Three aspects of healthy community



15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Before the man in the Garden had fully experienced the joy and delight of human community, God set out for him the necessary framework for healthy community: vocation, permission, and prohibition. I appreciate Walter Brueggeman’s identification of these from God’s instructions to Adam.

Vocation: The Lord God placed the man in the Garden to tend and watch over it.

Permission: You may eat freely of every tree in the garden…

Prohibition: Except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.


Healthy, life-giving community responds to God by keeping all three of these in tension.

Vocation is meaningful work and purpose. From our rest and relationship with God we discover and live into the callings of work, stewardship, service and contributing.

Permission is freedom, choice, and preference. We give freedom and permission for people and ourselves to discover and partake in the community and this world without condemnation.

Prohibition is the divine establishment of God’s “no” for our good. We maintain a moral boundary to our lives and relationships in which we restrain ourselves and our power in acknowledgement and love of God.


Consider these perversions of community

Vocation without permission becomes slavery and legalism.

Permission without prohibition becomes slavery and license.

Prohibition without vocation and permission becomes bondage and despair.

These contraptions of community are toxic and abusive, lacking God’s grace and truth. Each hollows out the soul of a person. Today we live with varying degrees of these depending on the common response to God’s grace and the human conscience. However, in the first human community pictured in the Genesis Two narrative, all three aspects where present for the man and the woman — and in their relationships they were without shame. For a time they lived fully in the gift of God’s “Yes” and “No.”


Life outside The Garden with Christ Jesus

Now, we live outside the garden and it seems to take tremendous effort to reestablish vocation, permission and prohibition in our communities. Although I believe the human condition is longing for the fulness of communion with God and each other we are often reluctant and even  resistant to the pathway of love and holiness set before us by Jesus. He is calling us to Himself so we may receive these good gifts through His Spirit today and participate in the redemption of all things. The Gospel changes everything including our response to the needs we posses by design for vocation, permission, and prohibition.

Ephesians 4:17-31 NLT

17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.


Spiritual, Not Religious and Stupid, Selfish & Unhappy?

David Webster, author of Dispirited:  How Contemporary Spirituality Makes us Stupid, Selfish, and Unhappy, comments on the self-identification trend of “spiritual, not religious.”  While not a particularly religious person himself, he believes spirituality that is not grounded in a view of reality and practice actually contributes to a toxic kind of spirituality.  Here’s more from a recent interview:

That the idea of being “spiritual, but not religious” is, at the very least, problematic. As I suggest in the book, mind-body-spirit spirituality is in danger of making us stupid, selfish, and unhappy.

Stupid—because its open-ended, inclusive and non-judgemental attitude to truth-claims actually becomes an obstacle to the combative, argumentative process whereby we discern sense from nonsense. To treat all claims as equivalent, as valid perspectives on an unsayable ultimate reality, is not to really take any of them seriously. It promotes a shallow, surface approach, whereby the work of discrimination, of testing claims against each other, and our experience in the light of method, is cast aside in favour of a lazy, bargain-basement-postmodernist relativism.

Selfish—because the ‘inner-turn’ drives us away from concerns with the material; so much so that being preoccupied with worldly matters is somehow portrayed as tawdry or shallow. It’s no accident that we see the wealthy and celebrities drawn to this very capitalist form of religion: most of the world realizes that material concerns do matter. I don’t believe that we find ourselves and meaning via an inner journey. I’m not even sure I know what it means. While of course there is course for introspection and self-examination, this, I argue, has to be in a context of concrete social realities.

Finally, I argue that the dissembling regarding death in most contemporary spirituality—the refusal to face it as the total absolute annihilation of the person and all about them—leaves it ill-equipped to help us truly engage with the existential reality of our own mortality and finitude. In much contemporary spirituality there is an insistence of survival (and a matching vagueness about its form) whenever death is discussed. I argue that any denial of death (and I look at the longevity movements briefly too) is an obstacle to a full, rich life, with emotional integrity. Death is the thing to be faced if we are to really live. Spirituality seems to me to be a consolation that refuses this challenge, rather seeking to hide in the only-half-believed reassurances of ‘spirit’, ‘energy’, previous lives, and ‘soul’.

Read the whole interview at Religion Dispatches.


Routines and University

So you are a returning student to University and you know that you OUGHT to create some new routines for your life.  Don’t let laziness keep you from putting into place some habits that will help you in the long run.  And, don’t despair new habits really do take time and practice to establish; some people have suggested that it takes 42 days to put a new habit firmly into place.

Routines like brushing your teeth and washing your clothes–well we hope those are in place.  But if you are just showing up as a new student or you were really went on holiday even from your routines over the summer, now is the time to get some of these in place.  Its unlikely that you will get them all going but here’s a few.  At Origin, You Were Born for More we talk about two sets of habits or routines:  Get Alone habits and Get Together habits.  These habits are supportive of Jesus’ call for us to love God and to love people.

Here’s a list of possible routines that would really help you during University.

  • Sleep routine.
  • Study routines.
  • Work-Out routines.
  • Set up a study group.
  • Nail down when you are going to do laundry.
  • Get connected in a faith community.  These groups have regular rythms of life that  often contribute to a healthy life.
  • Pay attention to your money:  When do you pay the bills, check your balances, contribute to your assets and savings?
  • Call home.  Stay connected with family and friends.
  • When do you grocery shop and where?
  • Prayer.
  • Get into a regular Bible study group.
  • Study breaks — walks work for me!
  • Meditation and personal reflection.
  • Join a group to regularly “give back” through community service.
  • Journalling.
  • Set up a dinner group.
  • Set up a learning group.
  • Set up a social group for whatever you really like to do.
  • Join a club–Participation in the club might even pull several of these needs together for you.
  • When do you clean the place up?  Clutter distracts!

You may have noticed at some of the Residences or at Irving K Barber, The UBC Chaplains are encouraging students to put routines in place this month.  Many routines connect to the spiritual side of life!

Here’s a picture of my friend Kevin, from St. Marks, connecting with students at the Irving K Barber Centre for Learning at UBC.


What routines are you putting in place this month?