Tuesday, January 29, 2008

[THO] Can't Go Back and the Future Is Up For Grabs

I'm struggling to read french this semester, it is tiring. I read about 8-10 pages per hour (I can read about 10 times as fast in English!). I liked this quote concernign the development of Gaudium et Spes:

[I]l qualifie l’inquiètude modern en l’attribuant à une «accélération de l’histoire qui impose la présence envahissante de l’avenir avec ses angoisses» : dans la modernité technicienne, «l’homme est engagé dans un progrès irréversible» et en même temps «imprévisible».
Philippe Bordeyne, L'homme et son angoisse, 2004.

There is hope when we recognize that we are part of a motion of history and that we can't turn back the hands of time no matter what romantic notions we have. When I hear about the return to pre-Vatican II rites and the undoing of the liturgical reforms that led to Vatican II I think they should go back and read the documents of Vatican II. In some ways these documents hardly go far enough to address the issues of our day, but if you look at their context, they are incredible advances in maturing the Roman Catholic Church.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

[THO] Suspicious About the Wrong Thing

I had an interesting conversation recently. It got me thinking. This person proposed that creationists (by that I mean biblical literalists) are really wrestling with the concern that God has not lied to us through the biblical accounts of creation. To me this is the suspicion in the wrong place, because if we follow that logic then God lied to us in the fossil records as well as genetics, biology, etc. If God didn't lie then for some reason God found it amusing to put an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary of Genesis in the natural world. And why does that not arouse our suspicion of the way we are reading Genesis at least as much as our suspicion of how we read the natural world? See I'm convinced that these two books belong together, both declare to us the glory of God. But also they provide a powerful check and bounds. Einstein reminds us that science and religion need each other as the head needs the heart. It is time we turn our suspicions back on ourselves and face reality on reality's terms. The Bible states that God is not the author of confusion, but from what I've seen a heck of a lot of humans are.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

[LIF] It's Complicated, Like Usual

That last post was a bit sloppy, but that is stream of consciousness writing for you. I have been wanting to put something more coherent up ever since, but life took a turn for the complicated (again). Sharon called me last Thursday to tell me that she took a tumble snowboarding, yup she broke her wrist. It has been insane here since. I have tonnes of reading to do for my courses. A chunk of photocopying too. And I decided to take a safer tack on my research - which means more work but it is more conventional. So somehow I need to get a survey together, something compact enough that I can convince a good sample of Canadian Emerging Church leaders to respond, yet complete enough to give me usable data.

I attended a doctoral defence today, yikes. I didn't read the thesis, but from the conversation I could tell that the defender didn't have a sufficient theology of suffering for what she was doing. My understanding is that only once in the history of my school has a dissertation been rejected at this point (interrogation is always expected though) and that the deliberation after the examination is about 5-10 minutes. 40 minutes later I could sense that she was in trouble. About 50 minutes later a hesitant acceptance provided the document was revised was announced. I felt bad for her, but I was thinking that it is really important to work with you director to avoid that kind of stress. The defender was really calm until the deliberation dragged on and on. Six years of work is a long time, and she did take a quite adventurous approach. But it was her methodology, or rather lack thereof, that tripped her up. I learned a lot.

First I learned that it is extremely important to deal with all of the main themes a theologian you engage uses. Even if you don't think their other key themes are important to your thesis. This will get called out. This doctoral candidate used a feminist liberationist theologian (Ivona Gebera) without engaging Gebara's redemptive theme of justice. I know that the candidate was trying to do something else, but you need to at least acknowledge why you left off such a major theme.

Second I learned that you need to be clear about what you are doing each step of the way. The criticism that was given explicitely and implicitely was that the readers had to guess at how the research connected to the conclusions. That hurt her and I'm sure by her answers that this is not going to be an easy fix.

And finally I learned that it is good to listen to the wisdom of your supervisor. I know that this will be hard. Not that I don't have tonnes of respect for Prof. Eaton, I certainly do. But it is that I am interested in some radical ideas and I'm not afraid to take radical routes to get to it. But I have to be able to satisfy the examiners. There will be time enough to be a maverick theologian later. I can even take risks in the work provided I use established means to back up my choices. But if it is too far out then I could be number two to not make it through.

Please pray for us. I'm doing almost everything around the home as well as my studies and pastoring. There is a lot on my plate.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

[THO] Pope Paul VI on Power Evangelism

"Recognizing that the Spirit also works outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body, Dialogue and Mission argues that the Church is impelled to discern the signs of the Spirit's presence and to serve as its humble and discreet collaborator through a committment to dialogue in its many forms. (#24)"
Gregory Baum, Amazing Church, p.114.

Those familiar with Wimber's concept of Power Evangelism might seem a bit put out by the connection here. Likely not a lot of us who know Wimber's theology have also read too many Vatican documents. I oft times find the Vatican documents lacking and even frustrating. But there are some brilliant insights here. And while this document is about interreligious dialogue, I think there is a place to extend the insights of Wimber to this arena. In Power Evangelism we are called into a partnership with the Holy Spirit in our efforts to bring the gospel to the world. Over the years I have had my understanding of the arena of this work expand to include the whole world. I have also come to realize, as did Wimber, that God is already at work in the lives of people. The best thing we can do as evangelists is watch for the signs of the Spirit's already present work and partner with what we already see God doing.

This is not that attractive for those wanting quick and clean conversions. There is a false expectation in the evangelical church that folks should "clean up" nice for Christ. But life rarely works out in nice tidy ways, so why should we expect that from conversion.

I think the term Power Evangelism is a misnomer. Yes it is a powerful mode of evangelism and yes it does make room for a real power encounter with God. But this isn't the heart of it. The heart is God is at work, so why are we working against God?

My experience of conversion has been messy. I have seen lots of folks come to Christ, but that is really where the work just starts. It isn't about cleaning them up as much as protecting them from all the BS expectation that will let the already "saved" continue to feel comfortable in their places of worship. I would prefer to call it Messy Evangelism. Messy in that it has no pretense that this is easy, quick or even going to work out. Rather it is entirely dependent on God and it calls us to watch carefully for what the Spirit is doing and work there. Even if that isn't sharing a message that they need Jesus (or whatever is the evangelical message of the month these days).

Recently a fellow pastor emailed me about his understanding of the number one priority of God, that is saving folks from eternal damnation. I understood his heart, and I think we end up much in the same place. But this eternal language really misses that God wants to get into the mess of our lives now. God is a redeemer not a benchwarmer. God hasn't prepared a place on the bench for us to sit on an wait out the pre-show. That kind of thinking can maybe justify the horrid expectations placed on those interested in Christianity. This is the real show - and God wants in on it. In fact God wants in so much that the Spirit is already here at work.

Baum brilliantly draws this out of Dialogue and Mission, the Church is called to recognize that God isn't boxed in by "visible" boundaries of Church. God doesn't somehow give up when we screw up. But God continues to work by redeeming our failings, drawing us towards wholeness, showing us love and meeting us in the midst of all life throws at us. And what is most brilliant is that God most often does this through our participation as we look for and cooperate with the Spirit in the lives of others.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

[THO] God, History and Evil

'God is not a heavenly sovereign who rules human history and who, while not wanting evil things to happen, nonetheless gives permission for them. No, events such as the Holocaust are totally against God's will. God gives no welcome to the evil powers in history. Evil is purely and simply against the divine will. "God is light and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5) There is a radical opposition between God and evil. God does not permit evil; God stands against evil, condemns it and transcends it. God is constantly at work among humans, summoning them and strengthening them to discern evil, wrestle against it, be converted away from it, co-operate with others to overcome it, and if so called, to sacrifice their lives as a witness in opposition to it. I conclude that not all events of history belong to divine providence, but only those that are the fruit of divine grace. Providential are the series of events that manifest divine mercy and divine rescue, culminating in Jesus' fidelity to his mission on the cross and his glorious resurrection rehabilitating all the victims of history. God's coming is always rescuing, healing, lifting up and embracing.'

Gregory Baum, Amazing Church, p.50-51.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

[THO] Evolution

I'm reading Mayr's "What Evolution Is" and I'm realizing that despite being a book for non-biologists, there is a lot of technical language to get through. It is tough slogging. I have Baum's "Amazing Church" as a sort of comfort food to read in tandem, but the book on Evolution is the starting point for a course I asked for. It got me thinking about what are the legitimate responses to evolution. I'm careful not to call it a theory because I think that for someone taking natural sciences seriously the idea of theory just muddies the water - you either believe it based on the overwhelming evidence or you reject because of another set of overwhelming evidence (although not the sort of evidence that would ever fly in a scientific arena).

There are three real responses I can see, I would venture to say that each has its own validity (even when we disagree with other positions) but the more important thing is to understand our stance including the limitations and opportunities that stance brings. I'm thinking this is a better way to go than to debate whether or not evolution is a reality. And I would again cautiously note that differentiation between interspecial and special evolution is irrelevant - I'm talking here about a full on understanding that life all evolves from a common base and that the movement towards complexity, as a branching, is a life process of our planet. In light of that understanding of evolution here are the options for a person of faith:

a) One can reject the evidence for evolution in favour of a creationist stand point. This does not at all imply that other approaches have to forfeit or compromise a belief in a Creator. This response says that the literal reading of our creation story is more valid than the witness of the earth to its own processes. This position presents a definite and clear bias towards any evidence that is presented - if it supports the thesis it is embraced/acknowledged and if it defies the thesis then it is rejected/ignored and even sometimes discredited falsely. I've read a lot of this position in the past and it can be sensational and also quite intellectually dishonest. Not that this is the intention of the proponents, but it is the reality of where they have invested their time and energy. Another drawback is that it creates an antagonism between the creationists and the world/Earth as well as an antagonism between creationists and scientists. On the other hand it is a paradigm that will always take seriously the need for a Creator, as people of faith this is incredibly attractive. But it is also a product of embracing enlightenment reasoning (and "common sense") as a mode of ascertaining truth. This unlikely bedfellow in Christianity has meant the crippling of religious imagination.

b) One can develop a notion of God in the gaps. This is a trick we can play on the scriptures, we can read evolution into the gaps that exist in the creation stories. I remember a physicist friend who had become a Christian and had concluded that God created the earth complete with the evidence trail for evolution, although he had no idea why God would do such a thing. But for him it was the only way to reconcile to overwhelming bodies of evidence. In this way he is really tricking himself. Trick is the unfortunate word here, I do not mean that in a bad way. We preachers do this all the time - when we are not careful that is - and it is not bad. When we read scripture we need to take into consideration the other ways that reality is revealed. But this position places the two descriptions of reality in conflict with each other - meaning they bash it out until something sort of makes sense. The bias is still in favour of a Creator, but there is a willingness to compromise on the less clear aspects of scripture to make sense of the evidences.

c) One can take evolution on its own terms. The Copernican revolution really upset a balance that once existed between the "book of revelation" (i.e. the Bible) and the "book of nature". This position has a distinctly different relationship to scripture. That relationship is often skewed by enlightenment thinking, but if we were to extract a 'best of' scenario, then we might find a restoration of the medieval synthesis. For people of faith, evolution does not preclude God's involvement with creation, but it does colour how that involvment is seen. I'm not convinced that the ways that this colours seeing divine action are all good. But some are quite helpful. What is the bias is that scripture does not trump science. There are two ways I see this done:

c.1) First there is a notion of compartmentalization. I'm hopeful that this will fade (my own bias). The notion that science is scientific knowledge seperate and apart from religion which is religious knowledge. Both are valid and should be kept seperate. What this leaves is little more than the tricks of b). A creationist will get antsy because this says that there is another truth. In reality this is too passive a position - I think the creationists who critique this are right in that it fails to recognize that God is either God of all or God is not God at all. If God indeed created then there is something of God in creation so that creation reveals the Creator.

c.2) A better option is the notion of a divine mileau. That God who created all is also intimately involved in all creation. Teilhard de Chardin troubled the world with this notion, but at least he took both evolution and the Bible seriously. Thomas Berry is someone in this line of thinking that has really impressed me as well. Here the bias is that the Bible is not teaching us the science of creation - but that doesn't mean its insights are wrong. The Bible reveals the divine relationship between creation and Creator. It is not that God works through evolution as in working through the gaps - rather God is drawing life in a particular direction. Ricoeur talks about this in "Thinking Biblically" as a trajectory towards freedom found in a Adamic myth.

I should say that there is also an option to reject faith altogether. But I'm not really good at that option. I like what my friend Katherine says on her facebook profile - for religion she wrote she is a failed atheist. But I'm certain there are many who out of frustration with the above possibilities default to an atheism (not that I would say by any means that all atheists are so because of this issue). My reason for posting this is that I really believe we need more understanding of each others positions in this issue. I've seen so much fighting over evolution that it sickens me. I am convinced that there are great women and men of faith in all three positions.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

[THO] And It Begins

I'm not impressed with the keyboard on this laptop, I seem to have worn it out in a single semester! Yikes.

Yesterday I was back in class. Theological Hermeneutics with John van den Hengel. John rocks as a professor, he studied under Schillibeeckx and did his PhD on Ricoeur. This course is on Ricoeur and I couldn't be happier. Ricoeur also rocks. The reading is pretty heavy, but we each present once in the course and write an exam. They have tried to make the workload more reading than writing to allow us to also work on our research thesis.

Today I had a class with my director. I'm the only real student in the course! Of course that course is going to be intense, Heather Eaton is big on readings. This week I am reading Ernst Mayr's "What Evolution Is", and really looking forward to it. This is a course on the various ways the conversation between science and theology takes place. Our focus will be on those who take evolution seriously, and because it is a reading course we basically wrote the curriculum today. There are two students auditing so I'm not alone, but I am the only one with an obligation to actually do the work! The last thing we will look at is the Intelligent Design conversation which is something that really bugs me - bad science and bad theology put together really irritate me. I had lunch with Prof. Eaton to kick off this semester in terms of my research, unfortunately I'm not sure I have enough support to break new ground methodologically - that means I won't be developing ways to find evidence trails through Emerging Church blogs. But I have some alternate ideas to get at the same information in more "traditional" ways. There will be plenty of time to be a maverick later. ;-)

My afternoon was spent in a class with Carolyn Sharp. The course is a theology and ethics course en francais. I'm actually going to enjoy the class despite the large amount of reading in french that is required. Prof. Sharp was a lot more generous linguistically than I had expected.

I have one more class to experience, it will happen on monday. I am studying von Balthasar with Prof. Peelman. The lectures are likely in french, but the good professor has agreed to let me record the lectures into my notes. MS One Note is great for this, it syncs the recording to your typing! That makes finding critical moments so much easier. I am looking forward to that one too.

I'm not sure the impact on my posting. But I'll try to keep you all up on the evolution of my thought.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

[LIF] Golden Compass Points to Spoilers

I went to see the Golden Compass tonight with a friend of mine. He is a Baptist chaplin so I figured we'd have a good conversation on the movie after. Actually I was disappointed, so we just talked about life after. I'm not sure I'd pay to see other installments of this series on the big screen. There are some cool things about the movie (apart from it getting under the skin of religious folks), such as battling polar bears. What is not to love about bears in armour kicking butt! And the concepts are kind of neat, I think that a Magesterium is a great idea for an overarching enemy (sorry Benedict). But there is a lot I didn't like.

I did not like the fact that this film overemphasised a Platonic notion of soul and body. That kind of crap is the bane of good theology. Not that Pullman is concerned with good theology. Also the choice to call these souls demons just opens up too many questions for me to want to take my daughter to see this film (and she has asked to see it). I'm still Pentecostal enough to teach my kids that demons are bad things. However, I did like the fact that if the soul was hurt, that also hurt the body.

Also I think I am impressed that Pullman avoided telling the gospel story, at least so far. Most movies do not do so well. But then again this might be coming later in the story. My buddy Brad has a theory that if you tell stories long enough, you have to tell the story. But what we have instead is a Gnostic sort of story where knowledge equals freedom. Truth plays a role, but the compass is more of a prophetic tool guiding the characters, liberating in a way, but also the author seems to want us to believe that truth is suppressed by the institution/church. I think it is a good critique to make, but I'm not sure that the same can't be said for Gnosticism.

What I liked least is the main character. What was her name? Started with an L. She makes Harry Potter seem well behaved! Her rebellious impertinance is glorified in this movie. I think the actor, Dakota Blue, did a great job, but the character is not one I enjoyed. She didn't win me over to her side. Her demon did a better job actually. And I still can't remember her name - shows you how much I bonded to this character.

This is probably worth renting on a lazy Friday night. But you might want to preview it before showing the kids. Figure out what you will say about the demons and the dust, cause you know those questions are coming. And if they aren't? Well, I think I'd be more worried.