Friday, November 30, 2007

[LIF] Home Stretch

One more week of classes! But this is a crazy week coming up. Monday I formally present my research proposal. I have a Powerpoint slide deck half finished for this. Tuesday I do a short presentation on Thomas Berry, I am a big fan of Berry. This is the last class in a very fun course on Spirituality and Human Sciences. Berry offers a way forward by recognizing and celebrating our embeddedness in the Earth.

Then it really gets crazy. My 7th and last paper on Religious Experience is due Wednesday. I have it outlined and started. The topic is the role of the community in validating religious experience and I decided to pick on my Pentecostal/Charismatic roots. I'm doing a critique of the personalization of religion and how it prevents a barrier for a mature discernment process. Should be fun. This paper is also accompanied with my own syllabus for how I would teach a course on Religious Experience. I have just been thinking about that one.

Finally Thursday I have a paper due for my french course on Biblical Interpretation. I did quite well on the others, it is basically a resume on an article. I have yet to read the article! That is the last official bit of reading I have to do for my semester! Although I do have an oral exam for that class and a concluding paper for my Spirituality class.

Over the holidays I will be continuing my research and reading Phillippe Bordeyne's L'homme et son angoisse: La theologie morale de "Gaugium et spes". I'm not looking forward to reading 349 pages in french! It is one of two french books that I will read this coming semester. They are bound and determined to make me fluently bilingual!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

[THO] Ecological Theodicy

Recently I was bothered by a comment on a friends blog. I'll not point to the blog because I don't think they meant ill, but I am convinced that their response represents a growing Christian response to the overwhelming evidence of climate change. The response of fatalism!

Basically this person attributed the bit of snow we've had recently as God proving that God is still in control of the environment despite what the environmentalist whingers say. It is disturbing that ecological events, especially our erradic climate, is re-interpreted to help bring a sense of comfort. This is an inability to deal with life on lifes terms. And worse it represents an inability to deal with history.

The question of where God is in disasterous events is an important one, but it is far from an easy one. The fatalist is crippled in the face of theodicy by an inability to act. The biggest problem with this is it paints an image of God as a celestial puppetmaster yanking the strings of all created things - this is not the God of Jesus Christ and is very hard to imagine, in light of history, as a benevolant God. This God is actually evil. I am convinced that this view of God is a destructive as the view of a divine clockmaker who has no connection to the physical world. Thank God these are not the only choices!

God's response to suffering isn't to prove God is in control. Rather it is to enter into our suffering with us. This is the whole purpose of the incarnation. God takes on the suffering of humanity, taking on humanity (kenosis) and entering into our reality on realities terms. How can we move from a kenotic God to a tyrrant overlord God? Do we somehow think that Jesus was spared from suffering? Can we honestly reflect on the gospels and come to that conclusion? I think not.

I understand the impulse for surity. Surity is one way we ground our hope. I just can't hope in a tyrrant God, that sort of God is fickle and as likely to flick you away as to keep you safe. But I can hope in a God who enters into life with me. Hope is that God, who is ever present, awakens my conscience to the suffering around me. Suffering in humans, animals and the very world that is my home. It is even more home when God is present. Surity comes not from a conviction that I'll be comfortable in life - it comes from a conviction that God's redemptive purposes include the world that I am sent to. This is the conviction that let Jesus embrace the cross (Thy will be done) and it is the conviction that lets me put my hands to the plow.

The central issue here is one of grace. Do we see this life as a gift? Or is it a curse to be born in hopes of simply being purified for the next life? Or worse is this life just an inconvenience? I must confess that this philosophy of life is easily fallen into and I am just as guilty as the next person. But life, this life, is either a gift or God is a cruel tyrrant, not to be trusted at all. And if this life is a gift then how dare we throw that gift back in the face of the God of love? How dare we reject the crys of the outcast and the oppressed? How dare we continue to rape the planet? How dare we thumb our noses at God?

Friday, November 23, 2007

[FUN] I really enjoy Robot Chicken!

This is so typical of Robot Chicken, beware they can be quite offensive.

Mmmmmm gummy bears!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

[THO] You Don't Say

OK so I should be writing my paper. But I found this Ethics test and it is pretty interesting. Here are my results:

1. Aquinas (100%)
2. Jean-Paul Sartre (91%)
3. St. Augustine (87%)
4. Ockham (83%)
5. Spinoza (78%)
6. John Stuart Mill (76%)
7. Kant (75%)
8. Aristotle (67%)
9. Jeremy Bentham (54%)
10. Nel Noddings (50%) <--- no clue who that is???
11. Stoics (50%)
12. Prescriptivism (49%)
13. Plato (47%)
14. Nietzsche (38%) <--- much as I like Nietzsche this is comforting.
15. David Hume (36%)
16. Epicureans (32%)
17. Ayn Rand (25%)
18. Cynics (17%)
19. Thomas Hobbes (0%) <--- sorry Hobbes.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

[LIF] Lots going on, not much time to post

I am exhausted. After this post I'll probably curl up in bed with a book and that will be it for the day. Sharon is away this weekend so I've been with my girls all day. I love them dearly, but boy does that exhaust you. I don't know how single parents do it.

My research proposal is almost ready for submission, I have a small reading team and it has passed through their comments and my directors comments. I think it is pretty solid now. It is due monday and I'll present it on the 4th of December, after that one more pass and it is submitted as a guiding document for my research due sometime this coming summer! My tentative title is "Social Engagement in the Evangelical Emerging Church" which pretty much sums up my research. I'm probably the first Masters research proposal at St. Paul University to list blogs in the bibliography!

So reading, I'm wading through lots of stuff. Still lots of class work too. And as I read more material from the Emerging Church I keep getting sent off in more and more directions. But I did get a cool tool for my notekeeping. An IRIS pen scanner! This bad boy even translates! I've just used it a bit so far but it is an incredible time saver. For keeping research notes I'm using Nota Bene, I can attach a file for each book, pen scan in the direct quotes I want, type my comments and then search all of them rapidly through Orbis. When I grab the text the footnoting automajically follows and takes on the right style. That is pretty sweet. I tend to not use a lot of direct quotes, relying on footnotes to identify support for my arguments and claims, but it is easier to search Orbis for that quote I know I read than to thumb through fifty books everytime I think of something cool to add into my paper (what I usually ended up doing in previous papers!)

Well, I have the bed to myself, I can stretch out and fall asleep reading. Something I can't do when Sharon is home, not that I'm complaining.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

[FUN] Blog Reading Levels

Jim West is to blame for finding this little blog analyser. Apparently the prayer blog I started gets this rating:

But this blog only gets this rating:

try it yourself

Hmmmm. Maybe that says it is far more intellectual to pray than to just talk.
Then again a certain naked pastor rates the highest I've seen!

let me know what your blog rates

PS. I keep meaning to add Jim West's blog to my blogroll, next clean up. I often disagree with Jim, but he has a great blog.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

[THO] The Role of the Theologian

We had a really excellent discussion in Prof. Martinez de Pison's class regarding the role of the theologian in the Church. It really helped me to put some language around stuff I've been living for a while.

The Theologian is Part of the Community

This was the insight from class, and as a pastor who happens to study at the same time, this really helps me name why I find the whole process of studying so satisfying. Gerald McDermott brings up this point as well, we need to realize where we belong to know who we are. I think that we have no real sense of identity in a lot of our communities, and this is too our detriment. What I love about the Emerging Conversation is that the folks that take part of it are from all sorts of contexts, and their desire isn't to leave their denominational homes, but to bring a gift to their denominations by stepping outside the box and reaching this generation with something really good. So the theologian is first of all a participating member of a community of faith. Yes, this colours their theology, but if we honest about it that shouldn't be a problem. This has too benefits: 1) the theologian knows where she belongs, this is her family and 2) the community knows the theologian and trusts the theologian.

The Theologian Helps the Community Understand their Experience

Because the theologian is a trusted member of the community, they take up the primary task of helping the community reflect upon their corporate history with God. So this would involve helping to articulate faith and also to challenge the notions of faith in light of the shared experience of the group. We see this in one of our kinships as the group becomes more ecologically aware it is my role, as a theologian, to help shape the conversation so that we can effectively and uniquely respond to what God is putting in our hearts.

The Theologian Interfaces Beyond the Community

Beyond the community, the theologian is equipped to draw from the deep resources that exists already. Helping to provide an interface between these disparate sources and the community. We have seen this in action as we've adopted and adapted liturgical practices from various streams within the Church. Without that serious reflection, the role of the theologian, the community risks chasing after fads or living completely in isolation, constantly re-inventing the proverbial wheel.

This is also why I think that the theologian needs to be active in acadamia. How else will she become exposed to alternate views? How will he be able to communicate the relevant insights to the community?

What we have though, is theologians distanced from the community of faith. We often talk about the ivory towers of theology, and it is true that much of what happens never amounts to much more than words on shelves. Some great ideas and profound challenges never make it to the Church. That is a shame, but more than that it is a disfunctionality.

The Eastern Christians have a saying, the theologian is the one who prays. I would encourage us to take a cue from that. Without the theologians the Church is left only with its unreflected experiences (these vary every week which is why we have so many denominations!), and without the community of faith the theologian is irrelevant. We need each other.

[LIF] What an Honour

I was tired yesterday and didn't really want to go to church. So when we had a really small turnout I was kinda relieved thinking I'd just go home early. But the most amazing thing happened. We just started being the community. It was deep too. I ended up leaving at the regular time feeling incredibly blessed and honoured that this is the community I've been privilged to pastor. Freedomites are great people!

I love my church.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

[LIF] Cleaning up the Blog

Well as I promised Jamie, I did update my links. Am I the only one bugged by the lack of inclusive language in that last post of mine? I debated making modifications and now regret it. For those to whom such things matter, my apologies.

[photo from here, thanks JP]

[THO] Ponderables

"This truly is the vision of God; Never to be satisfied in the desire to see him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more."

Gregory of Nyssa

Thursday, November 01, 2007

[THO] Jesus Camp

The other night Sharon and I watched the documentary film Jesus Camp. This film follows the ministry of Becky Fischer, a Pentecostal youth minister. I just noticed from her site that she is now connection with Patricia Cocking (now Pat King, but I knew her as Patricia Cocking and once ministered with her in Mississauga) of the Extreme Prophetic fame. I'm not keen on a lot of the directions the Prophetic movements have taken, but I'll reserve that for another post.

What was most interesting to me is how much of what was shown in the film is normative Pentecostalism. And I'll start by saying some of it is great. Praying over chairs, passion for God, passion for children and even praying for governments. But the good and the bad are thoroughly mixed together here. What I saw most was the unreflective Christianity that I spent my early Christian years in. There is something so good about grabbing the bull by the horns and going for it. But when there is no serious critical reflection it is easy to see, and this film shows this well, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Meaning well and doing well are not always the same thing. As Gary Best always tells us pastors, "it is not good enough to do the right thing, you have to do the right thing for the right reasons."

So from that film (which was at times very painful to watch) a few things are worth engaging here. Hopefully we'll pick up a conversation in the comments.

1) Kids and Politics

Despite Fischer's insistance that this is not political this film shows clearly how incredibly political Christianity is. It actually shows it from both sides. The counterpoint from Mike Papantonio is just as much a call to politics as the rest of the film. Mike insisted on a separation of church and state, I'm convinced that is a delusional position, almost as delusional as Fischer's denial of politics. I'm not doubting their convictions, just their lack of honest critical reflection. What we need to realize is that religion is always politically orienting. Haggard's comment that if the Evangelicals vote they win the election is true - but only because Evangelicals represent a directed voting block. To me that is patently wrong. We need to wake up and help people reflect through the issues and vote from their heart and minds.

Now having said that, the question I have is "how can we expect children to make that kind of assessment?" There is a reason we don't let children vote. But over and over this film showed the manipulation of children's political orientation without even giving them an honest amount of data to work with. When we present complex situations, like the whole issue of abortion, and only tell these children that God hates this act - how are we orienting this generation towards those make other choices?

2) Symbols and Kids

Related to that was the taping of the mouth. What a powerfully charged symbolic action. There is no reflection offered in this film. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt, but Lou Engle really didn't encourage me to give him the benefit of anything but being an alarmist, and assume they unpacked the meaning of the tape before they placed it on the mouths of these kids. But what gets me is that they are calling these kids to take on symbols which have powerful meaning. The word 'LIFE' does not belong to a symbol of silent solidarity that emphasises the helplessness of the unborn. This dichotomizes the issue in ways that are completely offensive, no matter what our opinion of abortion. We need to be more careful. I hope Fischer is right that some of these kids will want to get into politics, but I hope that first folks like Fischer wake up and realize that we don't need more fear based unthinking politicians in this world. Similar problems could be identified with the identification of American military service and the tradition of martyrs.

3) Directional Prophetic and Kids

Lou Engle called up the young boy Levi and prophesied over his life. He was careful to give himself some outs. But this is quite common in the prophetic movement. Everywhere you go God has some big plan for your life. I find this so disturbing. Not that I don't think God wants to do great things, even great things through our lives. But what is done here is that unrealistic expectations are being given. The other problem is that when you start to realize that everyone who is "prophetic" and speaks over you has some big vision (not often the same as the others) then you start to become cynical about the whole prophetic project. I think in the long run this will force the prophetic to the fringes (this is a historically recurring trend). Let me go out on a limb and say I believe in the prophetic. But I believe the prophetic types should shut up, listen and reflect a heck of a lot more than they do. It was so obvious that Lou was Levi as fulfilling what Lou wants in his political agenda - so he projects that, gives it the weight of his "prophetic" title and now you have a recipe for disaster. Folks develop the prophetic within your community and stop bringing in the "prophets". If they are really prophets then they will train your people, not hear for them.

4)Over Simplification of Life

The other thing that sets up these kids for a fall is the over simplification of life presented. God has a wonderful plan for your life. God will protect you from the harshness of life. God will take care of you. While there is some truth in this, God doesn't promise us an easy life, but rather in this world we have trouble. I'll leave the promise of heaven stuff out of this for now, it didn't get much treatment in the film anyway. But the life we live in the world means getting our hands dirty. It means kids like Levi have a rough road ahead. Life is ultimately worthwhile and good. But that is a trajectory that is not always apparent in the day to day living. Fischer loved to oversimplify things. Her object lessons were cute, but really could use some unpacking and reflection. We were watching her tactics as she preached at the camp. Fear and shame are not God's tools. This is always where over simplification leads. It has to. When God is painted as the one that makes everything hunky dory, then adversity has to rest on our shoulders. Life is not as simple as all that. Give kids strenght to face life on life's terms and not fill them with false hope.

4) Evangelism and Kids

I didn't realize that people still used Jack Chick tracts. The only thing worse that Chick tracts are Westboro Baptist placards. Ok, so don't get me started on their ill choice of literature. What really bugs me is that these kids are trying to do what they were told to do, which is proslytize everyone, but they were so obviously ill equipped for the task. At one point the kids start to question if maybe it looks like they are trying to sell something (watch for that moment, it is very interesting), that's good reflection, that should be encouraged. Evangelism isn't just spouting some cute rote statements at folks, it is engaging with people and partnering with God's own efforts to bring them to God's self. But these kids aren't given the tools for that sort of work, they are sent out with cuteness hoping that will win the day.

5) Parenting of Kids

My last critique is about the way we parent our kids. I have my oldest in a Bible club (AWANA). And it drives me nuts at times. I want my kids to be equipped for life in this world. They see our love for Jesus. They ask really good questions and I make of point of not giving them simplified answers. I want to encourage them to think deeply about their faith. I want them to know that there is something good about Christianity, but that they need to choose for themselves. To be honest I'd rather they lived fully and honestly out of their conclusions than to fake being a Christian for the sake of mom and dad. Having said that I am so blessed with how Elyssa's faith in Jesus has been growing, and I want encourage that. I think Christian groups are a great touchstone for kids, but what about when they get into the real world? Not everyone is going to have the same convictions in the real world. That is a tough lesson to learn when you are so sheltered by your parents. Christian schools (or homeschool), a plethora of Church activities, Christian camps, Christian TV and radio (exclusively), the parents in this film live in a bubble! The problem with bubbles is that they burst. What was worse was that the homeschooling was focused on developing a polemic against the rest of the world's thinking. Here you have the chance to develop a real intellectual wealth - seriously homeschooling could be an awesome opportunity to strech a childs mind and develop great habits of thinking. But it is such a wasted opportunity when it is just used to indoctrinate and inocculate children.

I recommend this film to all my Pentecostal and post-Pentecostal friends. It made me really think. It frustrated me but at the same time helped me see that there is work to do. Thank God that not all Pentecostals are like this. Becky Fischer has a great heart, and I'm sure we'd get along. But I hope that folks who follow in her footsteps might read this and pause to think. We want to give the kids great tools for the works God has for them. That is noble and I'll definitely pray for her important ministry. But this is a call to step it up a notch and bring in some needed critical reflection in all we do in the name of Christ.