Friday, February 29, 2008

[THO] Vineyard and the Bible

I'm having an odd conversation with a Vineyard guy in the States. In light of the test Hank pointed to I am wondering a few things. Where do you lean in regards to the Bible? My score on the test was 70, but like Byron I really didn't find that the alternatives were that satisfactory. Take the test and see what I mean. Post your results and lets chat.

For me a fundamental concern is that no matter where we land (conservative through to progressive) it is important that we learn to respect and honour each others views. I'm not sure I've done that real well in my discussion with Evan (the Vineyard guy), and I know I haven't felt like I've recieved respect either.

Funny sidenote, I just exchanged emails with the author Scot McKnight a few days before Hank posted the link. Hope your vacation was grand Scot!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

[THO] von Balthasar on the Encounter of Absolute Love

"The majesty of absolute love, which is the most fundamental phenomenon of revelation, is the source of any authority human mediators may possess.The original authorityis possessed neither by the Bible (as the written "Word of God") nor by the kerygma (as the living proclamation of the "Word of God") nor by ecclesial office (as official representation of the "Word of God"): all three are "merely" word, and thus not yet flesh. The Old Testament too, as "Word", is merely advancing toward ultimate authority. The sole authority is the Son, who interprets the Father in the Holy Spirit as divine Love. For it is only here, at the source of revelation, that authority (or majesty) and love can - and necessarily do - coincide. All that the demand for obedient faith to revelation can do is thus prepare man [sic] to perceive the manifestation of God's love and to give it its due. Divine Love can appear in such an overwhelming way that its glorious majesty throws one to the ground; it shines out as the last word and leaves one no choice but to respond to the mode of pure, blind obedience. Nevertheless, both the word and the response acquire their meaning only through a gift from the eternal Person to the finite person, a gift that includes the ability to respond as a finite creature to the infinite, and whose heart and essence is love."
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible (Ignatius, 2004), 56-57.

There is something scary and beautiful in the way Balthasar describes love. Interesting enough he refuses to accept that fear is the opposite of love, but sees that there is a fear that is a constituent part of our response to Love (the fear of God) (p.59). I'm really enjoying his theological aesthetic, I think he demonstrates what he is trying to describe.

Monday, February 25, 2008

[LIF] Rest in Peace Larry

I had a few brushes with Larry Norman over the years. He is a veritable legend in contemporary Christianity. Larry will be forever remebered for not letting the devil have all the good music. Thank's Larry. I hope your embrace of eternity is sweet.

Larry helped me through a tough breakup, my friend Adam loaned me Only Visiting and I played it over and over letting Larry name my pain. Ironically I recently reconnected with Denise through facebook, both of us have new families of our own and it is nice to reconnect as friends after so long.

Larry came to the Vineyard in Ottawa and put on a great concert. Larry had the kind of stage persona you either loved or hated. It seemed like he was the eternal hippy on stage. It was loads of fun. If I hadn't run into him in any other setting I might have always thought that was the only face of Larry. I would have been wrong.

The last time I ran into Larry in the flesh was in Toronto. They had him doing worship at a conference??? Larry is great and all but his choice of songs for worship was interesting. I enjoyed the concert, but what really blew me away was the session he ran. There I discovered Larry as a deep thinker. He cut right through some of the flippancy that charismatics seem to revel in. I left that session with a tonne of respect for this legend.

The last time I brushed paths with Larry was in a dream. He showed me around the music scene in New York city and called me to embrace my fears. I wonder if now he knows he had a big impact on me. Larry I appreciate you.

You will be missed. Rest in peace my brother, rest in peace.

Larry Norman (1947 - 2008)

Friday, February 22, 2008

[LIF] Sujet aux Rhumes de Cerveau

Just reading the last of Philippe Bordeyne's L'homme et son angoisse and came across this neat little saying. "sujet aux rhumes de cerveau" (p.314) I read it as being subject to being sick in the head! It made me chuckle.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

[LIF] Trying to Choose

Well I did it. I sent a first draft of my intended research proposal to my director. There are so many ways I could go with this. I could go old school and work with a single theologian (maybe a Moltmann, Volf or even an NT Wright). Or I could take up Brian McLaren's challenge and try to find a better language for Kingdom Theology. Heck I could also do Brian McLaren - I think it is really high time for someone to do an academic analysis on such an influential thinker. I'm trying to word it in such a way as to leave myself open for any of these possibilities. We'll see what Prof. Eaton says. It is a big step. I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel already on my MATh, boy this year is flying by. I'm even semi-competant reading french now!

Once I get my paper in - in need to find me a beach! Get sand in my toes and have my kids bury me up to the chin and frolic with my lovely wife in the ocean. Then I'll be ready for the PhD.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

[THO] The Secret Message of Jesus

I finally finished McLaren's "The Secret Message of Jesus". As a primer on Kingdom theology it is amazing. In fact I think it is a lot more accessible than Derek Morphew's "Breakthrough". And McLaren does cover a lot of ground. The chapter on reading Revelation was particularily good and very strongly influenced by N. T. Wright. It is the kind of book I will recommend to my parishoners. But it is not the book I was hoping for.

McLaren is not really writing in an academic way. He is proposing a lot and following some ideas to great conclusions. I can tell there are a good number of influences that have gone into his insights, but I really want these to be spelled out so that I can trace them. But, I have a particular need for works that do this and Brian didn't write this book to help an academic understand the Kingdom. He wrote this so that a popular audience can wrestle with the implications of a Kingdom message.

McLaren is candid and a decent story teller. He approaches these ideas in a very practical way, which makes this book a very valuable contribution to the Church.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

[THO] Witchcraft

Witchcraft is best defined as seeking to manipulate a situation to a desired end. This is especially apt when we take it in a spiritual sense. To manipulate spiritual forces or energies to align to a desired pattern and produce a desired effect. So for instance if you create a love potion with the intention of winning the affections of another, you are engaging in a manipulation of spiritual energies.

At this point I have not made a judgement about if this manipulation is good or bad. I imagine a good number of you have already gone to that place. The word manipulate is one of those words that has a very negative semantic range. Add to that the preconceptions of witchcraft and no one would blame you from heading to those negative conclusions. But I want to pull you back, at least long enough to make my argument. Then when you have the insight feel free to move to judgement - I know I will.

Manipulation is not necessarily a negative word. It simply means to adjust or rearrange. We spend a lot of time an energy manipulating objects in our worlds. In fact I'm manipulating words right now to type this message. So it is possible that what I have described as witchcraft can have a wider field of meaning. Which will be helpful because my main argument is that many Christians fall into the practice of witchcraft all the time.

What do we manipulate? Well the fact is we try to manipulate God.

The biggest example I can think of is the way we manipulate the biblical narrative to escape from the discomforts of real life. We love to craft grand decline narratives about how the world is heading to hell in a hand basket, while Christians just have to wait for God to pluck them up into the clouds so that they can enjoy the morbid apocalypse below. We love to create steps and rituals with the guarentee of success (if followed exactly right, a great out for the inevitable failures) for healing, deliverance and even finding a spouse. We do these things because we have a strong aversion to facing live on lifes terms, and above all we do them because we do not truly believe in the goodness of God.

Now the goodness of God is not a magic cure all for whatever ails and discomforts. It is a reality that is only fully encountered in the midst of adversity, discomfort and even suffering. I'm not glorifying suffering, but I'm acknowledging that the human situation is one of great anxiety and great hope. God is found in between these two, right smack dab in the midst of real life. This is the God who enters into the suffering of humanity to speak a word of hope - the gospel.

So why do we not trust this God? Well, the reality is that God is not our personal Santa Claus. If you are looking for a God who can be manipulated to do exactly what you want all the time - don't look to the Christian God. Don't look to the God of the Cross who was completely obedient to the will of the Father. If you do you will find that this God is not trustworthy in the way you want. Simply because this God, the God of the Cross, does not submit to the manipulations of humans.

You show your trust by giving yourself as completely as God gives God's self to you.

See I believe in healing; I believe in deliverance and I even believe that God will help you in major life decisions. But these things happen on God's terms, not ours. There is no magic formula that will make any of these things happen. God is not even bound by the Law, something us non-Jewish believers are especially grateful for.

Now that's my insight. I ask you is the witchcraft that Christians practice good or bad?

God have mercy and help us to respond appropriately.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

[THO] The Supposed Crisis of Faith

I've been thinking about this a fair bit. One of my profs insists that there is no such thing as a crisis of faith, but what is often called a crisis of faith is really a crisis of beliefs. The root of a crisis of beliefs is when we discover that we don't really believe in what we say we believe in. It follows then that a large reason we defend our tautologies so intensely is to avoid the uncomfortableness of facing our own beliefs and sorting through them. And at a certain point, academically, it is frustrating to encounter this kind of defensiveness.

Pastorally, this is the water you carefully swim in all the time. Around you are people who come to faith in a modern church that is very inadequate at giving us tools to really think through and own our beliefs. The Church has lots of ways to reinforce dogma and even well developed systems of apologetics which help the "faithful" to defend the beliefs they are supposed to hold. But I'm convinced this is not good enough.

But it is uncomfortable to walk in the valley of the shadow of unbelief. It is hard to not be hounded by your own unreflected beliefs when you are walking through another persons crisis. What is left is a culture of desperate clinging often to quite proposterous "faith" positions. Pastorally this is distracting from the real work of the gospel - and in fact it often replaces the real work of the gospel.*

Academically, and this is where I reflect from for this blog, the notion of defending a tight system for the sake of feeding a culture that idolizes its beliefs is not at all attractive. It is better to work on the distinction between what we really believe and what we have assented to and work from there. This prof. offered a course on Spirituality that I took about 6 years ago, in it you took apart your core of faith, you probed and dissected, and then you put it all back together. That course was incredible hard, but it was also incredibly rewarding. When you believe what you believe, even if it is just a bit of what you are "supposed" to believe, there is nothing you can't face. Reality can be embraced on realities terms and the work of finding a coherent whole is a real work and not a defensive posturing.

The best case example is what a lot of local evangelical pastors fear about my university. From their perspective a few folks have gone to St. Paul and "lost their faith". Not really, but when you get into an academic environment the concern isn't to nurture that core of belief, but to teach you how to think. What falls off are the pretenses and the person is freed from the bonds that kept them from actually coming to believe. Externally that looks like they lost their faith. But I invite you to see the other side that this actually opens them up to the possibility of real faith.

I never really faced this sort of crisis at school, and I would insist that I don't see it as that prevelant (and personally know folks who have had similar experiences at evangelical and reformed schools). But it is a possibility. For me I'd had my beliefs kicked around before I landed in school. What was left was a pretty coherent core. But shaking off the need to defend that core lets me navigate a much deeper ocean of religious theory and beliefs.


* By real work of the gospel I am contending that the gospel is about proclaiming the Kingdom in the world. This was Jesus' gospel and it is what Jesus left the Church. We believe when we see this, not because we've been convinced by the propositions and tautological arguments. Also the message of the Kingdom is inseperable from the encounter of the King. I still owe this blog a series on the Kingdom of God, but I've been reflecting on Kingdom theology a lot lately and decided that it is just not time.

Friday, February 08, 2008

[THO] The Evolution of Man

Spent the morning at the Museum of Nature with Dr. Stephen Cumbaa, a palaeontologist at the museum. It was really amazing to have such a detailed tour. I was completely blown away by the giant turtle skeleton, it was seriously big, I think I could almost crawl inside it (except it was hung from the ceiling). I hadn't been to the museum in quite a while and they have done a lot to fix the place up. The whole thing should be open by 2010, but you can bet I'll be taking the kids there lots before then.

We were there as part of our class on the dialogue between religion and science. We are actually getting quite comfortable with the issues around evolution. And we've spent a lot of time discussing the problems with approaches like Creationism. Creationists, and by that I mean the folks who hold to a young earth, literal reading of Genesis, are really not interested in having a conversation with science. But I can appreciate that these folks have a lot at stake, their beliefs (or should I say their idols) are inflexible propositions and really their priviliged place in the cosmos is at stake. Rather than face reality on its own terms they would rather superimpose a more acceptable vision despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Intelligent Design (ID) is a bit more compelling, but it also has some serious methodological problems. The primary argument, that of irriducable complexity, is not based on anything concrete. Yes it is a reading of the world we find, but in essence it is really a game that says we will permit the data as long as it is read from these presuppositions. That is not good science and it is actually not good theology either. Theology should wrestle with reality as it presents itself, not try to bend the rules to make it work. Besides that speciation, the evolution of one species into another, is quite widely accepted as fact (not theory) in the scientific community. ID isn't happy with speciation because once again our place of privilege is at stake.

So here if the issue of our privileged place is dependent on our species being something other than animal, yes we have a problem. But if our privileged place is the emergence of self-reflection then I fail to see the problem with embracing reality as it presents itself, especially in terms of the amazing process by which Creation has unfolded since the Big Bang. There are implications if we are to take this seriously. First of all we must face the fact that we are not necessarily the sum of all creation. Where we go is largely in our hands. Our treatment of the environment out of an arrogant sense that this is ours to dominate is proof to me that we have a lot to learn yet about responsibility. And this carries over to our relationship to the natural world. Are we willing to see this world as the arena of God's activity or are we holding out for some Platonic otherworld? But more to the point are we willing to see an intrinsic value in the whole realm of creation? I am convinced that the commodification of nature has led directly to the commodification of humans - we need to find a better way to relate to the natural world.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

[LIF] PhD Here We Come

My plate is full this week. I actually made it through my readings relatively quickly. But I'm in the process of gathering the pieces for my PhD(Th) application. I have my reference letter lined up, my marks already in their system and my French competency tests are on file. What is left is to craft my proposed area of research carefully and fill out a basic application form - oh and hand over $60! Nothing too difficult, but it does take time.

This week I also found out about a writing project which I can be involved in, so 4000ish words by this time next week - no problem. It is about my ecclesial community so I don't have to do a tonne of research to write this up, just sit down and type. I have already outlined my chapter.

I also met with my research director for the Masters and we found a viable approach to my research that will be doable and will not require me going through an ethics board. Yikes. My target is to have a fully detailed work plan and outline by the end of my courses, that way when the exams are done I put my head down and write. I want to get it done as soon as possible to make sure there are readers for my work, also so I can start the PhD right away. In order to make that happen I have to go through all the books I have gathered on the Emerging Church and see what is actually going to be academically reliable. I was sad to see so few peer reviewed articles available on the movement, I am going to have to do some more digging. There are a fair number of articles out there, it is finding ones in academically respected journals that is the problem. In some ways I am breaking new ground here, but I am trying to do it in a way that is conservative enough to keep the readers happy. This isn't about the paper I want to write as much as the paper that will a) get me my Masters and b) open up the conversation for further work on my own.

I know last week I was really feeling that I needed to have more free time with my family. Sharon and I are going to play a game of Ticket to Ride tonight, that is a great train game BTW. It will be great to just relax. I got a fair bit of work done already today. I am also really looking forward to celebrating Ash Wednesday with my community, this year I'm going to give up potatoe chips for Lent.

Friday, February 01, 2008

[THO] Hymn to Matter

In one of my courses we closed the class with Teilhard de Chardin's Hymn to Matter. I think for too many of us matter does not matter and that makes this hymn unnerving. So grab a rock, read the hymn and post your reflections.


Blessed be you, harsh matter, barren soil, stubborn rock: you who yield only to violence, you who force us to work if we would eat.

Blessed be you, perilous matter, violent sea, untameable passion: you who unless we fetter you will devour us.

Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further and further in our pursuit of the truth.

Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards or measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God.

Blessed be you, impenetrable matter: you who, interposed between our minds and the world of essences, cause us to languish with the desire to pierce through the seamless veil of phenomena.

Blessed be you, mortal matter: you who one day will undergo the process of dissolution within us and will thereby take us forcibly into the very heart of that which exists.

Without you, without your onslaughts, without your uprootings of us, we should remain all our lives inert, stagnant, puerile, ignorant both of ourselves and of God. You who batter us and then dress our wounds, you who resist us and yield to us, you who wreck and build, you who shackle and liberate, the sap of our souls, the hand of God, the flesh of Christ: it is you, matter, that I bless.

I bless you, matter, and you I acclaim: not as the pontiffs of science or the moralizing preachers depict you, debased, disfigured — a mass of brute forces and base appetites — but as you reveal yourself to mc today, in your totality and your true nature.

You I acclaim as the inexhaustible potentiality for existence and transformation wherein the predestined substance germinates and grows.

I acclaim you as the universal power which brings together and unites, through which the multitudinous monads are bound together and in which they all converge on the way of the spirit.

I acclaim you as the melodious fountain of water whence spring the souls of men2 and as the limpid crystal whereof is fashioned the new Jerusalem.

I acclaim you as the divine milieu, charged with creative power, as the ocean stirred by the Spirit, as the clay moulded and infused with life by the incarnate Word.

Sometimes, thinking they are responding to your irresistible appeal, men will hurl themselves for love of you into the exterior abyss of selfish pleasure-seeking: they are deceived by a reflection or by an echo.

This I now understand.

If we are ever to reach you, matter, we must, having first established contact with the totality of all that lives and moves here below, come little by little to feel that the individual shapes of all we have laid hold on are melting away in our hands, until finally we are at grips with the single essence of all subsistencies and all unions.

If we are ever to possess you, having taken you rapturously in our arms, we must then go on to sublimate you through sorrow.

Your realm comprises those serene heights where saints think to avoid you — but where your flesh is so transparent and so agile as to be no longer distinguishable from spirit.

Raise me up then, matter, to those heights, through struggle and separation and death; raise me up until, at long last, it becomes possible for me in perfect chastity to embrace the universe.

Down below on the desert sands, now tranquil again, someone was weeping and calling out: ‘My Father, my Father! What wild wind can this be that has borne him away?’

And on the ground there lay a cloak.
Jersey, 8th August 1919