A Conversation with a Journalist

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I am so excited about this upcoming message on the parable of a journalist. Four have agreed to help me with sermon research – a Edmonton based TV producer, a Beijing based foreign correspondent, a columnist in Toronto and a Reuters reporter from the UK. Yesterday I sent out a few exegetical questions for each to engage.

This morning I got my first response (from the TV producer). After reading her answer to my first question I was kind of taken aback. Already her journalistic heart was teaching me something new about God – something I hadn’t thought of before.

Below is how the conversation played out – first, my initial question, then her answer and then my response to her answer.

What do you love most about your work as a journalist?

I get to call up complete strangers and ask them to tell me about themselves.

Other people are the most interesting thing in the world – but it can be intrusive to ask a stranger to open up to you. I’ve had the great privilege, for example, of asking grieving parents to tell me all about their extraordinary daughter who had died before her 30th birthday of aggressive breast cancer. I got to ask a man who lost both arms up to the shoulder to show me how he brushes his hair and puts on his socks – and how he keeps going day to day without succumbing to sadness and despair. I got to have dinner with a couple who’d finally brought home their little boy from Haiti after the terrifying earthquake made them fear they’d lost him right at the end of the adoption process.

In many of these situations, it’s safe to say I was asking some questions even my interview subjects’ closest friends and family might have hesitated to ask. But it was my job to be bold and ask difficult questions so I dove in and did it in spite of myself. In the end, I would often leave interviews feeling so connected to the people I’d talked to – and lucky to be their storyteller.

I do fewer personal interviews at this stage in my career, but it’s still pretty great to call someone up and basically say, “Hey, you know that thing you’re the most passionate about? That you’ve devoted years of your life to? Tell me all about that! And let me help you tell other people all about it, too. Because your life’s work/expertise/personal experience are worthy of being shouted from the rooftops. People need to know what you think.”  I’m constantly talking to new, interesting people and learning new things. That means my own horizons are always expanding.  And that’s the best thing about what I do.

My Response – This is such a beautiful answer! One of the angles that I hope to pursue in this sermon is the idea that journalists are, in a very real way, like the bible’s prophets. Most people think prophecy is always about the future (and that future part ‘is’ there) but it’s also very much about the present – about “telling the truth about reality as it is”… no matter how hard it is to tell that truth. Sometimes biblical truth telling comes in the form of a judgment, other times it’s an eloquent statement of beauty or hope (like the stories you cite above). What I find compelling in what you said above is that I’ve never once considered that the prophet Isaiah might have felt ‘lucky to be [God's] story teller’, or that he would have struggled in getting to the truth of a situation (i.e.: asking tough questions), that in telling the truth about reality he might felt closer to God (the author of the stories Isaiah told). And that you so passionately want to get people’s ‘good stories’ out there > well that, to me, is just so incredibly God-like! I personally believe that God is mysteriously, behind the scenes, authoring all stories. So when you write and produce stories of good, beauty and sometimes hard truth, you’re in a very real sense relaying God’s words to the world.  Like you, I think God thinks “other people are the most interesting thing in the world!” God is interested in everything and everyone. I guess that you, doing your job, is one way he shows that interest!

Picking up Flowers for Fran

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I just picked up a small flower arrangement for Fran, from one of the florists who’s been helping me with this Sunday’s sermon. Each of the three times I’ve dropped into Anne’s shop this week, I’ve exegeted a different facet of her vocation back to her. It’s been quite profound for both of us. “You see all this stuff in what I do,” she said. And I walk away even more convinced of the need for a good book on the spirituality of vocation.

This morning, after telling her how beautiful the arrangement was (Frescias are Fran’s favorites), I asked her for a few floral maintenance tips.  She told me to keep the water fresh and clip the stems when I change the water. Then she pointed to one of the Frescias and ran her baby finger down the dark green, unopened blooms. “Every single one of these should bloom,” she said. “Just pick off the old blooms as they die and each of these should come into flower.”

As she ran her finger down the unopened blooms I thought about the God who – knowing how things are made – knows where things are going and still has a plan for that little flower, plans to prosper it and not to harm it and to give it hope and a future.

After I told Anne that she reminded me of God in this way, her eyes teared up. Then she talked about some of the pain and mystery she encounters in her work – her search for meaning and how she wonders sometimes if she’s making a difference. We had a good talk.

How beautiful that God put this florist in my path this week.

And I hope Fran like these flowers…

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Stone Cold Stares

Sitting by the river, minding my own business, and I notice all these stones staring at me!

“And this our life exempt from public haunt. Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones and good in every thing. I would not change it.”                                  Senior Duke, As You Like It, Shakespeare

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Preaching the Parable of a Florist

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This is how it works…  I just sent an email to a botany professor (from a faith based school) for my upcoming sermon on a florist. After making my introduction I wrote;

“I have a question (if you have the time). I’m preaching a sermon on the vocation of a florist (how their job is a, kind of, embodied parable illumining the heart of God) and am wondering why God (the original floral arranger) created so may different kinds of flowers…  or more scientifically, why are there so many kinds of flowers in this world? I’m hoping that the answer to that question, will illumine something about the mind and heart of God, that will highlight where florist’s vocationally image him (in their continued filling of the earth with floral beauty).

(imagine exegeting everyone’s job like this!)

 (I love my job!)

Mitigating College/University Rape Culture

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“This past weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that makes universities redefine consensual sex. From now on, students must  effectively obtain the “affirmative consent” of their partners, which must be “ongoing” every step of the way.”

When I read these words in Margaret Wente’s Globe and Mail editorial this morning I thought, “Well in order for that to happen, people are going to have to really know each other, know their partner’s personality, know how they communicate, know what kind of mood they’re in and what they’ve been dealing with that day, week or month. In order to really know someone that well, it’s almost as though you’d have to have spend some time with them, have a relationship, maybe date for a while; even court.”

Sort of slows down a hookup culture’s momentum a bit doesn’t it? And perhaps it teaches us that ‘old fashioned’ sexual ethics didn’t have it all wrong. Sex, it appears, works best under certain conditions, with clear constraints and a strong sense of commitment. The more you know someone, the better you’ll be able to trust them and the more sexual freedom you’ll enjoy.

(“Toronto-Slutwalk” by Anton Bielousov – Own work: Slutwalk (Toronto, ON). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Toronto-Slutwalk.jpg)

Calgary hit by water again (this time frozen)

While snow in September is shocking, the arboreal destruction Calgarians are now witnessing is devastating. Out walking today it seemed that very few trees where left unscathed. And it was as though I was feeling some of (The Lord of the Rings’) Treebeard’s angst, “Many of these trees were my friends. Creatures I had known from nut and acorn.”

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The Parable of a Teacher

Teacher 2Tonight I’m meeting with a few elementary and high school teachers to discern and exegete ‘The Parable of a Teacher’.

Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a book that explores the idea of our jobs as embodied parables - real life vocational stories, authored by God, through which and within which, He speaks (reveals himself) and accomplishes his will. To date I’ve preached on all kinds of jobs – accountants, doctors, Walmart greeters, servers, scientists, psychologists, farmers, stylists, firefighters, judges and more. The hope in preaching these vocational sermons is that people will be enabled to experience God’s presence at work more; know him in real time as they image Him at work.

These are the questions I sent to the teachers in preparation for tonight’s talk;

1. What do you love most about teaching? Describe a ‘just right’ teaching moment you’ve had as a teacher – what made that moment so right? What were you feeling?

2. Believing that you are made in the image of God, what does ‘what you felt in that just right moment’ say about who God is, about what God is like?

3. God made you with desires and passions that image him. Have you ever experienced God’s teaching heart in a ‘just right’ teaching moment?

4. As you consider the specific ways you image God through your teaching, what bible stories, verses or theological truths come to mind?

If you teach, and have any thoughts in relation to the above, please post a comment!

 

Calling the Church’s Bluff

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I think the church is bluffing when it says it believes in general revelation.

If God really does speak through creation then preachers should have no problem regularly preaching his creation words… as ‘texts’…  reading and treating them as authoritative revelations from God.

Over the past ten years I’ve undergone a transformation. For years I wondered if I was allowed to preach from God’s book of creation; leading to a years-long search into both the bible and my reformed theological roots. Now I am convinced that I must; and more than that, that the rest of the church should too!

Surely God made us to know him through both word and world (in that order authority-wise). When the church chooses to ignore God’s creation words then I think it’s missing the mark, falling short and risking institutional idolatry. By not preaching all that God is saying we limit him and cast him in our own ‘revelatory worldview’ image.

At worst this leads to bibliolatry. At best it leaves believers with only half of God’s revelatory story. No wonder churchgoers struggle connecting their faith to the rest of their lives! The church has never taught them what God is saying through the rest of their lives; how they image God in their creating, working, playing and loving and how he moves in very real ways through nature, history and all things. They’ve never heard their pastor preach on God’s word in pop culture, science or work.

While I understand that not all churches can engage the creation text as much or as often as we do at New Hope Church (it takes time to change and preaching the book of creation is hard work), to completely ignore God’s creation words is quite simply wrong.

So I guess this is my challenge to the church. If you say you believe in general revelation then preach it. If you’re not preaching from general revelation, then change your statements of faith. You can’t say that God speaks through creation and then ignore him there.

Robin Williams – Make God Laugh!

    Screen-Shot-2014-08-13-at-11.17.46-AM “Robin Williams~Rest in Peace~ Make God laugh”

After reading these words from the marquis of the Los Angeles Laugh Factory I had to wonder if Robin Williams really was making God laugh; right now. Perhaps he’s been doing it for years.

God made Robin Williams. No doubt with a smile on his face, God came up with the idea of this very unique human being; deeply sensitive and aware, able to creatively connect seemingly ordinary things in hilarious, outrageous, manic and brilliantly funny ways!

God made Robin Williams – according to the bible – in his image. Which, I guess, means that God too has a great sense of humor.

You may have never considered that before. Looking at the church, those serious icons of Christ that have been crafted over time or reading the Old Testament stories of Noah or the battle of Jericho, it’s easy to think of God as anything but funny. But is that a fair or complete picture of the Maker of all things (including humor)?

Look at Jesus. While it’s hard to see his humor with 21st century eyes (2000 years is a long time for a joke to hold up!) many theologians think it was certainly there; in his parables and through his use of hyperbole. When Jesus t0ld the story of the lost sheep to the self righteous Pharisees – likening them to the despised vocation of shepherds – they would have been upset and the people in the surrounding crowd delighted. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a slam on religious leaders that would have made many smile. You can just see them putting their hands over their mouths at Jesus’ irreverent jab!  Then there was the time when Jesus poked fun at all of the petty legalisms of the Pharisees; so worried about minutiae while losing sight of what mattered most, “You blind guides, you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  (Matthew 23:24).  The audience would have split a rib when he said those words!  And maybe Jesus even cracked a smile.

G. K. Chesterton once said, “I’ve often thought that the gigantic secret of God is mirth.”

So maybe Robin Williams is cracking God up right now.

And perhaps, between jokes, he’s also finding some answers regarding all of the pain and suffering that came with his laughter. Maybe God’s prophetic promise to Job has now come true for Williams, “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” (Job 8:21)

Surely God knew and felt the depths of Robin Williams’s suffering. God knows what its like to carry pain that eventually kills you. And God knows that pain is not the last word. Perhaps that’s the performance ending punchline that he’s sharing with Williams right now.