Category Archives: 2017

My New Website

If you’re wondering what’s up and where I’m heading, here’s a link to my new website – johnvansloten.com

And a quote from my first blog post – “My hope is that this [website] will be a place where I can chronicle where I am hearing, seeing and engaging God in culture, creation – wherever! I hope to do that via written blog, podcast, videocast, photography, and more. So if you’re interested in coming along for the journey this is where I’ll be.” 

At the bottom of my blog page you can sign up for email updates going forward. I’d love to stay in contact.

What if God has something new for the CRC?

A few years ago I wrote this piece for Christian Courier… Its still my dream for our church;

“What if God has something new for the CRC (Christian Reformed Church)?

Sometimes I wonder if the struggles the CRC is now facing are meant to kindle our imaginations so that we’ll be able to see a new thing that God has for us. What if God has brought us here – into this humbling confusion – to open our eyes?

Our denominational numbers are dropping, young adults are disappearing, congregations are aging, churches and pastors are fighting and, according to some, we are 15-20 years away from the death spiral that many mainline denominations are now in. What’s happening? Did we miss a turn? Have we been complacent in some way? Are we not seeing something that God wants us to do?

Theologian Walter Brueggemann once wrote, “If there is any point at which most of us are manifestly co-opted, it is in this way. We do not believe that there will be newness but only that there will be merely a moving of the pieces into new patterns.” (The Prophetic Imagination) In order to perceive a new thing, Brueggemann continues, “We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.”

What new thing could the Christian Reformed Church become if were we to free our imaginations?

Over the past fifteen years, our Calgary Christian Reformed Church plant has been on a journey into a new way of being God’s people, a way we could never have imagined that is based on some very old reformed ideas made new. Without us knowing it, God has been showing us what a faith community made to experience God everywhere might look like. He’s woken us up to a real-time sense of his paternal providence. John Calvin’s huge view of the Holy Spirit – that it inspires all truth and holds everything in place – has become viable and practical to us. And our view of Jesus has taken on cosmic proportions; as the resurrected one in whom all things now hold together! Someone who we really can know, in his glory, through everything that fills his world.

More precisely, God has reminded us of the true scope of his revelation; that he does speak through both the Bible and creation (which includes nature, human nature, culture, and everything else that fills the cosmos). And he’s showing us what a life of faith, based on all that he’s saying, can look like. Growing up, I thought the Bible contained all I needed to know about God. While that was true in relation to matters of salvation, it’s not quite true in terms of experiencing the fullness of who God is via all that he is saying and doing in the cosmos. I lived with a very limited understanding of the revelation of God; a view that would have left my theological forbears – St. Augustine, John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck (to name a few) – wondering where I got lost.

But what if things changed in the CRC? What if we took this especially reformed accent – the firm belief that God speaks through creation – so seriously that we actually preached it (through and alongside God’s revelation in the Bible) on Sunday morning? I’m talking about engaging creational revelation as more than just an illustration, analogy, metaphor or culturally relevant bridge. What if we read God’s words in creation with new authority and spent more time with them and humbly submitted to them (like we do with the Bible)? What if we expected to hear the real time voice of the Spirit, a word from God through a particular chapter or verse of creation? This is what Calvin said we’d be able to do – read the world through the lens of scripture. This is what Jesus did all the time. What if we followed him in this?

What if we took the idea of God speaking through creation to our places of work and expected to hear him there? What if we saw every single image bearing human being as an icon or as an embodied parable that Jesus might be speaking through? What if we seriously engaged the Holy Spirit’s authoritative words throughout history, culture, sport, science, commerce, and art?

Galileo saw math as the language of God. Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg read history as God’s revelation. If ever there is a book that says that God speaks through history, it’s the Bible. And if God speaks math and history then surely he also speaks supernova, radiation physics, chemical catalysis, colour theory, botany, biology, sport, film, music and dance. The God who made all things must speak farmer, investment banker, barista, manager, geologist, judge, stylist, electrician, landlord, accountant and carpenter!

What if the CRC became the church that led in reading, teaching and preaching God’s spoken word in both the Bible and creation? What if we’re the one’s who bring a new balance to the reading of these books?

While walking the campus of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary several years ago, I started dreaming about what would happen if all of the creation embracing wisdom of the college came together with all of the theological wisdom of the seminary. What if the seminary helped the college better exegete the revelatory power and potential of philosophy, engineering and poetry? Instead of only citing God as Maker, or the one to thank and worship via creation, what if students were taught how to listen for God’s authoritative word in the midst of and through creation? What if college professors tutored seminarians on God’s word in nursing, computer science and journalism and taught them how to read those ‘creation texts’? And then, what if those seminarians one day led churches and preached co-illumining Bible/creation-based sermons and catechized whole lives based on the whole counsel of God? What if they taught people that their lives were living parables, empowered right now by a Spirit breathed by Jesus? Imagine churches everywhere engaging God’s word wherever it’s being spoken. How could that way of being not be relevant – in the fullest sense of the word – to the communities God has placed us in? How could that not lead to more worshipful lives?

Last year one critic noted that this way of preaching God’s word tilts against 2000 years of Christian tradition. He’s right, it does. And I can’t imagine a more beautiful, or new way of knowing and experiencing God everywhere. A few months ago reformed theologian Richard Mouw defended this new idea to peer saying, “At worst its provocative, at best it’s true.”

Imagine God waking the Christian Reformed Church up to who we are; to our own theological heritage, and then taking it in a whole new direction. Imagine his people of faith made new and using the profound gifts of wisdom and discernment that we’ve been given to see, hear, and experience God in all things.

Can we dare to imagine something this new?”

Bastille’s poetry

Every time I hear Bastille’s song Poet, scripture passages run through my mind. Bastille sings this (re: the nature of poems/ poetic words);

“I have written you down
Now you will live forever
And all the world will read you
And you will live forever
In eyes not yet created
On tongues that are not born
I have written you down
Now you will live forever”

And I hear this;

“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD” Psalm 102:18

“Future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!” Psalm 22:30-31

God’s wisdom through Bastille is rhyming with God’s wisdom through the psalmist. Through God’s gift of poetry both writers attempt to capture the essence of the ineffable… the ungraspable. What can never be fully captured, these artists put into a song.

“I can’t say the words out loud,
So in a rhyme I wrote you down.
Now you’ll live through the ages,
I can feel your pulse in the pages.” (Bastille, Poet)

I have a Patron!

I just left a meeting with Chris Dobbin (a Calgary Real Estate Developer who’s been watching the ‘everywhere God vision’ unfold for many years now).

And I’m still trembling.

Chris just ‘bought’ 50 copies of Every Job a Parable for $5000.00! And then he said, “I want to do this monthly.” What he meant was that he wanted to become a patron in relation to my future work as a writer, teacher, speaker, or whatever.

“As far as I can see nobody else is doing this… anywhere,” Chris said. “This idea has got to get out there!” And so Chris is helping get it out there. He offered me office space in his Kensington Road building if I needed it and wants to help in whatever way he can.

This is overwhelming! In part because of the support and timing of it all. But even more so because of what God is saying through this little ‘parable of a moment’.

At the end of our meeting Chris asked if he could pray for me. When he finished praying I jumped in; thanking God for Chris and for his generosity. And then I said, “And God, what makes this so powerful for me is that this support is coming from a real estate developer (my first career!)… its like his words of encouragement are being spoken in a language I understand…  with a kind of entrepreneurial authority and vision that I get… and in some way this helps me  know that it’s you at work in behind Chris…  this support is coming from YOU…. so thank you for making Chris an icon of your grace!”

Or something like that…  we were both blubbering a bit a this point!

And finally, what was also so beautiful in that meeting was Chris’s joy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so delighted in the giving moment. Surely his heart is a pointer to God’s giving heart!

As I left Chris gave me a hug and said he loved me. He felt like a brother in that moment… which of course – he is.

 

 

My Future Plans

Ten days before my final day at the church I had a dream. In that dream a last minute, all-expense-paid, round-the-world trip was being offered to a small group of people (of whom I was a part)… offered to anyone who was able take it… who was free to take it.

I woke from that dream right in the middle of the moment where I was realizing that, because I had just left my job and had nothing on my agenda, I was totally free to take the trip! While everyone had previous commitments, I didn’t. At that moment my life was wide open.

And it is wide open now.

This past week I’ve been feeling as though I need to make it moreso. I need to do for my body what I did for my schedule (exercise and get back in shape again… so that I’ll have the energy, strength and acuity for what lies ahead). I need to the same for my emotional health (let myself rest a bit…  20 years was a long run… stop with all the pressure to produce). I also need to free up my spirit (learn how to pray again and read my bible more consistently and deeply… so that I will be able to discern what lies ahead). And I need to get serious about reigning in my behavior, my sinful nature (try to be more fully human again… a better version of me… finish well character wise).  And lastly, I feel like I need to let the artist part of me have a bit more latitude (open up my imagination more so that I’ll be able to grasp what God has planned… catch it when it flies by).

I feel like I need to spend the next few weeks (or perhaps months) leaning in this direction… entering into this more free and available place. This I know for sure.

As for what will fill my time in the year ahead I still have no idea. It may involve stewarding Every Job a Parable (things seem quite positive so far). It may involve writing my next book on the human body (God’s Body Language). It may involve teaching or speaking more. I’m really not sure.

But one thing I am sure of is that this ‘experiencing God everywhere’ vision needs to get out there more. Three years ago I began to realize that one small church in Calgary can’t hold it all… nor can the role of a traditional pastor. So now this step has been taken… and I can hardly wait for what lies ahead.

 

 

 

The Parable of a Sound Engineer

For the past three days I have been recording an audio version of Every Job a Parable at a Calgary studio called The Beach. I love doing new things and this was a blast (although pretty hard on the vocal cords!).

Several times, as I was speaking, I found myself reliving conversations with people and re-experiencing vocational epiphany moments. When I read the bible verses my voice slowed slightly and took on a more reverential tone. When the pace of a story picked up, so did I. When something funny was being relayed, words were laughingly enunciated.

Unlike my times of preaching, I found myself noticing all of these things. It was probably the sound studio atmosphere; totally soundproof with only your voice feeding back to you via your headset. (I told the sound engineer that I wanted to get one of these headsets for the rest of my life… because I sounded more authoritative to myself when I wore them! 😉 ).

During breaks I got to know Ryan; the sound engineer. This guy was a pro. Sitting in a sound proof room next to my sound proof room, facing a wall of speakers, he followed along word for word, catching the smallest of mistakes on my part…  “You said politics instead of policies…  You added an ‘s’ to ‘manage’…  you pronounced that word a little too muddily… etc, etc…” I couldn’t believe how he seemed to catch everything. At times I would go on for pages without error, and then he’d suddenly cut in and say, “We need to do that last sentence again, you missed the word ‘on’….”

As we spoke about the nature of his work I found myself exegeting it as though it were a parable (how could I not?). What made Ryan good at his job was the intense focus with which he was able to listen. He didn’t listen to empathize or be moved by the story. He listened to hear precisely what was being spoken, and that was all. “When I record a band I can isolate and listen to just the kick drum or any other voice or instrument… even as the whole band is playing.”

Hearing him say those words I said, “You could come to our church and teach us how to listen!”  If only we listened to God’s words with a sound engineer’s level of precision. Imagine being that tuned in and focussed on every syllable, every tonal variation, every change of pace.

What was interesting in the book recording process was that Ryan never looked at me. He faced in a perpendicular direction, so as not be distracted by any visuals (I’m guessing)… because ‘all that mattered to him’ was the voice.

Imagine listening with that kind of intensity. Perhaps this is why we close our eyes when we pray.

In the bible God is a God who speaks. Our faith is born out of a very oral tradition. He who made our ears hears. And surely this sound engineer is made in the image of a God who hears in perfection… and records every word.