Tag Archives: christianity

May 21 – The End of What?

Well it’s almost here kids – the beginning of the end of the world! I’m referring of course to Harold Camping’s bold prediction that Judgment Day will begin around 6pm (Pacific time) this Saturday evening. The big question for me as a follower of the way of Jesus is how should I respond to this kind of nonsense?

My initial reaction to Family Radio’s “fire and brimstone” announcement plastered on the imposing billboard overlooking St. Paul Street West was experiencing a flashback to the time I lived in the southern United States. You just don’t see these kooky apocalyptic proclamations in Canada very often. My second response was one of curiosity. Was this for real? Or was this a hoax, prank or some artist’s satirical concept piece on religion?

Once I realized this was serious, the foreboding forecast raised some sobering questions for me.

How did Harold Camping’s inane prophecy based on sloppy numerology and dubious Biblical interpretation spread around the world so successfully and quickly? How did this 89 year-old civil engineer’s end-times calculation come to be posted on over 2000 giant billboards across the planet and broadcast nonstop in over 40 languages on his international radio network with over 150 outlets in the United States alone? How did his Family Radio ministry accrue tens of thousands of followers, accumulate over 120 million dollars in assets and find the resources to launch this audacious “Judgment Day” campaign?

The answer: an enormous amount of time, money and labor from true believers. May 21, 2011 would have quietly slipped by like any other Spring day if not for the thousands of volunteer hours and millions of dollars donated by his followers.

I don’t understand how people continue to fall for “prophetic” preachers like Harold Camping. Especially given his previous erroneous prediction that the world would end in September 1994. But even more disturbing to me is that most Canadians today associate Christianity with people like Harold Camping and his undiscerning herd of sheeple.

It’s characters like Camping and the Reverend Terry Jones and his small Qur’an burning congregation that unfortunately represent Christianity to the world instead of the countless Christians who have devoted their lives working for peace and justice. It pains me that the loudest and most mobilized Christian sects have made the words “Christian” and “church” synonymous with anti-gay, anti-science, judgmental self-righteousness rather than compassion, peace, hope and joy. It angers me that we’ve allowed a few bigoted Bible bullies to so passionately and arrogantly claim to speak on behalf of Jesus, that they have drowned out the actual voice of Jesus who taught that his true followers would be known principally by their love. (John 13:35)

I don’t know when the world will end but it’s definitely time this current state of the world shaped by hatred and violence, archaic tribalism, segregating ideologies, and antagonistic relationships between world religions, faith and science and spirituality and reason, came to an end.

It’s time for Christians to stop fueling these negative energies and focus on making the earth a more Spirit filled place, by seeking to develop peace and unity with all people rather than judging or proselytizing them.

It’s time for the way of Jesus to be known as the way of peace and hope again.

It’s time for Christians to stop wasting time on distractions like eschatological speculation and start investing our energy and money into making the love of God an experienced reality for all on this planet.

It’s time to once more make the Christian message about the ridiculous unconditional love of God, not what Camping and company make it out to be – merely ridiculous.

It’s time for a different brand of Christianity to rise and represent to the world around us what following the way of Jesus is really about.

It’s time for us to see the end of a paradigm (where authentic spirituality was replaced with religion) as a good thing – as a beginning of a new thing God is doing in the world.

I hope May 21 is the end of the world as we know it.

Blessed Are The Iconoclasts

In my past series of posts, I have strongly suggested the future of the church and Christianity in Canada will be markedly different than the conventional forms we have become accustomed to. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the future holds for faith in the postmodern shift, as I have misplaced my urim and thummim and it turned out my crystal ball was not dishwasher safe. As I have repeated – we are in new history now – and only God knows what the future holds.

What I can tell you with confidence is that it will be the iconoclasts and innovators who will lead and shape the next wave of Christian faith in the emerging paradigm. It will be the courageous, non-conformist, entrepreneurial pioneers, who are inspired by God – and inspiring to the disenchanted and disenfranchised spiritually hungry souls around them – that will be the radical reformers of our day. Why? Because they always have been.

The current faith crisis the church and Christianity are experiencing will require 21st century Peters and Pauls, Sattlers and Simons, Wesleys and Luther Kings – leaders who are in tune with the hearts and minds of the ‘common’ people as well as the heart and mind of God. Radical, risk-taking lovers of God and humanity will again be the ones to mobilize and empower faith communities with fresh teaching, new perspectives, reckless openness to God’s Spirit and love for all.

Today’s reformers and revolutionaries, like yesterdays, will be the daring iconoclasts.

The first major iconoclast movement in Christendom was initiated by Byzantine Emperor Leo in the 8th century. The second major one occurred in the 16th century during the Reformation. Both of these movements were primarily focused on physical iconoclasm – which is the deliberate destruction or riddance of religious icons and other symbols, usually for religious or political motives. What I am referring to is spiritual iconoclasm (or conceptual iconoclasm). Spiritual iconoclasm is eradicating or letting go of mental concepts that limit God. Meister Eckhart (13th century German theologian and priest) succinctly articulated this type of iconoclasm in his curious statement, “I pray to G-d to rid me of God”, meaning I open myself up to the God who is, as I let go of the God I have constructed in my mind with human ideas and doctrines. He believed it is only as we empty our minds of finite preconceptions about God and how God works that we are able to perceive and participate in the eternally new thing God is doing. As Jesus said, “New wine requires new wineskins.” To be continually open to God requires a perpetually renewable mind.

Revolutions always have and always will frighten the majority – from the original Jesus movement to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century to the postmodern faith renewal happening today. It is not surprising that the majority of churches and Christians are confused by, concerned with or committed to fighting the emerging spiritual paradigm shift. I do not judge people for carefully considering something before jumping in headfirst. As the saying goes, “Angels fear to tread where fools rush in.” So the questions I hear cautious Christians asking contemporary iconoclasts are very important and we need to pay attention.

Questions like:

What are you iconoclasts letting go of? The Bible? Jesus? Truth? And what are you still holding on to?

What the iconoclasts are letting go is the illusory assumption that any of us were ever holding onto the Bible, Jesus or Truth in the first place. Iconoclasts realize we are always holding onto our own versions of Jesus, God and the Bible and that notions such as – our interpretation of the truth is the truth   and              our thoughts and assumptions about God is who God really is –are wrong. Dangerous. Idolatrous even.

Meister Eckhart said the physical iconoclasts missed the point when they destroyed physical art, symbols and images of God. (Art is usually not the problem. In fact, good art often opens us up to the mystery and inconceivable glory of God.What we need to smash are our mental images of God. We need to rid ourselves of our theological pictures of God painted with finite words and dogmatic concepts. If we don’t, we become idolaters, substituting the infinite God who is bigger and beyond our loftiest mortal comprehension, with a God we have created in, and constrained to, our human minds.

All our ideas and images of God are at best incomplete and provisional and we are wise to hold them loosely, constantly humbling ourselves beneath the transcendent mystery of the great “I Will Be Who I Will Be”. It is only as we let go of the ‘God we know’ that we are able to be led by the ‘God who is’.  And to be open to the “God who is” that consistently appears and moves outside the boundaries our beliefs have limited “God” to – we must become spiritual iconoclasts. Or at least get to know one. And let them blow our minds open so we can catch a glimpse or two of the God who dwells outside the cage of our finite dogmatic assumptions.

Why The Quest?

Why the quest?

Why are we (quest christian community) on a spiritual quest?

We find ourselves in between (or resonating with) both conventional Christianity and a scientific, secular humanistic worldview and we are looking for a third way.

We are convinced a Spirit led revolution is happening within Christianity and we are part of it –

We thrive on challenging the status quo, fear and collective egoism that has dominated conventional Christianity for far too long –

We feel alive, filled with purpose, meaning and enthusiasm as we work with others to reform the Christian tradition we are part of –

We are students of science and Reason and philosophy but we are also captivated by the mysterious mystic Messiah named Jesus –

We experience a different reality of hope and freedom as we choose to be shaped by Jesus’ narrative –

We experience God’s presence, peace, love and joy in powerful and transformative ways as we follow the way of Jesus –

We live to change things that need to be changed –

So many people of faith are burned out trying to save the world and need a space to rest, reassess life & faith and recalibrate to a balanced life-giving spirituality –

We believe good things happen when we get together to use our minds, creativity and imaginations –

We have this inner need to relate to those who are different than us and to care for and serve those who are marginalized in our society and world –

The quest exists because we can’t go back to conventional church or conventional Christianity but we can’t shake this deep hunger and thirst for God and this deep affinity with Jesus.

Painting By Numbers: A Portrait of the Future Faith Landscape in Canada

Well I heard it again this week. The second most commonly used phrase to describe the religion and faith scene in the west these days.

“It seems the average Canadian (American/European) is just as interested in spiritual things as they have ever been but are less and less interested in church (or organized religion).”

Thanks for the breaking news.  We all know this is happening. Let’s talk about what’s next? What is happening beyond this regurgitated newsflash from the mid 1980’s?  Where can we find a more detailed map of the shifting worldview landscape here in Canada without simply repeating the word ‘postmodern’ ad nauseam?

Let’s start by looking at a few StatsCan facts.

  • Canadians are becoming more educated.*
  • Canadians are becoming less religious.**
  • If current trends continue there will be more non-Christians than Christians in Canada in 10 to 13 years.
  • Protestant Christianity is the only major religion currently in decline in Canada. This decline began in 1921.
  • The growth of all other major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Christian Orthodox etc.) is primarily due to a shift in immigration patterns in Canada.
  • The fastest growing worldview in Canada is secular humanism (atheism / agnosticism).
  • The only worldview to grow almost exclusively from conversion in Canada is secular humanism.

A Portrait of Current Canadian Conversion Trends

These numbers portray an interesting picture. They imply that the majority of people who are converting in Canada are probably:

  • people between the ages of 18 and 45,*
  • with or in the process of getting a post secondary education,**
  • moving from a protestant faith to a secular humanist worldview.*

People are still converting in Canada. It is just that they are converting from Christianity rather than to it. Although millions have already made this conversion there are many more millions who find themselves in transition between Christianity and secular humanism.

I am talking in particular about the 41% of Canadians who still have some affinity with the Christian faith but never go to church. This is huge number of people, almost 10 million people! Practically 30% of the population of Canada!

The Church Response

The four most common responses of Canadian churches to this reality have been denial, judgment, despair or innovation. The only one that has anything constructive to offer is the last one – innovation. The problem with 99% of the innovation of the ‘progressive’ churches has been the emphasis is almost exclusively on changing the form of how we do church.

Now it is true that some churches that have adapted to new forms have experienced tremendous growth, primarily by providing a “better” church experience for the people who are leaving their more traditional churches. There is no doubt this is meeting a widespread need in the Canadian faith scene and I applaud those churches that are creatively working at doing church differently.

But for the most part these ‘progressive’ churches are not addressing the core issues. Most of the 41% are opting out of the church as opposed to a church.

The 41% of Canadian Christians who no longer go to church are not really looking for new forms of church – at least not most of them. Pop rock worship and more technologically advanced sermon presentations do not address their real concerns.

The problem preventing these people from going to church is not primarily conventional church form but conventional Christianity.

A growing number of Christians:

  • Find their worldview residing somewhere between conventional Christianity and secular humanism.
  • Are not looking for a new kind of church but a new kind of worldview.

The Gap is About Substance Not Just Form, Content Not Just Context

A majority of the 41% still resonates with certain aspects of Christian faith but find secular humanism to be a more appropriate worldview in making sense of their experience of reality in postmodern Canada. I see very few churches responding to this growing reality in proactive and constructive ways.

I see a huge disconnect from the average church in Canada and the average Canadian. For one, I find the average church constantly ‘dumbing’ faith conversations down when the average Canadian is more educated than ever. Second, I find most churches are too busy trying to convince themselves and everyone else that they have already found the truth to bother continuing to look for it. I am not sure the average church really gets the average Canadian. For instance:

The average Canadian does not trust people who claim to know (and own) THE truth. Neither do I frankly.

The average Canadian does not need spirituality and faith ‘dumbed’ down and constantly reduced to the lowest common denominator.

The average Canadian is educated and is quite capable (and even eager) to think for them selves rather than be told what to believe and how to think and behave.

The average Canadian does not respect a “spiritual” organization that seems to exist only to propagate itself.

The average Canadian trusts science and reason more than the Bible (and the clergy’s interpretation of it).

The average Canadian is interested in meaningful dialogue more than a sermon.

The average Canadian is looking for a path of values and practices to live by not a set of dogmatic beliefs to adhere to.

The average Canadian (or at least close to 10 million of them) find themselves somewhere in between (and sometimes torn between) Christianity and secular humanism.

The average Canadian reflects these two realities:

  • 70+% of Canadians still have an affinity to Christianity
  • The fastest growing worldview in Canada is secular humanism.

So:

  • Is there a third way? A middle way of exploring new ways of following Jesus that make sense and align to the reality of the world we live in shaped by science and technology in a postmodern shift?
  • Can Christians acknowledge that Christian faith continues to (and needs to) evolve like everything else?
  • Could there be a worldview with enough room in it for reason, science, skepticism, mysticism, faith and mystery (oh yeah and humility)?
  • Can secular humanists help Christianity shed all its add-ons and get back to the heart of Jesus’ message – to love God and others?
  • Can Christians inspire secular humanists to love more radically by demonstrating a way of transformative attunement to God’s Spirit?
  • Do we not have much to teach and learn from one another?
  • Do we not all need ongoing conversion?

I find myself answering “Yes” to all these questions with increasing enthusiasm and optimism.

What do you think?

A Closer Look at the Numbers
* Canadian Religious Statistics
  • Canada has the 10th highest population of atheists in the world.
  • Over 30% of Canadians do not believe in a god.
  • Over a third of Canadians between 15 and 45 do not believe in a god.
  • Only 16% of Canadians between 15 and 45 attend church regularly.
  • 41% of Canadian Christians never attend church. (This number has risen 71% in the past 20 years)
Why is this happening?
For a number of reasons. Norris and Inglehart released a report in 2004 stating that in societies characterized by plentiful food distribution, excellent public health care, and widely accessible housing, religiosity wanes. Conversely, in societies where food and shelter are scarce and life is generally less secure, religious belief is strong.
StatsCan reports another interesting correlation in the decline of religion in Canada claiming:
“the higher the educational attainment of Canadians, the less likely they are to report some kind of religious affiliation.”
There is a very strong relation to the rise of secular humanism in Canada and the increase in higher education.
** Canadian Education Statistics
  • Over the past 25 years the percentage of Canadians with university degrees rose 73%.
  • Canada has a higher percentage of people with post secondary education than any other OECD country.
  • OECD reports 68% of Canadian women and 62% of Canadian men aged 25 to 44 have completed some kind of post secondary education.
  • The National Post reports over 50% of the Canadian population as having some level post secondary education.
  • Since 2000 full time masters and PhD enrollment has increased by 57%.Over 1 million Canadians have a Masters degree or higher.