Jenica and I held a small, intimate gathering of friends and family to celebrate our 10th anniversary. Here are a few reflections on the past decade.

1. Love is a choice. There are many who think this grossly unromantic. People want to be "swept away" by love...they want to be placed under its spell. But if one can "fall in love" then it likely follows they can fall out of it. Or climb out of it. When we first meet that "special someone" our bodies become the repository of some of the most powerful mood altering drugs (vis a vis hormones) on the planet. And for a time we can't eat or sleep, because all we think about is that "perfect someone". Then the drugs wear off, a process that takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years and suddenly the "magic is gone". And we wonder how the hell we got where we are. At that moment we are faced with a choice. To stick to it, or walk away. The truth of the matter is the sooner you decide you'll stick to it, hell or high water, the better.
2. Love is hard work. But it's rewarding work. The best work you'll ever do. I think I've already put my vote out there that love is NOT a feeling. Lust is a feeling. Infatuation is a feeling. Love is not a feeling, and as such, must be manufactured. That's right. You produce love. It is not some ephemeral essential transcendent concept. Those sitting around waiting to be pierced by love's arrow will find that Cupid's arrows are fleeting motivators. Better to stick with Agape's diligence that never fails, always hopes, always trusts, etc. Right there is the work. Always trusts? Who the hell always trusts? Not any human I know. But we work at always trusting, and from that work, love is produced.
3. Love is fostered (or fractured) in community. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to protect a marriage in this day and age. The world around us seeks to rip down love. Even your best friends may not have your best interests in mind when it comes to your marriage. You and your spouse are the sole people who have a seriously vested interest in protecting your marriage. My advice: guard it like it's the most precious thing on earth. And find others who are seeking to do the same and, with Alastor Moody's "Constant vigilance" take steps to grow in community as a couple. There are people who brought us to the altar, and there are people who have brought us through the years since. Those who did both are the ones I trust without reservation. I suspect they'll be around for the 25th anniversary.