Converge http://convergemagazine.com Thu, 21 May 2015 19:25:35 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 “Online Community” Is a Poor Substitutehttp://convergemagazine.com/online-ordination-3396/ http://convergemagazine.com/online-ordination-3396/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 18:25:08 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com?p=3396 “Online Community” Is a Poor Substitute by Kurt Willems

My pastoral residency came to an end recently.  During the few years of my work there, my pastoral license found...

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“Online Community” Is a Poor Substitute by Kurt Willems

My pastoral residency came to an end recently.  During the few years of my work there, my pastoral license found its validity in the denomination of that church.  But upon leaving, my license expired.  Certainly there are worst things in life, but my issue was that I had already committed to perform two weddings!  I began to panic when the legal dots connected.

But then the rescue I needed came forth: the Internet.  The World Wide Web fixes all fixable situations when a problem presents. All one has to do is simply “Google it” and everything typically works out fine.  What’s the name of that actor from “One Tree Hill?”  How do you clean a pan when boiled grease is stuck to its surface?”  Who sang that song from the late nineties that won’t pop out of my head?  You know… that one tune: “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.” For all these answers and more: Google.

So I Googled to my hearts content.  Get ordained for free!  Ordinations for all 50 states.  Perform weddings. These headlines kept me disappointed until I found what might be the only legit looking evangelical organization that ordains.  I refused to get certified by either: a) an organization that had “American” in the title, b) an organization that conflicted with core Christian values.

When my online transaction finished processing, I began to wait eagerly for my ordination pack to show up in my P.O. Box.  And let me tell you, what a glorious pack it was!  Not only did I get a full-size certificate of ordination and a pocket version, but the organization also sent a “letter of good standing!” I’m officially in good standing with a group of people whom I never met.  I’m the real deal. For the first time in my life, I can say that I’m an ordained minister of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ — to Him be the glory!  And, for the low, low, cost of $47, you can be too.

But this begs a question.  Why is it that an Internet organization can ordain me for ministry?  Do they know me? No.  Did they lay hands on me to commission and inaugurate my commitment to life-long ministry? No.  Are they a community of faith that I can look to for deep support? No.  They are an extension of the World Wide Web.  They are not my community.

Many characteristics of Christian community can indeed be aided online. We certainly can get to know people through the Web.  Many readers and fellow bloggers are indeed part of my formation and community experience in a deep way. My friend Dan Martin wrote about this in a piece called “The Church Virtual,” which demonstrates this reality.  However, I fear with the emergence of Internet church campuses, blogging, podcasts, and the vast resources for Christian experiences accessible from any desk in the world; that if we are not careful, Christian community will fade like a fad.

A primary metaphor for Christian community in the New Testament is “the body of Christ.”  Related to this stands the reality of Christ’s incarnation.  As John says: “…the Word took on flesh.”  Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s impossible to be “incarnational” through a disembodied communication medium.  This is not to say that what happens online can’t make a positive impact in people’s enfleshed situations (if so, I blog in vain!), but that nothing replaces a flesh and blood experience.

Someday I hope to have a community that will “ordain” me as their pastor (and hopefully it won’t cost $47!).  I want to experience that flesh and blood community, right now!  The Web serves as a wonderful supplement for community, but if it replaces enfleshed relationships, we may need to reevaluate our priorities.

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Photo by (Flickr CC): bealluc

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The Family Tree of Lifehttp://convergemagazine.com/the-family-tree-of-life-16012/ http://convergemagazine.com/the-family-tree-of-life-16012/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 17:08:52 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16012 The Family Tree of Life by Michelle Sudduth

Within the story of creation, God is very clear that aloneness is a state that is “not good.” God carefully...

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The Family Tree of Life by Michelle Sudduth

Within the story of creation, God is very clear that aloneness is a state that is “not good.” God carefully ensured the world was free from the design flaw of loneliness by creating companionship. From this union, a family would form and multiply like the branches of a tree.

Our families go way back. I mean, way back — all the way to the beginning. Think of how many members there are in your family tree: way too many to count! We have a very big family, and we haven’t met the vast majority of relatives that share the same branch.

Perhaps your personal twig on the tree is full of lush leaves, getting direct sunlight every day. It might even be the one that old couples, on their post-dinner walk, would gush over. Or maybe it’s the exact opposite. Maybe you feel like your twig is weak, and seems to have some sort of molecular fungus. It doesn’t look all that pretty — heck, you’re just glad it hasn’t fallen off completely. If this is you, take courage. You are not alone in the world, though it may feel that way. The rest of you are probably somewhere in between these metaphorical placements on the big family tree of humanity; your twigs have a share of both beauty and disease.

Just as a twig takes its form from the branch it stems from, each of us reflect the beauty and disease of our families. Some of us have courageously identified where life has flourished and where it has died as a result of generational blessing or curse. Particularly difficult and important is the task of being gut-level honest about how the branches we come from may be infected. No amount of positive thinking, denial, or obsessive overcompensation fixes family disease. Any doctor will tell you that physical infections must have antibiotics or they will result in the loss of a limb or even death. The diseased family tissues must be identified, opened, cleared, and healthfully reconnected to the tree in order for the beauty of God’s original design for relationship to be established. This gruelling process of regeneration is at the base of why relationships can be so hard. And most of us make it harder when we avoid owning the root of our greatest infections, until a crisis forces us to take seriously the severity of our family’s disease.

At the end of Ephesians 3, Paul prays for the family of God to be rooted and established in love, so they would have the power to comprehend and be filled with Christ’s love. This power is what we need in order to be thriving twigs, with relational wholeness beyond what we ever could imagine. Instead of rotting at the base, our twigs need the nourishment of God’s pure, righteous, and good love.

We can’t fix infectious diseases ourselves — we simply don’t have the antibiotics. God has designed us to thrive within familial love. He beckons each of us to come to Him with all our infected parts, with everything that gets in the way of connecting to our neighbouring twigs. God is the great arborist, the true Father, the originator of humanity’s big and beautiful family tree. In His kind and good love, we find healing for every broken, generational sickness. And in His kind and good love, we can grasp the hope of an eternity of familial wholeness.

Originally published in Issue 15 of Converge Magazine.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC): Brooke Hoyer

 

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Longing Wronglyhttp://convergemagazine.com/longing-wrongly-3323/ http://convergemagazine.com/longing-wrongly-3323/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:00:26 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com?p=3323 Longing Wrongly by Tracy Le

There is a longing deep down in my gut. It is infused with pain and passion. It might not be...

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Longing Wrongly by Tracy Le

There is a longing deep down in my gut. It is infused with pain and passion. It might not be the right kind of longing though. You see, I am single. Because I am single, I can be found prone to spiraling down from complete contentment in the Lord to complete longing for compliments and glances from the guy with a sharp haircut who tells me my dress looks nice or the guy with the ironic mustache who tells me my hair smells lovely. My foundation rocks and steadiness dissipates. I just want what I want because I don’t have it. How does anybody live single life successfully, when we long so wrongly? How can I stand firm when I find myself drowning in waves of want and desire?

On a good day, my aches are for the source of light, and not for mere flickers or flashes of lust. My spirit, adamant, intervenes consistently to cultivate and conquer the hardship that is anything outside of Jesus Christ. But like many, I often thirst for recognition — to be loved. Even if it means being loved by all the wrong people. I am too often found searching for what I think I need, when already what I do need has been sustaining me and has been found for me in it’s entirety by a loving Father. The fact is there is peace, there is forgiveness, and there is a promise.

I’m learning it is the sincere and close observations of what God has done and is doing for me. Simple acknowledgement and gratitude and for two main points in my life.

While I have chased these wants, His love remains faithful and wills me to remember His sweetness. His faithfulness has even driven mine into better form, as each day continues, one after the next. Even if I may feel further from a husband, I am closer to a bigger deal — longing firstly for God.

Secondly, I am unbroken and intact because of my singleness. Since there is a season to mourn and a season to rejoice, there is definitely a season to be single and to open my own doors. I will be glad to be in it because it is a rare, unique and special opportunity to trust, rely, and live in and for God alone. This is the time to give Him my undivided devotion.

So this is where I’m at right now. I wait and fend off emotions of bitterness. I am learning to be a person who remembers what He has done for her. Longing wrongly can easily turn into a self-defined version of “truth” that declares, “I lack, because I am single.” Because of real-life instances where I have to shove the door open myself or flee any area when music starts playing at a down-tempo, I’m learning gradually and graciously that my singleness subtly communicates a certain “vulnerability-meets-privilege.” On the one hand, I have to battle with feelings of want, but on the other I have the opportunity and the time to solidify my relationship with God. The best I can do is to continue to walk through the doors knowing full well that though I may have to open these doors by myself for now, I am walking towards the path of righteous longing. I am fulfilled in what I do not have because what I do have is certainly enough.

Flickr photo (cc) by Jenna Carver

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Cowboys and Angelshttp://convergemagazine.com/cowboys-angels-3734/ http://convergemagazine.com/cowboys-angels-3734/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 18:49:10 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com?p=3734 Cowboys and Angels by Chelsea Batten

I recently spoke with Mr. Gibson, the associate director of Lake Avenue Community Foundation in Pasadena. He told me a story about...

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Cowboys and Angels by Chelsea Batten

I recently spoke with Mr. Gibson, the associate director of Lake Avenue Community Foundation in Pasadena. He told me a story about cowboys.

Mr. Gibson’s takes underprivileged kids and gathers them in the company of real life cowboys; he takes them from their disparate enclaves in southern California to a environment that disorients everybody — a dude ranch in Wyoming.

This paradigm break equalizes the kids, he told me. With everybody out of their element, nobody’s in a position to condescend. Their shared disorientation draws them toward each other, causes them to bond and begin to learn from each other.

Nowhere is this more evident than when they take part in cattle branding.

This means chasing down a calf, roping it, taking it to the ground, branding it with a hot iron, and finally castrating it.

The kids from California are traumatized. But since they have to participate, their alarm emerges instead through language. From the urban kids, the cowboys hear what one might expect to hear — language of the very bluest. Meanwhile, the suburban kids can be heard exhorting whoever’s around to “shut the front door.”

Mr. Gibson tells me that the cowboy culture is one of honor and respect. Cowboys are not the linguistic counterparts of sailors. (This seems right to me — cowboys in the movies say more deadly things with a squint than I’ve ever heard in a rap song.)

He says that the cowboys are pretty affronted by the language they hear from the students. “They’re usually quite taken aback,” he tells me. “If that was my boy,” they say, “I’d wash his mouth out with soap.”

In the meantime, through submission to violence, heat, and blood, the kids from California are being forged into people of stronger character. (That’s the idea, anyway.) And maybe, when the human psyche is brought into necessary evils such as these, the only way for it to bear up is through language.

We are made for fight, or flight, in the face of trial. When neither are possible, where can the self emerge but in language?

But I keep thinking about the cowboys.

Sin purification is some kind of trauma, and not only to the soul. Sometimes the process is like a localized surgery. But sometimes it’s more like a car accident combined with a tumor extraction. Sometimes the experienced of being renewed is very unsightly.

Sometimes the angels must wonder, like the cowboys do about the students, why it’s worth bothering at all with creatures who can’t handle their shit during a routine sanctification. One that is not only brief in duration, but is heavily supervised by a trustworthy authority.

But Mr. Gibson doesn’t bring the kids to the ranch for the benefit of the cowboys. In fact, the cowboys are there for the benefit of the kids. In fact, everything is.

If the point of salvation was its cosmetic appeal, the sanctification process would surely be an occasion for God to retract his plan.

These are things into which angels long to look.

Angels might well marvel at how vulgar I am. Sometimes even I do. I’m unlikely to realize how vulgar I am until my heart overflows out of my mouth, and I look at it, and I see what I’m being saved from.

 

Flickr photo (cc) byThomas Izko

 

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DIY Spiritualityhttp://convergemagazine.com/ichristianity-16500/ http://convergemagazine.com/ichristianity-16500/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 05:51:29 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=16500 DIY Spirituality by Brett McCracken

The primacy of the individual–the encouragement to “climb every mountain,” pursue every dream and create every identity as we see fit–is unmistakable in modern western culture....

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DIY Spirituality by Brett McCracken

The primacy of the individual–the encouragement to “climb every mountain,” pursue every dream and create every identity as we see fit–is unmistakable in modern western culture. And the church has bought into it too.

This is one of the reasons why evangelical Christianity in the west is finding itself so confused, so weak and so easily defeated in LGBTQ discussions, for instance. We’re a fundamentally communal entity whose existence relies upon an authority beyond the individual, but you wouldn’t know it from the way we’ve preached, worshipped and lived. We’ve been complicit in a culture of individualism and perpetuated the very worldview that has led to our present problems with disintegrating consensus amidst DIY spirituality. To argue against someone’s individual rights or in any way question the validity of their “personal story” is, after all, to hypocritically renege on the logic of a “just me and Jesus” Christianity and the “personal relationship” narrative we’ve so enthusiastically preached.

We need to resist the iChurch model of tailoring church to its members’ lives and desires and instead condition members to tailor their lives, collectively, to the desires of Christ. We need to recognize the “personal relationship” language as a western individualist distortion and resist its manifestation in everything from the pronouns we use in our praise songs (“I” rather than “we”), the ways we label ourselves (individualist “Jesus follower” rather than communally associated “Christian”) to the way we structure our small-group discussions (“What does this passage mean to YOU?”). We need to resist the idolatry of “personal preference” religion, challenging ourselves to commit to a church even when it’s messy, uncomfortable, awkward and costly. We need to quit pitting Jesus against religion, as if we if can ever live without a head (Jesus) AND a body (the church). We need to resist building our identities on the American dream (an insatiable pursuit of self-justification) and instead accept our new identity of being justified in Christ to be God’s people (collective), a holy nation (collective), “living stones being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5)

Perhaps most importantly as it relates to the credibility of our witness, we need to call out the sin of going-it-my-own-way individualism wherever we see it. We need to call out the people who argue that following Jesus can happen in isolation from other believers. We need to call out the people who believe their marriages, families and financial decisions are private matters to be kept completely separate from a church community. We need to call out hypocrisy among those in our churches who insist on celibacy for gay Christians but are unwilling to welcome those same gay Christians into a tight-knit community where intimacy and family are offered. We need to call out sin consistently and not only where it suits us, calling on all members to embrace sacrifice and the denial of desires that conflict with the gospel.

Because only together will any of us grow into the people God calls us to be, to build the “spiritual house” the world needs to see.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC): Daniel Montemayor

 

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The Allusion of the Utopian Dreamhttp://convergemagazine.com/the-allusion-of-the-utopian-dream-15994/ http://convergemagazine.com/the-allusion-of-the-utopian-dream-15994/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 06:02:06 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15994 The Allusion of the Utopian Dream by Michelle Sudduth

We all have an insatiable desire for something more. In this frustrating life, where our appetite never ceases, we constantly...

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The Allusion of the Utopian Dream by Michelle Sudduth

We all have an insatiable desire for something more. In this frustrating life, where our appetite never ceases, we constantly find ourselves seeking to satiate these cravings. Usually, we end up concluding that we need more money to do so.

Yes, we all need to buy the basics like food and shelter. But most of us don’t have daydreams of eating hotdogs in our living room. We don’t have to look beyond our own shopping bags to see that our money is entangled with our longings. We want the prestige that a new car brings, to taste the success that an exotic vacation communicates, or to get that new dress that makes us appear confident.

This is the site of a major spiritual battleground: where our true needs duke it out with what our culture says we need.

You and I actually require very simple things to live. When enjoyed fully, even life’s basics carry with them enough of a daily load on their own.
Obviously, extras aren’t necessarily negative. And often they are even very good things. But they aren’t the ultimate “desire fulfillers” we mistake them for. The realities of death, economic crisis, and other circumstances out of our control reveal that unless there is richness to our daily lives, we will seek whatever we think will make us more fulfilled.

And when we find out that those things don’t satisfy our desires, we end up somewhere along the spectrum of disappointed to devastated. Often we discover we’ve got it all wrong, so we try something else. The painful cycle then repeats.

One of the primary invitations of the Christian life is for our emptiness to be filled with the riches of a relationship with God. And because it is a contender for the same real estate in our souls, money is one of the most addressed topics in Scripture. The book of Ecclesiastes sheds some light around the futility of human desire. We hear from King Solomon, someone who “had it all,” telling us that having it all doesn’t actually solve the problem of unfulfilled desire. Dreams that seem utopian are illusions.

I’m convinced the only way to handle money well is to receive it as a gift. If you have money, it is God who has shared it with you, along with the numerous graces that have allowed you to work, save, and build a life. In seeing the bounty that God has provided, our spirit becomes more grateful, generous, and wise with how we interact with our finances.

When our needs are prescribed by the world, we are snared with entitlement, stress, and control. But if we live within God’s economy, our spending will increasingly partake in the flourishing of the most important things in our personal lives, as well as in our local and global communities.
So start by asking yourself, “Where do I feel empty?” or “What areas do I wish to feel differently about myself or about my life?” Then ask, “What do I buy to avoid meeting God in those areas?”

Seek out wise counsellors, pastors, and other resources to deepen your spiritual formation. Because all of our choices in life, including the financial, begin in our hearts.

Let’s invite God to free us from the cultural and self-prescribed hamster wheels that are so easy to jump on and so difficult to jump off. We don’t need to be distracted from revising our behaviours by dwelling in shame and guilt over our financial mistakes. Instead, we can pray for the courage and faith to live within the freedom of God’s economy.

Originally published in Issue 17 of Converge Magazine.

 

Photo by (Flickr CC) Adrian Scottow

 

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The Value of Virginityhttp://convergemagazine.com/value-of-virginity-7508/ http://convergemagazine.com/value-of-virginity-7508/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 08:41:51 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=7508 The Value of Virginity by Chelsea Batten

Suddenly, we’re farther than I’ve ever gone before. Beyond the mind-altering sensations that follow one upon the other like stock...

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The Value of Virginity by Chelsea Batten

Suddenly, we’re farther than I’ve ever gone before. Beyond the mind-altering sensations that follow one upon the other like stock cars on their final lap, my ears are ringing with the impact of having met this unlikeliest of all people, to whom there’s no need to explain jokes or literary references or certain secret hopes, whose nearness sets my ears ringing with an inertial mantra:

“This is it. This is it. This is it . . .”

Suddenly, I’m angry. I’m angry because I’m not sure that he’s as sure as I am. Suddenly, with sex closer than it’s ever been, sex is beside the point. I don’t care that it’s not his first time, but I want it to be his first time feeling toward someone the way I feel toward him. To act as though sex with him is just . . . whatever . . . would be a lie — a lie about the oldest, truest part of me. And it would be equally a lie to proceed as though it isn’t important to me that sex with me be important to him.

So I say, “Wait.”

I’ve wondered ever since what my life would be like now, if I hadn’t said that then.

– – –

Those virgins who remain, floating on the periphery of modern culture like a raft full of castaways in sight of an Ibiza beach, may find themselves looking at each other and wondering, “How did we get here?”

Being possessed of your virginity is like owning a savings bond — worth keeping only until you understand its conceptual value. After that, it’s best cashed in before the exchange rate dips any lower; the harder you hold onto it, the harder it is to get rid of. Recently, a string of entrepreneurial virgins appeared, selling their virtue at auction and raising questions about the monetary worth of modern day maidenhood. Catarina Migliorini, a 20-year-old Brazilian woman whose beauty required several medical tests to prove the integrity of her offer, made nearly $800,000 off her first time (proceeds to benefit charity).

– – –

In ancient times, marrying a woman who wasn’t a virgin admitted the possibility of disease, political disturbance, and the possible late appearance of bastard children. Even as recently as the ’50s, a person’s own character was partly assessed by the virtue of their spouse, which could lead to restriction from social groups, clubs, and jobs even as lofty as the US presidency. Men might love their mistresses, but they didn’t marry them.

This made for a high value on virginity; it did not always make for good relationships. That became evident during the ’70s, when the divorce rate doubled in just 10 years, and brings us up to date, in an age where wives (and husbands) long for the relational privileges of mistresses.

We’ve also grown up with a century’s worth of mixed messages. In one ear, the church and the conservative mainstream beg us to suppress sexual feelings until we can fully indulge them, while in the other ear, psychology says that our very identity hinges on our freedom of sexual expression (with the resounding agreement of our hormones). The only thing they agree on is characterizing sexuality as both an ultimate good and an unstable compound, against which human beings have practically no power. (Nor, as Freud argued and Kinsey echoed, should they have any.) In light of all this, unmarried virgins are treated even by the church as accidents waiting to happen.

– – –

The most common (and perhaps most successful) objection to virginity goes along the lines of “What’s the big deal? It’s just sex.” But the objection itself reveals an implicit understanding that sex is not just sex, at all. If it’s simply a rite of physical pleasure, there’s no real need of another person’s involvement. (Indeed, if spokespeople like Louis C.K. can be believed, the DIY version can be better.)

What sex is really about was succinctly posited by God, right before He created the necessary condition for sex to occur:

“It is not good for man to be alone.”

 – – –

According to the Bible, sex is a physical way of binding yourself to someone. I don’t just mean the release of oxytocin, either. Sex is the integrated human being — mind, body, spirit, emotions —communicating to another integrated human being, “You are not alone. From now on, you have me.”

To be clear, this isn’t me getting poetic; I’m getting this from 1 Corinthians 6:12 through chapter 7. These verses indicate what sex is, and that it’s meant only for people who are married to each other.

There, I said it.

Accordingly, sex is largely a matter of truth between two people, and truth in sex is largely a matter of timing. Here’s what I mean:

Commitment is a strange word, a reflexive verb, where the subject makes itself the object. You commit yourself, and then you are committed. By saying you are committed to someone, you indicate that you have done something to yourself. In sexual relationships, the Bible indicates that what you must do to yourself is make another person your owner. (That’s 1 Corinthians 7:4.)

If you’re putting off marriage until you finish your school, or get your finances in order, or decide whether you’re really compatible, then you’re more obligated to those things than you are to the person you love. There’s no shame in that. But under these circumstances, having sex with someone is a lie.

It’s lying to the other person about himself (or herself), telling them they have you fully, when actually they don’t. It’s lying to yourself, that you’re committed to them, when actually you aren’t. It’s lying to both yourself and the other person about God, that He didn’t mean what He said through the Scripture about sex, or that He doesn’t know what you really need right now.

– – –

When I admit to others that I’m saving my first time for marriage (as of this moment), I can see the distance widen between us. From that moment forward, they’re either looking down on me as a pitiful case of sexual repression, or looking up to me like Dante’s Beatrice. I’m not interested in either position; both make me feel helplessly alone.

This is why I find virginity auctioneers to be only as culpable as the well-meaning church folks who hustle horny teenagers toward the altar. Virgins are not martyrs; they’re just another group of people who, by choice, aren’t having sex right now. They deserve less pity than people whose spouses are chronically ill, or deployed overseas, or exhausted from working two jobs in order to provide for their families.

If it’s true that God’s goodness includes giving us good things at the right time, then there must be a way that virginity right now is not just a holding cell, but a form of active blessing on my life.

I’m talking about finding a better reason for my virginity than the promise of better sex within marriage. I’m talking about a better reason for getting married than relief for my sex drive.

Like so many virgins, I’m tired of waiting for my life to finally begin. My need for intimacy exceeds my patience for a boyfriend to come along and love me, or the church to properly support me. The only recourse is this thing I’ve hardly asked God for — intimacy with Him.

. . . And I confess to being uneasy with that.

I can’t imagine what that feels like.

 . . . Our meeting will mean something only when you wish it. So, I’ll wait. (Letter from Simone Beauvoir to Nelson Algren, 1950)

❋ ❋ ❋

Flickr photo (cc) by John

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What an Old Monk Taught me about Callinghttp://convergemagazine.com/rethinking-life-calling-15906/ http://convergemagazine.com/rethinking-life-calling-15906/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 05:26:46 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com/?p=15906 What an Old Monk Taught me about Calling by Kyle Stiemsma

Maybe it’s not so much what you’re called to, but who you’re called to. I’ve spent the majority of my...

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What an Old Monk Taught me about Calling by Kyle Stiemsma

Maybe it’s not so much what you’re called to, but who you’re called to.

I’ve spent the majority of my life worrying about my calling. At a young age, I drew up a map and navigated my path with precision and accuracy. And as you’d expect from anyone following a map drawn by a four-year-old, I soon got lost and confused, angry and frustrated.

Last year, I spent a weekend at a monastery as part of a class on vocation, work, and ministry. There I was, a confused and uncomfortable Protestant, standing in the back of a giant stone cathedral as a processional of black-robed Benedictines began chanting Scripture and liturgy. My life, in that brief moment, had become a Catholic musical of strange holiness. My wife was with me, which was fortunate because I might otherwise be wearing a black robe myself right now.

Though I sat through hours of lectures and presentations throughout the weekend, one of the most profound things I learned about calling was from an encounter with an old monk. He told me his position in life was to be a signpost, simply pointing the way and saying, “This way home. This way home, forever.” There’s something beautiful about simplicity, isn’t there?

A lot of people confuse the words vocation and occupation, but they’re really different words. Occupation literally means the place you occupy. Most dictionaries use the words “job” and “profession” to define it. Vocation, on the other hand, shares the same Latin root as voice and vocal, literally meaning “to call.” Occupation has to do with where you’re standing. Vocation has to do with who’s talking to you.

He told me his position in life was to be a signpost, simply pointing the way and saying, ‘This way home. This way home, forever.’  

At the beginning of the class, my professor Paul Stevens pointed out the obvious — but completely overlooked — fact that a calling, before it does anything else, implies a caller.

By the time I was old enough to hear the faint whispers of the divine Caller, a crowd of other voices had come alongside and told me what I was good at and where I needed to go. I became obsessed with the speech bubbles, and forgot to look where they were coming from. Amid all the noise, I went to God wanting nothing but quick, cheap answers: where I should go? What I should do next? He was my Magic 8 Ball who I kept shaking and shaking with no luck.

Theologian Klaus Bockmuehl describes Christian calling as a wedding cake, meaning it has layers with different flavours. At the bottom is our calling to be human, to embrace the Image of God by participating in creation and relationships. The next layer is the calling to be Christian, to imitate Christ and become part of His body, the church. At the top is the personal calling, the specific voice resounding through the cosmos to your insignificant ears.

In my quest to understand the distinction between “job” and “vocation,” I decided to conduct my own informal survey. I asked 10 people what their job was, and then asked them about their calling. Here’s what I found interesting: younger and single people almost always used professional words to talk about their calling, basically repeating their job description but using fancier words. The people beyond 30, especially those with kids, were more likely to describe their calling as “father” or “mother” or “spouse” before anything else. This reminded me of something Stevens writes about in The Marketplace Ministry Handbook: “A calling is to someone, not to something or somewhere.” He’s talking about being called to God, but I think he’s on to something more.

Moses wasn’t called to be a leader. He was called to lead a people loved by God. Paul wasn’t called to be an apostle. He was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Jesus wasn’t pursuing an occupation in healing and forgiving. He was following His vocation of redeeming humankind.

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe God calls people to be shepherds. I think He calls people to a flock of sheep. God doesn’t create accountants or pastors or CEOs. He creates humans, humans who have the power to create and to care, to love and to sacrifice, to listen and to follow. A calling is always to people, specific individuals who you can see and touch and converse with — not to positions of power or platforms of influence or stations of economic stability.

I’ve had this epiphany — that God calls me to community rather than to a profession — about three different times in the last three years. It’s a simple thing to pick up on, but for some reason, for impatient dreamers and planners like me, it’s nearly impossible to grasp. When transition hits, when given the opportunity to worry about what’s going to happen next, the kid in me lashes out, and I start furiously shaking the Magic 8 Ball again.

Constant obsession over what you should do with your life reveals a lack of trust and the presence of fear. The relentless need for guidance and reassurance is not the mark of a healthy spirituality. Scripture, says Stevens, has little to say about guidance. Rather, it is a lot more about revealing the Guide.

So what is my calling? Depending on when you ask, I might smile and tell you about my journey, or I might get choked up with grief. But I’ve come to realize it’s actually not so complicated. My calling is to be a good husband, a loving son, a reliable friend. It’s to tell the truth of God’s love through the way I relate to my community, the way I foster intimacy and encourage life, the way I use my words and spend my time.

For the most part, I’ve stopped trying to construct my own identity by tossing around dry sand. Instead, these days I’m trying to listen. Not for the voice that dictates a solid five-year plan (although that’s not unwelcome), but for the Voice that simply says “You are loved. You are worth more than you know.”

In a way, I think we can all learn from the old black-robed monks. Whether your paycheque comes from a church, a cranky boss, a bunch of customers, or a Fortune 500 company, we’re nothing more than a bunch of signposts. Our words and our actions, whether clocked in or clocked out, point to a Person and say, “This way home. This way home, forever.”

Originally published in Issue 21 of Converge Magazine.

 

Photo (Flickr CC) by Lukas Aigner

 

 

 

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How to Practice Patiencehttp://convergemagazine.com/practice-patience-9-tips-ease-anxiety-1775/ http://convergemagazine.com/practice-patience-9-tips-ease-anxiety-1775/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 04:50:04 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com?p=1775 How to Practice Patience by Shara Lee

Patience is known as a virtue for a reason. According to the dictionary it is, “The capacity to accept or...

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How to Practice Patience by Shara Lee

Patience is known as a virtue for a reason. According to the dictionary it is, “The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” It isn’t easy to be patient and anyone who’s ever had to exercise patience knows that very well. Patience might be even more difficult to practice in our digital age where everything seems to be instant. This is why there has never been a greater need for it in our lives. The good news it is something that can be learned and improved upon with time and effort.

1. Settle down

Take a deep breath and ease yourself into your emotions. Try to relax every muscle in you body. Relax you shoulders and your jaw. Continue to take deep breaths until your reason takes over and you can examine yourself. Imagine your frustration melting away.

2. Acknowledge your feelings and address them

When feelings of impatience start to creep up, you must acknowledge where they are coming from. Pin point exactly what it is that is making you worried, anxious, or upset. Ask yourself why you are having these feelings. Impatience is often a byproduct of unchecked emotions. Acknowledge why those feelings exist and know that you can overcome them. Nobody else can make you feel anything but you. The knowledge that you and you alone are in control of your feelings is liberating. Consider this an exercise in mental strength.

3. Write it down

If it all seems too much, put it on paper. Writing down feelings helps to de-clutter the mind and gives you an outlet to vent. If you are consistent in writing down every time you get impatient it will help you identify and understand the triggers that tend to cause these feelings. In time they will become easier to deal with.

4. Remind yourself that things worthwhile take time

Although you might want instant gratification, know that sometimes the best things come to those who wait. Impatience can come in the way of building something really great. We all know the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. It is cliché but true, good things take time to grow and to develop.

5. Distract yourself with something productive

Instead of just waiting around for whatever is going to happen, distract yourself a little by doing something productive. I always feel better after going for a workout. Not only do I feel I’m improving my body and my health, it also gets my mind off the situation I’m in and relieves frustration. The added bonus is the endorphin rush you get from working out. Other activities you can try include organizing your closet, writing down a list of tasks you’d like to have completed, or washing your car.

6. Train yourself

The key to having excellent patience is practice. How, you may ask? Practice exercising patience in short term situations such as waiting in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, or waiting for someone to call you back. If you can take control of your emotions in small-scale situations, it will get easier to control your emotions in more complex situations.

7. Be cool with discomfort

No matter how much you practice patience, you’re never going to get to the point where you don’t feel anything. Learn to accept the discomfort of the situation. Thing of it like stretching, it hurts but you tolerate it because you know it is a necessary part of becoming more flexible. Yoga instructors always tell you to ease into the burn of the pose, to feel the burn and accept it. The next time your patience is tested, try to accept it. If you stretch enough you’ll soon have to go very deep into a stretch to feel the burn. The same can be said about patience, the more you exercise your patience the more tolerant you will get to frustrating situations.

8. Look to the gospel

Here are some verses that can help when you are feeling impatient. Isn’t the bible amazing?

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the word gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” — John 15:27

“For we walk by faith not by sight” — 2 Corinthians 5:7

“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:14

9. Pray

Commit it to God with the knowledge that he is in control. Sometimes impatience is God’s way of teaching us that we have no control over our lives and a reminder that everything is ultimately in his hands.

What are the ways you deal with impatience? 

 

Photo by (Flickr CC): Fernando

 

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Does Age Matter?http://convergemagazine.com/dating-numbers-age-relationship-deal-breaker-3307/ http://convergemagazine.com/dating-numbers-age-relationship-deal-breaker-3307/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 04:50:44 +0000 http://convergemagazine.com?p=3307 Does Age Matter? by Bethany Roy

If she’s old enough to be his mother, then the relationship is seen as distasteful. But wines get better with...

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Does Age Matter? by Bethany Roy

If she’s old enough to be his mother, then the relationship is seen as distasteful. But wines get better with age; surely the same can be said of partners.

While relationships involving older men and much younger women are still viewed as a little suspect, there is often a very clear bias against relationships involving older women and much younger men. In recent years, however, shows like Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives and Cougar Town have helped to advance the cause of cougars.

For Hollywood actresses, dating much younger men has become a way of subtly declaring their success — no longer does a woman need to depend on a man for financial security.

Dr. Robynne Healey, gender specialist and history professor at Trinity Western University, thinks cougars have chosen to resist some pretty deep-set traditions. She suggests that relationships between older women and younger men have been less socially acceptable than the opposite because of the original purpose of the family: to create and support children.

A relationship with a woman who is past her reproductive age is perceived as being  not for the creation of children, but for sex. Despite the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, society still finds this kind of relationship unacceptable.

But what was God’s original purpose for marriage? In Genesis 2:18 the Lord says, “It isn’t good for man to be alone,” acknowledging Adam’s emotional vulnerability if left by himself. “I will make a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs.”

God then caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, took a rib from the resting man’s body and fashioned it into a woman. Eve was created to help Adam, but more than that she was created to enter into an intimate partnership with Adam and to provide companionship. Upon awaking from his sleep Adam exclaimed, “This is it!”

Perhaps it was the benchmark God set by allowing Adam to appear on this earth before Eve that has led many to believe that a man in a relationship should be older and superior.

Too large an age gap can present problems in relationships regardless of whether it is the man or the woman who is older.

In ancient Athens, where it was common for 15-year-old women to marry men twice their age, wives often had 30 years to live after their husbands died. In ancient Rome, too, women married  men 10 years older than themselves, often outliving them.

General health is affected by age, which can alter the roles and responsibilities of spouses who are forced to find or administer special care.

Another problem to consider is the fast pace of cultural change. The recent explosion of social media through Facebook and Twitter have radically changed the way some communicate. Not having shared experiences of a certain era might make it more difficult to relate to one another.

Definitions of the role of a spouse also morph over time. A baby boomer may favour more of a male-dominated relationship, while someone from Generation Y may be more comfortable with an egalitarian partnership.

Even with all these potential issues, Trinity Western University relational life coach and mentor Sue Rhea doesn’t condemn intergenerational couples.

The problems mentioned here can also occur with more closely aged couples. In Rhea’s experience, most marriage issues are not age-related at all, but have to do rather with personality, communication or expectations.

“I don’t believe that a large age gap should be a deal breaker. One should be looking at character, spiritual compatibility and intellectual compatibility. A large age gap can bring wisdom, financial security, and emotional maturity that would not otherwise be there.”

Perhaps Rhea is right. After all, Adam was not aware of Eve’s age when he first laid eyes on her. He only knew that she was his perfect match. She was “it.”

Flickr photo (cc) by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

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