The Doctor’s Regenerations: What Doctor Who Tells Us About Growing Older

There has been a lot of research of child development and stages children go through to become adults. But what about once you become an adult? What are those life stages like?

Not as much as been researched on the stages of development adults go through. Luckily, we have Doctor Who.

The many incarnations of the Doctor can be a symbol of the stages we’ve come and what, maybe, we can look forward to when we get older.   Here are the Doctors and how they represent growing older:

 

1st Doctor

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Aloof, crabby, and distant: not my favourite Doctor. He is seldom called the Doctor, more “Grandfather” by Susan. This best describes the slightly humourless incarnation.

And yet, something happens during the course of his adventures. Halfway through, in some undetermined point in the show, the status crosses from an educational program to where the “Grandfather” becomes The Doctor. He intervenes. He shouts down. He stands up for the little guy.

This crossover I’ve seen happen with a lot of amazing senior citizens. They enter into their old aged periods resigned, giving into what the cosmos tells them about being old. But then something snaps. They grow tired of their immigrant neighbours being picked on; their church being neglected; or the bullies running their retirement home. They wake up and arrive.   Once that happens, it’s no longer OK just to spectate but engage.   Once they do, they become a mighty power in Creation.

 

2nd Doctor

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         Patrick Troughton was 46 when he took the part, although he looks much older than someone in their middle ages. Then again, how old does he come across? Really?

A tramp, a goofball, one who acts like a senior citizen trying to work his remote one moment and then a child running out to swim in the ocean the next. He is ignored and dismissed by his enemies, only to for him to later defeat them.

To understand him is to look into his eyes. Wild, playful, and uncertain: you can tell this someone who looks at reality completely differently than others.

This is the legacy of someone entering into their 50’s. They care about what matters and willing to give the superficial a run-around. To everyone else, he was inappropriate; to the fifty year old, they no longer are willing to waste time with the stupid.

A leader in this life stage is able to imbue great devotion from their inner circle while, with equal energy, create chaos and consternation to those who must have a one time, occasional association with them. Jaime, Zoe, Ben, Victoria, and Polly would all take a bullet for him; most of the guest characters are just waiting for him to leave their planet.

 

3rd Doctor

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         Jon Pertwee was a year older than Patrick Troughton, 51 when he became the Doctor. Legend has it that he worked for the MI:6 during WW2 as a trainer of new or espionage technology.   Furthermore, these legends insist that he outfitted Christopher Lee and consulted with Ian Fleming. If those legends are true, then in real life he was “Q” to secret agents before becoming an actor.

Like other Doctors who were older men in their careers, he did not suffer fools gladly. He was the type of employee who wanted to retire, but had to work in the shop for a few more years; or, in the Doctor’s case, assigned to be the scientific consultant for UNIT and fight monsters. He held his job not because of his buoyant optimism or polite composure, but that he knew his stuff and-if only people would listen-fewer people might avoid getting killed.

He’s the type of 50-year old that preferred keeping a written journal of appointments (even though he understood how his phone worked and knew it was a better way and yet preferred the efficiency of pen to paper).

Behind all of his bark and techno-babble, he did care. It was assumed, at this point, that he was going to save the day and do what’s right. Dr. Shaw, Jo, and Sara all got that he would storm the gates of Hades for them in the first five minutes: they just had to suffer through him saying “reverse the polarity!”

 

4th Doctor

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Tom Baker turned 40 when he became this incarnation, running 7 years. In my mind, he embodies the 40-year old Doctor the best. He laughed when people were scared; got angry when those around him thought they were victorious; and ribbed his tormentors with an out-of-place detachment. Tom Baker was the self-differentiated Doctor.

The 4th Doctor seemed to be the only one who noticed the aliens were made of cardboard; the alien landscape was paper; and the sets shook if you walked to hard.

This is a common detachment someone in their 40’s. With enough experience of standing up to bullies and tyrants, you know they’re made up mostly of bluster and artificial swagger. A pastor in his forties can’t help but laugh when a church bully yells, “How dare you….”

Why? Sometimes to Lock Ness Monsters is just a dressed up sock puppet, Cybermen are just BBC extras dressed in silver diving costumes, and those threatening the space flight are really costumes designed to look like Muppets (See “Nightmare on Eden”).

Tom Baker’s Doctor was the one who first addressed the Daleks as he’s up a narrow and sheer incline: “If you’re supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”

While those who might give into fear of those who bully, the 4th Doctor simply chuckles at the use of string and bubble wrap.

 

5th Doctor

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An elderly British woman once described Peter Davison as the “fancy lad one”.

Peter Davison was only 30 when he took the role, making the role become youthful, resourceful, and very likeable. He reminded us of the young professor whom all of his TA’s kept secret crushes regarding him. Chaste, non-flirty: he was just nice and heroic, trusting his ability to make friendships and persuade his crew instead of using charm or intimidation.

In fact, he was the least intimidating out of all of the incarnations. He allowed himself to be yelled at by Tegan, he got sick an awful lot (it was almost every episode, he was on the floor with something bad), and had a crew. Yes, a crew: he surrounded himself with a team. His job, at some point, was to be nice to them, to reassure them of their feelings and role.

This, mostly, was successful. Sure, he couldn’t reassure Tegan everything was all right when the Cybermen invaded the Tardis or when Nyssa discovered her body was almost destroyed by frogmen: but at least he tried!

The 5th learned that being nice and good and trying hard didn’t always win. Adric still was blown to bits, Davros escaped, and his companions still left him despite trusting him. No matter being a good person, the 30’s is a time when you learn that not every problem or villain can be defeated…at least by you and your Tardis team.

A season of being nice and winsome, left unchecked with humility, can often develop into the next season of development…

 

The Sixth Doctor

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After the Fifth, the Colin Baker Doctor was bold, loud, arrogant, and brash. His lack of self-awareness was symptomatic of his ego cashing in on all of his wins, victories, and the chorus of past Companions who really, really trusted him.

We, as an audience, never really trusted him.

On the episode “Vengeance on Varos”, the Doctor is about to be thrown into a pool of acid. Instead, the soldier falls into the tub. Was he pushed? Or did the Doctor try to rescue him? We don’t know. Any other Doctor (Peter Davison’s, for example), there would be little doubt that he wouldn’t kill someone who tried to kill him because, of course, killing is wrong. But not with Baker.

His pomposity had a cost. Peri lost her hair and possibly died (depending on what version you believe of “Trail of a Time Lord”); he had really only one companion (Mel came on as a crossover, in the last few episodes of the last serial) as opposed to Peter Davison having five; and the show almost was cancelled under his reign.

Colin Baker was also 30 when he took the role, which is odd because he always seemed older to me when he was the Doctor. Yet when I saw him out of costume, he did look like a man who just turned 30. Colin Baker, out of most of the actors, took on the role of the Doctor and acted out the bluster. Tom Baker and many of the other actors were just themselves being a Time Lord. For Colin, he put on the bluster and confidence of the Sixth; perhaps the Doctor was doing the same.

 

The Seventh Doctor

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         Like the cosmic hobo of the 2nd, it was easy to discount this little man who played the spoons.   And yet…he was always on an agenda, often hidden from everyone until the very end of the adventure. He hid his darkness and his intentions often, confusing and losing the people closest to him. In “The Curse of Fenric” he actually turns on his companion Ace so he can use her in his plot against the villain. Sure, evil loses every time against this enigma…but his ends and means often do not match.

Why?

Sylvester McCoy was 43 when he became the Doctor and this is a telling life stage for someone who has said goodbye to many Companions, lost many friends, and have seen many bad things take place. Guarded? Certainly, but for good reason: in order to continue to save the universe time and time again, he needed some emotional distance.

He isn’t the 30-year old Peter Davison who you can get to know in a day. In fact, in the last few episodes, his companion Ace inquires about his real name (Hint: it isn’t Who). She would really like to know; he won’t tell her.

The world may demand that someone in the early forties reveal everything about themselves, but in this life stage finds it’s harder simply because it’s been done before and there’s a cost. This season of adulthood is one of planning, introspection. It’s also difficult because the world may be at one’s doorstep, demanding immediate emotional vulnerability and the McCoy Doctor can’t at the moment. The test of a true companion, then, is to allow this individual the right to mystery, knowing they may regenerate out of it at some point.

This Doctor knew if he tipped his hand despite how many times he’s tipped his hat, it might cost him. And he was right: the show was cancelled during his reign.

 

The Eight Doctor

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         Paul McGann’s Doctor was a bright light, a new hope, and a burst of potential that never came to what it could truly be. Full of wonder and optimism, he was the first Doctor to snog an earth woman.

But that bright light ends.

In his one and only TV movie, he’s 37. He’s on the upward spiral of hope. Soon, though, things will be tough.   His movie was never picked up.   He made it into comic books, novels by Virgin Publishing, and thrived in Big Finish audio plays: but these stories become darker and darker (For Big Finish fans, I have three words to prove my point: Lucy Bleedin’ Miller).

See the McGann regeneration here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U3jrS-uhuo

 

When we see him as he reaches his regeneration, he is a man who has lost much. His universe falls apart, things break, and the Doctor can’t make all of the house calls needed to make everything better again.

This is an important stage in one’s development, a time when embracing brokenness and limitations becomes one’s self-definition. Sometimes, you can’t save everyone.

 

The War Doctor

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         He begins his life young, but we only know him as an old man defined by regret and remorse.

This Doctor let war define his value, his life, and his world view. This is an almost alternative history of Doctor Who (like Big Finish’s “Doctor Who Unbound” series).   This is what the Doctor would look like if he didn’t have a Companion (other than a minor one in the novel “Engines of War”) and didn’t win…ever.

In this period, he fought against the Daleks with the Time Lords. In the end, he killed both sides to save the cosmos. Every portion of the war is one of regret born out of conflict.

There are seasons when all of us can let conflict define us. We live our life counter-dependent to the “them” or “those people”.   The result: regret saturates our being.

 

The Ninth Doctor

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Angry, brooding, and all alone: this is how he meets Rose Tyler.

Christopher Eccleston was 41 when he took the role for only one series. Short lived, yet profound. He grew out of his “War Doctor” regret just long enough to be happy and re-learn that life is worth a fight.

When the new series came along, it was during the Ninth’s plea in “The Doctor Dances” that won me over to the show.   Tired of things not working and darkness winning, he’s at the end of the episode begging, “Please! Just this once! Just this once!”   Soon, the zombie children are restored and everything is put back to normal (You’ll have to see the episode to understand the context). He shouts, “Tonight, everyone lives!!!”

To me, that was the greatest moment in Doctor Who.

An Anglican Minister once said to me: “When you are in pain, you want to hide and withdraw. You do so because of a question you ask when you are in pain: Am I any use? Yes, your pain makes you a use. For Christ’s cross, the source of His greatest pain, was of great use for the salvation of man.”

The Ninth Doctor is of anger, of pain but he uses it to save people, especially Rose Tyler; and in turn, Rose Tyler saves him.

Being 41 means, at times, embracing a second innocence.   This Doctor travels through the darkness only to discover the dawn. With this, he leaves to make way for the 10th that is full of wonder…

 

The Tenth Doctor

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One morning, you wake up with the insane idea that you’re no longer going to live in pain. Crazier yet, this resolution actually works. What does that look like?

The Tenth Doctor, play by David Tennant at age 35, came in as the fresh face. Being 35 is a great time to have a second optimism, a chance to relearn in the territory of previous pain.   Playful, child-like, and full of wonder: he possessed Tom Baker’s knack to ignore completely the austerity of the room or everyone else’s love for pretense. Always likeable, never cool.

A 35 year old can abandon being cool. There’s a freedom to wear 3D glasses while solving a scientific problem, cry in public, laugh uncontrollably while riding a Pedway, or wear a suit with Chuck Taylors.

Pain still made an appearance (see his vengeance in “The Runaway Bride” or the ending to “The Waters of Mars”), because our wounding never really goes away: it’s just stored in a different spot.

But he was able to engage in relationship again, snog, and be close to the people around him. This freedom can be addictive, which is the only dark side. Sometimes you have to sacrifice, give in, and-on some cosmic level- die to yourself. This makes the 4 knocks from Wilf so much more harder to hear and left the 35 year old stating, “I don’t know want to go.”

 

The Eleventh Doctor

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Ah, to be 26 again.   Matt Smith did such a fine job capturing youth in the character of a Time Lord who’s hundreds of years old. A teenage girl once confided in me it was her desire to comb his wild hair that made her a fan of the series.

A 26 year old doesn’t usually get how attractive, how influential, or how imposing they are to other people. No, instead they think bow ties are cool, they run around in tweed, and they’re trying to download more programs on their sonic screwdriver. Only later, do they understand the attraction gained by Osgood or Clara or Amy or River.   In the meantime, they’re given to great speeches and bold heroics. All the while, talking to their ride as if it was the true object of their affection.

As a 26 year old, the Doctor sure gave up a lot.   Whenever things got morally gray or confusing, he would tend to walk out. Peter Davison (30) would get sick, Matt Smith would (26) just walk out. The episode “A Town Called Mercy” is a great example of this (He is confronted with either freeing a mass murderer or giving the mass murderer over to another murderer: he wants to do neither, but give up).

But he didn’t stay gone for long.   Usually, Amy or Clara or Rory would bring him back to the mission. “That’s not how we roll,” Amy would tell him.

This, by the way, is why 20-somethings desperately need some kind of faith community (although statistically, this is the biggest age gap in North America concerning going to any kind of church or synagogue or any other faith community).   This stage of life does need companions not just to be saved or protected, but also question and call back to the goal of saving the cosmos again.

 

The Twelfth Doctor

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  1. This number was a shock to many of the younger fans I knew, who really liked the young Matt Smith. I mean, let’s face it: Matt Smith is really, really likeable!   One fan told me, “Everyone’s getting old on the show! Soon, Betty White will be his assistant!”

I told her I really liked that idea and, on top of that, I thought Betty White should play the next Doctor.

But Peter Capaldi is pretty cool, isn’t he? He reminds us of the cool uncle who used tour with a punk band in the eighties, wrote two books, and now is a consultant for a skateboard company. He’s also an old relative you know not to press him for too many stories, that you need to give him space, and know that he hangs a sing over his door during Christmas reading: “Carolers will be criticized.”

With seniority comes freedom and his maturity has granted him the freedom to say whatever he wants.   This works, mostly: he’s here to save the day and is usually right. Gone is Davison’s commitment to being nice; instead, his manners are stripped down to simple truth and salvation.

He’s like the 2nd with his bottom line morality. However, the difference is that the 2nd is clownish; he’s salty.

This life stage is the perspective of King Solomon or Metallica that would both agree: nothing else matters. For this life stage, being a physician and saving the world is it and everything else is just cake topping.

This is the reward of spending most of a life serving others and fixing the world. Few experience a Capaldi incarnation.

 

The Next?????

 

Who knows? If the Doctor is a woman, it would be interesting because most of these life stages are based from a male perspective. I don’t know how this would work from a feminine point of view. I simply don’t; but I’m curious.

 

What is interesting about the adult life stages of Doctor Who is that they’re not in order.   This is true, at times, in life. Our maturity may not always be a linear connection of cause/effect. Rather, it might become a big ball of wibbley/wobbley timey-whimey development.   We might start as Davison and then become Hartnell only to enter into a season of McGann.

The Doctor jumped from stage to stage, out of order. And so, perhaps, his viewers, coming in at different times and identifying with different Doctors.   And that is okay.

It isn’t so important what to anticipate who’s next, but to know the kind of person you once were.

Or as the Eleventh told us:

“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”

 

Apple Picking: Ways Christians Can Interact With Culture in a Nice and Pleasant Way

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The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Imagine you have an apple tree in your backyard. It’s harvest time, but you’re not quite sure if the apples are ready. If you pluck them off the branch and they are too green, they won’t be any good; let them hang on too long, they’ll fall off and rot. In order to get the best apples, it is all in the picking. You give the apple a tug and if the apple comes off, it is ready. If you tug and the branch comes with the apple, leave it well alone. God gave us rules in nature designed for us to work in harmony, listening and working with such rules to get the best food He provides. The readiness the apple coming off the branch is just one of many examples of such harmony.

If a church seeks to influence one’s setting, one’s neighborhood, then one must function like an apple harvester. The church will shine brightest in the company of the willing, the open, and the ready, no matter where or who they may be. This requires a perspective that is of God and not what is found in popular culture or the pecking order of humanity. The church needs the virtue of discernment, able to see who is willing and who is not.

 

The Person of Peace

In Luke 10, Jesus stops everything and sends out in pair all who have been following Him, telling them to announce that the Kingdom of God is coming…soon!

What was Jesus really thinking? I mean, I could see Him sending out just the 12 Disciples. They lived with Him, He trained them, and could be, if anyone, trusted with such a message (In truth, they didn’t; they still seemed not to “get the purpose” of Jesus even up to the Crucifixion, fighting over seating assignments and rank).

But the 70? That could have been anyone. What if you came just for free loaves and fishes, discovering that you’ve been appointed as a missionary, to go of to another neighborhood and tell them that a Kingdom – about which you really don’t get – is coming. Yet this is what He did. And in doing so, He gave the world a new image for the church. He did not propose the church to be an auditorium, a sanctuary, a building, or a temple; no, the church was a group of people “going out” and announcing the coming of the Kingdom. As Michael Wilcock, in his commentary on Luke, argues, “In addition, the marching orders for the seventy are by their very nature applicable to every Christian. Exceptional people are not required. It is the message they carry, and the driving power that carries them, which are exceptional.”[1]

The church is the 70; every Christian is a follower of Christ. If a follower, then they cooperate in His mission. Therefore, every Christian is a missionary. The pairs were instructed to avoid anyone who would reject such a message. “When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘We are wiping off as a witness against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. Know this for certain: the kingdom of God has come near.”’ Luke 10:10-11 says. This sounds severe, but Jesus really wanted the pairs of witnesses to understand: time is limited; look only to the open and the willing. Hence, the “Person of Peace”

Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t be moving from house to house. When you enter any town, and they welcome you, eat the things before you. (Luke 10:5-7)

 

In Luke 10, there is a contrast: those who will open the door and those who will slam it shut. For the former, linger as long as you can do good; for the later, don’t stick around.

“The People of Peace” is key to the witness of the pairs, for the very residency of their message would be found in a few, key people’s homes. This ancient practice – inviting a stranger into your home – is beyond our 21st century American thinking (Seriously, when was the last time you invited a stranger into your home? Worse yet, let’s say this stranger wanted to talk to you about a brand new religion?).   The search, in their new missionary plans, was to find the “People of Peace” who would welcome them and be open, ready, and willing to be served by them in order to experience the Kingdom of God.

The “Person of Peace” demonstrates two key ideas concerning apple picking.

First of all, one must discern what God has already done in advance in our neighborhoods. The church may not be God’s first activity in the lives we encounter. God may have spoken, shaped, used, and even blessed before the church has arrived. If those encountered have experienced God previously, then they’ll be a lot more open to one who hasn’t. Second of all, it maintains an important truth that to influence a community, one must focus on the individuals. Intimacy, coming into the home, and abiding at length is the strategy. Remember Jesus’ words: “stay long, don’t hurry away.” I spoke once at a summer camp where a young teen wore a shirt that distracted me from delivering my message. It was a distraction because the T-shirt was too good to miss. It read: “I shall rule the world: one person at a time.” One person at a time. If the church seeks to cooperate with what God is already doing in the neighborhood, one must first find the “Persons of Peace” whom God has already worked with before the church has ever arrived. By forming friendships with these people, the church can participate in the setting as a means of witness.

Our town, a few years before I came, had a loose connection with Billy Graham’s ministry of Samaritan’s Purse. A teacher had her High School kids buy and fill shoeboxes to give for their “Operation Christmas Child” drive to give at Christmas for the Third world children who were participating in their Christian Education. A teen in our church asked me if we could help out with this drive. So our church became a center for people to pick up boxes, fill them, and then we’d drop them off at our town’s Greyhound bus station. That year, we collected hundreds of boxes.

The next year, the representative for Samaritan’s Purse quit and we were without an organizer. A local business owner stepped up, calling me to see if I could help her promote it. After the drive was complete, I made a joke with her. “Do you realize that you’ve helped the Billy Graham organization tell kids about God?” She laughed and shared that she grew up Buddhist but converted to Islam, living in Canada and now volunteers for Billy Graham. I asked her how this all worked. “It’s Christmas,” was all she said, and I realized I was now partnering with a Person of Peace.

 

God’s Priority, Not Ours

I attended a youth pastor’s conference way back in the 1990s. There, I went to a seminar with the catchy title “Strategies for Claiming a School for Christ.” It gave a very practical plan on how to make a whole school attend your youth group. The primary strategy in the class was to find the most influential kids on campus – the football players, the cheerleaders, and the student body president – and then endear them to you so that the rest of the campus would follow. A friend of mine moaned, “Its Reaganomics applied to the church! It’s a ‘trickle down’ approach to discipleship!” He hated it. The plan was to spend time only with the cool kids so then you will get the cool youth group. This idea – trickle down discipleship – has been applied to the church for centuries. As fallen human beings, we’re driven by our insecurities and often we believe if we surround ourselves with the young, the pretty, the successful, and the well-known, then we will feel, somehow, we’re doing what it is right.

If this sounds a far cry from your own church, ask yourself this: how many homeless people have you invited to your service? How racially mixed up is your church? Would an openly gay couple find a warm reception in your service? Would someone who was annoying, socially awkward, and reclusive be encouraged to return? This problem is centuries old. In James 2:1-7, the writer states:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must now show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But your have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the name of him to whom you belong?

 

“James,” Leon Morris writes in his commentary on James,

…“begins his discussion of partiality by a prohibition: ‘Don’t show favoritism.’ The Greek construction here (me with the present tense imperative) is used of forbidding a practice already in progress…The point James is making is that partiality is inconsistent with faith ‘in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.’[2]

 

If God is doing a work in our neighborhood and we contradict His very image by some of our practices, are we working in harmony with His Spirit?

And yet, think about it: when a well-dressed, affluent couple with 2.5 children, graduates of a major Christian university, possessing the ancient skills of giving 10 percent to their church walks into our church, what happens in the heart of a leader?

Let’s take this metaphor further: are we, in fact, showing favoritism to those who come to our church services beyond those who haven’t yet become part of the Body of Christ? Perhaps the “People of Peace” do not attend our churches, yet are central to God’s activity in blessing the neighborhood. And yet favoritism – lavishing exclusive attention on who show up only on Sunday morning – might be missing out on experiencing the Gospel.

So whom does God want the church to serve? Everyone. In whom are we to invest our time? In those who are willing and those whose heart is closest to our neighborhoods. Where do we start? Let me propose a revolutionary starting point. Who knows your neighborhood the best? The city planners? Town hall? The hockey moms? The school teachers?   Close, but there’s one group totally invisible to all of our usual practices laden with 21st century favoritism. If you want to get to know your community, get to know the homeless of your neighborhood. They know the good parts and the bad parts; who is kind and who isn’t; what businesses are thriving and which will shut down; and what places are deserted and which ones have all of the foot traffic. The homeless are the community experts for they have to be. They are unencumbered by spending their free time in their living rooms, surrounded by massive amounts of media devices separating them from their setting. Few tap them as experts; either people are trying to fix them or get rid of them. Who treats them with the dignity of experts? And what if God has picked them to be the “People of Peace”?

Just a thought.

Our world will tell us to pick our friends, our setting, and our mission all to align with our visions of success and vanity; God brings us People of Peace, perhaps rejected by our own standards, to advance His kingdom, not ours. We need the discernment to see His view of the people around us, not our own.

Go to the Open Doors First

Quick question: where did Jesus perform most of His miracles? In the temple, as part of the rites and rituals of the Jewish celebration events, or outside of the Temple, in people homes or at the wells or in the streets? And if Christ served the willing outside of the four walls of the temple, who are we called to include?   “The Lord has left the temple,” Alan Roxborough says in his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, “Picked up a new set of wheels, and is already out there in our neighborhoods and communities.[3]” Within the power of this quote are two assumptions: God has gone ahead of the church to prepare our witness and we can discover what He has done ahead of us. All of this becomes merely academic unless the church leaves the building! So the church leaves her building, steps into the neighborhood. Now what? How does one figure out where the “People of Peace” are amongst the decidedly post-Christian? Go to the open doors first.

In Luke 10, Jesus asks the pairs of missionaries to “wish peace” upon a house. This is more than just a Jewish greeting (“Shalom”), but a test: is the house open to be blessed by the church. Blessing is a funny word. Oftentimes, we see it purely as an individual: if someone is blessed, he or she must be doing something right. During my pastorate in Alberta sometimes we had the largest church in the town. We must be doing something right; we were big! We must have been blessed. Then those families left our town and we became small in numbers. What did we do wrong? Why did God remove His blessing from us? Never mind that people came and went from our town every year or that our town’s population shifted or that the size of a congregation may speak very little to the mission of God.

Perhaps a more proper definition of blessing is connected to God’s character, His mission, and our setting. The open doors are found when one is willing to experience God’s blessing. How do you detect an opening to someone’s door? Ask questions.

  • How can we help? If, in your associations with your neighborhood, someone shares a problem, is he or she interested in solutions or just the problem?
  • What is God up to here? This invites those whom you chat with to be part of discovering God in their neighborhood. Yes, the church is to announce and proclaim the Kingdom of God…but why can’t we share in this task?
  • What does our community need? I asked this question on a social media web page belonging to our town and the number one answer given was that our town needed a better economy. Not better schools or churches or programs, but a stronger marketplace. This led me to join Chamber of Commerce.
  • What can we pray for? Are people really post-Christian? Or do they just have a bad taste in their mouth concerning organized religion? A good test is whether or not they are willing to be prayed for. As well, make it a point that it is the church doing the praying and not just you, as an individual holy person. Do they say “yes” with a shout or a shrug? Do they rebuff it, saying God doesn’t exist and we, as a church, shouldn’t waste our time? What is their reaction?

Discernment is a tough virtue, for it is connected to the here and the now. One cannot study it in a lab or in solitude, although meditation and prayer enhances this considerably. But if a church learns how to discern God’s presence in the here and now, how much greater can her harmony be within the setting of post-Christianity?

[1] Wilcock, Michael. The Message of Luke: The Bible Speaks Today. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 120.

[2] Morris, Leon. “Hebrews.” In The Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol.12, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 177.

[3] Roxborough, Missional: Following God into the Neighborhood, 211.

Meet the Shady People at the Library

 

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Let’s pretend.

You go to your library, the one closest to your thinking and your life and your friends and your neighborhood. It’s a clean, well-lit place. Full of your favorite books.   With bright colors and sharp displays to all of the important titles you must read if ever to consider yourself a semi-literate person.

But the library as shaded areas too. Dark corners, with books that are dusty and dated and squeezed together in a cramped shelf off the standard path of the carpet.

These are where the shady people live.

Shady people are the type that change your thinking, fill you full of allegories not in common speech, affect your dreams so you know longer no what they mean, and shape your stories to where the twist endings even surprise you.

Shady isn’t always evil, my friend. However, shady still scares people, especially those who do like tell the same stories all of the time you maintain the same moral despite genre.

My friend, shady people are here to help you with your stories.

 

The Linker

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Ever have a friend who whenever you told them a story, they matched it with a similar one. At first, it looks like they’re competing with you or trying to out do you.   This isn’t the case: this is just how their brains work.

They’re linkers.

“Every story has been told,” is their axiom, but rather than being daunted by this they are now nuance hunters, chasing after how one story is retold in a new and brilliant way.   These people love the telling of stories, not just the stories themselves.

When you have them hear your stories, their synapses light up like Christmas trees and their eyes are full of delight. When you ask why, they gift you with the streams of time that are now all of the other versions of your story with the simple truth: you are never alone.

Books are linkers, certainly. Read anything by Umberto Eco, Douglas Copeland, Neal Stephenson, Samuel R. Delaney, or Margaret Atwood and it they are a metaphorical jazz night club of connectivity.   As well, who doesn’t remember James Burke’s old TV show “Connections”?

But this shadowy friend has the habit of changing your stories, making them better with a grin and wearing a T-shirt “Kevin Bacon Cures Cancer”.

 

The Possibility Artist

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I knew a friend who worked at a bank while getting a BA in Accounting. His dream was to work with the US Treasury, catching forgers and those who stole money.   While working at this bank, half of his mind tended his work while the other half plotted what would be the best way to rob the bank and not get caught. He was an honest man, loved his God, and never committed a crime. But that didn’t shut off his brain from plotting the best way to steal, rob, and loot.

He was a Possibility Artist. Possibility Artists when they’re on the airlines, think about planes crashing; when they catch a cold, their mind is filled with the most effective pandemics; and they’re the ones who count the exits of every building just in case of a zombie apocalypse.

They’re not pessimists or downers, but their minds are enliven by figurative, perfect storms. Irwin Allen was/is a Possibility Artist, sending families to be lost in space or shrinking down people or causing earthquakes for Charleton Heston to survive or burning buildings Paul Newman has to make a hasty escape.

Possibility Artists are great for shaping stories because, to be fair, stories are monsters that feed on tension, on conflict. Patrick Lencioni-leadership and management author- argues that committee meetings and movies are the same length, but one is very boring and the other is our reward for a day spent in the prior. Why is that? Most meetings are designed to avoid conflict, whereas movies seek out conflict. Conflict and tension is the fuel that feeds stories.

Possibility Artists gets this, so their minds often go first go to what could go wrong…and then what could go right. They live in both the darkest of midnights and the purity of dawn’s light. They revel in what happens when people do the very best in the absolute worst.

This shadowy figure is great to have around when it comes to storytelling.

 

The Illustrator

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In High School, my best friend’s Bible margins were filled with comics, cartoons, and doodles all sketched during our lengthy services. If asked what the sermon was about, he could tell you. His scribbles weren’t an escape from the religion served to him; rather, it was his entrance into faith. In other words, he illustrated the abstracts of the sermon.

Illustrators are painters and graphic artists and sketch artists, but they are also writers and speakers and poets. They take events and turn them into stories; take facts and make them into declarations; and they can make a room into a cathedral.

The Illustrator paints with a brush of vivid flames. Friends of these will say something in passing, only for you to ask, “May I borrow that expression?” They smile and nod, not really sure how profound they had been at that moment. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, Michael Chabon, and Toni Morrison have given fantastic books in this camp, forming shady friends to gloriously change our minds.

 

Are these real people, you might ask yourself as you leave the library? Or book? Or authors (for unless you know an author as a friend, neighbor, or spouse-they’re not really real people, more figments of their own imagination)?   Or Jungian archetypes, under the murky waters of our subconscious?

Answer: they’re whomever you want them to be, as long they’re part of the craft of your stories.

Sardis

 

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This is an old Bible study I wrote a few years back…

I grew up in the 1970s. My parents wanted to give us, as kids, a lounge and a room, so in order to accomplish this they purchased bolsters: solid foam pillows that could turn any lad’s bed into a couch. I never used it for a couch, but it made the greatest club as I would dual with my older brother.

We destroyed the house “bolster fighting”. On one particularly gruesome match, my mom came back to see her house ripped apart while she left us home alone with the simple orders, “Behave.” (Again, this is the 70’s when parents used to think like this.)

She found her house a wreck and sent us to our rooms. I then remember her ranting to my dad, who was sitting in an easy chair, reading a detective novel. She had enough. She worked to get ahead by having nice things, only to have them ruined by the boys in her life. When will they ever have nice things?, she asked him.

“I’d rather,” my dad said, his nose still in his book. “Have a house destroyed and kids beating the snot out of each other than a nice house penning in apathetic kids.”

This was my dad’s school of parenting: no one was ever to be a victim of apathy, of boredom. You made your own fun, you were responsible for your own joy. Don’t wait for it to come, you go out and find it.

A similar lesson was being given to the church of Sardis, found in John’s 7 messages to the 7 Asian churches found in Revelations. Simply put, the church in Sardis was held back from following Christ by apathy.

We read:

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelations 3:1-6

Sardis was the town passed over by the Roman Empire. Located 30 miles south of Thyatira, it was once the proud capitol of Asia in Persia. A massive fortress city, it was surrounded by rolling hills and almost impossible to siege.

Sardis soon watched cities like Thyatira, Smyrna, and Ephesus rise as boomtowns. The desire to remain as “Rome East” and the very symbol of all things good and mighty form the Empire, they sent a delegation in 26 AD to Rome’s senate requesting that the Empire build a temple to the goddess Roma, so they could be the Eastern Hub of Empire worship. They were passed over and the temple was built in Smyrna.

Sardis had a rich history of military trade, but lost most of the commerce in the time of the letter to other cities. Instead, they made clothing and manufactured things out of wool (hence the clothing imagery). From swords to tuques, their dreams were dashed of being a boomtown. Sardis lay idle and bored and sad.

“Why can’t we be like Smyrna?” may have been heard on the streets. Due to their feelings of comparison, they did have an opportunity to build a temple but it was never completed. It would have rivaled the size of the one in Ephesus, but it forever remained in ruins: half-built, a visible symbol of a town giving up.

Comparison is what killed the town’s spirit, all tied up in being passed over on the temple never coming.

The problem of Sardis can be High Prairie’s problem, if not your own community’s problem if you live somewhere else: we compare ourselves to other places, other circumstances. And usually, those comparisons have nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We lack a proper Telos.

Telos is simply a vision for a better life.

The world’s vision for success is more stuff, bigger buildings, friends with celebrities, and pretty children. This is an entirely alternative reality to that of the Kingdom of God: our lives’ scorecard is based upon God’s pleasure and will, not the compared success of other people.

How do we obtain such a vision of success that isn’t dependent upon our circumstances of setting?

1) We begin as approved workman.

Boom! Out the shoot, we’re considered a success in God’s eyes.   Grace! Unconditional love! We are saved for ministry, not saved from ministry: this is the proper context of grace. This is a huge understanding when it comes to joy because it’s to see that our worth is already given to us by God (rather than having us earn it from Him).

2) Success is based upon the redemption of people, not in the buying of things.

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Do we recharge our batteries by shopping? By getting things? This is certainly the message of advertisement. If we “recharge our batteries” the same way the everything else does, then surely we’ll just be as sour as everyone else. But if our joy is in the people of our town, our community, and in God…who can rob us of that joy? The world may seek to trade our joy, but it is still our responsibility to bring joy to the rest of our community.

3) “What is Christ already doing in the neighborhood?”

Asking this question requires an assumption: God loves your neighborhood and hasn’t given up on us. If this assumption is true, what then is He doing around us, in our community?

It becomes a glorious “hide/seek” game: what is Christ already doing and how can we partner with Him in His redemption of our town. Sardis was a great town because Christ was still at work: clothing people in righteousness. High Prairie is a part of that same vision: let’s change our lens and discover how the Kingdom of God is already amongst us.

 

 

 

Why Genres Turn Us Into Stereotypes

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Years ago, a friend of mine was invited to a Bible study on Christians and music. He grew up in the church, attended a an Evangelical University, and was teaching a Bible study of his own through a Baptist church. He felt, like most in this situation, that he felt he knew the usual, Christian presuppositions would be pushed:

  • Non-Christian music is worldly and the world doesn’t know God.
  • Substitute your Non-Christian music with Christian alternatives.
  • Christian music is Holy and good. You become a better Christian by listening to this kind of music.

 

He attended and, within the first few minutes, was confronted by a series of

new and refreshingly different proposals.

The Bible study leader asked the group, “Okay, please describe to me someone who listens to the genre of Country Music…exclusively. What kind of stereotypes are we seeing?”

A couple comments were made about that everyone has a story and that we’re all complex and here’s some exceptions…

“Yes, agreed. But we’re about stereotypes in excess. Go on and describe the stereotype in it’s most negative of labels.”

They did and then a list of what a person would look like if they only listened to one kind of music style as the superior choice. Here’s the list:

 


Country Music: Proud, plain spoken, hard working, and possibly stubborn.

Classical: Complex, intricate, and possibly snobby.

Death Metal: Full of complicated emotions, severe, and full of adrenaline.

Folk: History minded, willing to plunge into deeper stories, and a possible dislike to anything current.

Progressive Rock: Loves improvisation and things being new. Tends to over-explain their music.

Blues: Isn’t afraid of addressing problems and issues; hesitant concerning landing on any solutions.

Pop: Fun, bubbly, and brand new…that’s about it.

Indie Folk: Brilliant as long as it isn’t discovered by the mainstream.

 

 

The Bible study leader than asked, “If Christian music was it’s own genre, what would the excess? What would be the stereotype?”

 


Christian Praise: Abstract, lacking any grounding in story.

Christian Pop: Quick, easy answers.

 

 

“This isn’t fair,” one participant stated. “You’re boiling down a whole movement into a quick label.”

“True, but that’s the definition of a stereotype. And,” Here came the proposition. “That’s what I believe happens when we abide in only a single genre, a limited only to a diet of a specified influence.”

So he proposed a new kind of music diet: listen to a genre of music you have never been exposed to. For the Opera fan, it was rap; for the country music devotee, they had to go to a New Age music festival; and for those who only sang hymns, Death Metal.

“This is how we carefully avoid becoming a stereotype ourselves, a mere echo of the music we listen to. This can be applied to types of books we read, news sources, people we hang out with, and even style of worship.   It’s human to have favourites, but we become our genre when we live only within our favourites.”

Someone then put forth, “I struggle with listening to people. If they’re not like me in my religion or politics or culture, I come across as being against them. I really don’t mean to be. Perhaps my genre of music hasn’t helped me listen to people different than me.”

Suddenly, the idea of music being good or bad, a result of us VS. them no longer made sense to this group. Instead, there were just people were stuck in their own genres as we were all stuck within ours.

 

 

Ashamed of Christianity

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I have always held a certain amount of embarrassment being a Christian Pastor.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my job, I love being a pastor, I love God, and love the work of the church. However, there are times when people ask me what I do for a living and something inside of me cringes, bracing itself for the delivery of such awkward news as saying, “I am a pastor of a Christian church.”

Whether I am on an airplane and chat with the person on my right or at a BBQ with my non-Churched family or run into someone doing chores, my vocation does not hold the same relish it did, say, fifty years ago.

Why is that?   Could it be that there are fewer social advantages that there used to be associated with the Christian church? Could it be there has been a raised “dorky” level associated with Christian ministry?

Or could it be that the “Christian” label, at times, is embarrassing itself? Recently, the Christian religion has been credited for starting wars, doing horrible things politically, and denying human rights…all in the name of Christ. And with bestsellers with the titles “Why God is not Good”, “The God Delusion”, “The Christian Lie”-the church’s public relation department has to work overtime in our present age. Throw in benign, but still goofy, things like “Wrestlers for Christ”, “Testamints” (Christian candy that’s mint flavored), or selling books like “The 1 Minute Bible”-I was feeling shame for the church.

More recently, we’ve seen the political discussion commandeer the ethics and integrity of many Christians. I’d give examples, but that would be playing into the politics of North America and, thus, commandeer this blog.

Sorry, I won’t play that game.

Or what about the serious reality that Christianity has hurt people?  That is a reality.  Monsters have been created and wrath has been unleashed all in the name of Christ- I get that.  And I grieve.  And I, like many, pray, “What can we do now?”

But more often, it is not every day that we peak in the chasm created by religious abuse but rather are nitpicked by the aggravation, the cutting and slicing of a faith system at odds with its people.

For me, I always liked God but have felt the pressure to distance myself from the religiousosity of Christianity. I used to say, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, just some of those who peddle it.”   Like a parent whose small kids suddenly decide to run naked through West Edmonton Mall, my feelings concerning many Christians has been, “Yeah, there with me…I guess.”

In my heart, I judged the church for not being what I wanted it to be and, the neurotic thing about this judgment, is that I wasn’t condemning people different than me but people just like me.   Essentially, I’m judging…me! For those who know the Bible, have figured out I was in the wrong because we ought not to judge others (Matt. 7:1).   But I couldn’t help it.

A few years ago, God spoke to me during our Vacation Bible School.

The church I pastored ran an after school program for the community, themed “Marketplace Jerusalem”: the purpose was to take kids back to the time of Jesus. Throughout the program of games and crafts and songs, there was an ongoing drama about Jesus’ teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection. The whole week culminated with an actor playing Jesus intruding our singing. He just rose from the grave and proclaimed, “Go, therefore, and tell everyone everything you saw here!”

The actor was a recent Christian University grad who wore a paper beard, bathrobe, and a long haired wig. He wasn’t meticulous in historicity, but did the job of conveying that he was Jesus.

When he interrupted, he delivered his line but was immediately rushed by a couple of our older kids. Seeing the paper beard and recognizing the youth earlier, they wanted to deconstruct it (“I know you’re not Jesus! Jesus doesn’t have a paper beard!”)- without being mature enough the recognize the whole pretending thing associated with drama.

The young man could not complete his simple line, for the boys were bent on yanking off his beard and wig. He did what, I believe, Christ would do: he put one of the boys in a playful headlock and continued his delivery.

With the boy squirming in Christ’s embrace, God spoke to me: “Eric,” he said. “That’s you. Sometimes you’re so busy being a critic that I have to put you in a headlock so that I can deliver my message.”

I no longer misquote Romans 1: 16a that says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to save everyone who believes.”   You see, shame has nothing to do with the grace of Christ: shame for Christianity (which our culture seems to be excelling at) or shame for other Christians (which I had). If Christianity is really the Gospel of grace, then that grace applies to everyone in and outside of the church.

Being a critic isn’t part of the message of the church; rather, it detracts and, thus, might be deserve a headlock from God.

Does that mean we can’t speak correction to the church and our fellow Christians? Of course. However, there is a difference in correction as opposed to “sitting in the seat of the mocker” (Psalms 1:1)- which, by the way, is a very comfortable chair with an amazing back support.

Posture and position is everything. And it’s what we do with our shame that counts.

The Basement of the Mind

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In my basement, Fyodor Dostoyevksy is waiting for me.

Growing up in California, we never did basements. It could be because of the earthquakes or the type of ground or the vogue of architecture, but the first time I stayed in a house with a basement was in Iowa. A strange hole, subterranean and a mythic place where the house’s arcane would be buried.

Coming to Canada, they’re everywhere: like mushrooms after a long, hard rain over the prairies.

In my basement, I keep all of the authors and writers and storytellers that have blessed me with a long visit.

I go down to fetch a book from one of my shelves and bring it back up to the ground level of my house. I wish to read it for a spell, drinking in the pages, and have an invisible conversation with someone so far removed from me it has to be a written correspondence.

But down below, in my basement, to party has just begun.

Going down to the basement, I see Ray Bradbury has talked Connie Willis and Alastair Reynolds into helping him build a time machine. Bradbury has them almost convinced it will work until he states, “So what if it doesn’t go through time? It’s a 3 dimensional metaphor and that’s just as important.”

Umberto Eco is vigorously arguing with Kurt Vonnegut Jr.. The bickering is so bad that both of them require a pad of paper to sketch their arguments.

In the back corner, Larry McMurtry is wearing a sullen expression while he hammers away on a vintage typewriter. Those in the room aren’t eager to talk to the Texan, for fear they might make him made and he’ll put them in his book. They might die by drowning in a river in west Texas or chopped in half by a scimitar or eaten by eels.

Charles Dickens and Jack London are cutting each other off, out-doing each other in story and gesture. The subject: going for a walk.

Guy Gavriel Kay has found our family’s world map and he’s changing the names of the countries. Charles de Lint found it earlier, adding expansion folds and additions as he sought to make the world bigger.

Ernest Hemingway is wrestling James Joyce with the belief he might win the match. Douglas Copeland is watching, but doesn’t seem interested.

Italio Calvino is listening to James Clavell tell one of his stories. The quiet Italian shrugs, figuring he’s going to be there for a while and wishes Clavell could tell a shorter story.

Wendell Berry is visiting Ken Kesey, talking like old friends. They mention the name Merton, as a mutual friend.

Mark Twain is visiting with Ralph Ellison and Sherman Elixie. He seems to be enjoying himself, demonstrating a long drag from his cigar and a wink in the direction another group: Frank Herbert and Margaret Atwood. This unlikely pair is tasting wine, speaking with controlled gestures and cautious whispers.

Stephen King comes in, carrying an electric guitar. He launches into a few riffs, accompanied by Amy Tamm and John Updike in the band. The party starts now.

The party goes on in my basement with authors and ideas and dreams and plans. Yes, it looks like a basement full of books and shelves and boxes but it’s what these books may become that is the energy of this room.

In all of our heads, there is a party going on. Sometimes the world is lucky enough to listen in; sometimes we’re fortunate to pick a book and add another guest to the room; and sometimes, the world above matches the world below in our basements.