Hast never come to thee an hour,
A sudden gleam divine, precipitating, bursting all these bubbles, fashions, wealth?
These eager business aims—books, politics, art, amours,
To utter nothingness?
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, #272.
[Entire book of Ecclesiastes]
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.
I thoroughly enjoyed the two-day symposium sponsored by the unfortunately named Fuller Institute of Theology and Northwest Culture this past weekend in Seattle. (I say “unfortunately named” because, of course, the region in question, Cascadia, is in Canada‘s southwest, not “northwest.”)
I have rarely experienced such a stimulating meeting of scholars, pastors, activists, and other leaders seeking with obvious earnestness to help each other and learn from each other how to understand and serve this region we clearly all love so much. Patricia O’Connell Killen, doyen of historians of the religion of this region, was there, as was James Wellman, whose studies of liberal and evangelical churches in this region illuminate both. Christian schools across the board were well represented, from Catholic Gonzaga to conservative evangelical Multnomah, and from mainstream evangelical Trinity Western University to several secular universities, including “YouDub” itself. Activists of various sorts also featured prominently, from A Rocha to advocates of enlightened urban living to defenders of aboriginal rights to voices on behalf of Asian immigrants to ministers among the downtown poor.
I disagreed with some of what I heard (as is my wont) but I agreed with far more. So here are some of the choice bits from my notebook:
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I’ve been privileged to serve as a columnist for Faith Today magazine here in Canada for two stints, the second of which continues to the present. (Yes, of course you subscribe, don’t you?)
But I recently happened across the “signing off” column of my previous stint (1997-2003), and it was sobering to see how, after a decade, the concerns and aspirations I had then are chief among those I have now…
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I have had the privilege of hoping for a lot of things in this space. As I give way to someone else, I’ll list a few more hopes I have for the Canadian Church:
- I hope that we will help younger leaders who are quietly struggling to take their places in the shadow of older ones. Empowering younger people is hardest, it seems, for leaders who once themselves were “young lions” and who hate to admit that they now represent the past more than they do the future. How many people in leadership on your board or staff are under 50? How many are under 40? Are any under 30?
- I hope that we will improve our financial support for churches and other Christian organizations. We are a wealthy country, yet there is hardly a Christian organization from coast to coast that isn’t very hard pressed to do its work well. Yes, we can keep telling them to learn to do more with less. Wouldn’t we prefer them to enjoy the challenge of doing more with more?
- I hope that we will learn both to confront genuine and important sin in authentic church discipline, and also to lovingly moderate our complaints about secondary matters. We need more discernment, fibre and, yes, fire in our hearts about issues that are central to the gospel, and more charity, humility and temperance about issues that aren’t.
- I hope that we will recover our denominational distinctives, so that the gifts God has given peculiarly to each tradition—whether Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Mennonites or Brethren—will not disappear into a generic evangelicalism. Let’s rejoice in our ecumenical harmony, but not in our increasing monotony.
- I hope that we will improve adult Christian education. We persist in terminating people’s Christian education as soon as they finish high school. The result shows up in that many churches across the country by now have offered Alpha programs to inquirers—only to find that their own Christian members were enjoying it as brand new teaching!
- I hope that our intellectuals will enjoy our mystics, and our mystics will affirm our activists, and our activists will support our intellectuals—and that we will all seek to learn from each other, since none of us is only a head, or a heart, or a hand.
- I hope that we will care more for the needy: for the poor, for the mentally troubled, for foster kids, for the elderly, for the sick, for the dying, for the lonely. We are all so busy, and Jesus one day will ask us, “In all of that activity, did you ever care for me?” (Matthew 25:31-46).
- I hope that we will value our children and particularly their spiritual formation. We need to provide excellent Sunday schools and kids’ clubs, with good materials, good spaces, and good teachers—not just babysitting. We need to provide excellent youth programs, whether our churches are large or small. (How much status and money go into youth work in your congregation?) And we need to provide excellent “family services” that really do aim at the whole family in tone and content, rather than remain adult services with perhaps a “children’s moment” as garnish.
- Finally, I hope that we will pray more and better. That we will read more and better. That we will recover Scripture memorization, spiritual conversation, separation from vice, purity of speech, family Bible reading, and other disciplines of vital holiness even as we reach out to our neighbours with the affection and vigour and persistence of our Lord.
I dare to hope for all of these because I have faith that our Lord hopes for them, too.