community is a large part of life. communities are things that businesses hope they can create and that people are eager to be a part of. there essentially two truths about communities.

    • communities are die without engaged people
    • people are left as hollow shells of themselves without community

with these two truths one would think that communities and the art of creating a community should be simple. make sure you have a critical mass of people and they will be happy and your community will thrive. this is the example I see most often. churches and businesses alike have great to create community (for different end goals obviously). there is nothing wrong with this desire as communities benefit both groups greatly. there are many social media experts and consultants that groups can hire to attempt to grow or cultivate their communities. I will say quite simply this is a waste of resources and time.

the fundamental problem is that community is not something that can be created. as it turns out the truths above don’t work both ways. having people does not make a community. you cannot say that you are going to grow a community if you do x, y, and z. there is a non-zero chance that a community may form if you do say those things but it isn’t a guarantee.

communities are organic things, just like people. or rather a mold. yes let’s go with mold. they will pop up where they feel like, when they feel like and die if they choose to.

expressed more fully I mean that given a group of likeminded people in a common location at the same time, they will communicate and relate. those relations will naturally grow and become bonds. this is how a community grows. a series of 1 on 1 relationships that form a network that is larger than any one individual relationship. by the same token though communities have natural life spans and at some point they die. if you try to hold on the idea of a specific community once it has passed it’s life expectancy you will find that those actions will have a negative impact on the relationships that you previously relied upon as a member of the community.

business that want to create communities generally skip over the 1 on 1 relationship aspect and wonder why no one forms a real attachment. churches on the other hand are dealing with communities dying out and respond by doubling down on the same methods using the mentality of if we try harder then people will come back. however like a bad relationship sometimes trying harder will just push people away and alienate them.

thus the problem is not that communities are dying but rather that we cling to what we know for too long. as someone who lives in a university town I experience the rise and fall of communities at an accelerated rate. looking back over the past 7 years I can identify 3 distinct, sequential communities that I was a part of. each was the product of the failure of a previous community and often shared similar components but was unique in it’s own right. life follows death, it is the natural order of things.

the death of a community is not something we need to fear. something will grow to replace it, often something that is stronger and healthier because the individuals that compose the community have learned lessons from all of their past communities. the thing we need to fear is not being willing to let go of something that has already died. when we do that we not only hurt ourselves, but also those that were a part of what made it great in the past.

I often have found myself picking on the church. I do this not because I have been wronged by it any way but more because it is the environment that I know. the following thoughts can be applied directly to any church although really it is directed towards the “moral authorities” whoever they may be.

I have written many times about ideas of love and interactions with the people of our lives. I am beginning from a similar place although going in a different direction. another appropriate title for this post might have been “strangers”. regardless of affiliation the community you belong to has a profound impact on how we are raised and this in turn sets us into motion for how we will interact with the world. one of the first ideals that we strive to instill into children, partially because it is aided by their biological instincts, is trust. specifically who to trust and who not to trust. we are constantly telling children to not talk to strangers and definitely not to take things from them. we teach about authority figures and how children can ALWAYS trust them (which is always a good plan right up to the moment when it isn’t true).

as children continue to grow, social interaction and relationships are a big focus of education. teachers will notify parents if a child doesn’t interact with others well, a heavy focus on sharing, etc. this is important because relationships are the thing that defines our lives. sure there may be other accomplishments but the ones that really matter are the people in our lives that will always be there. because of the importance of this we teach from a conservative place. always concerned with safety and injury — either physical or emotional — because we don’t want them to have to experience our own pain or fears.

the peak of this educational strategy comes when we teach teens about romantic relationships. these are often the cause of most of our own pain so they receive the closest of instruction. the teaching often takes the form of “guard your heart”. don’t let anyone get too close unless you are sure they are worth it, or have earned it.

brief disclaimer, I am not saying we shouldn’t teach caution nor would I ever say that. my issue with this is that we have taught future generations to be closed, to hold tight to what they have so that they will never have less. the process of loving others, romantically or platonically is an action of pouring yourself out, making yourself vulnerable and showing those people that you value you them enough to risk yourself.

the scope of this is not limited to troubled or stifled social interactions in the future. it is a killer for creation. our culture is often lambasted for it’s consumerist or sheeple type ways. a cookie cutter culture if you will. the way to overcome this of course is to develop people who are creating art, creating music, leaving a mark in ways that I cannot define. however art and creation is an act of pouring oneself into something, often bigger then themselves. however the guards and walls we teach people to build around their hearts are killing art before it even has a chance to form.

art comes from pain, from tragedy, from hope and hopelessness alike. these are all states that we teach children and teenagers to avoid. we should be teaching the process of embracing these things, how to move forward when it feels like we have no more forward in us.

we need to embrace our own pain that has us teaching things like “guard your heart” so that we stop killing the capacity for great creations of others.

being a good christian teenager attending camps and youth group the one subject that I was taught about more often than anything else was relationships. the prevalent teaching idea was to guard your heart and not give anything away to someone unless you are going to spend the rest of your life with them. the rationale behind this is because once you give part of yourself away then you can’t give it away in the future. this idea that we only have a finite amount that we can pour out to other people seems to be in contest with teachings about loving everyone we meet.

let’s consider for a moment the idea of walking around barefoot. I am someone who isn’t particularly fond of wearing shoes and often wander around without shoes. when I first started walking around barefoot I pretty much stuck to the grassy areas. these were safe areas. pavement was sometimes okay but often could be too warm or even sharp. gravel was my worst enemy. the majority of surfaces simply overwhelmed my feet and rendered me incapable of moving.

over time though my feet adapted to the point where not only could I tolerate pavement and gravel but I could even run on just about any of the surfaces without overwhelming pain. the reason for this of course is that my feet developed thick calluses enabling them to deal with much greater strain. a similar scenario is found amongst guitar players. one hand develops calluses that enable them to create something beautiful without wearing out their fingertips.

I am going to suggest that we really need to develop a callused heart. now this immediately brings to mind people who have been hurt and are cold and closed off from others. this is funny, because in any other scenario developing a callus is considered a good thing. whether it is working in a field or playing an instrument the teaching is always “once you push past this initial stage you will be ready to truly perform.” so why then, in matters of the heart do we not follow a similar model.

it isn’t incompatible with the ideas of what we tell teenagers about love, whether in a relationship or people in general, in fact it falls quite in line with it. with a fresh heart you can get out of your depth and be hurt really quickly. the pain from loving someone, in any capacity, is inevitable. however like any other situation these experiences will build calluses that give us a choice. we can either choose to never love again because you want to dwell in the dullness, or we can chose to pick ourselves up and love in a more complete way the next time and the time after.

instead of letting pain and loss cripple us by teaching that we only have a finite amount to give we need to be teaching people that loving others deeply and completely isn’t something that even comes from us. it comes from God and we simply have the job of developing a layer of callus that will help us to navigate the rough edges of the gravel that is the people we meet. then we can run with the whole love thing.

this fall has brought many changes to my life. like the leaves falling from trees, long standing parts of my life have fallen away. I have gone through major changes in the areas of church and working with youth. specifically I am not doing the first anymore and I have moved my work in the second area to the ice as I have begun coaching sledge hockey this fall.

the move into coaching actually led to no longer going to church as there was a scheduling conflict. however the decision to stop attending a weekly service has proven to be an area of much discussion and thought for me.

the initial reaction of most people was simple concern that I would not be participating in a weekly ritual. common responses were “maybe you can find a service at some other time.” the thing that was most entertaining to me about this was that most would then go on to tell me that without church I would be missing out on important community time, yet their reaction was to send me off to another community that has an alternate meeting time. while I suppose one could say that all churches are part of the same “global community” that would just be simple justification of a much greater issue.

first I will say that the church that I attended was by far the best example of a church that I have ever seen or participated in. the more I talk to friends about other church experiences the more thankful I am for the church I was/am a part of. I include this disclaimer because I am not suggesting that I am looking for another church to participate in. I am going to address the very institution that we have created in the church. a second more general disclaimer that I will make now is that this will probably upset or offend some people. this is the intention, it isn’t to be seen as a personal attack on anyone though, more an educational attack.

I titled this post institution of man simply because that is what the church is. I am aware that pretty much everyone will disagree with me on this point but I would suggest that is because of two things. it isn’t what the church is supposed to be and that people are very good at deluding themselves when necessary. church can be simplified to a collection of traditions and processes that have been collected over 2000 years and practiced because they are the “right thing” to do. of course most people reference scripture as the basis for many things, which in and of itself is fine, but the problem lies in the attitude. while scriptures provide examples and instruction they were written at a different time, to a different people, by authors who have a long dead mindset. this does not invalidate the truths contained however it does mean that our application of those truths is based on our own human interpretation of those truths. this human element is a beautiful facet of christianity and should be celebrated. the problem arises with the human attitudes that accompany the interpretation and application.

the attitude of many christians has become one of superiority. if you don’t follow a specific set of guidelines, adherences, etc then you are missing out or that you will be unable to grow in faith or relationship with god. this of course is a foolish place to reach. considering that many of the practices that are considered integral to the church have no foundation in the bible. things like organs, the music of many popular hymns for example began life as tavern music that the church adapted to stay relevant and engage people. so today when churches face resist things like new music or repurposing rooms in their churches it is simply due to selfish stubbornness. interesting the bible does directly address this kind of behavior. in colossians 2 Paul is writing to the church at laodicea (troublesome bunch they are) and he warns them specifically to make sure they do not get lost in man made philosophy or tradition (v8). this is a wonderful idea that is too often ignored by the church. Paul is teaching that we can develop a strong faith system, and that we can even utilize ideas and traditions created by man, however we need to be careful as to how tightly we hold on to them so they do not become our undoing.

so what does this mean for the church. I would never suggest that we shouldn’t be meeting as a body of christians. the problem as I see it is that church is happening because we are supposed to have church. this of course is not a valid motivation or starting point for anything of value. when looking at the early formation of the church we don’t find a group of people that said “well all other religions have gatherings so we should too!” instead you find a group of people who have hearts that are concerned with the well being of others. what we know as church happens to be a natural side effect of their heart and mind set. this of course is not something you can found a church on, in fact it is quite the opposite since no church is founded, one just happens.

so this is where I am at. I really do believe that the current system is beyond repair. that is the nature of a man made system. the foundations of the system have fallen into such disrepair that there can be no fix. I do not have any idea what the new system should look like, but I do honestly believe that the religion that has been created is doing a lot of harm to a lot of people. this of course is not a popular idea and is often met with the idea that we need to be considerate of the beliefs and practices of others, not wanting to offend them. while I think that approach has value in some situations this is not one of them. when Jesus entered the temple to find it corrupted by the business people and rif-raff of the time he didn’t stop to consider their feelings or how the ended up justifying the practice they were participating in. no, he started throwing tables. throwing tables! 

tables need to be thrown. attitudes need to be discarded. interpretations need to be exposed for what they are – interpretations, not truths.

above all faith is about love, a deep mystifying love. not rules.

there was a stage in my life where the staple food was a peanut butter and jam sandwich, I had it every day for lunch and things were great. as a special treat I would indulge in a chocolate bar. as a child this involved a special trip to the corner store with the change I had collected to collect a chocolate bar (and sometimes a pack of hockey cards!).

now imagine the wonder that existed when I realized that I could have these two substances together in one convenient cup styled delivery system! the peanut butter cup is honestly one of mans greatest inventions bar none.

of course you are all thinking ‘well he is right of course but what does that have to do with the title of this post.’ patience everyone, patience. we live in a society where every weekday we go to school/work/family-raising-situation and once a week we make that special trip to some sort of church environment. for the sake of simplicity and my ‘/’ key I will simply say ‘public school’ for the former and ‘sunday school’ for the latter.

so our life is full of public school teachings that live in one place and sunday school teachings that live in a second place. too often both places tell you that they are the one thing you should want and that they are totally incompatible and in the case of sunday school you may even get told ‘you aren’t welcome here’ if you suggest that the two things might be a beautiful combination.

the thing about science is that it is focused on goals, on pushing the boundaries of what we know, of pursuing something. whereas denying all science because you have a couple of chapters of text that very loosely tells you something and you have filled it in one way is the opposite of pursuit. it is stagnation. human beings were not created to stagnate. this is why people have mid life crisisesesss (or whatever the plural of crisis is), it is why there exists the term ‘seven year itch’ for relationships. we are created by an infinite God who wants us to pursue knowing him. we are finite beings and the relationship between finite and infinite has to be one where the finite is trying to keep up.

instead people need to find the deliciousness that is combining pb and chocolate, to blown away by the amazing creation of an astounding God, to marvel at the astoundingly complex systems that are result of his work. even just to sit in complete awe (and I mean speechless, thoughtless, stunned, awe) at the number of things we don’t know.

or we could keep pb and chocolate separate and continue to reject the wonders of creation while ostracizing people simply so that we can say we have the answers.

I am a huge fan of crazy theories and doing the unexpected.

So one day I got to thinking about promises. Those I make and that I see made. The ones that people believe are implied and those that people need outlined in every single detail.

As I thought more about just how quick people are to promise things – I swear on my <insert important person>‘s grace, etc – and how in the long run most promises aren’t honored I realized something. What I realized was that, like a contract, a promise is generally required by party A from party B simply so that if/when party B fails to carry through with the agreement then party A will have justification for their anger/lack of forgiveness/guilt trip.

This is of course not the general idea that people think of when considering the concept of promises. What is the big deal about this and why should this be something we are aware of? What the cultural perception of a promise is has huge ramifications on how people go about their day. If you need people to give you a promise every time you ask them to do something it reflects that you have little faith in the people you live/work with and clearly don&rsquo;t trust them overly.

Promises are the Opposite of Trust.

When it comes to matters of faith this becomes a big deal again. Christians everywhere look to “The Promises of God.” Of course how this effects your life comes down to your understanding of what a promise is. For example if we look at the Promise God gave to Abraham that he would father a great nation, blah blah blah, we see something that doesn’t at all reflect our cultural understanding of promises. If Abraham had our understanding of a promise I think the exchange would have gone something like:

God: “Sacrifice the only son I just gave you”

Abraham: “You realize you have made me a promise already, AND he is kind of neccesary for you to carry through on your word.”

God: “I know I know, trust me I have it all under control”

Abraham: “Really? Doesn’t seem like you really do, I am getting kind of old and I don’t see a second child coming any too soon. Just don’t forget that you promised. Or Else”

Now this of course isn’t how it went. Instead Abraham TRUSTED God and went along with it and is later praised for his great faith.

I would suggest that genuine promises can be fulfilled while respecting trust, but you don’t even know that it was a “promise” until you look back and reflect on it.

I have seen too many people require promises of others instead of trusting. Too many christians judging others and requiring promises. Things likes promise rings or purity contracts are exactly the wrong thing for Churches and Christian groups to be pushing. They create environments of mistrust, judgement, and score keeping. All things that aren’t healthy or a part of showing love to someone else.

A promise is not something to be made or requested. A promise is something that is done.

Well it has been more than a month since I have written anything. While part of me feels that not much has changed in that time I also must acknowledge that it really has. I graduated and became a contributing member to society. I even received a piece of paper that says I am qualified to educate the children of tomorrow!
So what has spurred me to take up the mantle of writing again you might ask? People I will say. It is always people. Life, the Universe, and Everything would be much simpler without them, though significantly less interesting.
A combination of experiences have led to this entry. In no particular order there is some motivation from watching american media covering politics and throwing around the “S” word whenever the democrats do anything. Next would be conversations at my youth group last week about judging people and how we shouldn’t do it. I recently watched Religulous (sp?) and one of my favorite parts were when the host (whose name escapes me at the moment and my failure to spell the title makes it difficult to look up) asks the Christians he met how they could pass judgement on him when they weren’t supposed to. I am also currently reading a book by Larry Osborne talking about myths Christians believe that aren’t actual biblical teachings. One of which was the idea that Christians shouldn’t judge.
The thing that really pushed me to find the time to write this is my observed reactions of fellow Nova Scotians following the election last night. For the first time in 6 years we have a majority government but this time it is the NDP (also a first). Opinions seems to be split down the conservative vs not conservative divide. The former seem to think our province has come to an end and the later are cautiously optimistic.
This of leads me to the other place in my life where I constantly see Conservative and Liberal viewpoints butt heads, the Church. I will say that I am someone who is considered to be on the far liberal end of the spectrum (which has been said disapprovingly about me by others but I am quite content). I often find myself at odds with Christians of a conservative viewpoint on political issues because I have long felt that focussing on making laws was a waste of time and resources but could never adequately articulate my thoughts on the matter until reading Mr. Osborne’s writings on judgement. In it he covers many things but most significantly for this discussion he broaches the topics of Christians and non-Christians. Quite simply put we aren’t supposed to judge them by Christian moral standards. This doesn’t mean there is no sin in what they do. Just that it isn’t our place to make them live up to standards we have chosen to live by. Mr. Osborne suggests that by making non-Christians live according to Christian standards will just mean there will be a lot of nice people in hell someday.
Thusly I shall simply say “Christian morality should never be made secular law just because it is christian morality. That idea has missed the point completely.” We are called to Love one another as we love ourselves and I think the church has a big problem on its hands and needs to take a long look to consider what it does and is doing.

For those of you that know me well, you know that I have a strong opinion on just about any topic that could possibly come up and that I will be the first to voice that opinion. While some might suggest that having strong opinions is a bad thing I would suggest otherwise, I am more than willing to consider my stance in the face of evidence that I am incorrect. That is neither here nor there when considering what I wanted to be writing about, my topic today is one that I am actually surprised I haven’t written about yet and one that anyone that knows me may also be surprised about. Part of me has stayed away from writing about Faith until now and I have no idea why. So here it is folks, my first thoughts and reflections on faith and life.

So this week I was doing some casual reading while I was at the office and ended up reading an article all about the persecution of members of the Baha’i faith. Now this triggered my desire to learn and I fell down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia and Google and started to learn as much as I could about just who the Baha’i are and how one would refer to them if one were to write a blog entry about them (This last one I am still not sure about). I must say that I didn’t really know what to expect but I can say that I definitely didn’t expect what I found. Essentially they believe that since we are all one race that it is time that it is united as one society by removing things like prejudice and discrimination. To be honest it was really refreshing to find a “religion” that has distilled their official doctrine down to something so simple and beautiful (Read more about it here).

Now to answer a quick question some reading might be wondering, no I am not in the market for a new religion or new beliefs, and no I am no further over the edge of sanity than I normally am. For me I have always had problems with the term religious because it lends itself to rigid us vs. them mentalities. My experience as a Christian boils down simply to Love God, Love People. While this seems really short and easy to say it has major ramifications and is complex to live out. Rather than rigid rules to be held to it is a more relational view point. “Do my actions follow with Loving God and Loving the people I meet?” Not always easy to answer but I feel that it sheds the us vs. them mentality that leads to church splits, holy wars, crusades, and just spats with other people in general. In practice I think that the Baha’i faith may be trying a bit too hard to include everyone by integrating all of the major religious teachers of all the traditions (Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Jesus, etc) although I think they may be on to something with their rational behind the integration. They suggest that many of the spiritual leaders carried the same timeless values (love neighbors, etc) but also provided needed structure and rules to the people of the time (dietary restrictions, prayer schedules) that in the context of their time greatly benefitted people but that, given changes in culture and society they are no longer effective or necessary.

Having spent some time studying church history I truly believe that the context in which scripture was written needs to be understood before teaching can really proceed from the text. Too often interpretations, translations, or just general humanity have gotten between groups of people in a way that isn’t healthy or productive for them or any future generations. At the end of the day all I can do is continue trying my best to love the people I interact with and to be as honest as possible as I can with them. It isn’t easy and I am never going to get it right every time but it is the motivation that provides momentum. I really think that there are a lot of lessons that Christians and Christianity can learn need to learn from the members of the Baha’i faith. The question is how warmly that idea would be embraced.