In Need of De-dragoning

Today I got to spend the day with my wife at her university. The roads were frightening, so I drove her in rather than sentencing her to the highways alone. While she sat in class, I did some marking and reading in the picturesque student area of Campion College. As I worked, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversations going on nearby. One in particular caught my attention, and despite my attempts to shake it, I couldn’t. Two young women sat just down from my table, and talked for a couple of hours about a great many things. But as the minutes stretched on, and one hour turned into two, it became apparent that the content of their chatter wasn’t substance; it was nothing. To be more specific, it was an egocentric, preferential, stating of opinion that didn’t have any (helpful) shape or direction (or purpose).

Now, I’m being rather harsh here. I’m certainly no stranger to this sort of interaction. When speaking to another person, what is more natural or familiar than to speak about myself? It’s a basic mode of communication for individuals in relation to one another. As Gabriela, the nice lady with whom my sister and I stayed in Mexico, used to say, that sort of chatter is “siempre sobre mi” (“always about me”).

I suppose the conversation I overheard at Campion caught my attention because lately I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ call to discipleship. In the days of the first century, the basis of one’s life seemed to be in the family structure, and breaking ties with that structure seemed unwise and unthinkable. Today, I wonder if the basis of one’s life is no longer the family structure, but the self, the ego. “I” is the foundation on which everything that is achieved is mounted. I’m sure this was quite prevalent in Jesus’ day too, for Luke includes the emphatic “even your own life” to the list of relations we are to hate or renounce.

It’s undeniable that individualism drives our North American world these days. I guess I thought I’d come across different sorts of conversations while sitting in a Catholic college student area, in a school that boasts of classical learning. But what have I to boast? I’m just as egotistically driven as those two young women at Campion when it gets down to it. I realize that afresh each day as I live alongside my wife. There seems to be no greater task than that of divorcing myself from myself. It truly is a death, a daily death, that I must go through in order to rid myself of my own desperate grasp. As personal freedoms go, I don’t think there is anything quite so full of bondage as considering myself to hold the key to my own free will.

The obvious direction here is to turn to Jesus and ask for help. “Take hold of me and rip my self away as Aslan did for poor old dragoned Eustice, and grant me the freedom that exists only in total submission.”


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Delirious?, your future starts today

Yesterday, Delirious?, a band of five men from Littlehampton, UK, who have led the Church in song and cried out for 17 years for people to get out into the streets and change the world for the kingdom, have hung their hats and their guitars.

Delirious? always said that they would never stop until they had created their very best work. It is clear now that their “best” is beyond the music. Lead voice Martin Smith, along with his wife Anna, have started a charity, CompassionArt, “dedicated to seeing works of art generate income for the poorest of the poor.” Last year they brought together their friends of the music world, and produced a CD full of songs adding commentary to the injustice experienced in so much of the world. 100% of those proceeds went to specific charities funded by CompassionArt.

Martin Smith stated, “As a song writer and a person with a microphone I made a promise to try and do something about it. What better than to call on my friends and do something together. To be people that can make a change rather than just singing about it.”

This is the future for Martin and his family.

I’ve been listening/following Delirious? since their early days in the early 90’s, so it’s incredibly sad for me to watch them exit the stage for the last time, knowing the world has heard the last D:tune. But I’m proud too, knowing this band was never about the fame or the money. They felt called to make a change, to turn hearts toward God, and provide a voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. Now they step out of the concert spotlight, costumes, and equipment, and into the world of direct service.

Here’s a song for you from their latest live DVD, in Bogota, Columbia. It’s called “Break the Silence,” which is a call for the Church to find its voice and stand for those who can’t stand on their own.

Citizens with a secret in our hands
That could ignite our shadow lands
Light it up and let it go
Let it shine with love and grace and a redesign
A ray of hope for the common man
Light it up and let it go

Oh, oh, oh,
We’ve got to give it away
And there’s a price to pay
When we give it away

Break the silence, break the silence,
Cross ever boundary that divides us, divides us
Break the silence, break the silence,
Cross ever border that divides us, oh, unite us

We turn the page, to a future just begun
If heaven is real then let our heaven become
Peace on earth, let it flow.
We raise our voice where the colours all but gone
Paint the world with redemption songs
Stir it up let it flow.

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‘Love’ and Discipleship in the Gospel of John

Here’s a question for you: Does the use of “love” in John match the use of “hate” in Luke?

That is far too broad (and probably inaccurate) a question to ask. My question is specifically about John 21:15-17, in which Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

As explored in my last post, in Luke 14:26 μισέω (“hate”) is used as a term of renunciation, renouncing one’s family as the foundation of security, belonging, and living and taking on Jesus as that foundation instead. In this sense, to hate my family means not that I harbor psychological hostility toward it, but that I no longer belong to/with my family, but belong to/with Jesus.

With this in mind, my question is: Since “love” is usually regarded as the opposite of “hate,” does Jesus’ question in John 17 have anything to do with the call to discipleship? Is this three-fold question of love a way of reinstating Peter as a disciple after he denied Jesus three-fold? Does “love” in this context mean the opposite of what “hate” means in Luke 14? In other words, does “love” in John 17 mean “proclamation of loyalty and belonging” while “hate” in Luke 14 means “renunciation of loyalty and belonging”?

I’ll be barking up this tree for the next week or so. Stay tuned.

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‘Hate’ and Following Jesus in Luke 14

When it comes to his teachings about discipleship, Jesus says some pretty difficult things. In Luke 14, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters — and even himself — he is not able to be my disciple” (14:26).

This statement seems to contradict ‘nicer’ things said by Jesus, such as: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:47), or “And just as you would wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31).

Why this talk of hating? Μισέω is typically translated as “hate.” According to BDAG, μισέω can also mean, to “disfavor, disregard in contrast to preferential treatment” (BDAG 653 §2; cf.Matt 6:24, Lk 16:13, John 12:25, Rom 9:13). (LSJ doesn’t give any sources in support of this un-preferential treatment.) In I. Howard Marshall’s opinion, μισέω “is usually said to have its Semitic sense, ‘to love less’” (Marshall, 592; cf. Gen 29:31-33, Deut 21:15-17, 2 Sam 19:7, Prov 13:24, Isa 60:15, Mal 1:2, Rom 9:13, 1 John 2:9). This is detectable in Matthew’s parallel: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37-38).

In this way, μισέω isn’t a psychological hostility, but a renunciation, a disowning, or rejection (Marshall, 592; TDNT IV, 690). As a person chooses to follow Jesus, to become his disciple, he or she must sever the natural connections and obligations he or she has toward father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, and to renounce even himself/herself. According to Bonhoeffer, “By calling us [Jesus] has cut us off from all immediacy with the things of this world. He wants to be the centre; through him alone all things shall come to pass” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 95). Such a separation would be extremely disorienting. As Carson Brisson comments,

These words enter a cultural setting in which an individual was primarily defined, from birth through death, by her or his family. In such a milieu, this saying sounds a call for individuals and the community of faith to embrace discipleship to Jesus as their new and ultimate basis for personal and corporate identity (cf. 8:19-21). Such a call would have presented a radically impractical choice, not simply an emotionally difficult one, and a nearly impossible act in a cultural setting in which contemporary definitions of freedom as individual self-assertion and many contemporary forms of economic support outside one’s family system did not exist. . . . If God’s invitation is so urgent and so absolute that an individual’s family ties no longer form the basis of her or his identity, what is left that discipleship may not require? (Brisson, Carson. Luke 14:26-27. Interpretation, 61 no 3 Jl 2007: 311)

The answer is, of course, “nothing.” There is no more to give after a disciple renounces even his/her own life. To make this ominously clear, Jesus states, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and comes after me is not able to be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Luke uses this language elsewhere, in 9:23 in which Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The cross is, of course, and ultimately, a death sentence. Here, though, the cross also communicates the manner of life those who follow Jesus can expect – namely, one of shame and suffering. Just imagine, if we find it difficult today in our own time and culture to step outside the bounds of what our family members expect from us, how much more difficult would this task be within the bounds of the shame-honor culture of first-century Judea? But Jesus doesn’t call us to an easy life. He calls us to a life submitted completely to him. This is why the apostles refer to themselves as δοῦλος τοῦ Ἰσοῦ Χριστοῦ, “slave of Jesus Christ.” The life I live is not to be my own. In following Jesus’ call, I give up my right to direct my own life. It’s a total submission, an absolute resignation of self-sovereignty. If I declare that Jesus is Lord (κύριος), then that declaration has something to say about me too — that I am his servant, his slave. Jesus becomes the anchor of our new reality. He is the mediator through whom we relate to the world and other people. No longer am “I” the lowest common denominator, but Jesus instead.

Ultimately, this order to “hate” is a declaration of where life is found. Am I so certain that there is more life to be found in my familial relations than in Jesus, or more life in wealth or in the other forms of security this world can offer? Or am I willing to let go of absolutely everything to which I previously clung to cling singularly to the one who offers life like no other can?

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Joyeux Noël and the Death of War

Since I wasn’t able to attend a memorial service this year, I decided to observe Remembrance Day by watching a couple of movies that bear witness to the sacrifice and suffering of those who fought on behalf of their countries. One of these movies was Joyeux Noël. This film joyeux_noelwas particularly good at portraying the hardship and anguish of soldiers in the trenches of World War I. In this story, three generals — German, French, and Scottish — along with their units, are brought together by the celebration of Christmas.

In the dreary dark of Christmas Eve, a German officer who before the war had been a vocalist in Berlin, sang “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). Close by in their own trenches, the French and the Scots listened to the hopeful song of the German singer. The Scots joined in with their bagpipes, and soon, all the soldiers left their trenches to meet one another in peace on the battle field.

There they shared stories of home and tears for loss they had already incurred thus far in battle. Many even exchanged addresses with the intent of taking up friendship again once the mess of war had ended. At the high point of this meeting, the Scottish priest led the who assembly in the Christmas midnight mas. Participating together, they were no longer enemies, but fellow men who were all here by the same unfortunate circumstances, forced into combat by the will of their homelands. This was a really striking picture of peace that can come by love in Christ — even in the midst of war.

During the mas, the artillery fire booming in the distance reminded all that though they might forget war in the moment, the war had certainly not forgotten them. At this, they exchanged greetings of “Merry Christmas” and “good luck,” and returned to their trenches.

One of the most memorable scenes is one in which the German singer-now-soldier confronts his general, asking if they must go on to kill again now that they had truly come to know those they had regarded enemies. He said, “To die tomorrow is even more absurd than to die yesterday.” How foolish it would seem, having now experienced the peace of Christmas Eve, to die by the hands that offered friendship only the night before?

This war was to be the War to End All Wars. But really, going to war can’t truly cause the end of war. The only thing capable of ending war, as was so grandly demonstrated in Joyeux Noël, is the peace that comes through love in Christ. Let love be the foreign policy that guides nations in their dealings with one another. Let love be the ‘war’ that is fought, and it really will be the War to end all others.

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A Delirious? Ending

Delirious? - Stew Smith, Jon Thatcher, Stu Garrard, Tim Jupp, Martin Smith

Since the early nineties, Stew Smith, Jon Thatcher, Stu Garrard, Tim Jupp, and Martin Smith have been travelling the world, and writing music to capture the vision of the church and to ignite its heart. For more than fifteen years they have shaped and reshaped the worship genre, and have tried to blur the lines between “Christian” and “mainstream” music. And now their time together is soon coming to a close. Next month Delirious? launches its final tour, “History Makers – Farewell Tour,” in Europe and the British Isles. Unfortunately they aren’t including North America in their final tour. I’ve been a big fan since 1995 or so, so there will be a big D? shaped hole in my fandom when November is over… I’ve had the chance to see them twice, in Edmonton and Ottawa; it’s always a treat. If you find yourself in Europe next month, be sure to catch a show if tickets are still available!

Below is Delirious? playing “Investigate” at Willow Creek in Chicago as part of their Now is the Time tour. I’ve always thought it to be one of their most reaching, desperate sort of songs; straining to allow God to tear into the heart and purify what he finds.

Investigate my life and make me clean
Shine upon the darkest place in me
To you my life’s an open book
So turn the page and take a look
Upon the life you’ve made
Always, my days, I’ll praise

Fly away, where heaven calls my name
Fly away, I’ll never be the same
Investigate, I can’t wait
Excavate, recreate

Investigate my life and take me through
Shine upon the road that leads to you
I know you’d heard the words I’d say
Before I’d even lived one day
You knew the life you’d made
Always, my days, I’ll praise

Investigate my life and make me clean
Shine upon the darkest place in me
When I go, when I return you’ve seen your holy fire burn
Upon the life you made
Always, I’ll praise

This song appears originally on their Glo album (short for “Glory”), from 2000. About its writing, Stu Garrard says,

“Psalm 139 is one of my favorites. Whenever I read it, I’m struck by the words “God, investigate my life; get all the facts first hand.” I really do want to be an ‘open book’ and often think about God exploring my thoughts and motives, searchlight in hand. Reading this psalm gives me a feeling of being totally surrounded by God – not being able to escape and not wanting to, either. He knows my thoughts; He knows the words on my lips before I speak. He is before and me behind me; there is nowhere I can go to flee from His presence. He formed me and knew who I was even before I was born. If I could fly away to the ends of the earth, He’d be there waiting for me. The thing is, I don’t feel hemmed in – I feel liberated. Psalm 139 closes with the words:

‘Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong – then guide me on the road to eternal life (vv. 23-24, THE MESSAGE).’

Determined words of a psalmist on a journey, flavored with introspection and perhaps a little melancholy . . . perfect for the key of D minor, don’t you think?”

I Could Sing of Your Love Forever: stories, reflections and devotions. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007; pages 43-44


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Living Offline – perhaps not a bad idea

The other day I watched the fairly new movie, “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world experiences life through these machine-bodied surrogates, while the ‘operators’ remain in the safety of their homes.

I watched it because 1) I like science fiction and 2) Bruce Willis stars. I liked the movie. It had enough twists to keep you guessing, and the action was fairly strong throughout.

The most impacting line of the whole film, for me anyway, was spoken by the antagonist after he reveals his sinister plan to destroy the machines. He says, “Human beings weren’t meant to experience life through machines!”

How very true! When computers were created, they were to save us time (and paper), but nothing seems to consume our time each day quite so much as our many electronic devices. When I think about how many hours I spend on a computer when I have some spare time or a day off, I think I’d be embarrassed to reveal the number. I’m grateful for much of what I can accomplish from my home computer, like communication with people far away, online banking, purchasing books and other items, and even searching for journal articles and things like that. But everything in moderation. The ease with which anyone can administrate their life on a computer, on the internet, is helpful. But if a person’s use of these things isn’t managed or moderated, it can easily become a colossal waste of time.

No wonder people back a century had such greater knowledge of things like philosophy, Latin, and Greek. They had no ‘time saving devices’ to eat up their every day.

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