Spring Springs Eternal

IMG_5188

Clarke and I arrived home yesterday from the L’Abri conference in snowy Minnesota. It was my first time attending this annual event, and so encouraging to be part of that larger community. The speakers were amazing; my brain is full! I loved waking up in the L’Abri house, the windows glittering with ice and the horizon pink through the bare oak trees. The rattle of people getting ready (and me having to time my shower just right) felt so good and familiar.

Here on the warmer west coast, we’ve begun our spring events. We have weekly Wednesday night happenings, lectures (at our home) alternating with pub chats (currently at The Bent Mast in James Bay.) We’ll also be hosting a high tea every month. Check out our lecture page for dates and details.

Liz

IMG_5191

Tea Party

IMG_5135

Our final L’Abri event for the fall was a high tea complete with crustless sandwiches, lemon tarts, scones, and tea donated by a friendly local tea shop. We had a full house and lots of good conversation, followed by a reading from Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”. Instead of our usual shamefully fake English accents, we had two real Brits with us, who have a background in acting and wowed us all with their delightful performance.

We’ll be taking a break over December; stay tuned for upcoming events in the new year. Merry Christmas from the Canada L’Abri team!

IMG_5137

L’Abri High Tea

IMG_3148

It’s not your grandma’s high tea. It doesn’t usually involve crumpets and cucumber sandwiches, and you don’t have to stick out your pinkie when you drink tea from Clarke’s Krispy Kreme mug.

During the regular L’Abri schedule, every Sunday is a day off, ended by high tea. This is L’Abri code for “themed meal night with a fun activity”, and is one of my very most yes favourite things about L’Abri. There’s an atmosphere of hushed secrecy pervading the house the meal will be hosted in. You’ll see workers scurrying around and perhaps having whispered conversations with the helpers. And then, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the corner of some delicious fragrance of cookery and try to guess what’s up for grub.

So far I’ve hosted four high teas. Two have been Indian themed, with all the furniture moved out of the room so we can sit on cushions on the floor and eat with our hands, followed by mehendi and Bollywood. Another celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim, which included dressing in costume, walking through the dark woods to bring challah and special cookies to our neighbours, and reading of the story of Esther. My personal favourite was last June on Aboriginal Day, where we cooked salmon and root vegetables in a pit oven then ate to our hearts’ content in a field of daisies.

IMG_3183

IMG_3195

High tea is a wonderful time to take a break from deep discussions and just enjoy each others’ company and creativity. If you want to get a glimpse of the high tea experience, come and join us on Saturday, November 28th for our first high tea on Vancouver Island.

– Liz Snell

Are You Open-Minded?

universum-the-flammarion-woodcut-circa-1888-1361697946_b

This image is from an engraving included in Flammarion’s 19th century science textbook on meteorology. It is of a medieval pilgrim who discovers that there is an intricately and mechanical grandeur in the heavens – in the universe, we might say today – that defies what had been explained away by the then-current religious explanations. Some have taken this image to be an example of how the religious view of reality is closed, and that scientific exploration, moving beyond the God-given naked eye – one of the reasons why the telescope and microscope were so controversial – reveals an unabashed openness to discovery and understanding. There was an openness to wonder. This is the note the 2010 film Creation struck in the final line in the movie: that Darwin, at first disturbed at the dismissal of God, found adequate joy in the intricacies of evolutionary development of all things.

However it seems now that such a mentality has reversed its course and that those who feel closed off are those who are left with merely a mechanical universe, simply a complex material reality moved by its own internal laws of cause and effect, a universe impersonal and non-purposeful. People have come to feel claustrophobic by such explanations, explaining away the power of romance, sex, trust, joy, and wonder. Consider these front covers of Time magazine in the past few years.

Romance and happiness, two key ingredients of life, are reduced to cause-and-effect explanations, as the supposed God-gene also suggests. The possibility of these being indicators of realities far more reaching than the inner workings of matter has been shut out. The wonder of scientific explanations wears implausibly thin when we wonder why for no other reason than we are materially determined to do so.

Years ago I was walking with a student through the woods on Bowen Island. She continued to say that she was open-minded, a way of deflecting the tension she must have felt in chatting privately with a “religious” person. She had met just a handful of Christians before me. After the fourth time of her saying that she was open-minded, I asked her if she were so open-minded that she was closed to the gospel? She stared, partly stunned, and granted that I had a point. Our conversation did not radically alter her perspective, or at least as far as I know, but her time with us over the next several days opened her up to the possibility of the reality of God, which I consider miraculous in fact. Her mantra was like the image of Flammarion’s engraving, a person who is open to a reality beyond the confines of religious dogma. Yet she did not recognize that she had fell under the illusion that scientific materialism was “open.” People are trying to bring a little air into the room but they can’t locate the windows. In the midst of a people open to God’s reality, she discovered that the window might just be around here. One recent attempt has been by Alain de Botton who suggested we look at religious practices as evoking a sense of community and meaning. A practice of propaganda for our common good.

However, reading his book only exacerbates the alienation one feels in the impersonal universe, particularly by his reminding us that we have no one to be thankful to, that we have no one to cry out to, and that our problems are minor considering how the universe feels about it, which is nothing at all. Stephen Crane in his wonderful short story “The Open Boat” seems to evoke our sense of frustration with such a state: “When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.”

Yet for the Christian, there is one to thank. There is one to cry out to. Our pain and suffering, while inexplicable to us still, do matter to God – as we see expressly demonstrated in the cross of Christ and in the groaning of the Holy Spirit. God has also given us his word; in fact a history of words pointing to his own action with a people for the whole of the world in the Bible. Within this creation and with God’s ongoing care for it, there is plenty of room for cries against injustice and for exclamations of wonder. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, so his care and creativity extend beyond the bounds of our understanding and even of our own imagination, for imagination is within his creation.

Not to have this openness to the One who makes justice and wonder possible is to stifle our humanity and to oppress the flourishing of creation. A belief in a closed mechanical universe subjugates the material of this world to the un-tethered human will. Rather, the Christian, in view of the wonders of science, technology, romance, and happiness, sees that there is much more breadth, depth, and richness to them and to all things under the sun. They are evidence of a wonderfully creative and loving God.

– Clarke Scheibe

IMG_4758

Whether you’re missing Bowen Island or just wondering where we’ve landed, here are some autumn photos of the Saanich peninsula, where we live. The open, rolling farmland, with views of wooded hills and ocean on both sides of the peninsula, is unique on Vancouver Island. It’s a lovely area to hike, explore beaches, or just drive around on country roads.

IMG_4853

Last Saturday Clarke followed up his talk on authenticity with a lecture on the biblical view of self-authentication. Jesus’ call to lose our lives in Him may seem contradictory and unappealing, but Clarke explained how it’s only when we image God that we’re able to become truly ourselves: fully human. If we reject this gift, we’ll inevitably end up imaging something else and missing what we were created to be.

IMG_4848

IMG_4850

On Saturday, October 26th I (Liz) will be speaking on “Art and Reality”, exploring changing views toward the role of the arts and the artist in society. What is the value of art? Why do we have “high” and “low” art? What should an artist who creates from a Christian worldview keep in mind? How should we respond toward the arts? We’ll consider these and other questions.

Join us at six for dinner in our home, followed by the talk and time for discussion.

IMG_4831

Wednesday, October 28th we’ll show “Once”, an Irish film that explores the friendship between two very different musicians. As always, we’ll have popcorn and discussion. Please check our lecture schedule for more details.

Liz and the Canadian L’Abri team

IMG_4836

Hello friends!

This blog has languished for some time now, but we’re hoping to show it a bit more love. We want to let you know some of what’s been happening with Canadian L’Abri since we moved to beautiful Vancouver Island in July.

Though we can’t currently welcome residential students, we’re excited to be able to host lectures and film nights this fall. On Saturday Clarke gave an excellent lecture on authenticity (part one.) He defined our desire for authenticity as the need to be different from others, and to have that difference affirmed. We moved through many influential voices — from Descartes to Katy Perry — to examine how we’ve arrived at a place where authenticity is of the utmost value. Clarke explained that our ability to choose, not what we choose, has become our idea of freedom. He then detailed some of the problems this creates, including the heavy burden of inventing one’s own meaning and value without external frameworks.

Clarke will give part two of this lecture, examining a biblical view of self-actualization, on October 10th.

Coming up Wednesday, September 30th, we’ll be hosting the first of our film nights, one of our favourite L’Abri traditions (popcorn included!) This week’s film is a Dutch documentary, “All We Ever Wanted”. It delves into the lives of some talented, young Dutch artists who, despite their success, struggle to find hope and meaning.

Please check our “lecture schedule” page for more information on our fall events. We hope to see you there!

Liz and the Canadian L’Abri team

Hospitality: An Apologetic of L’Abri

“The Christian is not called to present merely another message in the same way as all the other messages are presented. We must understand that it is not only important what we do, but how we do it.” – Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” – 1 Corinthians 2:4, 5

God’s hospitality, the loving care and welcome he shows to all, is the basis and source for the hospitality the Christian is to show to others. When Jesus speaks of loving even one’s enemies, he points to the Father’s hospitality shown both to the wicked and the righteous. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:45) This is the care the Creator shows. He does not coerce belief in himself in order to provide all that his creatures need. Perfect love is exemplified through the Father’s hospitable care for all that he has created, to those who bear his image, whether they love him or not. This is deepened further in the hospitality we find in the cross of Christ. God graciously welcomes all those who would come to him through Jesus Christ. In this way Jesus demonstrates that which he called the disciples and the Jewish audience to do, to show the perfect loving hospitality of the Creator. This he does by redeeming the whole of creation and by reconciling us to himself while we were yet enemies.

It should be no surprise then to find the importance placed on early Christians to show hospitality. “Practice hospitality.” “Offer hospitality without grumbling.” “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have even entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:2 – 4) The Christian was to remember that every person – no matter their conviction or circumstance – bears the image of God, and that all come the same way, equally, through God’s abundant forgiveness through Christ. Therefore by showing hospitality to others, the Christian would display the love that one has received from God in creation and in redemption.

Considering the weight that Scripture holds for hospitality, it is saddening to see so little of its demonstration by Christians today, for we are in a time and place that desperately needs a witness to the transforming power of the gospel. So many in culture are achingly lonely without a place to turn to, alienated between the rock of philosophical materialism and the hard place of the church’s institutionalism.

In spite of the attempts of ‘tolerance’ to give social cohesion to our fragmented society, people feel all the more lost within the faceless power plays of our mechanistic culture. This is because individualistic relativism, which arises out of our particular type of materialism, hinges a person’s self-creating identity upon what one looks like, thinks, does, or has: there is no transcendent reference point beyond the material and therefore dependent on “using what you are working with.” But this causes a person to be at constant risk with ‘the other.’ Each person is to be ignored, avoided, used, competed against, compared to, assimilated, or destroyed. ‘The other’ is a threat to my own Self, since self-determination is what stands at the center. What is lost then is true hospitality, a loving embrace of ‘the other’ as a fellow human being, since there is nothing larger to hold one another in that difference.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the popularity and success of “social utility” sites. It allows individualistic displays of opinions and presentations, without the nasty side effects of real disagreement in the midst of a shared life. Where is the unlike button? There in the world of Facebook, a person is at complete control to hide another “friend’s” posts, delete unwanted comments or tags, and secretly delete “a friend” altogether. The Internet is a perfect environment for any “success” of tolerance because it removes us as embodied beings, with warts and all. Such rampant relativistic individualism also exacerbates the way we function as consumers. We shop side by side as strangers, looking for products to give us ever-changing identities. This individualism has even shaped our domiciles as highly protected private spheres, safe from the busy pace of life, and in seclusion from unwanted or unknown guests. What has happened is that we have been duped into a simulacrum of social cohesion. Yet in experience, people have become all the more desperate to try to understand why they feel so alone and unknown in a world that seems to give them every option to discover themselves and find belonging.

The churches have sadly not proven a refuge to people either. It is true that historically churches have established helpful institutions such as hospitals, hostels, and homeless shelters to welcome people, and that they continue to create programs for those in need. Unfortunately history also shows that such initiatives, while very good, have led many Christians to be removed from the personal responsibility we are all meant to have in showing true hospitality to others. Christine Pohl’s wonderful book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition shows how this unfolded. In the 4th century, when Constantine began to show support to the Christian church, Christians like Basil of Caesarea were able to establish a variety of institutions to provide care for the sick, for travelers, and for the poor. Yet with the increase of public institutions, so came the decrease of personal hospitality. Just a few years later, John Chrysostom was begging Christians to continue to make a place for Christ in their homes, for those in need of a caring household.  This gap between the Christian and the institution was only exacerbated throughout the Middle Ages where hospitality became increasingly a show of prominence by bishops and decreasingly an obligation of laypersons. The attempt to recover this lost practice of hospitality during the Reformation and among some later Protestants, like Wesley and his love feasts, helped some but was ultimately hindered by the individualism the Reformation encouraged and the Enlightenment heralded. This gap persists today. We have become less involved in the calling of what it means for us to be the church. We have become accustomed to a less risky and less costly gospel, which is no real gospel at all. With churches organizing themselves around the success of their own structures and not around the living expression of the gospel, they have lost the demonstrative power of God in their midst. It will not be until the transforming power of God is demonstrated in each of us as a people gathered in Christ that true hospitality may begin to be shown; for hospitality is not simply what we do; nor is it a technique; hospitality is the gospel we embody. It is how we welcome ‘the other’ in our own body, personally and communally.

How might we then recover this calling to be truly hospitable, in sharing what God graciously gives us as his human creatures and as a redeemed people? At L’Abri, we often reflect on two fundamental aspects to the loving welcome we extend to those who come into our homes. These two aspects are ‘true truth’ and ‘true spirituality,’ two phrases coined by Francis Schaeffer, one of the founders of L’Abri. Truth is that which we gather around and engage in our discussions, seeking out what is true of reality. ‘True spirituality’ is acting at each moment upon the truth of whom God made us to be, which can only be anchored in Jesus Christ and filled out by the power of the Holy Spirit. Both must be present in our hospitality in order for those alienated by culture to understand in mind and body the wholeness given to us in the gospel of Christ.

L’Abri has been organized around these two simple aspects since 1955 when Francis and Edith Schaeffer began the work in Switzerland. They welcomed anyone to come ask honest questions, and they would give honest answers. Those interested could come for a day or for months to study and help with the upkeep as they sought the truth claims of biblical Christianity. Some have thought this to be simply a rationalistic approach, but this is to misunderstand the whole nature of the hospitality of L’Abri. From the very beginning, the Schaeffers looked to God to provide at every point in the work and at every point in their own lives. They had to, since they were welcoming people into their family and into their home, often at great personal cost. Today at Canadian L’Abri and at all branches worldwide, we continue to live with this same inbuilt vulnerability in order that God might demonstrate himself in what we say, in how we live, and in how we are sustained; and in order that those who come into our midst may know the transforming love expressed in the lives of Christian fellowship.

The first aspect of Christian hospitality then is the pursuit of truth. This may appear strange as truth is said to be more divisive than inclusive. However hospitality, whatever form it takes, must have a moral basis for its expression, a truth commitment from which that welcome is extended. From out of the places of Christian hospitality then, the pursuit of God’s truth should allow welcome, since each person lives within God’s creation and bears the imago dei, thus giving anyone – even one’s enemy – the capability of having glimpses of that truth, sometimes truth that we ourselves need to hear. When we aim for truth, we are aiming to understand the conditions of our Creator’s hospitality, whether one knows him or not, and our place within it. So when guests come to our door with a handful of questions, or with at least a desire to know the questions, we welcome them into our homes, to a shared meal where we may all pursue the nature of what it means to be alive in God’s world.

Now, these discussions should not be exercises of Christian-ese or of the abstract. Rather discussions about truth should engage me as a full human being in this world, and if true, lead me to become more fully human in love and in purity by living well in this world toward God and toward others. Because of that, all aspects of our humanity – and not just the “religious” things – should be a part of our coming to understand what is true, whether in art, work, money, sex, humour, justice, or anything else under the sun. The abstraction is then further removed as we see the impact of our ideas within the context of sharing our lives together, within the context of a community and society. Not only do ideas of truth involve me as a person as I am in the midst of relationships, but the practice of them reveal what I truly believe and shape how I love and receive love.

This leads to the second fundamental aspect of hospitality, ‘true spirituality,’ which can never be seen as separate from the pursuit of truth. If these ideas of truth have any real weight in the world, we will see them be a demonstration of the Creator’s own character and have a redeeming impact on each aspect of our lives and on society. Truthful ideas must be demonstrated if they are to be believed, not in some sanitized Christian bubble, but before the watching world. We must live before others in such a way that begs the questions for reasons, for Peter says that we should be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have to those who ask. Are people being persuaded by the content of our lives? Do we demonstrate the certain hope we have in God by taking up our crosses daily, following our resurrected Lord in how we sacrificially love others and in how we welcome people? Truthful ideas must be borne out and have such demonstrative power that people desire to be in the midst of Christians and inquire. In the ordinariness of the home, in one’s daily life, and in the public sphere, people should see the power of the Holy Spirit at work. This is why hospitality was so important for the early church, for people to see it lived out in a real way, and it is why hospitality should attend any message of the gospel. It is the giving of our lives to demonstrate the redeeming power of God, not in our own strength, but in the strength of God.

Therefore true spirituality must be a constant act of vulnerability, looking to God, as our Creator and as our Redeemer, to provide all that we need so that his gospel may be proclaimed through us in his way. At L’Abri we look to our Creator through prayer to provide us with sufficient finances to pay for our bills, and with guests, volunteers, and workers to fill our homes. We do not expect everyone to live as we do; we are not proclaiming a super-spiritual lifestyle. Nevertheless, by constantly looking to God to provide, no matter how much or how little we have, we have come to see our homes, our time, our possessions, and even our lives as gifts we have received from him. We are then free to extend the gifts we have freely received. Our hospitality grows out of God’s hospitality. This breaks down the idea that we are hosts providing a service. Instead, when we welcome people into our home, we see that at a profound level we are guests as well. In extending the gifts God gives to us, we are expressing the content of the gospel in how we do it.

Hospitality should in fact be demonstrated not just from our homes and churches, but in every aspect of society. If businesses adopted a form of Christian hospitality, we would begin to see people not as numbers or objects on spreadsheets but as persons of dignity, and to press our businesses toward ways of humanizing and living hospitably in today’s culture. We must not just be ethical in our business transactions but consider the whole way we “do business.” Such hospitality also informs and transforms our economics, as it did for the Hebrew people under the Deuteronomic law. Sabbath laws around land use, manual labour, and households hinged on being faithful to God’s creation. They were to allow the poor to glean from the remainder of their harvests and to welcome foreigners into the land and into their way of life, for they needed to remember that they too lived as aliens in the land God had given them. How might this inform our current economic practices? How might we extend welcome to the poor and the homeless and the foreigners in our own land? Christian hospitality, in the 1940s, also touched our practice of medicine. Tommy Douglas, a socially minded Baptist, recognized the dignity of every person in realizing that no one should be denied basic medical care. Hospitality, under the lordship of Christ, should shape every aspect of life, for it involves not just the welcome of individuals into our own spaces but the hospitable care that God desires to show to all of his creation.

Yet in spite of this wide call we cannot become triumphalistic, for hospitality is a messy and costly affair. Considering that for Christ to welcome us into his divine fellowship that he had to suffer and die on the cross, we should understand that a gospel-shaped hospitality will often be costly to any who care to extend it. One reason is because we desire to show hospitality in and to a culture that is bent against its Creator, which can be seen in its mechanistic ways of being. We have become a culture of bottom lines, year-end goals, and stats. Therefore to try to create places of welcome in such a culture will prove far more difficult than we might imagine. We must be personally involved with our time, our space, and our possessions, and not just dependent on an institution fulfilling our good intentions.

Hospitality is also a messy and costly affair because, if we are honest, we are selfish. We are inconsistent, frail, and sinful even under the best of circumstances. It has become all the more difficult to open our homes, because we have continually succumb to what Francis Schaeffer called “the middle class values of personal peace and affluence.” We seek our own personal happiness, before seeking the good of another, and we seek the security and luxuries of material wealth. With so much chaos in the world and with the frenetic pace of our lives, we look at our homes as refuges for ourselves. Hopefully they are places of peace, but let them not be at the cost of cutting ourselves off from extending true hospitality. Jesus challenged his listeners and us not to show hospitality just to our friends, but also to the lame, the beggars, the crippled, the marginalized. How hard it is to cut against our own creature comforts to extend the welcome that God desires for us to extend! How short we fall to show the grace that has been extended to us!

Nevertheless we may look to our Redeemer and his grace as we attempt to extend the hospitality we are called to do. Through him, our hospitality will be deepened to the very core of what it means to be in right relationship with all people. Instead of trying to put on a perfect appearance in order to garnish the gospel, we may stand before our guests and before one another as those in need of God’s infinite mercy in Christ; and therefore, reveal that our value and our identity do not rest on anything or anyone but Christ. We become living witnesses of the gospel in our very selves, and invite a real welcome. We are secure enough to love even our enemies, and welcome all those who desire to come into our midst.  People will be able to look at our lives lived together within our homes, within our fellowship, and within the public sphere, and taste and see that the Lord is good.

In a culture where people are desperate to belong as full people, we must become hospitable by opening up our homes and our lives so that people can see that even in our weakness, it is God who works powerfully in us and in all of creation. And as we submit ourselves to the steadfast forgiveness of our Redeemer, as we continue to act upon the truth of his mercy in trying to love a culture that stands against the Creator’s design, we will not be shaken. And those who come into our midst will stand as humans fully bearing the dignity that God has given each of us and stand not just before truth claims but before God himself in his people.

Yours,

Clarke Scheibe

Blah, blah, blog

“Of making many books – read ‘blogs’ – there is no end, and much study – read ‘surfing’ – wearies the body.” – Ecclesiastes 12:12b

Only a few hundred years ago, a few books for a family would be plentiful and even luxuriant. These ideas would have been chewed on, discussed, and re-read. Now that we have so many books and words, we focus very little on ideas and we neglect digesting them. So, why this blog? It is not to outshine the learning of centuries past. Nor is it – we pray – an exercise in narcissism. Instead this will be a simple offering of reflections and ideas that we see pressing upon Western culture through a biblical and theological lens, in hope that people – you – will respond to those reflections and ideas, whatever you may believe. You are welcome here.

At L’Abri we welcome any to come into our homes, to share a meal or at least a cup of tea, and to discuss what is relevant to those cultures within which we live. We believe that the truth of Christianity is substantial, defensible, and restorative to individuals and to culture. At L’Abri, we also welcome people to question the validity of those truth claims by allowing people to examine our lives lived before guests. Guests see the daily interactions we have with a variety of other guests and our own families. This means that the claims of truth are not merely ideas in the ether, or propositions without flesh. We do not desire to be cut off from the consequences of the ideas that we present as necessary to the good life, to shalom. If truth is substantially true, then it will be evidenced in how it relates to us as human beings, and how it relates us to the world, to one another and toward our holy and personal Creator.

So why this blog? Isn’t it impossible to relate holistically through the cyber-sphere? Yes. But it does not mean it is without merit or hope; nor does it mean a positive impact cannot come about in the place where people live their daily lives. Ideas have consequences, even on a blog. So, we hope to offer a place where those who want to relate to important and truthful ideas to come and discuss; and we hope that we ourselves may be faithful to those who do respond. This is our aim and may our aim be true; and may those who engage do the same.

We welcome anyone who desires to join us at this “table,” this blog, to seek what is true of reality and of our lives in it and of the Creator who sustains us all, and to do so without fear and with kindness. May it be to his glory that this blog will be placed before him – can it be so?! – and redeemed and somehow brought into the everlasting kingdom of God.

Yours,

Clarke Scheibe