32) "What Do You Think of Jesus of Nazareth?" | Jake Aikenhead (Part 1)

After observing a rigorous conversation between strangers on a patio about the merits and wisdom of Eckart Tolle, Mark asks the question this week: how come Jesus doesn't generate the same kind of magnetic discussion among strangers? There are a few possible reasons, but ultimately Mark wonders if it's the content of Jesus' teaching and life that ultimately make him harder to swallow and far less comforting than contemporary spiritual gurus. And so, do we make Jesus more palatable? Or more presentable? If more presentable, how?

Then Mark sits down with Jake Aikenhead, Director of Toronto's Salvation Army Gateway. Jake opens up about his upbringing in Toronto and what compelled him to pursue philosophy, theology, and frontline support work. This week in Part 1, Jake shares his trouble with Jesus-following being overly cerebral and talks about how his exposure to different traditions and ideas led to healthy questions, which helped him discover God in new and fresher ways, which in turn compels him to a life of service.

Join us next week for Part 2 as Jake talks about poverty issues in Toronto and about our street-involved neighbours served by agencies like Gateway.


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Notable Quotes from Jake Aikenhead

"I think I had about seven or eight 'come-to-Jesus' moments along the way. Like so many of us have. Mostly motivated by fear in those early days and then later on not....  I think we're always coming back to and realizing, 'Oh you know what? Maybe some of the things I've kind of started doing or developed in my life are a little bit out of line with what I want to be.' We're always going to be returning - to Christ and turning to Scripture and trying to work out, 'Am I doing what I think I should be doing? Am I doing what's right?' Probably I won't have too many more moments where I feel like I need to ask Jesus into my heart. But I hope that throughout the rest of my life I continually return to God and say, 'Hey, is what I'm doing now good?'"

"I did some traveling and worked in a warehouse and it was just really about that whole time asking this question, 'So what's my next step?' And that for me was usually tied to, 'Well, what do I actually think about Jesus?' Because at that point I'd had some pretty good ideas, but still wasn't totally sure. So I spent that year doing some thinking about that. One of the conclusions I came to as I was walking around cities in Western Europe by myself was: if there is something to this Jesus character and if it is true that there is abundant life in being involved with the poor and giving of yourself and this crazy scenario of picking up your cross and following Jesus - whatever that means - if there is something to that, I should at least try it or I should at least explore that and see if it's true for myself."

"I think that might have been what I was trying to work out: the fact that most everything I was taught was all cerebral. And that's not what I was finding that the call is.... After like 20 years of trying to work on trying to work on thinking the right stuff, you start to realize it might not be about just believing the right stuff. I sort of realized that my beliefs only matter insofar as they inform what I do, so if they're just beliefs on their own – if I'm just working on essentially writing an essay proving that I know all the right stuff – then that's worthless in and of itself."

"There was a professor when I was at Wycliffe that said something similar… Telling his own story and saying, 'I got to a point when I was writing my dissertation where I realized, You know, this might not be a scenario where the smartest guy wins. It might not just be about figuring it all out and having all the answers but there's something much deeper here that's at the heart of the work that we do academically - which should transform us and shape our heart and cause us to move around in the world differently.'"

"One of the earliest things I learned at Wycliffe was that this Evangelical upbringing I had is not all of Christianity. It's a point on the spectrum of ways to engage with God and with Jesus. Just because the kind of sheltered upbringing was what I had to work with, I had assumed that that's what it was to be a Christian. But there's so much more."

"When I got to Wycliffe that was the first time I ever picked up the Book of Common prayer or worshipped in an Anglican….  And it's wonderful and great, so it really just kind of allowed me to see that there is so much more – there's so much value outside of what I had already experienced and that was a really freeing thing. Because there's lots that I had trouble with along the way in that Evangelical paradigm. And so realizing that there's a lot of people out there that see things differently and that's good - that was one of the things that I took away from Wycliffe are sure."

"That was one of the early conclusions I had in writing my thesis...: that austerity, that self-abnegation for their own sake - that's not what God is asking of us. But instead, this model of self-giving love which is self-denial in God's own life is self-denial that achieves something. So that's why it's also self-giving love - I deny myself of something so that I can bring about or help bring about something good in the world."

"I can absolutely believe in a God who is so loving that he gives of himself for the sake of the creation – his creation – and calls us to act in that same way, image God in that same way, and do the same things."

"Being part of what is pretty much a Christian community [Salvation Army Gateway] that is dedicated to serving folks who are on the margins who are experiencing homelessness – you're doing that and you're having conversations about that with the folks you're working alongside. So there's nice a sweet spot there between theory and practice that I got to experience while I was studying at Wycliffe."

"I was totally blown away. [Wine Before Breakfast] was my first experience - really pure experience - of church in the formal setting. I think I'd experienced Christian community elsewhere, but my church growing up wasn't a church where we worshipped and then spent two hours drinking coffee and having breakfast and talking and getting to know each other and talking about social justice issues and trying to work these things out. It was more of a 'in at 11 o'clock, out of 12:15 - let's hurry up and get home because we've got stuff to do."

"I remember thinking on cold winter nights when we would be out and under bridges on the Lakeshore and then later I would go home and climb into my warm bed in uptown Toronto, like lying there and thinking, 'There's people my age who I was just chatting with who are sleeping under a bridge right now. How does this make sense? How is it that I'm here? What did I do to deserve this?' And so those are heavy questions, but they kept me engaged."


Next Week's Episode 33

Jake Aikenhead (Part 2), Director of Salvation Army Gateway