The Bees of Rainbow Falls

Our very own Preston Pouteaux’s new book The Bees of Rainbow Falls is now available. My copy will be arriving this week and I can’t wait!

Here is a review of the book from Dixie Vandersluys:

Centering around his knowledge of the life of bees, Preston Pouteaux’s new book The Bees of Rainbow Falls is an invitation to look at the world and our place in it with fresh eyes. This may seem like a leap: from the, seemingly, small life of the bee to this great big world of ours, but Preston weaves together a narrative that is at once educational, personal, challenging, and inspiring. And it all begins with the way we see.

From the introduction where Preston writes of the lush grass of his childhood and how his imagination was piqued to see beyond the blades to what lies beneath, from who he was to who he could be, from the beginning with God in the garden to what God is doing in the world through our neighbourhoods today, the reader is invited to experience and participate in a journey of imagination. “When God brought me into the garden apiary, he was doing what love has always done — God was opening the window of my imagination to catch the fresh cool wind of the world that God was creating before me” (15).

085-6x9-Front-Back-Paperback-COVERVAULT11 copy

Part one of the book looks at bees and how their lives and the practice of beekeeping has drawn Preston into a better understanding of neighbourhood (person and community). This is not a perspective unique to Preston. Throughout history the bee and its work has offered analogy and insight into who we are as people and how neighbourhoods and places can be reshaped and reimagined.

There is much in the bee that we can see in us. Preston unfolds this powerfully in his discussion of keystone species whose work is often unnoticed but is necessary and vital; in the love and delight that is found when our identity is rooted in God’s perspective; in allowing God’s work to be seen in the complicated intricacies of life — both hive and human; in recognizing God’s hope and promise (“the land of milk and honey”) all around us; how small, unseen actions can be transformational and redemptive; and finally, the practical risks that need to be taken to change an environment in hopes that it will thrive. The reader is left with questions to examine his or her own life: What about my life? Is it impactful and life-giving? Am I seeing all there is to be seen in my neighbourhood?

Not leaving these questions unanswered, the second part of the book explores the themes Preston has discovered in this bee-keeping neighbourhood journey, offering in-depth and practical discussions of: beauty (which reawakens our senses), awe (renewing imagination), security (looking at what real safety is), boring (examining the rhythms of life), taste of place (recognizing uniqueness), and curates (opportunities for care and creation). Some of these themes are obvious, while some of the concepts are unexpected. Yet, Preston’s examination allows each theme to be both universally applicable and uniquely personal, leaving the reader both challenged and encouraged and with the tools to dig into each theme in their own life.

Ultimately, The Bees of Rainbow Falls is much more than a book about some neighbourhood bees. The book offers the reader an opportunity to sit, learn, and reflect on the small, unseen aspects of life, along with an invitation to see how much more there is when we open our hearts and our minds to the intricate, amazing beauty unfolding in the people and neighbourhoods we encounter every day. The Bees of Rainbow Falls is a fresh and enlightening look at the impact of small things and offers the reader the tools for a more intentional, meaningful posture in the world: to make the invisible visible and reorient daily life to see and live the grace and goodness God is manifesting all around.

Exploring Exile with Lee Beach

By Merv Budd

Canadian author Lee Beach, in his recent book The Church In Exile, helps us imagine what the hope and mission of God’s people can look like in a post-Christendom culture. Here is the first of a two-part interview with Lee on some of the points from The Church in Exile.

Forge Canada: You write about the community of God’s people developing practices that set them apart from the practices of the larger culture (page 60). What are some of the practices of the larger culture that has shaped it into what we have today?

Lee BeachLee Beach: I think that it is accurate to say that mainstream Western culture has been shaped by the economic ideology of consumerism and materialism. These are the prevailing narratives that guide our times. The idea that fulfillment comes through the acquisition of goods and the pursuit of leisure is the prevailing narrative of our culture.

Also, the move toward a postmodern worldview that values individualized truth and the rejection of meta-narratives has made our culture one that is largely based on individualism. People find their cultural connection in increasingly cohort-based ways (e.g., through ethnicity, generation, religiosity, specific interests). These affinity-based choices have led to the fracturing of culture so that “culture” has to be understood as a loosely connected group of individual cultures that relate to each other in an “as needed” fashion. We are now a culture of cultures whose ethics are group based as opposed to being based on a cultural consensus.

The challenge for the church is to not simply capitulate into being another cultural group. We do need to cultivate our distinctiveness in a way that makes the Christian worldview plausible and attractive, but without being a cloistered segment of the fractured whole.

Forge: You argue that one of the needs of being an exhilic people is to stop trying to go back to the way things were and to embrace a future that looks different (page 102). What would you say are some of the “way things were” that the church in Canada keeps trying to restore? What are some of the irreversible changes that have taken place that we must accept?

Lee: The place of the church has shifted from near the centre of culture to nearer to the margins of it. The term “Church” and even “Christian” are generally perceived as negative terms for most Canadians. This does not mean that they perceive individual Christians negatively, especially if they have a relationship with one. But there is a huge perception in the public sphere that Christianity is not a helpful contributor to cultural progress.

Further, the Christian voice must accept that it is one among many with no pride of place anymore. We must understand that our voice will only be persuasive as it is able to engage other voices on equal footing and it will only have influence if it is backed up by authentic action. Certain social changes around sexuality, family, even abortion are not going to be reversed. This is not to say that the church should not stand for justice on particular issues, but trying to reverse laws or spend a lot of energy engaging political structures on these things is probably not the best investment of our time.

Instead we need to focus on figuring out how to serve our communities in a redemptive, positive way and offer critiques on the various issues of injustice that continue to plague our world and have both international and local implications like human trafficking, the environment and poverty.

Forge: You encourage us to read Scripture with the contemporary culture as a conversation partner (page 127). Can you explain how to go about this? Who would you say is someone who is doing this well?

Lee: Culture can help us to read Scripture better if we are willing to accept that we all live with a certain limited vision. That is, we all have blind spots due to the culture we are raised in and that we live in. Thus, we limit what Scripture is saying to what fits into our own predominant cultural vision.

Sometimes culture helps us see that our assumptions are misguided. For instance, imagine you grew up in a time and place when your church said it was okay to think of black people as inferior. Then imagine you move to a new part of the country where those stereotypes are not only challenged but also condemned. When you meet some African American people who impress you with their character and intellect, you may take another look at whether what you were taught by your church is actually an accurate interpretation of Scripture. In this way a new cultural experience helps you read your Bible better.

We need to be open to the idea that our current views of how to understand Scripture are shaped by our cultural location and as that location shifts it may actually shed new and helpful light on our theological convictions that may unearth the need for us to adjust them.

Walter Brueggemann is an example of someone who is doing a good job of reading Scripture and culture together. He is the one who initially got me onto the exile paradigm as he looked into culture and began to reflect on how the emerging contours of North American culture could shine new light on old texts and bring new understanding.

Lee is joining us for three evenings in Ontario this month. Visit forgecanada.ca to register for these events:

Taking the Next Steps

By Cam Roxburgh

In my last post, I asked the question, might it be true that we as God’s people today, have drifted and also need “a renewed theological vision of the church on mission?” Perhaps our understanding of God is too narrow. Our box for Him too small.

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Lesslie Newbigin’s writings all began with a conviction that the church in the West was experiencing a cultural captivity that we were oblivious about. Or perhaps we were guilty of doing the very thing that J.B. Phillips warned against in his rendition of Romans 12: “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

Perhaps these three prepositions will give us a way to reflect on how we understand God:

In
John 1 and other passages indicate that Christ is in the world. We need to have a fresh look at the implications of God’s presence in the world. Jonah was astounded that God was in  Nineveh. The Israelites were amazed that God was in Babylon. We too need to learn to see  God in our neighbourhoods—active and at work.

The implication for us is that we as a church need to stop coming up with all of these plans for changing the world, and instead learn to discern where God is already at work and join in with Him. It may also mean that we need to pay careful attention to the way in which we learn to live in the world as witnesses to Him.

For
The book of Exodus (and other scriptures), indicate that God is for people. Often, we have  understood Him to be against this and opposed to that, but we need to be renewed in our    understanding that even His name carries with it the sense that He is for people. It does not mean that He approves of everything we do, or that He turns a blind eye to our sin, but rather that fundamentally God is for us…and for the world. Even God’s holiness means that this is true.

The implications for us must be that as we seek to be holy as He is holy, we too need to be known for what we are for and not so much for what we are against. This also has implications for how we learn to stand up for those who are disadvantaged and less privileged, learning to differentiate between the empire and the Kingdom of God.

With
Immanuel. God is with us. We know this fact intellectually, but I wonder if we may need to actually realize it practically. God is in the world and for the world. And He sends us to go and be His hands and feet and mouth to practice and proclaim the reality of the Kingdom. But we need to understand that we are His kids and that He promises to be with us.

The implication for us is that we no longer rely on our own strength, but instead learn to trust in Him and rely on the power of the Spirit at work in us. It also means we need to learn to live as a covenant community, instead of collection of contracted individuals.

God is a missionary God, who is at work in the world, is for the world, and invites us to put our confidence in Him as He uses us to redeem all things.

A Renewed Theological Vision

By Cam Roxburgh

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above
(Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

One of the problems with sin, is that it leads us away from a relationship with the Lord both as individuals and as a community of His people. We wander, we drift, we do our own thing. But the Lord is gracious and slow to anger. He is faithful and calls His people to return to Him and to bear witness to the reality of the fact that He is about redeeming all things.

There are key moments in the Bible when God gave people “a renewed theological vision” in order that His people might be called out of captivity—either real or of their own doing—and returned to a right relationship with Him.

Moses
One of the most obvious was with Moses. We all recall the meeting at the burning bush. Moses, tending his Father-in-law’s flocks, having run away from Egypt and the trouble there, is mesmerized by the sight of the burning bush and approaches to determine what is happening. There he encounters God, who gives him “a renewed theological vision” of who He is.

In chapters 3 and 6 of Exodus, God explains to Moses that his forefathers had known God as El-Shaddai: the Almighty or All Powerful One. Now God invites Moses and his people to know Him as “I am that I am.” Or, YHWH. Throughout Exodus we come to see God as more than just the Almighty, but He is the One who redeems, the One who leads them to life, and the One who does this for the sake of the world. YHWH invites Moses to join Him on mission as He leads His people out of slavery, to a promised land, so that others may know that He is God. Sounds very prophetic to me.

Jonah
Jonah is another example of a time when God gives a renewed theological vision.

Jonah had done his duty—so he thought. Put to work by the king in previous years, he was perhaps in a state of retirement. Then God comes to Jonah and gives him another assignment. It certainly was not one he asked for, or one that he welcomed. In fact the complete opposite. It made no sense. God was sending him to a people other than the Jews (that was a first) and these were the worst people on the face of the earth. And then the message that he was to deliver—he must have heard that incorrectly as well! God wanted him to go and speak a message of mercy.

We know this whale tale. Whether through Sunday school or Veggie Tales we have heard of the fish and the failure of Jonah. But what is amazing in the midst of the story is that Jonah is a messenger not only to the Ninevites, but to the Jews and indeed to us. God is not only found among His people, but He is found present in the midst of those who seem to have rejected Him: the world. And He loves them. And shows mercy to them. And Jonah is not only surprised with who God is, but indeed angry, because this new revelation does not fit with the box he had put God comfortably in.

Peter
Peter and Cornelius would be a great example in the New Testament. Once again we see God pushing His people to realize that the gospel is to be preached to more than just the Jews. And that the religious laws were a means to an end and not the end itself.

Domenico Fetti's depiction of Peter's dream.

Domenico Fetti’s depiction of Peter’s dream.

So Peter dreams. He is called to the home of Cornelius and after consultation goes and learns that God is no longer to be found in the food laws of His people, but rather in a freedom that reflects an allegiance to who He is. He is no longer to call impure that which God has made pure. Food, or fellow human being. The gospel is to be preached in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Peter has his renewed theological vision of who God is and how the church is to function.

Might it be true that we, as God’s people today, have drifted and also need a renewed theological vision of the church on mission?

The Decision – A Parable

By Merv Budd

Carol was a persuasive woman. Her first-hand accounts of her visits overseas were stunningly and attractively descriptive. When she spoke to Jake about her adventures it captured his imagination. On cold winter days he could feel the warmth of the sun on his back as she spoke. “Why don’t you go?” Carol challenged. She was a born persuader. “You’ll never regret it.”

Kangaroos at sunset CC Viaggio Routard

Jake stammered an answer that didn’t even convince him. He had reservations but wasn’t sure he knew how to articulate them. “I don’t know” he said. Carol’s disappointment was crushing. The truth is Jake liked Carol and hated to be the cause of her pain. “Come on” coaxed Carol, “all you need to do is make a decision.” “Okay.” Jake conceded, “I’ll do it. I’ll go overseas. I’ve made my decision.” Carol was ecstatic. She jumped up and down barely able to contain her excitement.

That night when they were with a group a friends Carol urged Jake to announce his decision. “Go ahead,” she prompted “tell people what you decided.” Reluctantly Jake told the group “I’m going to go overseas.” Some of the people were obviously shocked, others were almost as excited as Carol and many people congratulated him.

Time passed and Carol’s visits slowly diminished. She was always out with others telling them about her experiences and adventures overseas, trying to convince them to make a decision to go. Jake signed out some books on exotic destinations and even inquired about prices. But the cost was more than he thought and it would have taken some great sacrifices to make the trip a reality. To anyone who watched it was readily apparent that Jake’s decision to go overseas had no implications for how he lived. He had no plan for saving money to go. No destination in mind. And, if he was honest, he had no real interest in going. He was pretty sure that he’d like it when he got there but there was still some reservation. Jake’s decision had become nothing more than a concession to please his friend.

If Jake’s decision was to translate into action he would have needed to have a travelling companion; someone who had travelled before and knew the ropes. He needed a friend who would have helped to get the location, set the dates, dream about the upcoming trip and share the memories with him. A person whose own excitement was contagious for those times when Jake had doubts and who could convince Jake that the sacrifices required to save money would be worth it once they were there.

The reality is that decisions need follow up. People on journeys need companions to go with them. We have for many years understood evangelism as a decision in time rather than a determination to journey. The results of our decision-getting efforts have been scores of people claiming to have made a decision for Christ, but not having made any real changes as a result of that decision.

As missionaries to our culture and to people, our task is to journey with others. It’s slower; it can’t be mass produced. And it requires a great deal of love, patience and commitment. But this is how Jesus journeyed with the 12 and I suspect we would be further ahead in our missional endeavours if we followed His example.

The God who Reveals: Loving God with our Minds Part 2

By Cameron Roxburgh

The basis of missional life is our new identity as sons and servants, and our calling to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. Last week, we looked at how God reveals Himself to our minds: through the Scriptures, through the Son, and through the Spirit empowering His people.

We determined that when it comes to loving God with our minds, we must correctly understand Him, listen to what He says, and put what He says into practice.

Making this Practical
What does this all mean for us? There are several things we can comment on to make this practical for us as we are sent into the world:

From meaning to saying
Is it possible that we have misunderstood the proper approach to scripture? I am concerned that we work so hard to understand what it means (a good thing at one level) and then miss the primary purpose. Scripture is one of the ways that we hear the voice of God. Perhaps instead of just asking “what does this mean?” we instead need to be asking the equally—if not more—important question of the scripture which is “what is God saying to me?” Far too often we stop at using our skills to understand the meaning, and fail to get to the most important part.

    Action: Come to the text and ask what God is saying to you/us.

From saying to doing
Not only do we stop at trying to understand the text, but we fail to go from “what are you saying?” to “what do I need to do to be obedient in this way?” Many of us have experienced Bible Studies that are guilty of this very issue. We work so hard to understand the meaning (not wrong in itself) but then we fail to hear the voice of God or to put what we have heard into practice.

CC moyerphotos

Action: Ask what we are to do as a result of what we have heard God say, and do it.   Refuse to “do” Bible Studies that are only about an understanding of the text, and do    not lead to listening to the voice of God or applying what He has said.

Preaching for Formation
Preaching is a crucial aspect of what it means to be missional. But it must be a certain kind of preaching. Some value entertaining sermons. Others value sermons that give us great insight into the meaning of the text. But neither of these are sufficient to be called good preaching. Instead, we need a standard of preaching that helps those listening to get into the scriptures themselves, to learn to listen to the voice of God in the text, and then to correctly discern what it is that God is asking us to do. This may not always be seen as the most entertaining, or the most brilliant, but it will bring about the greatest formation in the life of God’s people.

Action: We must insist on preaching that helps God’s people to correctly handle the   scriptures, listen for the voice of God, and become obedient to what God has asked of us.

In my next article, I will look at how “loving God with our strength” is foundational for what it means to be missional.

The God Who Reveals: Loving God with our Minds

By Cam Roxburgh

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:1-2

What it means to be missional? So many people have misunderstood what it means, and have adopted a truncated view, assuming it refers only to our strategy for doing social justice acts in the neighbourhood. Previously, we considered how loving God with all of our hearts (worship and religious affections as witness) is a crucial part of joining God on mission, and this month we go a step further to consider how  loving God with our minds is also an essential component.

We must always start with understanding God’s nature. We want to affirm the missionary nature of God (missio dei), believing that God reveals who He is to us in many ways in a desire to draw us into relationship with Himself.

Through the Scriptures
One of the ways God speaks to us is through scripture. Many have come to understand Christians as people of the Book, which is not the best way to see us. Instead we need to understand that God speaks to us through the Bible to help us to understand who He is and how He is at work in the world (His story).

Listen CC BY-ND 2.0 Tony Hall
As we walk through the scriptures, we see God constantly sending His word into the world in an effort to draw us closer. This starts in the very first sentences of scripture through Him sending His word and fashioning order from chaos. It continued as He sent His word to Abraham through covenant. The Israelites would become His people, blessed, and to be a blessing to all nations. Then through Joseph in Egypt and Moses as the one who would lead the Israelites out of slavery. God tells Moses of His name—I Am (YHWH)—which means a God who redeems, leads to life, for the sake of the world. In all, there are 220 times in the Old Testament alone that we hear of God sending His word among His people, to lead them back into relationship with Himself, and to be a blessing to other nations. This call was hard for the Jews. Think of their times of exile in Babylon, or when Jonah was sent to the Ninevites.

Through the Son
Of course, the greatest evidence of God sending His word is in and through His son, Jesus the Messiah. Indeed we have become a people of the Word—the Son of God, Messiah, King of the Kingdom of God. Jesus becomes the one who fulfills the name of God. He redeems His people, leads them to life, for the sake of the world. He is the One who not only died for our sins, for the sin of the world, but is also the One who returns the relationship between God and His people to its proper perspective: a theocracy instead of worldly political systems.

We so often remark that Jesus “looks like the Father,” but we must also remember that the Father looks like Jesus. Jesus was God sending His word into the world, so He could seek and save those who were estranged from Him.

Through His People – By the Spirit
God’s story has not come to an end. That’s good news. Is it possible that we have truncated the gospel, reducing it to a series of propositions? Have we inadvertently communicated that if a person gives intellectual assent to these propositions, they will “go to heaven?”

Now, because God is a missionary God who sends His word into the world, and we are made in His image, we too are now a part of God’s story. Because of Jesus, and now through the power of the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us, we too are sent by God into the world to bring this good news to all people.

If God reveals who He is, and what He is doing in the world to us, then our task must be to correctly understand Him, listen to what He says, and put this into practice. This is what it means to join God on mission.

In my next article, I’ll take a look at some practical actions we can take as we seek to love God with our minds.

Practices don’t always make perfection.

By Merv Budd

I recently picked up Lee Beach’s book, The Church in Exile: Loving in Hope After Christendom, and found my imagination grabbed by an observation he made regarding the call to holiness for God’s people. He said this:

Within the textual response to exile there is a call for the community to distinguish itself as a set-apart people through practices of holiness designed to bring a renewed sense of communal identity, specifically as a people separate from the practices of the larger culture.

I began to wonder, what are the practices of the larger culture that has shaped it into its present consumeristic, individualistic, secular-leaning orientation? And what, therefore, should be the practices of the church which will help to guard our hearts from the prevalent cultural currents?

It was while I was thinking about this that I happened to come across a statistic: according to the research of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8.25 in 2015. Just to put that into perspective, scientists believe that the average goldfish has a 9-second attention span.

CC Alexandra Rust

Consider the restlessness and activity addictions of the average Canadian. Watch how often teenagers reach for their cell phones whenever there is a spare second or pause in a conversation. People are training themselves to be distracted. The practice of being still, the discipline of mindful meditation, and the habits of pausing, thinking and reflecting are becoming increasingly rare.

I believe this agitation-driven need to do something, rather than simply be present, is one of the practices of the larger community that drives the consumer spirit of our age. It is destructive to the soul. For a people who reflect the nature of the God they serve, spending time (or is it investing time) in quiet and stillness is an essential practice in our quest to be a content, missional people.

Psalm 131:2 says it best:

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

What other “practices of the larger culture” do you think are contributing to the way things are? And what practices do you think are essential to helping form the church’s missional identity?

Missional Coaching Questions From The Life Of Nehemiah

By Rainer Kunz

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the life of Nehemiah. He was a man who made a big impact. Quite often, missional leaders will voice their desire to make an impact in their community. When that opportunity arises in a missional coaching relationship, you can’t beat the following questions inspired by Nehemiah’s example.

First some background information. Nehemiah was cupbearer to the King of Persia. That made him the second most powerful man in the world at that time. And yet, he desired to make an even greater impact for God. That’s the foundation for a great coaching question:

“What kind of impact do you want to make in your world?”
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Something Shocking

By Merv Budd

I was at my bowling league the other night, bowling against one of the new teams that had joined the league this season. I noticed that one of the ladies on the other team brought her teenage daughter. So, between games, wanting to make the daughter feel comfortable and acknowledged, I asked her if her mom bought her a chocolate bar between games as a reward for coming with her. She told me she doesn’t eat sugar because she is not allowed. She even told me that she had been grounded once when she was younger because she told her mom she had eaten a chocolate bar.

Chocolate

I asked the mom if this was true and she assured me that it was.

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