Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2018

Names of God: YHWH Nissi (banner)

Banners or flags serve various purposes in our society. We see them prominently displayed in settings such as national celebrations, at borders, atop government buildings, at sporting events, and in military settings. But Banner as a name for God is a bit unexpected.

YHWH Nissi is only mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible, at the end of a story which chronicles the first armed conflict of the nation of Israel. Though just a few months out of slavery, the people of Israel have had their share of troubles. They ran out of food, so God provided manna and quails. They also ran out of water, so Moses struck a rock and water came gushing out. Even so, morale is low and complaints are high. Now at Rephidim (most likely a valued oasis), they are attacked by the Amalekites, nomads in the region who are protecting what they view as their territory. Moses tells Joshua to take some men and go out and fight, then indicates that he will stand atop a hill with the staff of God in hand.

The battle is …

what is freedom?

In English usage, freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, and think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Most often, at least in our Western context, we use the word freedom to refer to self-determination, meaning we are free to be who we want to be, to do what we want to do, to say what we want to say.

This way of thinking about freedom has some problems. First, it assumes that we have relatively few limitations as human beings when, in fact, we all have limited choices and options in life. Not everyone has the capacity to be an astronaut or an Olympic swimmer or an opera singer or the Prime Minister. I could do none of those things well. I also cannot be a cat or a bird, much as I would like to be able to jump six times my height or fly by moving my arms. Viewing freedom as pure self-determination gives us an inflated sense of our own agency. It also sidesteps the fact that we do not function in isolation; our choices and actions have implications for other…

sacred spaces

Many of us associate sacred space with a religious site or a church, but in reality, it can be any place in which we encounter the Spirit of Jesus, any place that is set apart by and for the presence of God. A bush in the back side of the wilderness became a sacred space when it caught fire; its unusual flame attracted Moses to a missional encounter with YHWH. The muddy water of the Jordan River became a sacred place of healing when a military commander dipped his diseased body in the river. A community well in the despised region of Samaria became a sacred space when a woman with a tainted reputation responded to Jesus' request for water. Perhaps the most unexpected sacred space in the Christian tradition is the wooden instrument of torture known as the cross, for on it Christ defeated sin and death through an act of divine love.

During the Vineyard National Gathering in Montreal last month, I led a small group in exploring some of the sacred spaces in the city. Montreal is home…

give us this day our daily bread

Over the summer, our faith community has been making its way through what is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. This week we looked at the phrase: "give us this day our daily bread." At first glance, it reads like a simple request for God to grant supplicants food for the day, but there is a lot packed into these these few words.

BREAD: The Greek work here is artos, meaning leavened, regular bread. In this particular context, it is used as a synecdoche, a word which names a small thing, a part, but actually refers to the whole, to something much greater than its literal meaning. Like saying "wheels" when referring to a car or saying "hired hand" when meaning much more than just someone's hand, bread here is not just a loaf of baked dough. It is a meal (to break bread with someone is to share a meal). It is shorthand for sustaining food (bread is considered a staple). It is provision (to take bread for the journey means to take provisions, see G…

Teach us to pray...

In Matthew 6, we find what is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer (a shorter version also appears in Luke 11). For centuries, the church has recited these words both publicly and privately, many viewing them as the ultimate example of prayer. But was Jesus actually offering his disciples a perfect prayer for them to copy? A template for all future prayers? It might be helpful to start with a more basic question: What does it mean to pray?

When we look closely at Jesus' communication with his Father in heaven, we notice that all of it is based in relationship. For Jesus, prayer is never an attempt to control or manipulate the divine will. In other words, prayer is not magic, not a formula or an energy force to be employed to shift circumstances in one's favour. When Jesus prays, he is cultivating union with God. He is abiding in God. One could say that when Jesus prays, he is getting on the same page as his Father. Jesus invites his disciples into this same type of union w…

theology from the margins: God of Hagar

Our contexts have major implications for how we live our lives and engage with our world, that much is obvious. However, we sometimes overlook how much they inform our concepts of God. For those of us occupying the central or dominant demographic in society, we often associate God with power and truth. As a result, our theology is characterized by confidence, certainty, and an expectation that others should be accommodating. For those of us living on the margins of society, our sense of belonging stranded in ambiguity, God is seen as an advocate for the powerless. Our theology leans more toward inclusivity, and we talk less about divine holiness and righteousness and more about a God who suffers. On the margins, the priority is merciful and just action, not correct beliefs. 
There are significant theological incongruences between Christians who occupy the mainstream segment of society and those who exist on the margins. The world of theology has been dominated by Western male thought…

greater than

Jesus says something to his disciples in John 14 which seems a bit gutsy, maybe even a bit hyperbolic. At the very least, it is puzzling. He says, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:11-12). Jesus is talking to his closest friends about his impending departure, telling them not to be troubled, assuring them that he is not abandoning them. The unity Jesus enjoys with his Father is the unity into which Jesus invites his disciples through the Spirit of God, the Advocate, the Helper. In this passage, Jesus is not making a statement about how impressive their miracles will be, but letting them know that his physical departure will not result in a cessation of the work of God. In fact, quite the opposite.

Much time has been spent by readers and interpreters trying to decipher what Jesus means by "greater works." The charismatics ten…

gates, doorways, and thresholds

We go through doorways and openings every day, stepping across thresholds as we do, and seldom think much about it. But thresholds and doorways and gates are significant places, liminal spaces which tie two realms together. Thresholds are places of transition and decision. They are entrances and openings to new worlds, offering promise and invitation, but they are also places of ambiguity and disorientation. Open the door of your warm, cozy home during a blistering blizzard in the dead of winter and you know what I mean. Or step through the doorway of a plane after you land in a foreign country and you know the feeling.

Gates are important places in the biblical text. We read about certain events happening "in the gate." This makes little sense unless we know something about ancient cities. A city usually had a wall around it and where there was a gate into the city, an outer gate would be built around it, providing a second line of defence. Between the inner and the outer …

patriarchy and the Bible

The Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament, sometimes gets a bad rap. So much violence, so many harsh judgments and prophecies, so much bad behaviour, so much patriarchy. At first glance, it seems to paint a rather unattractive picture not only of the people of God but of God himself. But if we look a little closer, we find that things are not always as they seem. Take patriarchy, for example.

Patriarchy is a societal and familial system in which the father and the eldest male are the authority figures. The first-born son dominates the family in power, wealth, and privilege. It is a system very unfriendly to women and anyone not lucky enough to be the firstborn male. And this objectionable, unjust system seems to lie at the very foundation of Judaism and Christianity. What is one to do with those pesky patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

The first thing we can do is note that while patriarchy is the context of the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is not the message. S…

for and with

Prepositions are rather tricky. When learning a new language, these small connecting words are one of the most difficult elements to get right. Prepositions are generally short and simple words, but they carry great weight. Is Bob running to Julie or from Julie? Are you at your desk or under your desk? The entire meaning of a sentence can hinge on a preposition and dictate whether one should be comforted or alarmed. Is the cat on your stomach or in your stomach?

Prepositions are relationship words. They define how subjects, objects, and other elements of a sentence relate to each other. In the context of religion, prepositions reveal how we relate to God and to the world. Two prepositions, in particular, seem quite important in matters of faith and spirituality: for and with. We thank Jesus because he died for us. We ask God to do things for us. We say that God is for us and not against us. The word "for" places us in a receiving, passive position and defines God as the pri…

worship: what? why? how?

A significant portion of our gathering as a church community is spent in what we call worship. It is usually a time when we sing songs together. For the most part, we assume that people know what to do during these times of worship. We encourage people to engage, to be present, to participate, but we say very little about what that might look like. In some ways, worship is natural; we easily attribute worth and value to those things which we admire and love. But the expression of those beliefs or feelings needs to be cultivated, developed, and practised. Worshipping God is something we need to learn how to do.
Worship, what is it? Worship is closely related to love. In fact, sometimes I find it helpful to substitute the word “love” for “worship.” Worship is demonstrating love and devotion to someone or something (worth-ship). Worship is an expression that comes out of our deepest convictions, feelings, and desires. It is the heart in full bloom. Worship is both personal and communal. …

the gift of process

As I sit down to write a blog today, this has been my process thus far. Look at an idea I jotted down several weeks ago. Try to remember why it seemed important and exciting at the time. Get a drink. And a bowl of popcorn. Iron some shirts. Look out the window at the rain. Research flights for an upcoming trip. Get another drink. Look through some scribbled notes that I put in a file. Yes, that might be something. Or not. Decide to have lunch and watch a design show, hoping that will put me in a more creative space. The show is over. Sit in the chair and start typing. Read it over and ask myself, is this really anything? Do I keep going or do I toss it out? Think about alternate careers, perhaps investing in a popcorn company. Eat chocolate. Sit at the computer again and type some more. Decide that writing something today is important, even if I delete most of it tomorrow. Wonder if inspiration is on vacation. Wish I was on vacation. Look out the window. Type more words. Delete a few…

vertical theology

Much of the thinking and writing I have been doing for the past year or so, especially in academic settings, has to do with how hierarchy is embedded in our theology and ways of structuring communities. To me, that's not a g