Sunday, August 31, 2003

Just reading over that Waiters Union link from a little earlier. Wow. I really like how that bunch sounds. Maybe I will bump them to first on my list of places to visit...

Dave calls their ideology "the visionary agenda of Jesus of Nazareth". To choose poverty over wealth and hardship over comfort; to be committed to unlimited availability for everyone else, at the cost of one's own privacy; to serve everyone except oneself: these are following Jesus' example and obeying his teaching. Imitating Jesus is the Waiters' Union's great passion, from which everything else flows.
I've said a little bit about how a bunch of us here are thinking about co-housing / community-living, and just beginning to take a good look at how feasible it would be in Japan. Of course, that has got me thinking more and more about it, and snooping around the web for those who are doing similar things. And there are plenty of folks out there who are already having a really good go at this thing.

If I was a man of means, I can imagine putting together a study trip with a few friends. First we would go visit some of the Hutterite communities that I grew up so close to. Here are people who have been living in very close community for centuries, and have survived. That in itself should be worth taking a closer look at. Then the Bruderhof Communities. To me they seem very similar to the Hutterites, though maybe somewhat more outward looking. Then I would get down to Australia to hang out with Dave Andrews and the Waiter's Union (sounds like a band name). There in Brisbane the housing situation is more like it was at home in the North End, with people close to each other but in separate houses, but they are very deliberate about loving people and enacting the principles of the Kingdom in their lives.

I have also heard that similar things are going on here in Japan, in one case through a group of people called "Bethel". I am looking into that one too, but my poor Japanese makes it more of a challenge.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

This post at Mark H.'s blog a while ago got in my head and wouldn't get out. I got thinking about it again because of this post at Rob's blog. So here is the whole thing:

I have been appreciating some of the recent “leadership” literature emphasizing that leaders are not made nor born as much as they are situationally called into existence.

I've been telling my community for years that the clearer the sense of vision a person/community has for the future the less likely that vision is from God. That is not the way God generally leads. He leads us to the place where "we don't know" and "can't see." It is not God's way to give us specifics - he seems to take us to places where trust grows, (or is more likely to grow). He leads us to faith not certainty.

I believe that the church is so caught up in the vision thing because it is easy. A clear vision rally’s people and excites. Trust is too hard.

Our modern use of vision is often little more then marketing bullshit. We try to craft a vision that is big enough for people do buy into because we have little idea want God's vision is. Because vision sells but has no substance. We don't trust God's leading into the ambiguous, so we create visions that sound "Christian" and sell like it is God's. We kid ourselves into believing that we have heard God’s voice when all we’re after is little more then self-preservation. And we wonder why Christians are so weak, human-sized vision in a God-sized metanarrative produces self-centered religion. The preservation of the church should never concern us, that’s God’s deal.

God does not give a five year plan, with aggressive but attainable action items. I and my community must decrease. We are being invited to empty ourselves, to love and to lose. Even so may we lose quickly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Screaming, crying and speaking in tongues are manifestations of the evangelical movement now widespread in North America.

But these days, their missions in Latin America are bringing in the flocks as well.

Some observers liken it to a second Reformation.

With prayers and a financial lifeline from North America, they offer dreams and other services the poor don't expect in these countries.

Lorenda Redekopp went to Guatemala to prepare this documentary, "Los Evangelicos."

Listen to it here at Dispatches.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

We did a gig last night at a tiny bar, and it was just an awesome time. About 40 people were there but that number packed the place out and made for a real party. Brian, remember gigs of six friends in an empty coffee house with a nasty host?? Well, so far we have only done two gigs, but what a difference. The previous one, Shooters, was a really big place, that was also packed out for the night. Very good time. I must say the shift in the gigging winds confirms my thoughts that Japan is the place to do music.

And we just spent a bunch of money on a Behringer power amp and two good speakers, so we are set to do some of the outdoor stuff that people do around here. And last night we got asked on for two more gigs, one, another bar-rock kind of gig (which are fun but I could see getting old fast because the mood and atmosphere doesn't really fit our music very well) and the other a gig in a classy jazz club (wherein we will do the more stripped back pop-leaning-to-jazz stuff that we prefer). I got that through a Japanese jazz singer friend (unbelievable voice). I think I am going to get her to sing the aforementioned Aimee Mann song for that gig.

And they pay us to do this!!!

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Watched Magnolia. My first reaction was that I didn't like it, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Like a U2 song. And I am seriously in love with the Aimee Mann song from the movie, It's Not Going to Stop. Very emotion-filled song.
A few of us here are giving some serious thought to building a community-type house. My friend Matt proposed the idea in light of the fact that we feel similarly about living our lives out in closer quarters, and pooling our resources, and just basically accepting the challenges of community living to break down our selfishness and to teach us how to love better. Matt pointed out that the rent each family is paying amounts to a very large chunk of cash being thrown away every month, cash that might be better spent building a place that will be around for awhile. So it is definitely in the early dreaming stage, but we are taking initial steps in finding how we could go about doing such a thing.

Right now, the six-plex design proposed in Tom Sine's book, Mustard Seed vs. McWorld keeps coming up in conversation. The expense in Japan is remarkable. But if it is God's thing, we will find the road we need to take.

Have you guys back home done any more thinking or strategizing about the use of the big North End building for residential stuff?? The way things have gone in Joe's housing situation gives me faith that things can work out remarkably if we just start committing ourselves to the goal...

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Cool. I read a thought about church tonight that has me thinking ecclesiologically...

I think churches should have a regular cycle of birth, growth, and death. Individual local churches should die when it comes time. It is easier to transition the universal church through a cycle of renewal than it is to upgrade existing institutions. The cycle of death and birth can rid faith communities of excess baggage that can really hinder a congregation.

By planting a church we become part of that renewal process. One day what ever we structure we create should die.

How natural that a church, if it is "organic" be bold enough to face death as part of the cycle. I think many of us have encountered churches that are functionally "dead" though maybe a building and a religious committment to the traditions of "what has been done previously" keep a few folks hanging on.

Also, a church dying gracefully would be an awesome demonstration of trusting the spirit of God to continue birthing new things, trusting that Christ "will build his church", as he put it.

And it would demonstrate a belief that the "Church" is essentially something greater than the structures we build services around.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Reading on into Zechariah's prophecy about his son, and this lines cause somewhat of an emotional response in me:

And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God's tender mercy,
the light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace."

John is always marked by that "forgiveness of sins" thing. These days, with self-righteoussness of many strains of "Christianity", "sin" takes on such a condemning, condescending tone. Most people, when being told they are SINNERS (pound the fist, point the finger) will react defensively. Now if you can't admit your sin, that you are messed up in some way, your ability to move toward being Loving will be crippled, because your just not facing reality. But most people I have met, in a honest moment, will admit that they hurt and have been hurt by people. And I think that is at the heart of what is going on with "forgiveness of sin".

I was listening to Marilyn Manson talk about Satanism once, and I was struck how what most Christians view as the bad parts of Satanism aren't really the really dark parts at all. It is not really the glorification of spiritual darkness and the big show he puts on that is the dangerous part. Manson will point out that Satanists don't even believe in a spiritual being called Satan. The scary part is that he believes humans are perfectly self-sufficient, that we are not broken, and that we don't need any fix from a God or creator. And that we should live for ourselves and reject weakness.

But God seems to require us to be a lot more like the guys in AA. It starts by saying, "I'm John, and I'm messed up. I live for myself, and I hurt other people to do it. But I don't want to be like that anymore." And the good news, what John the Baptist is telling me, is that such an honest moment brings me into the revelation that I am forgiven; that God hasn't been mad at me, but has been wanting to help fix my broken part, help heal my disease. I guess that is what gets me all emotional when I read the part about, "the light from heaven is about to break upon us". It's like, the promise is there, that we can learn how to Love, and to be like God is, and it's just about to happen. That light is just about to break.
Then in Mary's song of praise there is the first hint of that thing the Catholics call "God's preferential option for the poor".

His mighty arm does tremendous things!
How he scatters the proud and haughty ones!
He has taken princes from their thrones
and exalted the lowly.
He has satisfied the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.

As I recall, this is not the last time we will see the rich getting cast in a bad light, basically because they have lots of money, and the poor in a good light, because they don't. It's quite interesting how such obvious biases get quickly passed over in a rich Western reading of the gospels. But these things aren't lost on the poor who read the scripture (I think of some of the Gustavo Gutierrez I read a long time ago).

But I admit it is hard to see how that jives with the notion of a God who loves all his children equally. I think Ron Sider said the best thing I have heard about that. He said that God does indeed love all his children equally, that he doesn't "prefer" the poor. But WE make him biased because of our incredible preference for the rich. Most everyone strives to be rich, strives to be popular, and comfortable, and good-looking and whatever else brings power. But God seems to be constantly balancing that out by emphasizing, in opposition to the normal human way of doing things, his value on the poor.

So we should too.
Reading Luke 1 again.

I notice Zechariah loses the ability to speak because he "didn't believe what [the angel] said." Then later Mary gets big congrats on her lack of doubt: "You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said".

My first thought is that if whether you are blessed or not depends on how quickly and easily you believe "that the Lord will do what he said", I am in a lot of trouble.

My second thought is that if an angel stood in front of me and told me just what it is that God is saying, I would doubt it a lot less...
We are back from Utsumi beach. That was a nice holiday. Now we are trying to get real revved about Japanese learning. Trying trying. There are some pictures of the weekend over at the phlog...

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Ok it's late. And I just had my medicine. Let's see how the gospel's look after a few shosts of dovka...

Concerning Luke 1:1-4.

Luke talks about the research he put into writing his version of the gospels. He wasn't there firsthand. For some, such talk might cause doubt in the authenticity and reliability of what Luke wrote down. But what about this: what if we viewed the Bible, authenticity-wise, on the same level as Plato's recording of the words of Socrates, just one man writing down what he heard. I am not sure we would lose a single thing that was intended for us. I mean even if the gospel writers messed up a few details, the plain message of Christ comes through with incredible clarity. The idea of learning to embrace Love; to learn to be selfless; to empty ourselves of the things we greedily strive for and instead serve others is the easiest thing see from Christ; but it is the hardest thing we will never do.

Most times I think the evangelical ruse of inerrancy is just a clever way to de-emphasize the very plain message of Christ by elevating other parts of scripture. Most of the denomination-forming fights over the details of scripture are not the kind of thing that make much difference when it comes to selflessness and Love. Yeah, so maybe seminaries are evil too. Maybe anything that makes us rabbit-trail away from the basics of discipleship - learning to be more Loving and less selfish - are to be avoided. I mean if the least are the ones who get it so well, and the higher-ups are the ones who are far from the kingdom, we should take some hints from that.

Tarbender, pur me another...

No gospel's post yet because I got really busy, and now I am going to Utsumi on a two day beach holiday. So I will come back with some pictures and some brilliant thoughts I am sure.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Great quote from some guy over at Mike's site:

The first Christ-followers were Jews, the next Christ followers were Christians. Maybe in the future, Christ followers will not be called anything. When Gentiles first began following Jesus, it caused all sorts of problems. There were those who insisted that if you were going to follow Jesus, you had to become Jewish.

Could Acts 15 be a pivotal story for our own time?

I wonder mike...I know it's not my role to make presumptions about people's "qualification" to enter into the kingdom of God. But maybe it is better to introduce her to the person of Christ, and allow him to transform her in her Buddhist culture from the inside out, rather than ask her to denounce her culture, and inherit ours. Buddhism could really help reform the american-fast-food-way that most Christians look at the Gospel. Much of the language of decent of the Gospels, and of self death and denial seems present there. I think that would be much better than introducing her to the culture of Christianity, hoping that God meets her there. Maybe the epitome of global evangelism is Christ changing all cultures from the inside out, and those cultures coexisting and sharing with one another their own limited beauty and perspective of that mystery(the way they "know in part", and realizing it is limited); not us advocating ours as the way to meet Christ until we've dispelled the diversity in the world with our perverse sense of Manifest Destiny.

I think that if we really looked, we would find that most every other culture is open to the message of Christ far more than we are to what we could learn from theirs(insert: the buddha). We are so afraid of dilluting our faith--and I am probably most of all. But i think we've got to arrive at a place where we allow people to live out the story of God in their environment, embracing the person of Christ in their respective cultures, and wathcing him redeem what we were ready to burn as evil.

Shoot, if God can redeem Christianity, just think...=)

Thursday, August 07, 2003

K. I'm doing it again. I started blogging again because I want to get back to writing everyday again, just simply as a discipline, but I am already going back to my "ugh, too much effort, don't want to write, just gonna surf" kind of ways. I am not exactly sure what I am feeling such a push to be more disciplined lately. I think mostly it is because I am finding myself with much more time on my hands that I do nothing of any value with. And that is driving me nuts because the wasted time is getting me nowhere. The language issue brings that sharply into focus. If I had been spending a little bit of my free time every day studying Japanese, I would be way ahead of where I am at now. But instead I am still spinning my wheels.

So for blogging I often think of something I would like to write about, but then it is gone or just seems dumb when I go to write in the evening. So I need something to blog around, some kind of other source that would spur some ideas. And I am thinking that the perfect thing would be re-reading the gospels again, and putting the thoughts that arise from it down here. I got in a conversation with a friend the other day where I said:

To me, the gospels hold remarkably more weight than than the rest of scripture (no other foundation than Christ, as Paul would say) because they hold the very revelation of the Divine being. He was what was revealed to us as what God is like, and therefore, we must know how his heart beat and read other scripture in that light, rather than the other way around.

Andrea and I got talking about it and we were thinking got on to the whole thing about how dealing with the OT is just plain a sticky, grey area that historically has often led to really weird application. I don't know if a lot of the stuff going in the OT has to square exactly with what is going on with Christ, because it is evident that either 1. There was some sort of massive paradigm shift between the two testaments or 2. What we are getting in the OT is not as clear revelation-wise (ie: more of the prophet's own stuff getting in there than when you are reading the actual words of Christ). What makes me say that is when Christ himself starts directly contradicting some of the writings of the Law:

"You have heard that the law of Moses says, `Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! ". (Matthew 5:43)

So what does one do when Christ points to the OT and says, "look, don't think like that anymore"? He must be establishing himself as a higher authority even than the scripture, which is one of the things that freaked people out so much.

After I wrote it, I thought, man, for the amount of importance I say I place in the gospels, I sure haven't picked them up for a long time. So there, now I said, now I gotta do it. I will start reading through Luke or Matthew and writing down the thoughts that arise.

Soon... not now.
It is hot in Japan right now. Indescribably. I think 98% humidity is some kind of evil. Even when the temperature is not that high, it just feels so disgusting outside the house. Is it worse than Winnipeg winter? I think that one is a saw-off. In both situations we run from the house to the car and then from the car to the mall, doing whatever it takes to spend as little time as possible outside. But at least the ocean is not too far away. This weekend we are going to head out for a short beach holiday. A friend of ours lives about 300 metres from the beach.

I find myself looking very forward to Japanese winter again. Many Japanese feel it is too cold, but for me, it is heavy sweater weather. Last year on New Year's day we were outside in t-shirts playing football. And not knee deep in snow. Well, I guess I am paying my weather dues right now...
Oh, and Steve, you have been exposed. Now I know the truth about Habitat for Humanity...
Ok, so much for long introspective posts... I don't know that I have them in me...

Here is George Bush on Beat the Press... from Comedy Central.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Tonight I got some happy happy news.

A friend of mine is all buddy buddy with the manager at the Blue Note. Apparently he had mentioned a while back that Holly Cole was one of the more impressive Canadian artists. Well I don't know if there is a connection, but guess who is coming to town in September?? Thankfully, my friend remembered that I am somewhat enamoured with Ms. Cole so the really good news is that I will get a very good shot at a very good seat.

The Japanese say, ureshii na...
Adventures in Japanese TV:

This one is a little hard to explain, but it was providing me with such entertainment, that I thought I had to try. There was a program on where a bunch of famous Japanese guys and some gorgeous beer promoter type girl were sitting around a swimming pool. I could understand it was a contest, but I couldn't quite get what for. So the first guy goes into a little supply room and gets a few seconds during which time he has to get naked and then find something creative to cover his ding dong with. The bell rings, and the door opens, and he has to come out and reveal his "creativity". For example, one guy used the "staff" tag that lifeguards hang around their necks, one guy used shaving cream, another used a life preserver etc.

Next contest with the same guys. Everybody has to swim one length of the pool buck naked. But here's the catch: they have to keep Mr. Dangle covered the whole time by doing the front crawl and always bringing one hand back to cover it up. I don't know who thinks of this, but to me it had the same effect as an early Jim Carrey movie - so dumb that laughter is unavoidable.

Then they had to strap on these really big hands and feet and try to "walk" across the pool. Also entertaining. I suppose more entertaining if you are familiar with the celebrities. Can you imagine celebrities back home even agreeing to do such stuff??

Anyway, the pictures are here.

Update: Ok, apparently they are not there yet, but they will be in the very near future, and they feature pseudo-nudity so how can you not check back?

Sunday, August 03, 2003

i had a dream last night (that is Wednesday night/Thursday morning). there are few dreams in my life that i remember for years to come. this will be one of them. it was no less real than the real i know as real. i woke up early on in the dream to use the bathroom and go to the kitchen and resumed the dream upon my returned to sleep. most of it is fuzzy at this point, though i remember with substantial clarity the last few minutes in the dream.

in my dream i held one of my children and died with them. there was a moment where we realized we would die and i began praying as the device detonated and our city was eclipsed by the inhuman force of a nuclear explosion.


I have told some of you about the two dreams I had like that some years ago, about a month apart. In one, I was in a prison (Russian, I think) and I had just had the crap beaten out of me. It was so real that in the moment it made me think I should give up any thoughts of work in foreign lands. In the dream a month later, I was in the same prison and I got shot, dead, in the chest, and it actually hurt. I can't remember if I have ever felt pain in another dream,

Anyway, one of those dreams that makes you wake up and say, "what was that about?"

Anyone else ever dreamed of their own death?

Or how about some good jokes?

Saturday, August 02, 2003

For some of you back home, this is just John's broken record type stuff. But I thought I would post it to remind us of the good old days of the Shark Club Fellowship. It is from a letter I wrote a few days ago:

I guess I wasn’t very clear with the whole worship leader thing. I wasn’t saying that the church doesn’t need any worship leaders (as in the songwriting singing type). I was meaning to say that calling the guy who leads the singing on a Sunday morning a “worship leader” is not really something we got from the Bible. It is just part of the Christianese that has been added to scripture by our whole evangelical tradition. Not that that makes it bad or good – I don’t see it as un-biblical, but as extra-biblical (like so many other things we do to worship God). Worship, in the New Testament, invariably refers to a life changed, what happens when you see that Christ’s values are at odds with the values of the world, and you start to change your life to reflect his values. Singing songs might bring you some of the way into that realization (it is sad how often it doesn’t) but the way we use the word, I feel often cheapens what Christ reveals worship to be: repentance, a re-thinking of how we act, unto the living out of the Kingdom of God. Like I say, eyes closed, hands raised and songs being sung might be one of the first actions in that new direction, but the prominence we give to musical worship often means our actions don’t go much beyond that place – as a matter of fact, that place is what we start to strive for. But striving for only what is at the beginning gets kind of gross. It’s like a runner making his main priority the start of the race, and then just kind of quitting after the first ten yards because he never put any importance on finishing the race.

For me almost a foundational maxim is the idea that I want to major on the things Jesus majored on and minor on what he minored on. From that viewpoint, the musical side of worship looks different. For instance, I think we could stop singing songs tomorrow and the Kingdom wouldn’t grind to a halt. Gleaning from the words of Christ there are some things that are major in the lives of kingdom people: friendship with the poor and the losers seems to be a big one; living radically with your money (ie: giving heaps of it away) seems to be another; prayer also seems to be a really big deal.

And that is what I was trying to get at in my talk. That the most important role that music can play in a church service is facilitating prayer, and I even think we should see it as that. That 35 minutes of singing? I say don’t call it worship time, call it prayer time, because that is something we can really get down to in a service where we meet together. But then God help us to not stop there. It seems to me that for Christ prayer was the spiritual re-charge time for another venture out into the people, as he headed out once again to waste his life on the losers and reveal the goodness, kindness, and compassion of God. So then worship is when we take our cups of cold water, and our money, and our time and we pour it out on the people who Jesus poured it out on.

Yikes, I might be only muddying up the waters here. These things are probably best discussed over coffee.

So when’s coffee?? I am way free for the next few days.

Tonight I went and saw this guy and this guy at a music club in town. It was unbelievable musicianship: apparently this is all these guys do. The drummer has played with Santana, Madonna, Whitney Houston, etc, and the guitarist Miles Davis and a bunch of other jazz guys I was unfamiliar with. I went in kind of expecting to be unimpressed because I knew it was all instrumental, and usually I really get jazzed by that place where poetry meets music. I am not as into the pure musical expression part minus the words part. I know people are often saying, ooooh, the silence, so much meaning in what isn't said yada yada yada.... well, I sure like what is said, especially when it is said well.

That being said, I was impressed by just how emotional the music itself was. Some of the slow songs had me wondering that question I have pondered many times: what is it about a tune that can cause such an emotional response in a person? What is carried in a song? Just what are we reacting to; what is going there?

Just saw our friend Shiho perform at a Jazz Club. No wonder doing muisic in Japan is profitable. After paying for the food and the music fee, the tab came to around seventy bucks. And we really didn't eat that much.

But the music was good. And Shiho's voice is amazing.

Today I bought a powered amp. What that basically means is now we can get a lot more serious about doing some outdoor shows around Nagoya. As a band we are buying an entire sound system. I kinda like the idea of being able to perform under the stars for no fee, just to see who we attract. We shall see. As long as we attract more than flies.

Friday, August 01, 2003

K, here we go again. I am missing the benefits of blogging so I am going to give it another shot. I don't know if I am shy or what, but I shut down the last one because it started getting read by a lot of people I didn't know and I found myself feeling less and less like posting what was really on my mind. In in this one I hope to post a lot more long, introspective type posts that so many find boring. That should keep the audience more intimate. I will try to do less posting of links to the web surfing I am doing, because I want to do less web surfing. I am finding that as therapy and communication with you guys back home, blogging is a very good thing. But I also find that I can just waste heaps of time doing really nothing as I surf through blogs and related links.

And Brian is always complaining about me not communicating enough, so this is partly to shut him up too.

Now I am off to find a commenting system...