Pastor John Van Sloten's Blog 2001-2007

John Van Sloten's Blog 2001 - 2007

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What a trend we have in Jesus

Apr 09, 2004

Once upon a time church was boring, a least for the average kid. It was a place for musty old people, stern grownups and goodie goodies. Not anymore...

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VIOLENCE, Gandhi and the Passion of the Christ

Mar 01, 2004

In the classic film based on his life, Gandhi offers a profound lesson regarding the place of violence in the pursuit of freedom and peace. His wisdom may be instructive in helping us understand the controversial violence of the Passion of the Christ.
In one scene, Gandhi and his friend, Presbyterian Missionary Charlie Andrews, come across a group of thugs set on violent confrontation. Pastor Andrews wants to run, but Gandhi refuses and asks, "Doesn’t the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?" Andrews thinks the teaching is more metaphorical, but Gandhi isn’t so sure. He responds by saying, "I suspect he meant you must show courage--be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes [your enemy’s] hatred decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I have seen it at work."

Is this what we are seeing at work in Gibson’s graphically violent film?

Gandhi understood that justice and peace could only be attained through non-violent means. By taking an oppressor’s evil into ones self and not retaliating, that evil is brought to an abrupt halt; disempowered in the determined heart and will of the peacemaker. Running away would be a concession to evil, fighting back would only serve to propagate the problem. The solution lies in the profound act of passivity and its impact on those who witness it.

So how does this help us understand the violence of Jesus’ crucifixion? First, it forces us to confront the inner reality that our witnessing, via the film, has exposed. Just as the British had their collective consciences pricked in seeing their soldiers beat passive civilians, we too are confronted and convicted by the crucifixion event. Witnessing the cruel betrayal and murder of Christ, our consciences are pricked and we come face to face with a disturbing truth; that we human beings are capable of doing these kinds of things to one another. History has proven this fact over and over again. No matter how we try and deny it, the dark side of our condition continues to rear its ugly head. And for the follower of Christ the problem gets worse. If Jesus really was the Son of God, then the crucifixion is surely the pinnacle of human depravity. The cross becomes the place where we kill our own creator!

Whether we believe this or not, the crucifixion, with all of its attendant violence, is at some level, a cruel indictment of the evil that resides in every human heart. At some level we’re all culpable.

A second, more profound, lesson is discovered as we witness both how and why Christ carried the violence. It’s almost inconceivable to think that Jesus wouldn’t try and stop the injustice being thrust upon him. He didn’t run from evil in the Garden of Gethsemane, deflect if by defending himself before Governor Pilate, or deny it by taking the traditional crucifixion pain killers while on the cross. Instead, he wilfully and completely took it all into himself. Why?

As the Christian story goes, Jesus did this to achieve peace and justice. He turned the other cheek and loved his enemies in order to free them. God didn’t run away and leave evil to totally destroy his people, nor did he strike back and keep the evil cycle going. God was big enough, and gracious enough to take the higher road of crucifixion.

For Gandhi, this selfless approach freed a nation. For Christ, many believe, the stakes were even higher.

Yes, the violence of the Passion of the Christ is, at points, intolerable. Given the gravity of the crime how could it not be? Perhaps the only comfort we can take from the story is knowing the motivation that lies in behind the act. If Jesus truly did do this because he wanted to bring peace with God, then we need to view his sacrifice with new eyes and let the profound pain act as a pointer to an even greater truth; that there really is a love that will do anything to make things right, even to the point of self sacrifice. "And when someone does that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes our hatred decrease and our respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and we have seen it at work."


Town Hall Sunday - The Passion of the Christ, Passionate Views

Mar 01, 2004

Who Killed Christ? for the Calgary Herald March 2004

"Sorry sir, the lot is full; overflow parking is next door at the Synagogue…" To be honest, this was the last thing I expected to hear as I made my way toward the pre-screening of Mel Gibson’s controversial Passion film. But it seemed a good omen. Entering the church sanctuary I couldn’t help but wonder about the validity of concerns expressed by certain Human rights and Jewish groups over the purported anti-Semitic message this film might be communicating.

On their website, the Anti-Defamation League has stated that, "Throughout history Christian dramatizations of the passion, i.e. the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, have fomented anti-Semitic attitudes and violence against the Jewish people." They pointedly ask, "Will the film portray Jews as blood-thirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of Jesus? …Will it correct the unambiguous depiction of Jews as the ones responsible for the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus? Will it portray Jews and the Temple as the locus of evil?"

Good questions. Question’s that, after viewing the film, seem all the more valid. In my estimation there is no arguing with the fact that Gibson’s depiction of the Jewish leaders would lead to a clear indictment. They are portrayed in a very negative light, pretty much in accordance with the original accounting of the story as we find it in the gospels. To question the portrayal of Jewish culpability seems ridiculous, they were culpable! But responsibility for the death of Christ didn’t stop there.

The guilt spread. First into the hands of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, whose apathy in failing to save an innocent man ended up being lethal. Then, most graphically, onto the vicious Roman soldiers who scourged Jesus before his crucifixion (The reason this film received an R rating no doubt!). And then the guilt went further. Surprisingly it left the screen and began washing over me. Desperately squirming in my seat, witnessing the immense suffering of Jesus, hearing his flesh being torn by Roman whips, a profound truth from seminary class flooded into my mind and overwhelmed me. This happened because of me. It’s a core teaching in the Christian faith, "Because of my brokenness, bustedness, ‘sinfulness’, Jesus had to die."

The Hebrew prophet Isaiah foretold it some 700 years before Christ when he wrote, "But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him--our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed." Isaiah 53:5 The modern day prophet, Mel Gibson, quoted the same text in defense of his work in a recent ABC television interview.

For me the cycle of culpability was now complete. I was as much a part of that jeering crowd as anyone who was actually there 2000 years ago. I crucified Christ. And any Christian sitting there in that sanctuary would honestly have to make the same confession.

To me, this is the answer to the question of, ‘Who killed Christ?" At least if you espouse a Christian faith. Which makes me wonder how a Christian could ever choose to blame another for Jesus’ death. In faith circles, this would be tantamount to denying the very reason God send Christ. He had to die. He chose to die. And somehow, in the mystery of the mind of God, it was a good thing that he died.

Throughout history many have misunderstood Jesus’ message, some playing the blame game, billions of others, however, have been changed for the better. Let’s hope and pray that this film grows the humility that comes from confessed culpability and fosters more of a Christ like spirit toward all people.

View as pdf (1631 kb)


Evanescence - My Immortal

Feb 15, 2004

John explores the music of Evanescence and their message to the world, through the song "My Immortal".

Calgary Herald Article, Feb. 14/04 (pdf 144kb)

CJ92 FM Calgary Interview (streaming mp3)

Listen to the Message (streaming mp3)

Transcript of John's message - courtesy Bulletin v3.0.0, ©2000-2004, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

"A sixteenth century monk, Saint John of the Cross once coined a phrase that described a place of profound spiritual desolation. A dry place where your soul thirsted, where your soul cried out, yearned to be satiated, and he called that place, the 'dark night of the soul.' think that's got a good goth metal feel to it.
It was a state of mind that was defined by a deep sense of loneliness, of even lost-ness. Where you feel this dense, burdensome cloud on top of you and you can't get away. Where you cry out words like those that we just heard, 'I'm so tired of being here [suppressed] by all my childish fears. [And if you have to leave], I wish that you would just [leave]. Because your presence still lingers here and it won't leave me alone. These wounds won't seem to heal, this pain is just to real, there's just too much that time cannot erase.' Or words like these, from a psalm, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, left me, why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, [and am not silent?] Do not be far from me, for trouble is near, and there's no one to help. The 'dark night of the soul' is a place of broken-ness, and its important to know that a key definer of that place of broken-ness lie in the scope of relationship.

It's a place where abandonment is experienced; where the presence of the one still lingers on, a place where the void left by someone's absence just won't leave you alone. Where you just can't forget what you once had, what it once was; the memory of the beauty of that time just haunts you in the 'dark night of the soul place.'

Now those kinds of places and voids can occur on so many relational fronts. I read the paper this week and thinking about this message and the 'dark night of the soul' and I wonder if the world is cloaked in a cloud an I see the wars and the fighting and the bombs in the subways and the starving and the dying and the hatred, and you yearn for something more. And I hear stories of families. [I] talked to a man this morning and his family, just wishing that his marriage could go well and just get along; yearning for whole-ness in that place. That people could respect each other, or within a dating relationship where you once had something and it was so beautiful to be embraced by that person's love and how its lost. Or even in ourselves like, 'who in the world am I? What in the world do I have to do with my life and why do I feel sometimes so painfully alone?' And maybe even more profoundly, we find those voids in our relationship with God, like Saint John did. 'Where are you God?' I feel so lost. Why have you forsaken me?'

Dark nights are part of the human condition, things are not the way things they're supposed to be. We live in a reality on multiple levels where we desperately want something back. We want it to be the way its 'supposed' to be; the way it once was.

Section 3: And Saint John knew a lot about the dark night of the soul. He started young. When he was a little kid he lost his dad, and throughout his life it was a reality again and again; one that he wrote of. But even as he wrote about it, he didn't write about it primarily as a negative thing. In fact, for him, even though its a hugely tough place to be, he saw it as a very positive thing, a gift. He used the words 'sheer grace.' Now why would anybody see those places in that kind of way? Well, listen to some lyrics he once wrote about the 'dark night of the soul.'

He said: 'Oh guiding night, oh night more lovely than the dawn/ Oh night that has united the lover with his beloved/ Transforming the beloved in her lover.'
The reason he saw it as a gift, as a grace, was because he saw it as the precursor to the opportunity before which we draw closer to God, deeper into the divine center that God is. Its as if he understood the depth of yearning that we have to go to sometimes; we have to go to, because its the only way, in a deep, profound and true way that we find the answer. Thirst is a gift that leads us to living water. Pangs of hunger deep within our guts act like a teacher, saying 'you need to be fed.' The emptiness of our existence that we sometimes feel, it need filling. The darkness needs light, and it drives us to that place. The bottom line is [that] you and I, and everyone in this place needs life. And we all need love.

When Ben Moody, the writer of that song, 'My Immortal' was asked why he wrote all of the songs on the album; what they're about; the purpose of his music; he said 'as far as spiritually, the message that we as a band want to convey more than anything else is simple. God is love. He is a just God, but he is also a gracious God.'
And now Ben has it right on his view on God. God is the lover that Saint John talked about who will transform us in our dark places. He will lift us up, he will bring us back to life, and it all starts with God meeting us in the' dark night of the soul' reality. Ben said in another interview, the writer, 'He knows you better,' talking about God, 'He knows you better than you know yourself and he understands, understands how you feel. I am a Christian, I still have pains, I still have fears, I still have sorrow. I wouldn't be alive if I didn't. The beautiful thing about my relationship with God is that He understands all that, and He has shown me what life is really for. God understands.'

Through the words of the prophet Jeremiah, 'my eyes pour out tears. Day and night, the tears never quit. My dear, dear people are battered, bruised, and hopeless.' God understands and God will respond. A few quotes from some psalms and a prophet: "You keep track of all my sorrows, God, you collected all of my tears in your bottle; you've recorded each one. Every single tear you've cried [is] in his book. For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one, he has not hidden his face from him or her, but has listened to their cry for help. God will wipe the tears from every face, he'll remove every sign of disgrace; from his people, wherever they are, yes, God says so. And the way that God does that is by giving you, Himself. The ability to know God in some mysterious, profound gift of grace from the hand and heart of God way; He has the ability to reach out and touch the face of God. As you're being held in God's embrace intimately, in such a real and profound and true way; He is present and He is real. There and here, He is now."


Obesity - Spiritual Hunger?

Feb 14, 2004

Letter to the Calgary Herald, Feb. 14, 2004

Re: Obesity Epidemic

Seems like everyone is scrambling nowadays to find a solution to our growing girth problem. Makes me wonder if we’re not just treating the symptoms instead of the cause. The ancient church fathers used to define over consumption as gluttony; consuming too much, too fast, too richly and with too much attention. They figured the core contributing factor feeding these tendencies was spiritual in nature. We’re prone to always want more. Couple this fact with a consumer culture gone mad, hugely influenced by the call to eat, it's no wonder we’re becoming an increasingly supersized nation. Perhaps we need to begin by taking an honest look at who we really are and then stop selling ourselves to death.

View as pdf


Man in Black - Johnny Cash

Feb 01, 2004

Johnny Cash at New Hope


Iran's call

Jan 10, 2004

Iran's call - Calgary Herald
Jan. 01/04

-letter about the earthquake in Iran, only available as pdf


The Lord of the Rings

Dec 05, 2003

The Lord of the Rings, we discussed this movie over a 2 year time span, beginning with the "Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers". In the second year we focused on Gollum and the final movie "The Return of the King".

More Lord of the Rings at NHC


The Matrix Reloaded

May 16, 2003

The Matrix Reloaded

John Van Sloten & CBC Television, May 16/03
The Matrix is a movie that causes a shift in our thinking, what is reality? Is it all that we can see, or is there more?


The Simpsons

Jan 20, 2001

In 2001 New Hope was a young church with a passion to do things a bit differently. The Simpsons were a big step for us in learning to explore the ever expanding world of God.

CBC Radio 1010 Calgary, Wild Rose forum - The Simpsons

The Simpsons are a cultural icon, not one normally linked to church except in a negative way.

More Simpsons at NHC


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