Hope in an age of Hopelessness

“In a world bereft of meaning, there’s no point in pretending to be hopeful.”

This is the title of a recent essay penned by Canadian author and cultural commentator John Semley. It is a wide ranging essay that tries to connect the Philadelphia Flyers new mascot, Gritty, and internet memes and motivational sayings printed on coffee mugs to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report forecasting “an actual environmental apocalypse [that] seems both imminent, and entirely our fault.” After inviting us to connect the dots with him and take it all in, Semley observes, “The essential condition of our age is one of meaninglessness. And not just meaninglessness, but an earned,utterly validated meaninglessness.” Likewise, he says of us in our current state that the question moving forward “is not how to live, but how to die. Andmore pressingly, how to die well.” And where does he go with all this? After all this gloom, does he offer any ray of hope? Any ray of light in the midst of all the darkness? No. Instead of offering us hope, he cautions us against what he calls “the addiction of hope” – hope itself being an illusion to be seen through or a vice to be overcome. Instead he challenges us “to embrace nothope, but hopelessness” if we are going to make any “new, potent, potentially earth-changing forms of meaning.”

Hopelessness. It is not just limited to one essay written by one essayist in one newspaper.  Instead,hopelessness has become something of the spirit of the age. Once the domain of a few radical philosophers, hopelessness has gone mainstream. It is there in the news we follow and the books we read and the movies we watch. It feels like there are few if any recent books or movies that are not set in some sort of post-apocalyptic or dystopian world. Some times the hero lives to keep fighting. Other times they die as the author wants us to be confronted with what they see as the brutal reality of our world. Even a movie like Star Wars is not immune. The original Star Wars movie that launched to popular success wastitled, A New Hope.  In it the heroes of the story fight the Imperial forces and overcome in clear and dramatic fashion.Forty years later the next movie in the franchise picks up the storyline letting us know that the rebellion was a failure and everything is pretty much exactly like it was before with a new empire in place and the former rebels once again in hiding. So even this new hope leads to more of the same. Not even Hollywood is so optimistic they could see a future that is different from the past. Like I said, hopelessness has become the spirit of the age.

And yet it is into our hopeless age as much as any other that we hear declared the words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” There is reason to hope because all is not lost.  There is reason to hope for the darkness will not last forever. There is reason to hope because even now the first rays of light have broken through declaring that the future does not need to look like the past. And the source of our hope does not rest on an idea for a cause or our ability or the ability of a billionaire tech executive to figure it all out. Instead, our hope is found in a child born in a manger 2,000 years ago. The One who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. The One who is not our fleeting dream but our firm and lasting promise that God is with us and will continue to be with us both now and at the end of all time. And the One who can transform our age of hopelessness into an age of hope.

  • Joe Welty

Broadway-First Baptist Church Remembers

To see World War I Memorials, click this link  WW1 Memorials

To see World War II Memorials, click this link WW2 Memorial

Today is November 11. Today is Remembrance Day – the day that marks the end of the First World War almost exactly 100 years ago to the hour. As you look around, you have probably noticed at least a few of the 43 different memorials that we have set up throughout the sanctuary. They are memorials for individuals who absence we want to recognize.

Before we begin our service of Remembrance, let me talk a little bit about the memorials you see scattered around you.

Thisis an idea we borrowed from Letty Lawrence, a local fabric artist who has madesimilar memorials to this that are hanging throughout the city on lamp posts nearthe homes where the soldiers who served and died, lived. What we have done isput together memorials for each of the 43 young men from our congregation whoserved and died during both the First and Second World Wars. There arememorials for those who served when we were Broadway and First Baptist and for later when we were Broadway-FirstBaptist. Each memorial includes their name and date of birth and a brief descriptionthe person as we were able to piece it together from old personnel records andnewspaper clippings. I would say it was absolutely fascinating to do this, butthe word fascinating seems almost flippant considering what we are talkingabout.

It feels like I have spent this past week with many of these men … these boys really. After all this time, what can I tell you about them?

I can tell you a couple of things.

I can tell you that Broadway volunteered – we volunteered early and we volunteered often.

Everyone Volunteered. No one was conscripted, in large part I believe, because there was no one left to conscript by the time 1917 came and the Military Service Act was passed.

We volunteered early.

One of our members was among the first. Shaver Eadie, a recent widower and father of adult children, was on one of the first shiploads of troops that Canada sent in October of 1914. A handful of other people signed up for service in the days just before or just after their 18th birthday.

So we volunteered early.

And we volunteered often.

It is said that 61% of all draft eligible men in Manitoba enlisted in the War – a number that far exceeds the national average and even the next closest province, Alberta, which was just over 50%. Our congregation’s numbers certainly reflected this. If there were any draft eligible men left, they would have been few and far between.

And everyone volunteered.

They came from all over. British emigrants. A young kid from Iceland. An older man from New Zealand. The Winnipeg born son of what one paper called “an early pioneer family.” They were business owners, students, labourers, and even the son of a transplanted, wealthy, East Coast American family. They were idealistic young kids and students. They were young husbands and fathers and grieving widowers. They were green farm kids and hardened veterans of previous wars.

They were everyone.

And their service came with a terrible toll especially during WW1.

Of the at least 38 men we know served in WW1 at least 30 are confirmed to have died. There are four who died on the same day – April 9, 1917, a day of some infamy in Canada as it was the day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. And it is not just Vimy. Three others died on September 15, 1916 in the Battle of Courcelette which is part of the much bigger and more terrible Battle of the Somme where eight of our kids were killed. As you look across the room you will find familiar names like Vimy, Ypres, the Somme, and the Final Hundred Days (though with so many volunteering so early, that weren’t many left for the advance on those last 100 days).

Butthe toll was terrible – WW1 must have felt more like a reaping of everyone and everything than a selective sort of choosing.

And the Wars were indiscriminate.

A kid like Lloyd Glover signs up 11 days before his 18th birthday and is gone just 24 days after his 19th and an old veteran of the Boer War like Alfred Matthews is killed just before his 40th. The kid is killed in the big and terrible Battle of the Somme. And the old veteran? He is killed in skirmish so small that it doesn’t even rank a footnote in the history books. Or there is someone like Arthur Claydon who would earn a Distinguished Flying Cross for an act of skill and bravery on one day, only to be shot down and killed a few days later before the paperwork for his medal could begin to be processed. Or James Stout who signs on to play trumpet for the band and still doesn’t get to come home.

You Could survive for years through the horrors of Ypres, or the Somme or Vimy orAmiens only to die in the final few weeks of the war. The war didn’t care. I’m Sure it must have felt like a gaping mouth that was ready to consume any and everyone who fell into it.

So there is all this and yet one more thing I can tell you which is how deeply our congregation was touched.

With The memorials in place, you can get an idea of how many empty seats there might have been on any given Sunday. It touched the oldest and most established families here – the last names of those lost being the same as those who first met here and committed to building this place just a few years earlier. And it touched people who were new to this community as well – people who from all I can tell, barely, if ever warmed a pew before they were off and gone.

And even our building itself cannot escape being touched by the events of those days.

You may be familiar with the story of our building. In the spring of 1914 the decision was made to tear down the small wood structure we had been meeting in and to replace it with this much larger and impressive one. You may know the story of how the original building was torn down in May and the new building began to take shape that summer only to be put on hold at some point in August or September when the war broke out and workers and resources and money disappeared. Remarkably the work was completed shortly enough after for the first service to be held here on the second Sunday in November – or exactly 104 years ago today as well.

I came across an additional connection I didn’t know. One of the founding members of the church was a man named Ebenezer Claydon. Ebenezer was a deacon and also a builder who ran the company Claydon Bros General Contracting with his partner and brother, Arthur.

It became Ebenezer and Arthur’s job to build this building.

Shortly after completing this building, Arthur enlisted along with many of the workers who laid the beams and the bricks all around us. Arthur, like so many others, would not return. I doubt he was here long enough for one of the pews to become “his.”

This building is built for the glory of God. And it also reflects the context it was built in.

So it was … we have been … deeply touched.

So we remember these people and events and sacrifices this morning.

I CAN’T DO IT

“I can’t do it.” This is a familiar refrain in our house. It is used often by my kids about homework, household chores, and getting up for school in the morning.  I can’t blame them for it – I used it lot as a kid too.  I still do.  There are still times when a task comes up, a project needs to be planned or executed, a conversation needs to be had, or a potential conflict needs to be stepped into and this familiar refrain comes quickly back to mind. And no, it is not typically spoken so clearly or brashly as it once was.  But it is there, lingering somewhere in that space between my head and my heart. There are just some things that feel beyond our ability to do them.  Thankfully, I was recently reminded that, when these words come to mind, I am in good company.

“I can’t do it.” The Apostle Paul uses these words for the task that we as Christians have been given.  In 2 Corinthians 2 he is writing in a very personal way about the very personal and very practical challenges of being a less than perfect church in a less than perfect world. As he writes, he is aware of the personal and moral and spiritual conflict that can exist within the Christian community – and not just conflict that can but does exist in the community he is writing to. He is writing in part to try and mend fences between himself and this group of Christians after a series very difficult series of conversations. As he writes, he is also aware that this is the very community who is also given the task of being Christ’s witness and presence in the world. He speaks of how Christians are to be like “the aroma of Christ” – that is, people should be able to “catch the scent of Christ” on us like we might catch the scent of a loved one’s perfume or cologne on their jacket or in the room they just left. And this aroma is to be “the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere,” a scent that for some will feel like an experience of life and for others like a reminder of death. This is no small task.  And Paul recognizes this is especially no small task for a less than perfect church like Corinth with its less than perfect leader like himself.  So Paul writes, “Who can do this?” Or, to read a little between the lines, he is saying, “I can’t … we can’t … do this!” That is on our own this is simply too much. It is simply impossible.  So what can or what should we do instead? Paul suggests that instead of perfect, we should pursue sincerity.  He says that rather than focusing on trying to be perfect, we should instead focus on being sincere. So we should speak honestly, genuinely, sincerely about what we have come to find and are continuing to find in Christ in the midst of all the imperfect ways that we live this out on our own and together.

“I can’t do it.” These are welcome words because I can’t be enough on my own nor can we be enough together. We can’t be perfect friends and family members, perfect parents and children. We can’t be perfect Christ-followers and church leaders, perfect hosts and caregivers and witnesses and worship leaders both in our congregation and beyond. We can’t be a perfect church. But we can be a sincere one. One who sincerely points to the One who is perfect and whose grace is more than enough for our imperfections. And when we do this with sincerity, Christ’s “aroma” has a way of lingering on us.

  • Joe Welty

Back to the Basics

As our congregation’s leadership has gathered over the past few weeks, we have found ourselves asking the questions, “What now? What is our next step? In light of where we are and where we believe we need to go, what do we need to focus on for these next coming months?” As we discussed these questions, a theme emerged: Back to the basics.

Back to the basics. What are we talking about when we talk about going “back to the basics? We use this term to speak about the basic faith and practices that have been a part of the Christian community as long as there has been a Christian community to practice them. In particular, there are 5 basics that we keep coming back to. They are:

1.      A commitment to Jesus as the center of our faith and life and community

2.      A commitment to discipleship – to personally following Jesus and growing in our faith and knowledge and love for him

3.      A commitment to prayer – to personally and corporately seeking God in prayer as we pray to him and for each other and the world around us

4.      A commitment to care – to sharing life and faith with one another beyond Sunday mornings

5.      A commitment to welcome – to actively open our doors and step out and invite others into this shared life in Christ

These are the “basics” as we understand them – the basics of what following Jesus and loving him and our neighbour looks like. These “basics” describe what we recognize to be the basic character and practice of the Christian community that we rally around and must be a part of everything we do.

But the conversation doesn’t stop here. As we continued to work through this, we recognized these basic commitments lead us to making a number of smaller, more practical commitments to help us live them out together.

And so, in the coming months we are making:

1.      A commitment small groups – we are committed to increasing the number of small groups that are available so that anyone who would like to join one will be able to

2.      A commitment to prayer – we are committed to cultivating the culture of personal and corporate prayer in our congregation by offering both pre-service and mid-week prayer groups, an after service prayer team, and opportunities for our community to engage in prayer in new and creative ways both in the service and beyond

3.      A commitment to care – we are committed to caring more intentionally for those who call B-FBC home by regularly

following up with members when they are sick, absent or home-bound

4.      A commitment to engaging worship – we are committed to expanding our Sunday morning worship experience in creative and thoughtful ways that engage the whole of the Christian tradition we stand on as well as the language of the culture we live in

5.      A commitment to welcoming families – we are committed to providing supervised Sunday school every week for nursery and early years-aged children

6.      A commitment to welcoming the emerging generation – in particular, we are committed to planting a new worshipping community for young people in our neighbourhood to engage with Jesus and the Christian community in a new way

Back to basics. It means a commitment to the basic character and practices of the Christian community as it always has been and a commitment to some basic steps forward in faith that God might use these steps to continue the work that He began here so many years ago.

Joe Welty

The Cross and the Sword

THE CROSS AND THE SWORD

I can still remember that moment of discovery as a child. I was at a friend’s house whose parents took a different view on what sort of toys were appropriate for children to play with than my own parents did. We were playing with toy swords, a sort of forbidden fruit in my pacifist Mennonite home. As we were playing, my friend held his sword upside down by the blade for some sort of dramatic effect. In that moment there was a flash of recognition Continue reading The Cross and the Sword

Dry Bones

 

DRY BONES

For the record, I wasn’t there. But I do wonder what I would have done if I had been.

It happened like this. I was in seminary and a number of friends were excited about a new guest faculty member who would be giving an advanced course in preaching. He was a well-known preacher, someone many had heard either from the pulpit of his large and influential congregation or as a conference keynote speaker or through his regular radio ministry or one of his many, many books. There was a sense of excitement on the part of the students taking this course from such an influential individual and a sense of jealousy on the part of many others.

On the first day of class the students gathered early to collect their syllabi and to meet this person that many had been looking forward to studying under for some time. The preacher walked into the room a few minutes late and with not much more than that for an introduction said to grab their things as they were going for a drive. Five minutes later they met at the campus gates to sort out rides and drive in a caravan to a spot just a few minutes down the road. Getting out, the students realized they were at a cemetery. The preacher led them around the grounds for a few minutes, stepping around gravestones and other memorials as they went. Finally they came to a stop at a gravestone of no particular significance to anyone there. After a moment or two of silence, the preacher read the name engraved on the stone. And then, to the astonishment of everyone, he pointed to one student and said, “You. Preach to Mr. _______.” As a friend relayed it to me (he happened to be standing right next to the person and felt like he had narrowly dodged a bullet), the person’s eyes bulged, he stammered and made a few croaking sounds until the preacher turned on another student saying, “OK, you do it then.” The second student did a little better – better being they let out a long “ummmm” and “wellll” and “I guess I’ve been thinking about…” before the preacher cut them off too saying shortly, “Fine, I’ll do it.” He then proceeded to give a beautiful 5 minute introduction to the Christian message complete with an invitation to step forward from where they lay as an act of faith and commitment to Christ. I asked my friend what he was thinking at that moment. He said he wasn’t sure but he sure knew what he was feeling. It was a mix of fear and the desire to escape, like they had all been taken hostage by a crazy person and there was no way out. But then, presumably after the benediction, the preacher turned back to everyone and asked what they thought just happened there. I think the best anyone could come up with was something like, “We need to be prepared to preach at any time?” He said, “This is what we do every time we speak. We are like Ezekiel preaching to dry bones and trusting God’s Spirit to do the impossible and bring life to even these.”

I love this story. Don’t get me wrong, I am really glad I wasn’t there as I have no idea what I would have done. But I think it captures something essential not just about what a preaching ministry is but of what the Christian life as a whole is like. Every time we preach or speak or turn to the message of Jesus we are doing the same thing. We are asking God if he might not take these words and, by his Spirit, do what we cannot by bringing life even into all the places where it feels like we have experienced a kind of death. It is like we are Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones and dry places inside and asking God to bring life even here. Because when we do, he does.

-Joe Welty

FOREST BATHING AND OTHER THINGS

Shinrin-yoku.

Have you heard this term? For the past number of months it has been popping up all over the media-world in places as familiar as the CBC and ‘The Globe and Mail’ and as diverse as ‘National Geographic’, ‘Business Insider’, and ‘Vogue’. The term is Japanese and means “forest bathing.”It became popular in Japan beginning in the 1980’s to speak of the practice of intentionally unplugging from technology and going outside to a green space for a few hours at a time. Dr. Qing Li is the Chair of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine (yes, this is a real scientific society and evidence of the influence this idea has had in Japanese culture as a whole). In his recent book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, he lays out the findings of their research. He points to the scientific evidence that demonstrates how “forest bathing” decreases stress levels, heart rate, and  blood pressure. Likewise, he shows how it levels moods by decreasing anger and rates of depression while elevating our senses of joy and calm. Furthermore, “forest bathing” is linked to 30% increases in energy levels, 15% increases in sleep quality, as well as increases in our immune systems and cardiovascular health among other benefits. While they debate about the reasons for this – Is it the increased exposure to sunlight and less polluted air? Is it the natural aromatherapy from exposure to phytoncides found in plants and trees or to the bacteria, minerals, and microorganisms found in soil? – the results seem pretty clear: getting outside and connecting with nature is good for us.

Of course this probably shouldn’t surprise us as Canadians. While we don’t have quite such “boutique” language for this sort of experience, we have do have plenty of words of our own that we use. We use words like “going for a walk” or “getting outdoors” or “gardening” or taking part in what is for many the annual ritual called “camping.” Many of us experience the benefits of this sort of lifestyle so the results shouldn’t surprise us.

Moreover, this probably shouldn’t surprise us as Christians either. As Christians we believe that we were not created apart from the world or that the natural world is some sort of mess that we need to fix, escape, or be protected from. Instead, we believe we were made as part of and for the world. We believe that we are creatures, that is creations who are part of this world. And as creatures, it is really so surprising that we often feel at our best when we are connected to creation? Is it really surprising that it would be written in our DNA?

So with the summer months here, I hope you are able to take advantage of the warm weather and get out and replace some of your screen time with green time. Maybe it will give you the chance to understand in a new way what we are saying when we declare, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”                -Joe Welty