{Summer of Firsts}

This was our first summer hiking and camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

My (Helen’s) first time picking berries (our friend Jenn’s, too!)

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The first time(s) I made jam that actually set!

My first wedding cake baking and decorating.

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The first time our nieces, McKenna and Emilia, came to visit us.

Our first time camping at Cataract Creek.

This summer has possibly been the busiest summer of our lives, work-wise. We’ve been involved in hosting a family reunion, a concert, a wedding, and dozens of wedding guests from the U.K. and Manitoba.

We worked hard, but we played hard too. We are so blessed to live in a place where so much beauty exists outside our front door.

Hope you are making the most of these last days of summer!

Book Review: Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans

In Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans outlines her journey of loving, leaving, and finding the church, a theme I suspect is relevant to many of my Millennial peers who grew up going to church, but found themselves drifting away in later life.  Her story is similar to mine, in some ways. While Rachel grew up in the evangelical church and all that entailed – summer camp, youth group, and Christian concerts – I grew up in a church where my sister and I were often the only attendees under the age of forty. I do have some memories of Sunday school and pancake dinners on Shrove Tuesday, but I was completely oblivious to the fact that there was an entire subculture devoted to Christianity, complete with modern music, radio stations, jargon, and entire bookstores devoted to Christian literature. When I was sixteen, I visited another church with a friend, and I was stunned to see that a) her church had a bookstore, and b) there were CDs in that bookstore that included music more modern than hymns and “Shine Jesus Shine,” which was the most up-to-date song we sang at my church (sometimes we even clapped along).

Of course, by spending the first sixteen years of my life oblivious to evangelical subculture, I wasn’t missing out on anything essential, but I was missing out on some things more serious: I really did not know that I could be in relationship with God, or that the Spirit could empower me to love God and care for others. I didn’t grow up in a legalistic church, but in my own little type-A personality world, following God wasn’t about joy, or resurrection life, or hope – it was about following rules and being “good.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my love for the church waned as I grew older, as I became less interested in potlucks, gold stars for Sunday School attendance, and the many hide-and-go-seek hiding spots the church building offered when there were other kids in attendance besides my sister and I.

When I left for university, I left my childhood church behind, and I didn’t know it then, but I really entered a time of searching, in which I eventually found my way back to the church. Since that time, I’ve attended Christian Reformed, Pentecostal, Lutheran, non-denominational, Anglican, Methodist, and Alliance churches, and my experience has been all the richer for that variety. While these churches’ worship, theology, and ways of practically walking out faith vary, I, like Rachel Held Evans, could not resist the call of being part of a body of believers – could not resist the beauty of engaging in Communion, witnessing Baptism, participating in Confession, and walking in hope with others who are in Christ.

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Searching for Sunday is organized into seven parts named after the sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. Rachel weaves her story of “loving, leaving, and finding the church” through exploring the sacraments, from her time as an eager youthful evangelical, to her frustrations of unanswered questions, to her experiences in church planting (and mourning the end of that church plant), to her finding her current faith community. Not surprisingly, Searching for Sunday is beautifully written and thoughtfully crafted; it is both a sharing of the frustrations Millennials express about the church, and a celebration of the hope found in worshiping God in community. The following excerpt (in video form) highlights this truth:

Probably because of our experience with the liturgy of an intentional Christian community in Toronto, Michael (who is currently reading this book) and I were most drawn to the “Communion” section of Searching for Sunday. In addition to outlining the ways in which the Eucharist has been shared throughout history, Rachel does a lovely job of highlighting the ways in which the Lord’s Supper is shared today, whether as part of an entire meal, as distributed through bread torn from a common loaf and wine consumed from a common cup, or as an open invitation to those who have yet to meet with God. As with Rachel’s other writing, I enjoyed her combination of history, Bible, and evaluated experience, in the communication of her own story. While I don’t agree with everything she writes, and while I struggle to know where I stand with some of her subject matter, this doesn’t stop me from recommending Searching for Sunday.

In the book’s prologue, Rachel states that (in the United States) 59 percent of young people between the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine with a Christian background have dropped out of the church (p. xii), but in its final chapter Rachel shares,

This word for church, ekklesia, was used at the time of Jesus to refer to the “calling out” of citizens for a civic meeting or for battle, and is employed in one form or another in both the Old and New Testaments to refer to the people of God, assembled together. So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another (p. 254-255).

We are meant to follow Jesus, together. “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus – the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these” (p. xiv). As we seek to understand how to be the church to a hurting world (and to one another), let us search together.

Pray for our DTS!

Photo by Stephanie Matson.

Photo by Stephanie Matson.

This week our crazy Mountain Venture DTS staff and students are on an intense five day/four night backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains. Please pray for safety, fun, open hearts to the beauty of God’s creation, unity, and no bear encounters!

Please also be praying for them as they are now into the seventh week of their lecture phase, meaning outreach is only weeks away! They need direction, finances, and God to be preparing the hearts of those they will be ministering to as they head to Southeast Asia.

Recipe of the Week: Plum Torte

Lately, the recipe-of-the-week collection has been a bit heavy on the baking, but is there such thing as too much baking? I guess there might be when you have to eat all that you bake, but fortunately, I have a team of eager baking-eaters at my disposal. This week my team was given the task of consuming three plum tortes, recipe from the brilliant blog, Smitten Kitchen.

Purple plum torte, by Smitten Kitchen. Check out Smitten Kitchen's post for the complete recipe.

Purple plum torte, by Smitten Kitchen. Check out Smitten Kitchen’s post for the complete recipe.

While it is plum season in our part of the world, the plums I used in my tortes were from the freezer, and of a different variety than what’s pictured, but they were delicious none-the-less. The only things I did differently from the recipe were to add an additional 10 minutes to the bake time, and to use 1-1/2 tsp of cinnamon on the top of each cake, rather than the 1 tsp recommended. I let the cakes sit overnight, which is apparently the secret to increasing scrumptiousness.

In other baking news, if you love to bake, like to eat baking, or generally have a pulse, you should know that the sixth season of the Great British Bake Off is underway, and the episodes are available on YouTube! This fantastic show is a baking competition, but it’s exponentially nicer to watch than MasterChef. There’s no swearing or screaming or backstabbing or dramatic cuts to commercials; the contestants are just lovely and kind to one another, and produce some phenomenal (and not so phenomenal) bakes. The first episode is, appropriately, on cake:

Brilliant idea: make yourself a plum torte, let it sit overnight, then watch this show while eating a slice and having a cuppa (that’s English for “cup of tea”)!

Walking in Vulnerability

The first time I (Michael) really began to understand the power of vulnerability, was also my first time going to a church small group/Bible study as an adult. Let’s call the leaders of the group “Rob” and “Shelly.” The group was for young adults who were too old for youth group, but didn’t want to go to their parents’ small groups. “Rob” was a very new and immature Christian, but willing to serve. He was everything I needed to see in a leader, and yet likely everything that would have kept many from placing him in leadership. I can remember coming to small group waiting for Rob and Shelly to come downstairs so we could start the evening, and Rob coming down and saying, “Shelly and I just had a big fight and aren’t doing very well. Can you guys pray for us?” I was shocked, but I also was impressed with the level of vulnerability that took. This experience made me trust and connect with Rob even though we had very little other than our faith in common.

I would experience the healing work of vulnerability a couple of years later in the first weeks of my DTS. At this time, many of the guys in that school, including myself, intentionally shared those secret sins we love to leave in the dark, and, even though we had no reason to believe we were safe to share, brought them into the light. I was one of the first to speak because I had seen vulnerability modeled in Rob and Shelly and knew its power. That night a dozen or more young men shared things big and small, from intentional sins, to hurts committed against them. As we shared, we didn’t focus in on their failures with judgement, but incarnated the forgiveness given by the work of Jesus on the cross as we spoke new truths of freedom and grace over each one.

I recently was reminded of the impact of vulnerability through a TedTalk by Bréne Brown. It is from 2010, but to me, it was new. I have some friends who have read her stuff and I imagine other friends who would write her off as a liberal new age Christian, but all that aside, there is honest beauty in what she shares about her academic research and her personal awakening to the power of vulnerability in our lives.

A couple of things were new to me in Brown’s talk on vulnerability. One of these things was her description of what she calls “whole-hearted” people, and what they have in common:

“What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.”

This definition of courage was new to me. I tend to associate “courage” with “bravery.” I connect courage with bravado, not imperfection and compassion.

The second big thing that stood out was when she spoke of how these “whole-hearted people” embraced vulnerability.

“The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

The description of vulnerable acts really hit me. Vulnerability is not hanging all your dirty laundry out for the world to see; it’s possible to do that in order to shock people, which is really the opposite of being vulnerable. No, embracing vulnerability is risk-taking with your heart, knowing that by managing the risk, you are not really living.

Finally I was challenged by Brown’s suggestion that we numb vulnerability, and by doing so, also numb ourselves against feeling a spectrum of life-giving emotions as well.

“You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”

God calls us to experience life in this current age of tension, to the full. This means we will experience not only fullness of joy, but grief and lament. The Psalms are full of emotion, but as much as there are Psalms of praise, there are laments. There is a full expression of the human experience. Even God incarnate embraced the full emotional experience of being human in this broken age. Time and time again I meet young people who come from a heritage of faith, but they are often so unwilling to be vulnerable. Their impression is that the victorious Christian life is not one of imperfection or pain. Jesus said that a servant is not greater than his master; if Jesus experienced the full range of the human experience, why is it that we directly and indirectly communicate that Christians should have a different experience than the Lord?

Many of my greatest regrets in relationships have been that I was not more vulnerable, and missed out on connecting with others in a deeper way. In favor of momentary comfort, I sacrificed deep connectedness. As I move into leadership, I am challenged to find ways to continue to be vulnerable with those I lead. Holy Spirit, give me wisdom in walking in vulnerability.

{Praise & Prayers}

As we get ever closer to leaving for Kyiv, Ukraine, taking a teaching team to Central Asia, and being trained up and commissioned for bringing the Titus Project to YWAM Turner Valley, we feel a tug on our hearts for more prayer, and more praise of what God is doing. God IS doing things and we’re excited(!), but we want to be continually seeking Him, trusting He knows what we need, but that He loves when we ask.

Praise: Last week I (Helen) was praying about our outreach to Central Asia, asking God for confirmation that this is, in fact, where we’re supposed to go. Later that day, we got an email from our program leader, sending us some newsletters from a previous trip to the same countries we will be visiting. It was a blessing to read that a team has been to this part of the world, had teaching opportunities, and has made an impact.

Pray: Pray our planning will pick up steam! It’s a challenge to be in the head space of getting ready to lead a team when Michael and I are the only Critical Services staff at YWAM TV right now, meaning we have A LOT on our plates.

Praise: Last week we heard back from a contact in Central Asia!

Pray: Pray we would be able to build relationships with contacts and with those we will encounter, and that those relationships would begin even before we fly out of Canada. Pray there will be teaching opportunities, and that God will be preparing the hearts of teachers and students.

Praise: To date, we have $2632.54 towards Titus, and our monthly support has increased a few times in 2015, making it possible for us to save some of our monthly support towards outreach!

Pray: We need approximately $7000 for our flights, not including our ground fees and any additional traveling costs (the $7000 includes flying to Kyiv, flying to Central Asia, and flying to Taiwan). We don’t yet know what to expect for our ground fees while in Central Asia, but our staff fees in the Ukraine (which will include accommodation, food, etc.), will be slightly higher than our staff fees here in Turner Valley. In addition, we’ll be in Taiwan for at least a week, and we don’t know what to expect for the ground fees of that trip. Pray for miraculous provision!

Praise: Karla Adolphe has agreed to help us with a fundraising concert in October! She’s a talented artist and a lovely friend, and we’re thrilled she has agreed to be part of our fundraiser.

Pray: Pray we would have the right heart motivation about this fundraiser; we want to trust God for what we need, not our own devices. In the past we have felt God has said “no” to fundraisers for us, but this time He is giving us the go ahead, and we want every part of this concert to be a blessing to others, and for God to use it as He wills.

Praise: Participant applications are starting to come in for Titus Kyiv!

Pray: We would LOVE to have a Russian speaker on our team. It would make life on outreach abundantly easier. Pray the right people would be applying for Titus, and that God will be moving in the hearts of those who have completed SBS, giving them a desire to give away the incredible gift they have received.

Thank you for praising God with us and praying for us!

Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have been an evangelical if he lived today. I (Michael) am kidding of course, but this could be one of the themes you infer Eric Metaxas is attempting to include in his 2010 biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Those who have studied Bonhoeffer’s life and theology actually critique the book for this theme, but I am uncertain if this is really what Metaxas is trying to get across.  I would say this massive look at the German theologian, pastor and spy working against Hitler and the Nazis, is perhaps more of an attempt to show Bonhoeffer engaged a wider theological perspective in his day than many other theologians in Germany at the time. If Bonhoeffer was alive today, would he be considered a Liberal theologian (with all the baggage that entails)? I think he probably would. But what this biography attempts to show, is that in spite of the theological currents of his day, Bonhoeffer’s theology was strongly Christocentric. The incarnation was central to all Bonhoeffer believed and really influenced his Christian ethic, which would ultimately lead to his opposition of Hilter, and his own death.

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As I approached this book, my thoughts of Bonhoeffer were associated with reasons for non-violent resistance: in my thinking, he served as an example of using violence to stop violence. When his efforts failed, more violence was caused. Though my stance on non-violence has not changed, I am forced to take a different perspective on the kind of evil Bonhoeffer saw around him, and I have come to a greater understanding as to why he believed the assassination of Hitler was the only solution to the problem Germany faced. In Bonhoeffer, Metaxas writes of how Bonhoeffer believed it was possible and almost necessary to pursue obedience to what you believed God was calling you to do, to such a degree that in your zeal, you might sin or fail. When I think of  the evil of Hitler and his followers, I can understand that in defense of the defenseless, one might do that which equates to missing the mark and failing, but at the same time, doing nothing out of fear of not being forgiven, would also amount to sin. To this point I am leaving this book with a lot to think about.

I believe for both myself and the author, Bonhoeffer’s interest in living the Christian life together hit a chord. For me, some of this comes from living in a Christian community of shared rhythm of life in YWAM, but it also points to something that, when staff and students leave YWAM, find difficult to find in the “outside world.” There is something about eating together, worshiping together, praying together, and working together that creates community and a common faith, in a way that the isolation of suburban living cannot find. Not to say that every conversation I have around the dining room table is deeply theological or that I pray for someone everyday, but there is space for deeply theological conversations and opportunities to pray more often than not. I am challenged to see my faith expand beyond the YWAM campus and into the world around me, both here in Alberta and around the world.

It took me about six months to read, but I would highly recommend giving Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy a read.