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Embracing the Weird

Hello everyone,

I sat in a new staff orientation yesterday, reading over the shiny, new employees’ handbook as my lead pastor and executive pastor gave a deep explanation of what it means to work at the church. We covered history, identity, mission, and expectations. While I was happy to learn more about the body that I’ve been serving for years, there was a moment during the outline of expectations that made me laugh.

“Please don’t make me have to explain you.”

Now, in context, it made sense. We all, as Christians, are representatives of Christ and His Church. As staff members, we are representatives of RockPointe. We have a responsibility to represent our God and His Church well. Especially today, in a world that doesn’t particularly like the Church. My pastor was simply asking that we conduct ourselves in a way that does not draw negative attention to the church.

Yet, in a way, I think we’re going to be explaining me for a long time.

Because you see, what I do is weird. 

I create art for the church. I help to bring beauty and wonder and passion into an institution that is not well known for these virtues anymore. I tell stories of redemption and hope. I push some envelopes, and leave others alone. I aim to bring people to a place of awe before their Creator and Redeemer.

And, quite frankly, there aren’t many who are able to devote a lot of time to this sort of thing.

But that’s not the only way I’m weird. I often feel quite stuck when it comes to politics. I lean to the left when I analyze most social policies. I believe Jesus told us to look after the poor and the downtrodden and I believe a welfare state chases after that command. Yet, I am morally conservative. I believe that there is a right and a wrong and that we can discern what they are through the Scripture. At the church, I’m the crazy liberal artist. At Community Natural Foods (my other part time work), I am the token conservative Christian. I don’t feel like I’m quite like anyone in either camp.

And then, one day at Community, a particularly wise coworker told me: “Maybe you don’t need camps.”

We like labels. They help us self-identify. They help us find a place to belong and a people to belong to. But there are times when they are going to fail you, and those are powerful times.

Whether you are a Christian artist who isn’t quite a home at church or in the art scene, or a teenager struggling with self-identity against family-identity, or a stay-at-home mom trying to find her identity when the world defines you by your job, I believe we all go through periods in our lives where we feel like we’re weird. And I argue that these periods can be incredibly fruitful in our spiritual walk.odd_one_out-690x355

Because when we are confronted by our inability to fit into the moulds that the world (even the church world) tries to get us to fit into, we come to realize how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. Though there are more that 7.5 BILLION people in the world right now and many who are probably much like me, I am the only me that God has placed right here, right now. And you are the only you that God has placed where you are. No one can do what God has called you to do.

What the world calls weird is simply the messy specificity that God used to create you. 

There are places I can go because I have ties to the arts community that a normal pastor either wouldn’t or couldn’t go. There are beautiful things I can do in the church that an outside artist doesn’t have the relationships to accomplish. I was made weird because God has a plan and we don’t always get to see that plan until after it’s all over. And you…yes, you…are also weird in your own special way and for your own special purpose.

So today, as you go about your business, try to remember that you are weird. And that being weird is a good thing. Not because of millennial snowflakism or your own inherent specialness, but because God has given you a certain set of passions and experiences that make you ideally suited to a certain mission in the world.

Go, be weird on mission.

Blessings

Why We Need to Stop Hating Trump

I never really thought it would happen. I don’t know if anyone really did. Yet, the most recent American elections played out like the script for some rags-to-riches underdog movie. Except the underdog had never really known rags and didn’t stand for the other underdogs.

Many people I know were shocked, confused, and scared following Trump’s election. He stood for things we thought that Western society had moved past. Minorities felt uncertain about their futures in America. Everyday Americans felt the right to abuse those who were different because they “had a new president now.” Was this the “great” America that Trump envisioned?

I don’t know. I hope not.

What I see now is a whole lot of hate. Hate towards Muslims. Hate towards the LGBTQ community. Hate for people who voted for Trump, or Hilary, or who didn’t vote at all. And while I may vehemently disagree with many of President Trump’s policies and personal actions, I find the reaction to be even worse. Especially from the Christian community.

I’m going to just come out and say it. For the Christian, and for peace-seekers everywhere, there is no room in our lives for hate toward anyone. Full stop.

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No matter how offended we are by someone, God is more offended. Not only by them, but by us. Each of us has fallen short of God’s eternal glory and our very lives are a result of His mercy and grace. We have turned away from a perfect God, and He allows us to continue living because He loves us.

And He loves the person who offended or hurt you, too.

 

When we truly come face to face with our own failings and shortcomings, we realize that we are just as needing of God’s grace as those who persecute us. I shudder to think what the world would be like if I had God’s ability to rain down wrath from the skies. I am not composed of love and holiness. The world would not be a good place if I was in charge. Different, but definitely not better.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, remember that Christ commanded His followers to love those who hate them and pray for those who persecuted them. He tells us to give to those who steal from us, to work harder from those who demand from us, and to allow others to abuse us without reciprocation. In other words, to act like Christ.

Now, we are allowed, and I would argue are expected, to hate injustice, oppression, and evil. Social structures that harm people should be fought, politicians should be held to a high standard of integrity, and crime should be brought to justice. But throughout all of this, we are not to hate those who do us harm.  There is no room for hate.

So please, create art that attacks social evils. Shine light into the dark areas of our world and expose those who oppress the helpless. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and hold back the darkness that threatens our world. But do it out of love for those who are hurt, and those who are doing the hurting. The victims are not the only people who need redemption.

Let’s fill the world with love, for no great good has ever come from hate.

Blessings

Face Your Artistic Fears, Artistically

Hello everyone!

It’s that time of year for us where we begin to discuss what our Easter services are going to look like. We’ve spent time narrowing down our themes and aesthetics and are looking at how we want to portray the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s a heavy, yet jubilant season, and we want to do it well.

But in the past couple of weeks, I was challenged like I haven’t been since I took the role of Drama Ministry Coordinator. One of my dear colleagues (and good friend) suggested a presentation that would take the entire team’s input and direction throughout the process to pull off. I wouldn’t be able to go and create my part and put it together with everyone else’s later. We would be breaking new ground with what we’ve done artistically, technically, and organizationally.

My initial thoughts included: “Yes! That’s so cool!”

My subsequent thoughts included: “Can we even do that? I really don’t know if we can.”

This is a terrifying and exhilarating place to be. If we move forward with this idea (which I’m not going to spell out. You’ll have to come and see the service if you want to see), it will challenge me and the team to step into ground that is out of my comfort zone. Which, I believe, is exactly where we need to be.

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Can you imagine Michelangelo, suspended under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, brush in hand, about to place his first stroke? That could not have been an easy project to start. So much empty canvas in one of the most important churches in the world. And HE had to fill it. Failure would be unacceptable. Mediocrity would be disaster. Michelangelo HAD to step up.

And he did. With, quite literally, flying colours.

It can become easy, especially when have a stable, creative job on staff somewhere, to stick with what works and what you know. Often the drive to create comes from someone else: a boss, a co-worker, a ministry partner. I get to stretch my creative muscles, but I am not creating something from the depths of my own soul with the frequency that many artists keep. My own projects get built slowly in my spare time (or occasionally get matched up with the needs of the church…those are wonderful days!) while I work on what the church needs.

It’s a wonderful place to be, but it doesn’t push me artistically very frequently. Yet, it is in the pushing that we grow. There is a place for repetition and practice. There is another place for stepping outside what we’re know to see what’s on the other side.

This is one of the big points Ed Catmull makes in the book Creativity, Inc., which uses the story of Pixar to teach about creating creative cultures. We need to balance one foot in the known while stepping out into the unknown if we are going to tap into our best creativity. If you haven’t read this book, I suggest it.

So, this project may fall flat on its face. We may realize it’s too big for us right now and pull the plug. Or, we may realize a dream and step into a new era of creativity at RockPointe.

I like that last option.

So, when you are faced with challenges that seem beyond you, remember that each one gives us the opportunity to lean into God, who is FAR bigger and FAR more capable than we will ever be. He who created the cosmos lives within us. If we can tap into what He is doing, we will be able to create FAR beyond what would otherwise be possible.

I challenge you to look at what you are doing with your work this week. Does it challenge you? Are you keeping both feet firmly planted where it is safe and secure? Or are you ready to step out, in faith, to push back the boundaries of the new and the safe? See what happens. Maybe God will step into those moments alongside you, and what you are left with will be a legacy that can be placed alongside the Sistine Chapel.

Who knows?

Blessings

Following God in the Waiting

I love God. I love the life He has given to me. I love the purpose He has planted in my soul. But I have to admit, sometimes following His will is the hardest thing I ever do.

I haven’t been writing on EpicTheology a lot lately because I’ve just been busy with life. I’m writing plays, books, emails, videos, and readings. I’m hosting Open Mic nights and Laser Tag events and Shakespeare readings. I’m trying to love my wife and raise my two boys to be strong, compassionate men. I’m also working a couple jobs and trying to be a better employee. For a while, I was also trying to get into great shape, but that fell by the wayside as soon as the weather turned colder.

All this to say, life is full. Full of love, full of work, full of great things that God has asked us to do. And I wouldn’t exchange it for the world.

But there is one thing that nags at me like a splinter in my foot.

Over the past year, God has put a vision into my mind. It is a vision for a ministry that reaches out to the artists of Calgary. That meets them and ministers to them on their terms, in their language. It aims to meet their needs in a way that the established church does not. It brings together my past life as an actor and my current life as a pastor-in-training. It’s all very exciting.

As this idea began to gel, things moved along quickly. My wife and I were meeting with people from all around the world to discuss this ministry. We had meetings with most of our church leaders, with our district, with other ministry partners. We spoke with artists and creators. And EVERYONE seems to be excited!

And then, the momentum slowed. Building excitement is one thing. Building funds is a completely other beast. We’ve come to a place where forward momentum is at a crawl, and it can be frustrating. There is the temptation to rail against the world, to wallow in pity and to claim that no one understands. But that’s neither true, nor helpful.

God has been teaching me something very important over the past couple months.

He has taught me that my idea of waiting is brutally narrow. In my head, waiting has always been a passive endeavour. Sitting still until its my turn. Building patience until something arrives. Doing nothing when all you want to do is act.

But that’s not what God is asking of me right now.

He is asking that I work while I wait. And not just at my ‘secular’ job. He wants me to work at this ministry as much as I am able until we can find funding to turn it into a full-time job (or really, a job at all). I have carried with me the idea that if God is calling me to something, He will open the doors to make it my career. I didn’t understand that His call is there regardless of what pays my bills.

So, now, we work. We reach out to our fellow actors. We build relationships with our neighbours. We write. We take odd gigs. And we keep having meetings to pursue this ministry as a full-fledged job. God has blessed us throughout, and I have no doubts He will continue to do so.

So, this week, remember that God’s call on your life is never put on hold. It might not look exactly like you think it will, but it’s always there.

To that end, go create. Even if you write a sentence here and there in your free time. Even if you draw one panel of your comic book a day. Even if you sing for your family as you get ready in the morning. Do what you can with what God has given you.

Remember the Parable of the Talents. Those who are faithful with a little will be entrusted with much. Be faithful.

Blessings

Our Problem with Pain

I have a question for you. Would you rather have a lollipop for free, or have me kick you in the shins once, then get a Camaro?

Now, I don’t have any Camaros to send out, but I’m guessing many of us would choose the latter (even if you don’t like Camaros, you can probably sell it and buy more than one lollipop). Unfortunately, looking at my life, I seem to be living like I would choose the lollipop.

Let me explain.

Everyone hates pain. Well, at least, most people do. And here in the West, as the marriage of church and state dissolves and secularism rises, we seem to have agreed that suffering is the only universal evil. Without a dominant religion to govern, we have had to drill down to what everyone can buy into, and the idea we found is that almost everyone hates pain.

Fair enough. If there wasn’t a car on the line, I probably wouldn’t let you kick me in the shins either.

The problem comes when we let that idea – that suffering is the ultimate evil – overcome everything else we believe. It causes us to avoid the shin-kick so vehemently that we would choose the lollipop over the car.

For instance: we believe in a kind, loving God. I believe this to be completely true. But when we think that suffering is the MOST evil thing in existence, we cannot believe that God, who is loving, would allow us to suffer, let alone send us pain to strengthen and refine us. We end up ignoring GREAT swathes of the Old Testament (and considerable parts of the New) to validate our belief that we should not suffer. We exchange the completeness of the Bible for a creation of our own.

This is a problem here in North America. We are so focused on God’s blessings that we have created idols from them. We are all for giving to the poor, unless that would cost us a little of our comfort. We believe the orphans should be looked after…by someone else. We are too busy for another kid right now, and having another child, especially one not of our blood, would be too much of a hassle.

Don’t get me wrong, God DOES bless his children. I believe that, if we were to actually live like Jesus taught, life would be a whole lot easier for us. Not without pain and suffering, but definitely easier. And that’s my issue. We don’t live like Christ taught us because it might cause us a little pain in the immediate future. We withhold trust because letting people in makes us vulnerable to hurt. We don’t give sacrificially because we don’t want to miss out on trips and coffees and gifts. We don’t step out and actually talk about Jesus because we might be ridiculed and suffer socially.

But we must come back to the truth that suffering is not the Greatest Evil.

The Greatest Evil is that we turn our backs on that which is Good.

There is an Evil that threatens us, that chases us, and will devour us if we let him. He uses our own selfishness to drown others by means of our lust for pleasure and comfort. We turn in on ourselves and ignore what God has called us to. We ignore the helpless while inoculating ourselves to their cries for help.

And this – this turning our back on God for our own selfish ambition – will cost some of us eternal salvation.

So, what do we do about this? In an age of instant gratification and readily available medical supplies to numb us to our pain, how do we embrace suffering for the cause of the Gospel? Can we choose to turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and actually reach out to someone in need? Even if that causes us some pain, some hardship, and some time in uncertainty?

Can we withstand a moment of shin-kicking for the mission that God has sent us on?

God promises that the rewards will be worth it.

Blessings

Staring into the Deep

Throughout much the Bible, the sea is considered a symbol of chaos and the enemy of God’s people. The Leviathan is a beast that God conquered. Rahab is the name of both a mythical sea-beast and a euphemism for Egypt. This all makes sense when we consider that the Israelites were land-dwelling folk with little experience in shipbuilding and ocean-voyaging. For them, the sea was full of danger and uncertainty, the complete opposite of the loving Father figure of God.

Yet, in Genesis 1, we see God creating the seas and calling them good. They cannot be evil if God considers them good. Scary and untamed? Of course. But not evil.

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I watched the film In the Heart of the Sea a few days ago, which recounts the trials of the whaling ship Essex, which was attacked by a sperm whale and would eventually inspire the story of Moby Dick. Throughout the film, I could not help but wonder at the majesty of the ocean. After thousands of years of human civilization on the Earth, we still do not have mastery over its depths. It is full of wondrous creatures and fearsome monsters (for those who think there aren’t sea monsters, just try denying that you wouldn’t scream like a child if you came upon a giant squid while out swimming one day…monster). And we have no control over it.

I was born on the West Coast, and perhaps my bias is showing, but I feel like the ocean can show me much of God. Just as C. S. Lewis said of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia (his allegorical Christ, for those who haven’t read the books…or seen the movies…) the ocean is not safe, but it is good. We are reminded of just how small we are when we are faced by the endless expanse of water. We are reminded of how powerless we are when we come up against the giant swells of ocean storms. We are reminded that, no matter how much we build ourselves up as masters of this world, we have not conquered the sea. Just as we have not conquered God.

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The ocean forces us to face our hubris, and for that, I love it.

We may someday map the ocean and catalogue all of its denizens, but until then, it will stand as a symbol of what we have no control over. And no matter how powerful we become as a species, we will never have power over God.

For those keeping track, I enjoyed the film. It also speaks to some of these themes of human pride in the face of nature’s incredible force (and sometimes wrath). I suggest you go see it, if you haven’t. It’s worth the couple of hours you’d spend. Unless you’re easily seasick. Then don’t.

Also, Thor with a harpoon. Who doesn’t want to see that?

For my non-land-locked brothers and sisters, what do you think of the ocean? Scary or beautiful? Enemy of God or symbol of the divine? Chime in and let me know what you think.

Blessings

Lessons From Tragedy?

I am a sucker for a happy ending. I like when boy gets girl, when the world is saved, when a lesson is learned and everyone comes out the richer (emotionally and spiritually, not necessarily monetarily) for the experience. I believe that there is something deep in the souls of humankind that longs for the “happily ever after” offered by our fairy tales, even if we don’t think it actually happens in real life. This “something,” mirrors the end of the Bible, when God finally vanquishes evil and everything turns out all right.

Yet, most of my favourite films are tragedies. Braveheart, Gladiator, and my newest favourite, The Prestige (which has been out for ten years, but I finally got around to seeing just this past weekend) all see the downfall of their protagonists by the end of the story. The heroes come up against forces they cannot overcome, whether a foreign oppressor, an corrupt leader, or selfish ambition, and eventually succumb. Not the happy ending we hope for. So, what makes them so compelling?

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In the first two, we find heroes who seek revenge and justice (coincidentally, for the murder of their wives) against a powerful foe. Even though both could probably have turned from their path and avoided their fateful end, their passions keep them on course. We cheer because they are on the side of justice. The heroes have been wronged, people have been hurt, and we want to see the bad guys get their comeuppance. In the end, they succeed in their quest, but it costs them their lives.

On the other side, we also get to see the tragic fall of the antagonists.Claudius’ obsession with being loved (stemming from a lack of love from his father), drives him to horrendous acts of evil, and ultimately, his own downfall. He dies unloved and alone. Edward Longshanks’ pride and ambition leads him to the dissolution of his bloodline, with everything he has fought for at an end.

The Prestige, on the other hand, pits two “protagonists” against each other. We watch as their competition and rivalry (also started by the death of a wife…I’m seeing a trend) consumes the two of them. With several opportunities to walk away, neither chooses to stop the fight, and the battle reaches show-stopping heights and heart-wrenching lows.

In the end, these tragedies teach us something about life, and ultimately, God. Our first two, heroes fighting for justice, teach us that the cause of Good is not an easy, or cheap path to follow. We must be ready to sacrifice everything in our walk with God, or else we will not finish the journey. We must be ready to give our very lives if we want to see change.

They also serve as warnings against our pride. If not for ego, The Prestige would be a much shorter, albeit duller, story. We get to learn the lessons of those pushed too far by their thirst for glory or revenge without the horrific consequences.

I think I like tragedies because they show us people pushed to the very boundaries of the self. Some, when pushed, show the glory of God as sacrificial Lamb. Others, the pain and misery that accompany a fall from grace. From both, we learn the cost of living in a fallen world, the cost of being human.

But what do you think? Are you drawn to tragedies, or avoid them like the plague? Can we learn more from the “tales of woe,” or have I stretched beyond what the allegory can hold? Chime in!

Blessings

Advent: All You Need Is Love

This final “week” of Advent, we look to the theme of love. I thought about writing something new, but after listening to the voiceover I wrote for our Advent bumper video at church this weekend, I decided it perfectly summed up what I wanted to say about Love this Christmas.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God loves you. Do you know that? I mean, beyond just saying so because you’re in church. Do you really know that the Good Lord, the one who created everything in the entire universe loves you so passionately that He would let His only Son die on a cross for you?

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Seems everyone these days is talking about love. But how many of them really know what the word means? If we really think about it, it’s far more than just nice feelings or affection, or being all giddy inside. It’s a deep, burning desire for someone else’s good. It’s so deep that it can cost you everything you’ve got, even your life.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

So, when I say that God loves you enough to send down the little baby Jesus, He knew what it was going to cost. When the High Prince of Heaven came down to earth, it was because He felt a love so deep for you that He couldn’t stay on His throne.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

We might see hate everywhere we look today, but as we light this candle, we remember that Jesus is the ultimate symbol of the Father’s love. This light shines in the darkness, holding back the one who would try to smother us in his hate. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we stand up against the enemy of our souls and take the side of Love.

Blessings

Lest We Forget

This week, in Canada and across the Commonwealth, we observe Remembrance Day, a day to remember and honour the service and sacrifice of the men and women who fought and died for the freedoms we currently enjoy. Other countries observe similar memorial days on November 11th, as that is the date of the end of hostilities in World War I. This day is often marked with parades, memorial services, and moments of silence. It’s symbols include (in Canada, at least) the red poppy and the phrase “Lest we forget.”

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

This past week, I was able to find out the history of the phrase “Lest we forget,” and I find it rather interesting, and more than a little ironic. (I found the information on Interesting Literature, if you’re curious) Rudyard Kipling (of The Jungle Book and So-So Stories fame), composed the poem “Recessional” for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The poem acts as a prayer, that God would keep Britain from disaster and to keep her true to the Christian faith. The “Lest we forget,” is an admonition to not forget the God that sustains and protects the British people.

Herein, I think, lies the irony. We have adopted a phrase to ensure we don’t forget, but have forgotten what the phrase originally asked us to remember!

Don’t get me wrong, I think we should remember the courage and sacrifice of those who have fought, and continue to fight for us, and I think Remembrance Day is incredibly important. But perhaps we should remember the One who oversees all, including our soldiers.

For those interested, here is Rudyard Kipling’s poem:

Recessional

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!
Amen.

To all of those who are serving today, thank you. To those who have died so I may live, I will not forget.

Blessings

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