Missio-cat-ology

After several years without a furry friend, our family made the fateful decision this summer to adopt a cat.  Previously a dog friendly family, our strata bylaws in North Vancouver made it clear that only a cat would do.  We began our search online and saw the various dodgy websites advertising pets for sale.  Then we stumbled upon an organization called VOKRA.  “What’s that?” I asked myself thinking it sounded vaguely like the super villain organization SPECTRE from the James Bond franchise.  “The Vancouver Orphaned Kitten Rescue Association,” my wife replied.  “That’s quite a handle,” I conceded and agreed to check it out.  What followed next taught a budding missiologist a few lessons about what the church should look like in society.

First, I visited their excellent website (http://www.orphankittenrescue.com) and filled out an application for adoption.  Next, I was contacted immediately by a volunteer asking for a good time to chat on the phone to explain the mission of the organization.  I soon found myself on the phone with the most delightful woman who clearly articulated the vision, mission and goals of the the organization.  She even added a little testimony about how her life was changed by adopting cats through VOKRA and decided to give of her time to volunteer so that others could experience “the good news.”  She explained how there are 400 foster homes for orphaned cats in our city and soon set us up for a house visit with a potential new cat friend for our family.

A couple of days later we found ourselves in the home of two lovely young women who foster cats on behalf of VOKRA.  Again, they could easily and convincingly describe both the purpose of the organization and why their involvement was so important.  The cat was perfect for our active family and so we found ourselves meeting next, the following day, with yet another volunteer (proudly wearing her VOKRA t-shirt) at a neighbourhood Starbucks, where we went through a home assessment, transition plan and paperwork to pay and adopt this stray cat.  You’ve already guessed.  The normal, lovely volunteer took time to talk about why the organization matters to the life of our city and then added some personal narrative about her experiences of rescuing cats and matching them with loving homes.

So, we now have Rosie the cat who is playful and a wonderful addition to our home.  But in addition to that, I was left in awe of this “rescue organization” in our city.  Completely staffed by volunteers who understood their work to be urgent, transformative and life-giving (salvific?) not just for the individual (cat/owner) but for the welfare of the city.  Hmm.  Here I am an Ordained Pastor in the Reformed tradition and I’m not sure many of our church goers could give such a clear and passionate description of the rescue mission God has given Ambassadors of Christ through the gospel. (2 Corinthians 5)  Imagine, if the Church could know itself, in response to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, and declare itself to be so urgently needed for the salvation and welfare of the community.  Time for some missiological lessons from our cat friends – of which, now I am one.

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership at UBC.

 

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R n’ R

We’ve enjoyed several weeks now of ridiculously good summer weather here in Vancouver.  Last night, sitting on a friend’s patio we turned on the outdoor heater and surrendered to the change in temperature.  Yes, summer is nearing its end.

Dear reader, I trust this has been a summer of blessing for you.  As you can see we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog enjoying a good break ourselves.  Rob on the east coast and me on the west, summer is a great time for R n’ R.  Rest and relaxation easily becomes the order of the day when the weather is good and the kids are out of school.

Of course, vacation is not a biblical concept.  Sabbath, yes.  A day of rest to worship the Lord and remember that we are no longer slaves – free to be children of God and not slaves to the market or our mortgage.  But vacation – endless weeks of slothful unproductive action and gluttonous over indulgence – not so much a biblical concept.  As missionary disciples of the Risen Christ, there is no such thing as “taking a day off” from our baptismal vows.  The triune God continues to supply grace sufficient for our witness daily – in and out of season.

This summer my family spent all of July in Northern Ireland visiting with extended family once more as well as serving the Presbyterian Church in Ireland for the third time.  On this visit, we were staying in the manse and preaching at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast.  Fitzroy Presbyterian is located at the heart of Queen’s University and was a congregation deeply involved in the peace process during the troubles.  While there, I began to think about R n’ R differently.  Time spent in God’s Word led me to 2 Corinthians 5:

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It was a reminder to me how the gospel challenges us to be both agents of reconciliation and serve as witness to God’s righteousness in this sin sick world.  I caught a glimpse first hand of a Christian congregation that understood itself in relation to the great text “God was reconciling the world in Christ, not counting our sins against us…” not as a passive concept but rather a relational truth to participate in.  God is the One who is reconciling.  God is righteousness.  We are not.  But by grace, we are adopted in the family of God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit and participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world.  How might your local Christian community demonstrate the reconciling love of God?  How might your community be known as a visible symbol of God’s righteousness in this world cluttered with idols and sinful desire?  Time for a little R n’ R…

 

Ross Lockhart is an Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall at UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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A Prayer for Orlando

I was preaching in a wonderful Brethren congregation here in Vancouver yesterday morning when word spread about the awful violence in a nightclub in Florida.  Nearly 50 people murdered and another 50 injured.  The worst mass murder shooting in America – so far.  The Elder leading prayers said what we were all thinking – that our hearts break at the news of violence, that we recoil when we hear of a human being with such hatred for other human beings, that we long for a day promised in Scripture when God triumphs for good over evil and when the good work that the Father began in raising the Son from the dead will be completed by the Spirit’s power in consummation.  Come, Lord Jesus Come.

This morning the Moderator of the 142nd General Assembly, Rev. Douglas Rollwage, offered this prayer on the national Presbyterian Church website:

A Prayer in a Time of Violence

Eternal God of loving-kindness,
you hold all situations and souls in your hands;
you are our only hope and comfort in life and in death, and
you are the one to whom we turn in times of trouble.

You sent Christ into the world
that we might have life
and have it abundantly;
he came as the Prince of Peace
to a world that is too often violent and marked by tragedy.

In the face of violence in Orlando and against people in the LGBTQ community,
we come to you in sorrow
for those whose lives are cut short or forever changed;
we come to you in frustration and anger
because of the violence in this world;
we come to you in confession
for we have been too often silent
when we should have spoken up against hatred and bigotry
and too often we have tolerated violence that breaks your heart.

We pray that you
watch over those who are in danger,
comfort those who fear for themselves or loved ones,
gather into your loving arms those who die,
give us wisdom to be voices of peace in moments and places of hatred and fear;
give us courage to be a force for positive change in our communities, workplaces and churches.

In the name of Jesus, in whom all is reconciled;
let understanding overcome vengeance;
let peace overcome violence;
let kindness overcome hatred and suspicion.

And in your grace, let us see the day when guns and all weapons that destroy life
are transformed into instruments of peace and healing.

In the strong name of Jesus, we pray;
Amen.

 

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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Polity & Pentecost

It was an honour to be a resource person on behalf of St. Andrew’s Hall/VST at the 142nd General Assembly held at York University June 3 to 6.  General Assembly is an extrovert’s dream, hundreds of Presbyterians in one place and several days in which to connect with leaders from coast to coast. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

 

From my “perch” at the back of the room, I was able to both observe the work of Commissioners throughout the sederunts, as well as participate fully in worship. As Commissioners dropped by the St. Andrew’s Hall/VST table to collect information on the college as well as their snappy SAH First Aid kit freebies,

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it gave me an interesting opportunity to hear various concerns about the state of the church. Many Commissioners thanked me for our webinars over the last year and named specifically how pleased they were that SAH’s Centre for Missional Leadership is focused on evangelism and mission in the church and world.

It was interesting to be once again at the “highest” court of the church in the season after Pentecost and watch the polity of church play out as motions and amendments worked their way through the Business Committee.  Perhaps predictably the most controversial overtures were often not debated openly, but played out in other ways as “pacifying motions” ended up in curious debates like the long conversation on what “tender pastoral care” looks like in the church.  I found myself at times wondering what it would be like to sit at Nicaea in 325 AD or Ephesus in 431 AD or Chalcedon in 451 AD and hear church leaders struggling to articulate the way forward that is most faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

As I listened pastorally to Commissioners visiting me at the resource table, there was a deep sense of worry how the current conversation on human sexuality was dividing the church and how, at times, even worship at General Assembly seemed to be a proxy battleground for the debate. I left GA this year with a desire to pray more often for the unity of the church, and the need to find a balance between an inclusive welcome and the courage to testify to our common humanity/sinfulness before our holy and triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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Goodnight Gorilla

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman has been one of our children’s favorite bedtime stories for over a decade now.  It has been passed down through our three children, each one enjoying it as much as the last.  For those of you unfamiliar with the story it is a picture book about a zookeeper who goes around at night locking up the zoo before returning home to bed, across the street.  The Gorilla in the story, however, causes more than a little chaos by lifting the zookeeper’s keys secretly off his belt and letting himself out of the cage. Then he lets all the other animals out of their cages. Then the Gorilla and all the animals follow the zookeeper home for a good night’s sleep.

The favourite part of the story, at least for our kids, is where the zookeeper’s wife yawns when she hears her husband come home, leans over to turn out the bedside lamp and says, “Goodnight,” unaware that her bedroom is overrun with animals bedding down from the zoo next door. We turn the page over and it’s all black and all these voice bubbles saying, “Goodnight.” I’ve noticed that both my wife and I say the “Goodnights” in different voices….goodnight, goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.  And then slowly I turn the page over and gasp “Ah, there’s a gorilla in my bed!!!!” The kids giggle and often want to go back to this page again and again.

I read my youngest that book this week and, for the first time, had an unexpected sense of sadness.  I had just read online about the killing of Harambe, the Western lowland gorilla who was shot after a 4 year old fell into his space at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Not only did the incident bring back to the surface ethical questions of animals in captivity, but I also struggled with what might be right and wrong in that scenario.  Should they have shot the gorilla?  Where there other options?  I also realize that I was reading Goodnight Gorilla to my own child – the same age as the one that fell into the zoo cage in Cincinnati.  Would I not value the life of my own child over the Gorilla’s life?  Yes.  As a Dad with instincts to protect my family, of course.  But who might also value the life of the Gorilla in captivity?  Surely both are precious to God.

As I reflected on this question I remember how my older children, when they were “outgrowing” the book, used to ask me about Goodnight Gorilla, “Dad, how could all these animals be there together in peace?”  Their wonder led me to ask, “indeed, how is it possible?”  Look at that hyena and armidella snuggling up together.  Why is the lion not eating the mouse or his banana? Could there be a world where this was true?

Not in my simple, sinful imagination in a world of power and greed.  But, of course, there is also that other imagination…

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the falling together, and a little child shall lead them.”  Isaiah 11: 6

Oh right, I forgot.  The Triune God’s imagination is brilliantly more than I could ask or imagine.  The glimpse of God with skin on in Jesus Christ reminds us of God’s faithfulness to world through Creation, Fall, Covenant, Exile, Christ, Church and…by God…one day Consummation.  If God really was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself not counting our sins against us – wow, then anything is possible.

I said goodnight to my sweet little girl and gave God thanks for her safety and flourishing and found myself later in the night thinking of that dear Gorilla and praying,

Father, grant us a vision of your peace and goodness that overwhelms the darkness of this world with the light of Christ. May our lives be marked by the good morning of your grace and the goodnight of your love. In Jesus name…Amen.

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall at The University of British Columbia and founding Director of The Centre for Missional Leadership.

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Does Jesus Care if Young Adults Come to Your Sunday Morning Service?

“After Jesus figured out how to rejig the synagogue service, all the young adults and families came back to worship and put heaps of money on the offering plate.”
    – 1 Fabrications 3:16

Lately I have noticed that the participation of youth and young adults in the mainline church has become fetishized. That is, we often have “an excessive and irrational […] obsession with” youth and young adults taking part in our churches. (Thanks to Oxford Dictionaries for the definition.)

“If only” more young folks were in worship … came to more events and programs … contributed more money … etc … etc … then everything would be roses and cupcakes, forever.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when young folks are in church. I love it when old people are there, too. And little kids. And middle-agers. Worship and other churchy activities are awesome for all ages: they form us as followers of Jesus, as compassionate neighbours, as eager servants of God and God’s love. Worship is essential to a rightly-oriented life, no matter your age or stage.

But trying to get a younger demographic into the church for the sake of survival, or for the sake of saying we did it, is backwards.

The vocation of Christian communities is to serve. To serve. To love. To give. To share. To partner with others in doing good. Worship forms us for that, and it orients our hearts to God. But we don’t exist as churches just for the sake of existing, and worship doesn’t happen just for the sake of happening. The church exists because the Holy Spirit has called us into existence for a reason: in order to further the purposes of Christ’s mission in the world.

So I think the real issue, the real question, is not “how can we get more young people into our church?”

The real question is, “how can our church serve the young people (and other people) in our community with joy and humility?”

To answer that question, we’re going to need to find some ways to listen, really listen, to those young people, whether they are “part of us” or not, and to ask them what they need. When we are clearer about that, we’ll have a better sense how to use our resources to serve them.

Rob Fennell teaches theology and history at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

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Should There Be Religious Education in Public Schools?

In Manitoba in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up, the public school system was completely evacuated of religious education.

Well, there were two exceptions: we read a Bible story from the venerable and hoary Hurlbut’s

Hurlbut's Bible

…and the Lord’s Prayer was said aloud during morning exercises.

There was clearly a Christian bias to those practices.

Then, a Manitoban student successfully protested having a mandatory Christian prayer in school, all the way into the court system, and morning exercises were de-religionized.

Otherwise, you would think that, according to the education I got at school, religion and spirituality did not exist. There was no mention of any religious tradition. It was completely rinsed out of the curriculum, like the mud ground into the knees of our jeans that our mothers valiantly tried to wash.

Even the core French language curriculum was curiously lacking in reference to the words of faith, despite the high correlation between Roman Catholicism and the francophone population in Manitoba and across Canada.

Along the way, many of us learned about religious traditions by-the-by. Or (more commonly) we learned bits and pieces, fragments of fact and fiction, here and there.

Today, I think Canadian religious illiteracy is kind of shocking. The assumption of most school systems seems to be that the whole world is irreligious.

Not long ago, one of our neighborhood schools tried to flex its multicultural muscles by listing the religious festivals in the monthly school newsletter. I thought this truly laudable, but the details (often quite erroneously stated) were haphazardly cut and pasted from internet sources in a way that boggled the mind.

I don’t mind AT ALL if someone believes differently than I do (or doesn’t believe). And I am certainly not saying that all students must be taught Christianity in school. That’s the job of the Church.

But I do think we have our heads in the scholastic sand in most places in this country.

If your neighborhood has public education about the plurality of religions that do in fact fill our society – excellent! But most places seem to assume a “don’t talk about it; it doesn’t exist” approach.

Meantime we run the risk of teaching that religion is non-existent or unimportant, when for so many people, here and around the world, the opposite is true. Faith is profoundly important to billions of people.

We run the risk of responding to each other’s faith traditions out of carefully-choreographed ignorance, instead of curiosity, respect, and neighbourly regard.

RESPECT A Bourdain 

Rob Fennell teaches theology and history at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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