Tag Archives: Troy Watson

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 Innovators

I think the opening lyric from Buffalo Springfield’s popular protest song – “there’s something happening here, [but] what it is ain’t exactly clear” – sums up how many of us feel about the paradigm shift we find ourselves in. What is clear to anyone paying attention, is that epic change is sweeping across our planet: from the social and political revolutions in the middle East and northern Africa; to the significant role the internet and social networking now play in every aspect of life on every continent; to the shocking vulnerability of one of the worlds most economically and technologically advanced nations to catastrophic natural and nuclear disasters; to China preparing to surpass the USA as the world’s largest economy in a few years; to many scientists predicting an impending environmental apocalypse if we don’t change our ways; to the rapidly declining Christian church in virtually every Western country built upon Christendom.

Everything is in shift. Including Christianity.

So how are churches responding to this faith transition? One of four ways.

1. Denial (What paradigm shift? Postmodernity is a fad!)

2. Defiance (The remnant shall fight this rebellion against God to the death!)

3. Despair (Will all our children & grandchildren abandon our church, denomination, and faith for good?)

4. Deconstruction and Innovation (Lets look at this with fresh eyes and try something different.)

The fourth response holds the key to the future. It is the faith of present day Iconoclasts and Innovators that will move forward into the new paradigm and inspire future generations to heed the timeless call of Christ to be people of peace and love, attuned to God’s Spirit.

However, innovation is certainly not what church culture is best known for these days. Many would go so far as to label church culture a bastion of tradition and protector of the status quo.

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory states that:

2.5% of people are innovators (creators of big new ideas).

13.5% are early adopters (support innovation and risk trying ‘crazy’ ideas).

34% represent the early majority (open to new ideas that have demonstrated promise).

34% represent the late majority (open to new ideas that have a proven track record) and

16% are laggards (reluctantly go along with the majority or dig in their heels and resist).

This would mean the vast majority of church members, roughly 84%, are wary of innovation and new ideas. This has several implications.

First, we tend to be laggards instead of pioneers, change-makers and cultural influencers (i.e. adopting egalitarian policies years after the women’s rights movement; accepting other forms of music as valid expressions of worship many years after those forms of music became normative for the culture that is our missional context and accepted in other denominations).

Second, we tend to discourage, silence or shut down the most creative people in our midst, the very innovators who could help us move forward with vitality into the new paradigm.

Third, our current decline is directly related to our fear of change and aversion to unbridled creativity. The sustainability crisis the Church is facing will not be solved by status quo mentalities – it will only be exacerbated. As Albert Einstein allegedly said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” He’s also credited with another saying that seems appropriate for some of our ecclesiological tendencies, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” I hear many traditionalists talking about our need to “get back to the basics, resurrect old programs, conduct more Bible studies and hold more prayer meetings” as if this will make the church a thriving movement that is impacting and transforming society once again. While some of these are certainly things we can’t abandon as followers of the way of Jesus, they are not the solution either. Attempting to breathe life into our dying congregational bodies by doing the same things we have been doing for decades (or even centuries)…well that’s doing the same things over and over again expecting a different outcome this time!

For such a time and place as we find ourselves – the way of Jesus needs certain kinds of leaders and certain kinds of communities. These leaders and communities will need to be:

  • In Tune with God’s Spirit
  • Iconoclasts (open to new ways of seeing God and open to surprising plot shifts in God’s unfolding story)
  • Innovators (creative, risk taking, imaginative, ground-breaking, experimental pioneers)

The good news here is that God continues to gift the world and churches with innovators – but it is up to faith communities to empower them and experiment with their ‘far out’ ideas.

This means, first, we’ll have to risk ‘failure’ because many (most) of their ideas will not work. (Remember Edison created 1000 commercial light bulbs that didn’t work before coming up with the one that did.) It is important for us to remember there are no such things as failures, only outcomes, only results to interpret and learn from.

Second, to create faith community environments where innovation is celebrated and encouraged we must elevate the status of creativity in our theology and practice. Patterning our lives after our Creator includes pursuing creativity. To be godly is to be creative.

The majority of conventional Christians may caution us to “be careful about being creative for the sake of being creative” but I think that makes about as much sense as being careful not to be moral for the sake of being moral. I am not sure why creativity has become secondary to other divine character traits we strive to emulate. We should value creativity equally alongside holiness, mercy, and honesty and make it just as much a mark of authentic Christian spirituality. When I look around at this incredibly diverse and strange universe full of platypuses, aye-ayes, Venus flytraps and the like – it certainly seems like God gets carried away with being creative! I certainly can’t think of a moral or practical reason for the creation of blobfish or the proboscis monkey.

It’s time to unleash our innovators and get carried away with the Creative Spirit.

Questions For Followers of the Way:

Are we intentionally working at encouraging and creating space for innovators in our communities?

Are we inadvertently encouraging our most entrepreneurial and imaginative young adults to pursue leadership in other fields rather than ministry because there is not enough room for innovators to experiment and flourish in church settings?

Are you snuffing out your own creativity and innovative tendencies to conform to the status quo expectations of your own faith community or your conventional belief system?

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.

Future of Faith Part 2: Upside Down Wisdom

Future Faith in Canada Part 2 – Upside Down Wisdom

I’ve often wondered why the vast majority of Jesus’ contemporaries rejected him as the Messiah. Why a community filled with longing for the Saviour that God had promised them, refused to believe Jesus was the one they were waiting for. How did they miss what seems so obvious to us? Were they less intelligent, moral, religious, or Biblically literate than us? No, it was simply that Jesus did not fit their assumptions and expectations.

How often do our assumptions and expectations hinder us from seeing what God is doing in our midst?

The Gospels tell us it was the most educated, moral, religious and Biblically literate who most vehemently rejected Jesus, for they had the most rigid assumptions and expectations about what God’s salvation would look like. Jesus was God’s unexpected plot twist and those who knew the old plot line the best opposed him the most. Jesus was a spiritual paradigm shift for the first century Jewish community. They were entering new history and it was only the few who were able to let go of their assumptions and expectations regarding how God moved and worked in the world, that were able to develop eyes to see and ears to hear the new thing God was doing.

I believe the same applies to us in our present paradigm shift. It will only be the few who are able to let go of their assumptions and expectations regarding how God moves and works in the world that will be able to perceive the new thing God is doing in our midst. As in Jesus’ day, letting go will be more difficult for church folk advanced in the areas of morality, religiosity, education, and Biblical literacy, but if Biblical history teaches us anything, it is that those who have the least capacity to be surprised by God, will be most surprised by God in the end!

We would be ‘Pharisee-ically’ foolish to assume an infinitely creative God only weaves plot twists into ancient history. I believe God is doing a new thing in our time and culture and our need for spiritual leaders with humility, flexibility, and Spirit tuned senses has never been greater.

Speaking of faith leaders, I confess I have often wondered why Jesus chose Peter to be the leader of his revolution after he was gone. The Gospels certainly don’t imply Peter was an A+ disciple who was always ‘with the program’. So why him?

I believe it was connected to Peter’s capacity to let go of assumptions and expectations and remain open to God’s mysterious ways of working in the world. If anyone had a solid notion about what would happen to someone who jumped out of a boat in the middle of the sea, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a raging storm – it was a born and raised Galilean fisherman! But Peter radically and recklessly let go of those assumptions and expectations and hopped out of the boat to try to walk on water with Jesus. This risky openness to a God beyond his understanding was core to Peter’s qualifications as an early church leader. Jesus was looking for someone with upside down wisdom, the kind Socrates described this way, “Wisdom is limited to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.”

At times Peter’s awakening to his own ignorance was painful. For instance, his assumptions about his own loyalty and courage quickly dismantled after he abandoned and denied Jesus repeatedly a few hours after boldly proclaiming publically that he would never forsake Jesus, that he would die with Jesus if need be. Less than a day later he was forced to let go of the core belief he had staked his entire theology and future upon – that Jesus the Messiah would reestablish the throne of David and Reign of God on earth – as Jesus was now dead and nothing had seemed to changed.

When the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples in the closing chapter of John’s gospel, Peter is a broken, naked and hopeless fisherman who couldn’t catch a fish – surprised yet again by another plot twist. Jesus is alive! However, the most unexpected thing of all to Peter is that Jesus still wants him to lead his church!

I believe this is the moment of Peter’s rebirth, preparing him for Pentecost and church leadership. Like Scrooge at the end of Dicken’s “Christmas Carol”, Peter’s soul awakens with upside down wisdom, realizing “I don’t know anything! I never did know anything. But now I know, that I don’t know anything!”

We are all ignorant when it comes to the mysterious ways of God. What we need are leaders like Peter who are aware of their own ignorance to lead us through the paradigm shift.  I am convinced it will be the present day Peters with upside down wisdom that will shape the future of faith in postmodern Canada.

To be continued…

Future of Faith In Canada (Revised) – Part 1

The Future of Faith in Canada

When economists were asked about the future of free market capitalism during the global economic meltdown of 2008, I repeatedly heard them responding, “We don’t know. Nobody knows. We are in new history.” I think the same could be said about the future of the church and conventional Christianity given the current paradigm shift we are in. A paradigm shift is most simply defined as one predominant worldview being replaced by another. This is clearly happening in Canada. Look at the numbers:

  • In 1901, 98% of Canadians identified themselves as Christian.[1]
  • Over the past two generations the number of Canadians identifying as non-religious has increased from 1% to 23%.[2]
  • If recent trends continue non-Christians will outnumber Christians in Canada around 2023.[3]
  • 30% of Canadians do not believe in God[4]
  • 36% of Canadians under the age of 25 do not believe in God.[5]
  • 84% of Canadians between the ages of 15 to 44 don’t attend church regularly.[6]
  • Protestant Christianity is the only major religion currently in decline in Canada. This decline began in 1921. The growth of all other major religions is due primarily to a shift in immigration patterns in Canada.[7]
  • Wicca, Neo-paganism and Native Canadian Spirituality experienced the highest percentage of growth over the last decade.[8]
  • Secular humanism* had the greatest numerical growth by far increasing by 1,463,080 individuals over the past decade.[9]
  • Secular Humanists* represent the second largest “religious group” in the country now.[10]
  • Over half of the active population of Canada has obtained a post-secondary university or college degree or diploma, the highest of any OECD country. And over 1 million people in Canada have a Masters degree or higher. This trend will only continue as the education levels of Canadians continue to increase. For instance, between 2000 and 2006 full-time university enrollment increased 31% (even higher in Masters and PhD programs).
  • According to StatsCan “The higher the educational attainment of Canadians the less likely they are to report any kind of religious affiliation.”

These numbers indicate the spiritual paradigm shift in Canada is quickly approaching the tipping point. Canadians are converting in much greater numbers today than at any other time in our history. The difference is they are now converting from Christianity. One of the most striking profiles implied by these statistics is that the majority of people who are converting in Canada are:

  • between the ages of 16 and 44,
  • with or in the process of getting a post secondary education,
  • moving from a Protestant faith to a secular humanist worldview.

Millions have already made this conversion but there are even more who find themselves in transition between conventional Christianity and secular humanism. Consider this statistic.

  • The percentage of those with a religious affiliation never attending a religious service increased from 24% to 41% in the past twenty years.

This is a huge number of people. Almost 10 million! So why is it that nearly a third of our population still shares an affinity with Christian faith but never goes to church? I believe for the majority of these people church is not the primary problem. They are not merely looking for new and improved churches with polished pop rock worship and more technologically advanced sermon presentations (at least not most of them). The real problem for these folks is conventional Christianity itself.

As a result of my research and my own experience in connecting with those on the “fringe of the fold”, I am convinced the majority of ‘Christians’ who no longer go to church (not to mention the many more who are still attending out of a sense of guilt, duty, loyalty, community or family pressure) still resonate with certain aspects of their Christian faith but are finding the scientific secular humanist worldview as more credible in making sense of the world in which they live. I believe more and more Canadian ‘Christians’ are not merely looking for an updated church so much as an updated worldview that integrates their faith, education and experience of reality.

What does this mean for us – the church?

In my opinion, to deny, ignore or fight against this paradigm shift is futile. I don’t believe this shift has surprised or angered God or is at heart against God. I believe this movement is at its center a genuine pursuit of truth and will therefore lead to greater understanding and deeper experience of God, even if it means taking two steps backwards to take three steps forward.

I believe what we need, more than ever, are eyes to see God’s presence in the midst of all the change and confusion and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches today. We also need courageous pioneers of faith to help shape this new history.

To be continued…