Pastor John Van Sloten's Blog 2001-2007

John Van Sloten's Blog 2001 - 2007

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dependent disability

Dec 20, 2007

Often, in the pre-school morning hours, I’ll sit on the hallway stairs in behind Edward, hugging him. It’s a good time to love him. While he’s waiting for his ride to come, I just hold him. This morning, as I was doing that, I asked Fran, “Is this what our life is going to be?” Even though the question was cryptic, she knew what I meant...
It seems that the increasing independence of Edward’s older siblings is accentuating his dependence on us. More and more often we find ourselves locked into caring for him; only one of us can go for a walk, we don’t have a sitter lined up, “Let’s see if one of the kids can watch him for an hour...”

“Is this what our life is going to be?” Tied to the home... not experiencing that ‘empty nest’ feeling of unfettered freedom... locked into a lifetime of caring for a child...

Hugging him (and being hugged back in reverse) is often the most meaningful part of my day. The beauty of his acceptance, the unconditional love in his touch, the unquestionable sense that he carries about himself, knowing that he deserves to be loved; it’s the best!

Answering my question, Fran simply said, “Yes.” And then I responded, “Yeah, we don’t have a lot of freedom to leave, but we also don’t have much of a reason to.”


sensing God

Dec 17, 2007

Preaching the senses this past month has been a huge eye opening experience. A fleeting understanding of the nature of acoustics brought new, multi-dimensional depth to what it means to hear God’s voice. The anatomy of the eye illumined my perception of the mysterious mechanics of seeing of God’s face. And this weekend – via the knowledge of the fact that taste is processed in the same part of the brain that memory and emotions are processed – I experienced and knew God in Communion like I never had before...
It all just seems so perfect; God creating our sensory capacities in such a way that they have this potential to wholly enable a knowing of Him... our physiologies perfectly designed for this deeper, more profound relational experience!

On Sunday I briefly speculated on the place of emotions in the human/divine dialogue. I’m quite sure that these deeply relational capacities are what they are, operate the way they do, effect what they effect, induce what they induce, know what they know, all for very intentional reasons. I think I need to preach a series on the emotions; what does the nature of fear, anger, sadness, sorrow, guilt, hope or joy teach us about who God is/who we are?


unanswered prayer

Dec 10, 2007

A couple of weeks ago a friend shared his frustration regarding prayer. Someone close to him had just received some good news re: a medical test result, prompting another acquaintance to make the comment, “What a wonderful answer to prayer!” My friend felt like telling that acquaintance where to go...
And he felt uneasy about feeling that way. I understood his problem with the comment though. The moment you equate ‘good results or circumstances’ with ‘answered prayer,’ you set yourself up for the problem of unanswered prayer. If prayer is only answered when you get what you ask for, then what does this say about the times you don’t get what you ask for... Africans still starve... your sister dies... and your depression remains? It seems that in circumstances like this – where the good things prayed for do not result - we’re prepared to live with mystery (either that or we dump God altogether!). But on the ‘answered prayer’ side of things we seem to have jettisoned this mystery and replaced it with certainty. It just doesn’t add up.

Yet, I know that it’s good to ask God for things; for our daily bread. And I know that it’s good to thank God for things as well. And, along with my friend, I want to thank God for a good medical test result, while avoiding the aforementioned pitfalls (I’m becoming a lawyer!).

So how do you reconcile this prayerful conundrum? I’m not sure if this is helpful, but this is what I said to my friend, “Ok, so we want to be thankful without becoming formulaic. What if we did this? What if we took the mystery lesson of “unanswered prayer” and applied it to the “answered prayer” side of things? At this point in my faith journey, when prayer seems “unanswered,” I’ve learned to see reality this way... I say to myself, ‘I love you God and I know you love me, and ultimately things between us are OK... but this other circumstance over here, it’s all wrong, and I don’t understand why... and I cannot fathom why you’re letting it continue. But, trusting you, I going to live with the mystery of this... to be honest I have no choice.’ And so I allow mystery to inhabit the place between ‘my relationship with God’ and the ‘tough circumstances that surround my life.’

What if I did that on the other side of things? ‘I love you God and I know you love me, and ultimately things between us are OK... but this other circumstance over here, it’s just too good, too wonderful... such an amazing thing... and I don’t understand why... and I can’t fathom why you’re so very very good to me in this way! It’s a total mystery God... but hey, thanks!’

It seems to me that the tone change that mystery evokes here is a critical one. I’ve always been intrigued by writers who seem to grasp this concept. One (whose name escapes me now) seemed joyously incredulous about the fact that God – after giving him one of the most fulfilling days of his life – would give him another, “Why do I get two?”

Can you see what I’m getting at here? What if we allowed mystery in this good place to grow? What would life and our prayer lives look like? It seems that we’d be less inclined to ‘holding God to our prayers.’ God gives and God takes away and it’s all pretty hard to fully understand. We’d also disconnect ourselves from the inclination to try and control God via our supplications (we’re especially susceptible to this when prayers are answered ‘positively,’ setting up a pattern for future disappointment... they say the worst thing for a gambling addict is winning on the first hand!)

I would imagine that many other ‘hands free’ spiritual benefits would result... I think I’m going to try and live (pray) this way for a while.

(And don’t forget that the Apostle Paul wrote about how he’d learned to be content in any circumstance. Perhaps this is what he was doing.)


providence and carbon capture

Nov 28, 2007

I just read an interesting interview with Alberta scientist and 2007 Nobel laureate Stefan Bachu. His specialty is the capture of carbon emissions - in his simple terms; turning smokestacks upside down. Apparently the technology is almost there in terms of viable implementation. What got me smiling was a comment he made on the providential potential of Alberta's geology for this task (actually he used the word "lucky")...
While Ontario does not have the geological substructure to accomodate sub-terranian carbon storage, "Alberta, Saskatchewan, and northeastern British Colombia are extremely suitable."

It just made me smile and think, "Perfect. Right beside the biggest stores of carbon energy in North America is a geology capable of resolving, in large part, a big chunk of the emissions problem."

Providence. (hopefully we take it up!)


a knowing that comes from a knowing

Nov 27, 2007

The way I see it, unanchored action is where people of faith most often go wrong. We go ahead and do something because we think we know what’s right, what needs to be done, which direction to head in. Problem is our knowing is too often detached from the Knower, and we end up acting in all kinds of inappropriate ways; leading crusades, forming inquisitions, doing impotent “good works,” and living hapless lives...
For the past few weeks I’ve been meditating on this biblical text;

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do...”
Ephesians, 1:17f

It seems the apostle Paul is praying for a knowing that comes from a knowing. Know him personally and then you’ll be able to see exactly what he is calling you to do. Not just, “know him once”, or “have known him in the past”, or “know him in an ‘I’ve heard of him before’ kind of way”, but know him in the now; right now, present tense, personally, here.

Then you’ll know what to do.

Seems to me that God is often a ‘just in time’ kind of God. What’s right at one time; may not be right at another. What’s absolutely true for one situation; is not for another. What God wants first is for us to face him, incline our hearts to him, and remember him. And then out of that re-acquainting moment, out of that wisdom filled place, act.

It’s like he’s saying, “First things first... spend some time with me... get to know me more...” Out of that knowing, we’ll better know what to do... at the right time, in the right way, with the right heart... "eyes focussed and clear."



Nov 20, 2007

Yesterday I went for a drive, trying to find the ‘big rock’ of Okotoks. I’ve seen it in pictures, read about it in stories, but have never actually stood beside it. It’s a three story tall boulder sitting in the middle of the bald prairie; it came from a mountain near Jasper (300 km north!). Scientists figure it hitched a ride on a glacier about 18,000 years ago. I took the long way out to the site, and ended up taking a few photos; they spoke to me of permanence, transience and eternity...

That morning I’d read a verse from psalm 93;

“God is King, robed and ruling,
God is robed and surging with strength.
And yes, the world is firm, immovable,
Your throne ever firm—you're Eternal!”

Immovable for eternity... it makes our fleeting transience all the more real and unsettling. Ice ages come and go, mountains move, the frost melts and we are no more.


Seeing, Knowing and Acting

Nov 10, 2007

I’m getting used to reading my newspaper through spectacles of faith. Often, when I’m awake, I’ll try to engage current events with a group of discerning questions as my lens, “What’s really going on here? Where is your hand moving in behind the scenes God? Where is truth present in these circumstances?”

Today I realized that I’ve been missing an important question, “How shall I respond?”

So this morning I’m reading about the increasing volatile situation that is Lebanon. Apparently, a Christian Maronite Bishop is now faced with a very difficult, seemingly impossible, political situation. Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir must choose a new civic leader that is satisfactory to both potentially warring sides. The article ends by saying, “But is will be very hard for him to achieve something. The possibility for compromise in Lebanon is very weak.”

The moment I finished reading that sentence, my heart recited an old bible memory verse, “...with God nothing shall be impossible...” Luke 1:37

And then I felt strongly compelled to pray for this man. Staring at the newsprint image I felt as though I were very near to him (and his situation). My heart went out to him, and I asked God to give him wisdom, to intervene into the situation, to avert catastrophe, to protect the lives of so many, long suffering Lebanese souls.

“How shall I respond?” “Pray.” It was like God was saying, “Enter into my heart for the situation, love these people as I do, intercede as you are able...”

And the lesson in this for me? Discerning the Spirit’s movement in the world is not an activity that is devoid of responsive action. To see God’s hand in a circumstance is to catch a glimpse of the heart that is also there. Seeing always feels as well. And to feel what God feels about something is to be compelled to respond. God doesn’t pull back the veil and show you his moves just so that you can merely see and know him more. It’s a revealing that evokes a response. Divine truth cannot be known apart from action.


preaching on women's shoes

Nov 05, 2007

Here's how it turned out.

Ok, on November 18th I'm going to be preaching on the theme of women's shoes. Seriously. And how in the world would that topic be relevant to either God or our human spiritual search? Well, here's how. Below you'll find my draft introduction for the sermon; it begins to explain the basis for finding God in the sphere of fashion as a whole. If the intro intrigues you, then I'd like your help in writing the rest. If you have any ideas on how shoes, in particular, help us better understand ourselves, and God, let me know. (post your thoughts if you feel comfortable) Here the intro...
The Spirituality of Women’s Shoes...

I can still feel the buzz of that Sunday morning church service three years ago... a 200 foot runway right down the middle of the sanctuary, two dozen of the city’s top Mode models, professional lighting, cameras and sound, all coming together to present renown Canadian fashion designer Paul Hardy’s Spring 2005 collection!

It was electric. A fashion show in God’s house... Paul Hardy’s new collection presented here... first... before his shows in LA and New York! Absolutely bizaare.

And I can still recall the moment when – after the runway show had finished - each of that morning’s 450 attendees turned their chairs ninety degrees and faced them toward the main stage; cue the transition to church. Now what do you say?

Several months before that Sunday I was sitting in a Chilis restaurant with Paul and Mode Models’ Kelly Streit, and I distinctly remember being struck by part of their conversation. They were talking about two high fashion friends who had recently dressed up and headed out to a city hotspot, “to be seen.”

“To be seen...,” what an honest expression. It made me wonder, “Is that what this is all about, the desire to be seen, a yearning to be recognized, to be known? Is this what’s going on here God? A whole industry based on the deep human longing to matter, to be noticed and accepted, to belong?”

Recalling some basic Christian theology, I couldn’t help think about the fact that, in the beginning, human beings were created perfect, beautiful, and whole...

“The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Genesis 2:25

And then I thought about the end of time; when God makes everything new again, perfect once more, made beautiful in God’s eyes; fully seen, known, accepted and loved.

On both ends of humanity’s continuum, there’s this perfected beauty. And in between, we live with an insatiable desire to recover paradise lost; to re-make, re-clothe and redress ourselves, to be re-deemed.

Joanne Sasvari, a Calgary Herald fashion writer, wrote a news story on our fashion Sunday. In it she penned these words,

“Van Sloten was inspired in part by a quote from C. S. Lewis, the Christian author of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis described how a child would dress up in too-big grown up clothes, and concluded, “It’s all kind of pretending, but it’s also a kind of preparing, because every child wants one day to be a person who fits into clothes of this size.”

When he read the quote, Van Sloten thought, “Is this not exactly what’s going on in the fashion industry?... We live in a world filled with people who long to fit into adult clothes, to be more than they are right now, to be truly beautiful, uniquely complete...”

Picture a little girl standing in her mother’s high heeled shoes... she’s analogous of all of us. She wants to grow up, to be beautiful; to be complete...

And so today, we’re going to talk about women’s shoes; these very integral and unique parts of the whole fashion scene. What is it about shoes in particular – in their journey attending, life founding, sole beautifying and protecting nature – that teaches us something about who we are; that teaches us something about who God is?

What spiritual truths can we learn from our shoes?.......


democracy hypocrisy

Nov 04, 2007

Here's an editorial I wrote for this morning's Calgary Herald. It seems the editor wanted to give it a bit more of an agressive punch. The graphic and tag lines they chose are much more inflamatory that my words. Oh well.

How would the world change if western nations decided to extend democracy instead of impose it?...
As an alternative to going in all guns ablazing and saying, “You don’t act, look or treat people democratically enough and we’re here to force you to change,” what if western powers chose instead to engage that country – on a country to country basis - in a more democratic way?

What if the United States, for example, chose to treat sovereign nations like North Korea, Syria or Iran with the same democratic principles that they expect their citizens to live by?

There are many democratic tenets that are often touted south of the border; the right to bear arms, the rule of law, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These are all very good things. What would happen if these rights and freedoms, held so near and dear, were actually lived out on the international foreign policy stage?

Imagine how things might change.

A superpower shows more patience toward other developing nations – as they build up their weapons capacity - because they really do believe in the right to bear arms. “We cherish this value here at home, why wouldn’t we extend these same rights to others? We insist on the right to defend ourselves. How can we not freely give that right to them? The right to bear arms is what protects our country from autocracies, from being bullied by a ruling class or another nation. Why not live this value out on the global stage as well (it might just keep us honest as well!)?”

A first world nation freely and patiently “allows” a second world nation to express and live out its “backward” beliefs because individual choice and freedom of speech are inalienable rights on all levels. Even though the western world knows that, for example, the ‘gender suppressing’ sentiments being expressed by that developing country are not the best or the most equitable, they fully allow that society to believe what it believes; for a time. They show patience because they understand that democratic ideals do not take hold overnight. (After all it wasn’t all that long ago that the women in their countries didn’t have the vote!)

Imagine a capitalist superpower allowing a communist despot his atheistic say; giving him the right to not believe in a god, to follow a socialist way, to promote a less than equitable non-religious stance, all because they decided to globally live out the democratic ideal of freedom of religion.

What if the right to a speedy trial applied to all citizens; domestic and international? Would the shame of Guantanamo even exist?

What if the rule of law were a principle with universal application?
Would the concept of pre-emptive war even have a chance of gaining a foothold?

What if the wholly humane insistence on “no cruel and unusual punishment” was an ideal that had no borders? Would the word “rendition” have ever taken on its brutal new meaning? Would the name Maher Arar have ever evoked so deep a feeling of injustice?

What if the values of, “justice... tranquility... common defense... general welfare... secured blessings of liberty... for ourselves and our posterity,” (from the preamble of the United States constitution) were values that were applied to all nations on earth; on a state to state basis?

The realist in us (the cynic) reads these words and screams out, “Naïve! Foolish idealism! You cannot trust those countries. They’re intentions are evil and they need to be stopped! Remember the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda...”

It’s hard not to agree. Human beings - whole people groups at times - are capable of indescribable atrocities. History has proven this fact. When we see these kinds of behaviours arise - when multilaterally identified, discerned and debated - they must be opposed.

But, in our opposition, we must never forget that we too, are part of that human race. We too, are capable of incredible self delusion, hypocrisy, and malevolence. Recent history has certainly proven this fact!

We need to learn from our mistakes. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves some hard questions before we proceed with any unilateral action. Are we seeing things fairly? Are our motivations pure? Are we being consistent here? Is what we’re asking of them, something we’d be willing to live with ourselves?

Is what we’re calling a “just response to an undemocratic act” being confused with an “underdeveloped decision or action of a yet-to-be democratized society?”

Our democracies took hundreds of years to develop. And our rights and freedoms were born in blood. We had to learn our democratic ideals the hard way, by making lots of messy mistakes; fighting, colonializing, enslaving, subjugating, etc...

How in the world can we insist that other nations instantly understand what we took generations to understand?

We need to realize where these other countries live and that they genuinely can’t see what we see when we envision the democratic ideal. They haven’t lived enough democratic developmental history yet. They haven’t gone through the process.

And we need to understand that when we try to impose what we so clearly understand and believe as right, they see nations that are acting like unilateral dictators, autocratic overlords, and democratic fundamentalists.

They see hypocrisy, “Those western nations say one thing and they do another. They talk freedom and then they take ours away.”

Again, freedom can never be imposed; nor can it be taught in a ‘quick fix’ manner. Like all true visions, it must be caught.

If we want democracy to spread, perhaps we need to realize that the best pedagogy is a modeled one; nation to nation.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and we’ll be much further ahead.


Mount Yamnuska

Oct 30, 2007

I climbed a little ways up a mountain yesterday. It was breath taking (in every sense of the phrase!). I can't believe that I live 45 minutes away from places like this. Here are a few more pics...


it's not about the bread stupid

Oct 24, 2007

I remember when I first preached about Jesus’ miracles and realized that the power of the miracle story was not so much about regained sight, healed leprosy, or multiplied fishes and loaves; the power of the event was the statement being made about who Christ really was. Healed eyes meant that God was present. Restored skin and limbs meant that this present God was compassionate and good...
The provision of overflowing food stuffs spoke of a God who had power over all of his creation; no laws of nature were going to get in the way of the One who imagined nature in the first place.

The miracles were cool, but the realization that God was present in behind them was even more impressive!

Then I read these biblical words today. In response to certain followers asking Jesus to repeat a manna miracle that Moses “performed” way back when, Jesus says,

“The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven, but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread...”
The gospel of John 6

Now Jesus is obviously making reference to himself here, but I wonder if there’s another point being made as well. Jesus is saying that the truth about God “then” is the truth from God “now!” He’s saying that God is this kind of God, then and now... God just is!

And then I wonder if this ‘then is now’ kind of math isn’t exactly the same as what we’re doing at New Hope. Biblical stories are not just historic events that happened then, they happen now. (and now I’m being reminded that Rob Bell wrote about something like this in his book Velvet Elvis... but not quite the same... )

The bible has always been a book that evokes a present experience of God. It was never primarily for rules, morals, etc... it was... is should always be a touchstone to a right now knowing of God! In the telling of an old story about the workings of God, God's presence, right now, is illumined. God’s presence is known through the reading, preaching, experience of his revelation in the Bible.

And it seems to me that this “right-now-ness” of the scriptures would also connect to the “right-now-circumstances-and-events” of our lives; and that there would be some kind of "outside of time and space"-"God is timeless"-"synergistic epiphany" occurring. (what the heck does that mean?)

Whenever God reveals himself as the “I am”... the “I am” of then is the same as the “I am” of now... God simply is for both times.

That sure plays with your head.


parity in pink

Oct 21, 2007

Here's an editorial I wrote for the Herald this morning... on the topic of global bullying.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I can still remember the creeping panic I felt as I crossed that schoolyard as an 11 year old boy. Were they going to be there this time or not? Can I make it home unscathed? Am I going to cry?...
Running the bully gauntlet seemed a daily ritual that year. And how ironic that I, in turn, would often induce the same kind of fear in other children; truly a vicious cycle! I still regret that.

When I first read the ‘anti-bullying’ story of those two Nova Scotia teens – coming up with a creative way for the good in bystanders to find its voice through a ‘wear pink’ protest movement – I smiled and felt a bit of redemptive hope (the movement is currently grabbing worldwide attention).

Way to go! What a colourful and contrasting way to shine light on this abusive problem. Don’t just focus on the bad, highlight the good; in pink! No longer will bullies be able to lurk in the shadows, hide in their faux anonymity, or exploit our – bystander effect – paralysis.

Now we’re all going to be involved and we’re going to wear our good on our sleeves. And with everyone wearing pink, both those bullied and those who support them, the power of goodness will rise up and shine bright.

It makes me wonder how the world might change were this pink tide to flow over into other spheres of injustice.

What if each of the 3 billion people who currently live in poverty on this planet (less than $2/day) were joined by another 3 billion wealthy world souls – formerly apathetic bystanders, now re-discovering the courage of their consciences - and together they decided to wear pink one day?

The power of the message would be overwhelming. All of the economically consumptive bullies couldn’t help but come face to face with the reality of their (our) actions; the whole global schoolyard aflame with colour!

Can you imagine how those grade school classroom globes might begin to change; all of the small, economically weak countries painted in bright pink, along with ever increasing proportions of both the North American and European landscapes; all bleeding out their supportive hues.

Are you young enough to envision the impact of such a stand?

Would bullies be forced to change the way they act? Instead of stealing another’s lunch money, would we enact equitable global trade structures instead?

Instead of pushing that obstinate kid with that different worldview out of their way, would they be more inclined listen; engage in a conversation instead; exhaust all political options before getting rough?

Would they be less inclined to go on their militarily muscled power trips if the majority of the rest of the world donned a common colour and finally stood up to them?

And would the bullies finally see their insecurities for what they are?

Justifying their self-absorption with a deception that says, “My bottom line and well being are the most important factors in any decision I make.”
Convincing themselves that their first strike, violent incursions are wholly legitimate; conjuring up such convoluted thinking like, “I’m allowed to punch that kid first, because, who knows?, he might be able to punch me one day!”

Will those callous brutes stop blowing smoke into other people’s faces, littering their lawns, tagging their property, and treating the good earth that they’re walking on – that isn’t even theirs - like some sort garbage dump? Would the sight of all of these asthmatic kids, these toxified, strained and vanishing species, these bare, raped forest fields, along with all of the reawakened souls that now see and empathize with them -all draped in a sun rising pink – be enough to change this world?

How will we ever know unless we personally change; unless we personally take on a new hue?

We cannot let the good inside of ourselves die. We must never let the bully in us take over. To turn a blind eye we – as privileged members of the wealthy, in power, part of the overall global community – would be committing a crime of omission.

We need to wake up and recolour our perceptions; don a new reality.

What if we dared to listen to our pink t-shirted teenagers, let those saffron clad freedom marchers lead us, allowed those dreamy prophetic proponents of the worldwide green movement to grow us in new directions?

Imagine the freedom of letting go of that side of you that would rather turn the other way; avoid the problem, succumb to your insecurities and fears, do the selfish thing, and take the easy way out.

Imagine the freedom of doing the right thing instead.

None of us will ever flourish apart from helping others flourish.

For millennia we’ve tried to live the other way and it hasn’t worked. The inequities have only grown.

Perhaps the imaginative dreams of all these colourfully naïve innocents is what we all need to believe in.


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