Pastor John Van Sloten's Blog 2001-2007

John Van Sloten's Blog 2001 - 2007

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A Storm speaks

Oct 18, 2007

After church this past Sunday a young woman came up to me and said, “I have to share something with you. You know how, when you close your eyes, you still see the last thing you were looking at, as though it were a negative of the image?” (she’s an artist and very visual and I got what she was saying) “Well, when I closed my eyes to pray I saw you in the negative, still standing on the stage, but I also saw a tornado – a whirlwind – on the stage beside you... and you had your hand in the tornado as you spoke/prayed.”
As we talked about that image, I said, “Sort of like how God spoke to Job out of the storm perhaps...” She responded, “It wasn’t a bad tornado at all... it was a good thing!,” to which I agreed. She then said she was going to go home and paint the scene.

Thinking back on that conversation - and having bumped into that Job bible passage again this morning, after bumping into a “God of the Storm” bible passage yesterday - I feel encouraged and compelled to keep on working at knowing this tornadic being more. (keep my hand in this inexplicable mystery)

Preparing my message for this Sunday – on God’s creativity – I reread the last few chapters of Job again. God answers Job’s questions on the mysteries of his suffering and the presence of evil, by showing Job himself – himself as revealed in the created order. And this is more than enough for Job.

This morning I also re-read what is becoming a very important verse for me, Colossians 1:16 – “For by him, all things were created... all things were created by him and for him”

Christ mediated creation. Christ made all things. All of the things that Job got shown were made by him. So who was showing these things to Job then? A pre-incarnate Christ?

And if Christ is the creator of all that is. Then all that is reveals something of him... of Christ! The Christ of the gospel, of sin and salvation, of parables and death and resurrection; the same person is revealed in both stories.

Theologians always ask me how creational revelation gets a person to Jesus. How can it not?


like a child

Oct 10, 2007

My eyes teared up when I first encountered the picture; it’s orangey beauty, simple composition, and wheaty fall contrast. The mother of a young girl in our church sent it to me with the following email subject line, “You’ve inspired our Natasha...” The timing of this note was perfect...
I’d just finished writing a two hour theological response to a seminary professor in the States; explaining, justifying and defending the vision of our church. No, we’re not soft on sin, tossing out the bible, giving up on grace or escorting Jesus to the door. Same old concerns. We’re not taking away any core Christian tenets, we’re adding to them; enhancing them, deepening and widening them.

Two weeks ago I spoke with Natasha and her sisters after church; after a very visual message on the ever timely, flourishing, and giving God of dew. “You guys must see tons of dew at your place don’t you?” I asked. They all just quietly smiled at me and I wondered if they were thinking, “What a strange man.”

I can be a bit childish when it comes to seeing God in his creation. But now I see that Natasha is too; the lens of a camera helping her young eyes focus, the awareness of a child's heart opening a window to God’s presence. Beyond the 'sacred sun setting' page it’s You I seek dear Lord!

Beyond the perfect juxtaposition and timing of circumstances on an any day Tuesday morning - a theological letter, a little girl’s visual composition- I hear Your voice saying, “Keep going, people will grab onto this, I am moving in these things and this really is my world.”

Last week, I heard two other stories about two other children in our congregation, also ‘getting it.’ Children.

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus in Matthew 18:3


Thanksgiving - CBC Radio Call in show

Oct 08, 2007

What are you thankful for? On Friday Oct. 5, John joined CBC Radio 1010 Calgary Wild Rose Forum host Holy Preston for a 1 hour talk show.

Stream or download from here


Obsession with disaster is making us miserable

Oct 02, 2007

Here's an editorial/essay I wrote on the biggest 'un-news' story going; that life, for most of us is good, and is for the most part safe, and beautiful. (I even got to use the phrase 'common grace' in the text!)

It was published in the Herald on Sunday...
“Mass school shooting... man stabbed downtown... category 5 hurricane approaches coastline... bridge collapses... housing market teeters... brand new 737 crashes... child abducted... polar ice melting... suicide bomber attacks... mother dies in fatal automobile accident north of the city...”

Is it any wonder anxiety rates are on the rise? But should they be?

Are things really that bad? Are our fears really rooted in reality? Or are we simply allowing artificially imported, hyped and induced anxieties to disproportionately define and detract from our lives?

It’s seems that the media thrives on fomenting fear. It’s their job to keep us informed, right? Problem is nowadays we get the news from every angle, everywhere, all the time! There’s no way to avoid it.

This reality is skewing our psyches. What’s wrong is being totally blown out of proportion, and we’re losing our balance. Cue the ominous backtrack and fade in the jarring graphic.

I know that eye catching news stories need to have conflict. I understand the publishing rationale, “If it bleeds it leads.” But something tells me – something deep inside – that this continual catastrophic consumption pattern is really not all that good for me. This disaster rich diet is robbing me of life.

And there’s a voice inside that says, “Don’t let it! Step back for a second and take an objective look at reality. Things are not as bad as they seem. In fact they’re actually good; very good!”

Think about it.

While the tragedies of Virginia Tech. and Dawson College were heinous and deeply unsettling, last year, some 19 million post secondary students in North America safely attended university or college (Stats Canada and US Almanac 2006-2007). Every day millions of young adults respected, studied hard along side, and acted in wholly civil ways toward their teachers and classmates.

Last week I flew to Chicago for a conference – safely! In fact, in 2006, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board, 750,000,000 passengers had safe journeys on US air carriers. There were 47 fatalities. In the straight up statistical lingo of the NTSB, that’s 16 million safe enplanements per fatality. 99.99999375 percent of the time, pilots executed their expertise, airline engineers and designers did there computations, security personnel did their checks, maintenance crews provided their care, and air traffic controllers guided their flights perfectly!

In 2005 there were 595,363 highway bridges spanning the United States.
Assuming a, very conservative, traffic count of 10,000 cars crossing each bridge each day, and multiplying that number by 365 days per year, the total number of safe bridge crossings was two trillion, one hundred and seventy three billion, seventy four million, nine hundred and fifty thousand (2,173,074,950,000) safe trips! (for Canadian stats, divide by 10) How well structured is that?

In 2003 there were 134 non-parental abductions in Canada; a parent’s greatest fear. That same year roughly 7,600,000 children were not abducted; they arrived home from school untouched, had dinner with their parents, and slept in safety. (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, vol 25, #1 and Statistics Canada)

In the year that the Asian Tsunami occurred, arguably one of the greatest tragedies of our times; or in the year Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, approximately 3 billion people, world wide, lived safely in coastal cities and villages. (Within 200 km of the coastline according to Population Reference Bureau, 2003)

You get the point.

And I’m not making it to minimize anybody’s suffering. The pain and loss of those impacted by tragedy is both immeasurable and inexplicable. For this reason, their suffering should be ours.

But we need to be careful that we don’t become co-dependent on the brokenness of others. We need to guard against the unhealthy tragedy transference that may be occurring. We need to keep our fears in some kind of balanced check.

There’s a recent trend in psychology that’s offering this same advice. It’s called ‘positive psychology.’ The main gist of the movement is to switch from the continual focus on what’s wrong, where things fall short, failure, and instead accentuate the positive and build from there. It’s a strengths based approach to living.

We’re not talking about denying our problems, ignoring suffering, or minimizing humanity’s mistakes. It’s more about taking what’s good and building on that; focusing on it instead (or at least as much!). What do we gain from hyped anxiety and learned helplessness anyway?

This way of thinking seems to be taking off in psychological circles; freeing individuals to focus on what’s right and enabling that right to grow. It seems that this re-accentuating trend results in a much more optimistic outlook for many lives.

What if we applied this way of thinking on a larger scale?

There is a lot that is very, very good in our lives (and on our planet). Most of the air we breathe is fresh. Most of the streets we walk on are safe. Most of our lives are filled with un-cited goodness and grace.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of these facts more often, and re-proportion our perceptions with a fact-based reality check.

Life is good for so many of us, most of the time. Look around. It’s the biggest un-news story going! There’s an incredibly common grace at work in our world.

The world, as it has for so many millions of years, is still spinning on its axis.

Thank God for that, and for everything else that’s holding together so well.



Sept 28, 2007

I read this in a Globe and Mail editorial this morning,

“There’s a new game. The gaze gets reversed. The West doesn’t get to die laughing at the goofy Eastern despot; the East can laugh at the inane Western bully... The “dominating gaze” as they say in cultural studies, is no longer that of former colonizers, even when it’s been implanted in the heads of ex-colonials.” Rick Salutin

The article from which this quote comes offers commentary on the huge name calling, virulently insulting stance many in the US took toward the visit of Iran’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. You may have noticed a “me thinks they overreactith a bit” feeling welling up inside as you took in the goings on. I did...
It’s not about picking sides (both sides are blowing it in my estimation), it more of an indictment on both leaders.

Everybody thinks they have a right to make a judgment call on others, no one ever applies the same level of discerning brutality to themselves. The judges, as a result, become corrupt... become more corrupt in not being brutally aware of their own dark and selfish sides. Soon foolishness takes over, ignorance rules, and all sense of wise bearing gets lost in the name calling.

Seeing these leaders/countries exchange potshots like schoolyard bullys, I have to wonder what God is saying to all of us through the exchange.

Then I read Psalm 82...

God calls the judges into his courtroom, he puts all the judges in the dock.

"Enough! You've corrupted justice long enough,
you've let the wicked get away with murder.
You're here to defend the defenseless,
to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;
Your job is to stand up for the powerless,
and prosecute all those who exploit them."

Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges!
They haven't a clue to what's going on.
And now everything's falling apart,
the world's coming unglued.

"I commissioned you judges, each one of you,
deputies of the High God,
But you've betrayed your commission
and now you're stripped of your rank, busted."

O God, give them their just deserts!
You've got the whole world in your hands!


all truth is God's truth

Sept 27, 2007

I woke up this morning at 3:33 am thinking about things; about the idea, “All truth is God’s truth.” Over the past few weeks I’ve been in a theological dialogue with a seminary professor about the stuff we’re doing; the thoughts we're thinking, at New Hope. I’m beginning to realize that this concept of all truth being God’s can be heard two ways. From one angle it is perceived as a negative thing; going soft...
Like some kind of relativistic catch all; a way of saying all religions are the same, a way to give validation and permission for pretty much everything (as long as it’s perceived as true by the beholder). I see the problem in this view. From another angle, in the absolute sense and definition of truth, believing that there is really only one fount - one sole Source of truth – is, I believe, irrefutable! It’s a wonderful hopeful, redemptive and grounding faith statement.

It seems to me that the confusion between these two readings of the phras is problematic; where we’re running into push back. The same thing occurs when I say to someone, “I believe that God is working in divinely authoritative ways in our world today.” Part of me says, yes, of course, this is undeniably true, God is God, period. But another part of me now realizes that, to some, a statement like this then calls into question the authority of God’s truth as we find it in the Bible(traditionally, and rightly, understood to be the sole source of all of God’s truth). I don’t get it. Why should a powerful affirmation of the providential revelatory presence of God today take away from the authority of his revelation in the scriptures? Why wouldn’t it have the opposite effect? Must we bridle the Spirit’s present day power to protect the sanctity of the Spirit’s past movements in history? Have we forgotten that the Spirit moved long before the book was written? And will move long after?

I can hear the charge now (and I’m hearing it now), “But then you’re saying that God’s revelation today is the same as God’s revelation in the bible.” No, I’m not. That was then and this is now. Just as we Christ followers believe this sentiment in the context of the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, so too can we do the ‘that is this’ math today. Another professor, in briefly talking about our church’s trajectory two weeks ago, said something to the effect of, “I’ve spent most of my life trying to make the connection between Christ in the OT and Christ in the NT... finding all of the pointers, the types, prophesies, and promises that connect the two. Now you’re saying that you’re doing the same, only in terms of connecting the Christ of the NT, with Christ’s Holy Spirit’s generally revealed work today.” He didn’t say it exactly that way, but that was the gist of what I though I heard.

We Christians believe God’s truth as it’s found in the Jewish scriptures; the Old Testament (in our denomination’s tradition we emphasize the OT more than most!). Even though this part of the bible is, chronologically and historically speaking, an explicitly pre-incarnate Christ, pre-gospel, pre-Easter thing, we still see the connections. We see Christ foreshadowed all over the place; types for him everywhere, prophesies, promises! What if we were to do the same kind of math today, only from a different direction? What if, alongside understanding ‘pre-Christ history’s future telling content’, we now also did the same with present-Christ revealing content (Christ moving in his creation today)? Types, prophesies, promises, everywhere! We would never dream of discounting God’s authoritative movements and presence in the OT text. Why would we ever consider doing so with his present day revelations in the creational text?

God hasn’t changed. His movements throughout history, and in people’s lives, has not stopped. If anything, “post incarnate Christ reality”, should be understood to be more explicitly filled with type, prophesy and promise! (Jesus himself promised this in promising to send his Spirit)

Makes me wonder how much we could learn by studying and applying all of those ‘This is That’ Old Testament connections.


Christ in the forest

Sept 25, 2007

"You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren't willing to receive from me the life you say you want."

Jesus in John 5:39-40, MSG

I can't agree with Jesus more!...
He's standing right in front of us... right now... here... in real time (all of last Sunday's message was premised on this fact... all of Christianity, when you really consider it, is based on this belief). And yet, way too much of the time, we lose the forest for the trees; the trees of institutionalism, tradition, bibliolatry, controlling our faith, whatever!

Yesterday, as I was showing my wife my dewy photographs, she asked, "Where was this?" She wanted to know where specifically the pics were taken. I heard her question in a different way and answered like an excited child, "It was everywhere... as far as the eye could see... dew everywhere!"

She laughed out loud. So did I... It really was everywhere, this ground flourishing gift of God, his sustaining hand providentially pouring out his goodness. Evidence of his presence was everywhere.

No wonder Jesus said,

"I'm telling you this straight. The Son can't independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does the Son does. The Father loves the Son and includes him in everything he is doing." John 5:19-20

And then later in the same chapter... "I can't do a solitary thing on my own; I listen..." John 5:30

He must have seen his Father's hand... heard his Father's voice... discerned his Father's leading in everything.

Through Christ, aren't we all called to do the same?



Sept 24, 2007

"I hear this most gentle whisper from One
I never guessed would speak to me..."
Psalm 81:5 MSG

and two more...


crisp fall day

Sept 18, 2007

I love the change of seasons. It evokes a different sense of time, re-colours my perspective,opens me up to eternity.

And a couple more...


Amy Winehouse

Sept 05, 2007

Four weeks ago my wife got an Amy Winehouse CD for her birthday. While the lyrics are a bit raunchy at times, Winehouse's sound is outstanding. So much so that I can't get her hit song, Rehab, out of my mind.

While out for a walk a few days ago (and listening to the song for the 6th time) I had this thought, "What "Rehab" is about is what Amy's about, and what Amy's about is what a whole swack of 20 somethings in Calgary are about, and what a whole swack of 20 somethings in Calgary are about, is what all human beings in general are about."

This kind of thought is usually my first cue in deciding to preach on a pop cultural text. So now Amy is the sermon topic for September 16th. Now, where to go from here?....

Check out John's message on Amy
That's where I could use some help.

This Sunday coming up, I hope to preach on the concept of parable. The bible is filled with parables. They were Jesus' primary communcation methodology. My thinking is, if they were his MO in bible times, why wouldn't they be his MO today?

And if they are today, what would the parable of Amy Winehouse look and sound like? What spiritual message could we find in her life? How might I come to know more about God and myself through this artist's story? What might God be saying to us via the life and times of Amy Winehouse?

He made her. He holds her life. He uses her for his purposes. He loves her.

So what's he saying through her then? If you're a fan, let me know what you think. If you're not, download Rehab and help me figure this parable out. (And listen in to this Sunday's message. I'm going to try and unpack the concept of parable a bit more. Hopefully this will help all of us better read the text.)


road trip

Aug 25, 2007

Fran, Eddy and I headed out on a two day road trip earlier this week. No map, no destination, no better time!

Here are a few more pics...


"The parable of the murder of Tara Landgraf"

Aug 19, 2007

God moves in mysterious ways. All week long I struggled with what to preach on Sunday. By Thursday I realized that the editorial that I was writing for the newspaper also needed to be my sermon topic. So I write both, and both get preached this morning, one in voice, and the other in print.
Link to John's sermon

I love it when I can see God's synchronizing hand at work. And it get's better...
Last week my daughter convinced me that we both needed to volunteer at the "Inn from the Cold" (they house the homeless in church basements). At 6:30am this morning we show up to begin our cleanup tasks - early - and get a chance to have breakfast with some of the clientelle. We end up sitting at a table with two fairly nice guys. They both work, and are both homeless. Halfway through our conversation they bring up the story of the tragic death of their friend; Tara Landgraf.

I couldn't believe this was playing out! They knew her well. One had tears in his eyes as he described her kind and caring nature. They kept going on about how she was not a bad person. After I told him about my sermon topic for later that morning, he made sure I knew even more about Tara's character and heart. ( I had the sense that he really wanted me to honour her memory well.)

I think that happened (for Tara's and for God's sake). To me the events that the sermon and editorial captured were like a parable. Through Tara's tagic death, and our reaction to it, God spoke.

Here's the editorial... (I'll post the sermon podcast early next week)

“Woman found dead in Ramsay... on the river’s edge... on a downtown park bench; she lived a high risk lifestyle...”

What conclusion are we to draw from the “high risk lifestyle” suffix that’s been tagged onto several recent Calgary murders?

While it should evoke an even greater sense of compassion for these lost souls, I’m not so sure it does.

Cynically, I wonder if these categorizations are merely intended to assuage my majority culture, non-high risk lifestyle, fears. “Oh, the victim was a prostitute, a gang member, into drugs, living on the street... one of them (not one of me)... I feel safer now.”

I’m embarrassed to say it, but - more often than not - these caveats have elicited this kind of anesthetizing response. They’ve lessened the shock of the tragedy, and left me feeling less concerned for a shorter period of time.

Deep inside, a part of me struggles with this response; the conscience part, the love your neighbour part, the human part.

At times I worry that this qualifying coping mechanism might eventually leave me totally de-sensitized to the terrible plight of these very real fellow citizens.

Why put asterisks behind these peoples’ names? Why categorize?

Could this be the sign of a community in denial? Is this a way that we all ignore the screams?

“Targeted attack”... “Known to police”... “Domestic incident”... “The assailant knew the victim”... Don’t each of these addenda eventually induce the same heart numbing effect?

I understand that the police are just giving us the facts. I know that part of their job is to manage, properly ground, and alleviate public concern. I also know that I want to be informed when violent crimes are random (ie: I want to know when I’m personally at greater risk).

But is this way of communicating not a double edged sword?

Do we risk cutting ourselves off from one another in unhealthy ways when we use this kind of socially stratifying language?

It seems to me that this approach dis-integrates community, segregates society, and creates camps. By fomenting an unhealthy “us and them” mentality, we actually exacerbate the problem; further widening societal fractures.

This splintering trajectory can only result in more violent crime. By psychologically detaching the weaker parts of our community from the strong, our social fabric ends up more and more threadbare.

Ironically, this will leave all of us at increased risk of being caught in the crossfire.

So how do we deal with this problem then?

First we need to realize that the health of our community is not, primarily, a city social services department problem, or a provincial low cost housing matter, or a federal gun law concern. Community health starts much closer to home; in each of our hearts and minds.

We need to be very intentional in realizing that the people dying these tragic deaths are just as valid a part of this city as we are! No asterisks, no caveats, no suffixes allowed.

They are us and we are them and we’re all Calgarians.

We need to take the, “I can’t believe this is happening in our city,” sentiment that we’re all feeling (on a corporate level) right now, and make it personal. We need to get to that place where we’re thinking, “I can’t believe this happened to Tara Landgraf, Wendy Hewko, or to Gage Prevost...”

These were people with first and last names, with real lives, with childhood hopes and dreams just like you and I.

Speaking to Tara’s family this week I learned more of the whole story of her life. Most moving was hearing how very tender-hearted she was as a child. Tara used to bring injured birds home all the time, and she could never leave a stray dog or cat on the street.

Two nights after Tara’s curbside death (her screams heard by local residents, but not responded to) a television news reporter interviewed a woman who had come to the street side memorial.
When asked why she was there (she didn’t personally know Tara) she responded, “I was afraid nobody else would come.”

Her words were an indictment; her presence a source of hope.

If we want our city to get healthy again, we need to take on more of the grace and compassion of this woman.

We need to re-frame the tragedies of Tara, Wendy and Gage as our tragedies. They fell into societal cracks that we helped create; via our apathy, our segregating language and our camp mentality.

This should make us cry.

I think we need to own our culpability in this.

Yes, all sides in this complex societal equation do – people who end up in tragic circumstances do have free will, and they’re responsible for their own actions - but it seems to me that those of us who are in a stronger societal position bear the greater burden in this regard. A community’s true character and strength is measured by how well it takes care of all of its citizens.

Let’s be strong enough to admit that, too often, we ignore or back away from the problem; and that in so doing, we widen society’s cracks.

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

"The parable of the murder of Tara Landgraf"
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 22 2007 @ 07:06 PM PDT

I just wanted to thank-you! This is Cory Rob's spouse, Tara was our cousin. Amazing and so deeply touching! Tara deserved this.!!! Our family appreciates this more than we could ever show you! I just hope the message is heard, the label will one day disappear, and people will always acknowledge a cry for help, no matter what the sign is, a note, a act for attention, and scream for help. They are all important big or small. Thank-you John!

God bless!

The parable of the murder of Tara Landgra
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 07:42 AM PDT

Thanks for the kind words about Tara.

She was one of the most full of life, friendly, and funny people I ever had the pleasure to call a friend.

Even during the lowest days of her addiction, she was never a thief, never took advantage of people, and never blamed anyone else for her addiction.

She knew her family and friends worried about her, but she always made an effort to at least let us know regularly that she was okay and where she was at.

She wasn't forgotten, she wasn't abandoned, but she also didn't want to be a burden.

She had tried to get clean a couple of times, and last time I saw her, she was trying to get on the waiting for a rehab centre; a mere two weeks ago before that horrible day.

I'm gonna carry her memory with me till the day I die.



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