Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Primer on Worship and Reformation (review)

This is the review I submitted to LibraryThing.

I did not know what to expect from Douglas Wilson’s little book, from the title “A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan” I actually expected something more historical. Wilson has another agenda in mind. This book is an interesting look at Wilson’s experience of present day evangelical traditions, and as far as observations go, he makes some good ones.

The book begins with some observations about culture and evangelical Christianity, he is not covering new ground here, but he does adequately identify some of the significant challenges of our day. However, he does not stick with his analysis long enough. As Wilson moves to his judgement the language becomes one of manifesto – “we have to fight...” and “we need to see...”. This is not a proposal but a definitive answer to the issues of our time. The problem is that these are Wilson’s answers and he does not have enough critical distance from them to convince anyone but the already convinced. This is a common downfall in such literature.

Another point that troubles me is that this book despairs over other expressions (proposed solutions) within Christianity. The worst of this is the anti-Roman Catholic sentiment. I tried to look past that to see how Wilson validates his claims. But really this is just another call back to “fundamentals”, a proposal that has not worked very well in the past. Despite my disagreement with Wilson’s project, I do think this is a better offering in the genre of manifestos than typically comes out of Fundamentalist evangelical traditions. I think that he does identify issues worth wrestling with. And I think we would agree that the evangelical traditions are in need of reformation, however, we both offer quite different prescriptions to these traditions.

1.5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gone Convocating!

Yup. Today I will be handed my Masters of Arts in Historic and Systematic Theology diploma. I'm leaving the house in just a few minutes. This has been a hard won degree. See you all on the other side!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Two Ends of the Scale

On one hand I am so excited that Fresh and Re:Fresh is about to be published. I'm also ecstatic that I have been asked to guest preach at the church I grew up in, it is their 248th anniversary service - what an honour. And this weekend is my masters convocation, what could be more satisfying than that? But at the same time I'm realizing just how burned out I am. I have been going full time for three years with barely a break and I was hoping that this semester would be a lot lighter than it is turning out to be. I have been putting off starting a new church group simply because I don't have the energy. It is not a fun realization.

It was a bit of a relief to actually admit to being burned out. But at the same time it is quite difficult knowing what to do about it. I know I need rest, and in fact I've been escaping quite a bit more than is healthy (mostly into watching tv series on the internet) and I've had stress related neck pain for at least two years now (in the last year it has the tendency to migrate into my head with very painful results). But the worst thing is that I stopped being present to my friends and family in the way I used to. Last year I blamed it on the intense masters programme, but as I set out some goals around family time I am realizing that it is something much deeper. If it comes down to family or continuing studies, studies is not going to win. In fact Sharon would really like me to take off a semester and be a stay-at-home dad, not sure how that screws up my scholarships though? But after that last SSHRC session I think I have a fundable project.

On the happy side, it has been really nice to spend some quality time with the family. We spent Sunday afternoon at the McKenzie King Estate, the waterfall is dried up right now BTW. Elyssa is coming Down East with me when I preach at First United. She is so excited about going on an airplane. It will also be really nice to see some of my old friends. I took yesterday off and hung out with Sharon in the day, and my buddy Vince in the evening (Vince needed some help with his resume, it is looking quite spiffy now). I really don't have much to complain about in terms of family and friends - I'm really blessed in that department. For me it is making sure that the people who are most important to me are not lost in the midst of all my busyness.

Just a note about the book. I had the amazing opportunity to write the last chapter, just before Roxburg's (someone I really appreciate!) conclusion. The chapter is called Treasures in Clay Jars and it is the story of Freedom Vineyard in dialogue with Louis Barrett's distinctives of a missional church. This is an important book as it gives you a sense of what the Canadian emerging church is doing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's My Party and I'll Cry It I Want To

With just shy of 1 million votes, that is 6.8% of the popular vote, my party failed to translate any of the really good contests into a single elected MPP. It was pretty disappointing watching the results last night. Especially when at one point the little ticker at the bottom of the screen reported on Green win and then it went away - robbed, I felt robbed. Locally my candidate didn't do so well, but it was going to be a hard slog against John Baird (conservative environment minister) and David Pratt (former Liberal defense minister). But I was hoping for more from high profile (and well spoken) Greens like Adriane Carr, Mark Nagy, Lori Gadzala, etc. or even Elisabeth May herself. My did pull a solid second place, but there also was no Liberal candidate in her riding?

I'm not happy with the gains the the Conservatives made. Obviously Newfoundland was a blow to them, but they won a solid minority. I shudder to think what that means for my country. The economic woes of our current moment turned out as a boon for the conservatives, I was afraid of that. People are afraid of change. We will have to brace ourselves as economics trumps justice to the detriment of our embattled planet and impoverished world.

What is odder to me is the apathy. Lowest turnout, that was expected, but the unwillingness to vote if you are not going to win is ridiculous. I really do not get this fatalistic approach to voting. Seriously, what do people expect? You get one vote, throwing in with who you think will win does what? Makes you feel like a winner? The worse option, refusing to vote, means you will get exactly what you don't vote for. But I think Harper counted on this. Why else would you set an election so close to Thanksgiving? A time when folks have other turkeys to deal with then an election. $290million dollars went into this travesty. Not voting is what makes this a waste of money - we had an opportunity to roast the real turkey but instead we re-elected him.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hey It's My Church Too!

The reality of the Christian Church is one of division and disconnection. You have your Roman Catholics, your Eastern Orthodox, your Evangelical Protestants, your mainline Protestants, and a bazillion subdivisions in each of these. Yes, even the Roman Catholic church is a divided reality, they just have a great knack for keeping all the different fruits in one basket. (BTW I think baskets of fruit look purdy.) So this is the reality of the situation and there are a lot of folks passionate about bringing it all back together - if only so-and-so would change this little distinctive, uh well you get what I mean.

Unity (aka ecumenism) is an interesting problem for the Church. We love our distinctives. I for one am not willing to abide a patriarchal hierarchy such as our Roman kin enjoy. And I'm convinced that I shouldn't have to - both by my reading of scripture, my experience and my study of history. Flattening the distinctives of our movements into some sort of lowest common denominator or worse into a Darwinian loss of the weaker movements is not the way to unity. Unity is not something enforced but something embraced.

Unity begins with embracing that we all share a common starting point, despite our differences. One might be tempted to define this dogmatically, rooting it in a creedal formula, but I envision something a bit more unifying - history. We share a history - no matter where our movement took shape in this history, we all (as Christians) start with the experience of the primitive Church that told the stories of Jesus. That history belongs to every one of us who claim the name Christian - no matter what objections we have to what they've done with their heritage.

Unity continues to flourish when we begin to revel in diversity. If Social Trinitarianism has taught us anything it is that unity is only achievable in diversity (the other option is really totalitarianism). Diversity is helpful because it allows us to see the strengths and weaknesses of our own tradition/movements through the strengths and weaknesses of others. Iron sharpens iron is the proverb that comes to mind. Difference is the only thing that highlights our own uniqueness. Diversity is a prerequisite for robust life.

Unity results in strength. All that fundamentalism ever does is build polemics. It is a tiring defensive posture that has, frankly, eroded the public confidence in Christianity. It doesn't preserve, rather it stagnates. It can only end by turning in towards itself until it has no friends, a sad state I've witnessed over and over again. That is not strength, that is weakness.

Strength comes from knowing what and who you are. That we bring ourselves, unique and confident, into the diversity that is unity. That each of us makes up a part of the people of God, we identify with the Church as being our Church. This strength is the path of restoration of our place in the world as ones who speak for the poor, the lonely and the outcast. It is when the Church is united like this that we will once again be relevant to the world that God so loved.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Great Tool!

My director was encouraging me to make sure I managed my time well, academic work at the graduate level is highly self-directed. The reason it takes folks so long to complete is because they do not manage their time well. Life is always busy, the academic work usually gets relegated to the bottom of the pile. I'm completely guilty of this, and it has been a great source of frustration for me. So I sat down with my loving wife and we hammered out a schedule which averages me 32 hours/week for school. It also helps me know when I have time for cleaning, making meals, loving on my family, pastoring Freedom, etc.

Having a schedule is all fine and good, but I need a way to keep on target, see what items are left to complete, and be able to estimate when I can complete tasks (within my 32 hour framework). Having done a bit of project management I could make this way more complicated than it needs to be, but rather than that I decided to find a tool that will let me track my time on specific tasks. As a student my preference would be for something free! I found it in a programme called ToDoList.

ToDoList lets you organize and time your activities. You can set due dates to manage your time and prioritize your items. At least that is how I am using it. If you get it spend some time figuring out the interface and then make your list, it will be time worth spending (there are manuals but manuals are for when you really screw things up, right?) Here is what I do:

  • Divided my reading course into texts I need to read, grouped by papers I need to write. More granularity means that I can track how long I spent on each task.
  • I then ordered them, set the priorities and checked off the books I have already read. This tells me how much of the project (%) is complete. Progress is always encouraging.
  • I am very interested in what types of reading are more time intensive. This will really help me in the future when choosing books to prepare for courses - I can make sure the more time intensive ones get read early. This is easy to do, click on task and then the little clock icon - when you stop click the icon again, the clock can be started and restarted as much as is needed.

Give it a try.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Quote to go with the Last Post

"In a sense, "political theology" is a pleonasm; any theology, no mater[sic] what the subfield, no matter what the topic being treated, must be political. It must attend to the way that the Christian message has been privatized and has thereby lost much of its meaning and relevance. It must reckon with the forward-looking character of human experience, particularly in modernity. It must grapple constructively with the ways that the "understanding" that is operative in the classic definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding" is tacitly or explicitly shaped by our current social-historical context (that is, by "praxis"). It must show that and how Christian hope is not inimical to human longings (or, to quote Guadium et Spes, the joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties of modern men and women), but their most profound fulfillment."
- J. Matthew Ashley in the Introduction to Faith in History and Society (Metz), 17.


Is salvation located as a process in history or as something completely transcendent from history? If it is only about an eternal destination external from history then we might as well sit this one out and wait for the real deal. Good luck with that. But if it is embedded in history, redemptively embracing the suffering of this world as the incarnational appearance of Christ suggests, then our action in history takes on a whole world of meaning. We are either participants in God's redemptive passion for this world, or we are opponents of what God is doing. When we take history seriously, then we are doing political theology.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Failure of The Capitalist Dream

"Individualism is thus not respect for the individuated being of the free person, but simply the human unrelatedness of men and women when organized solely in terms of economic competition."
- Charles Davis, Theology and Political Society, p.178-9

I had a friend ask me some questions about communism recently. We need to be careful to distinguish between Marxism and communism, as Davis points out Marx was also critical of communism that was not intellectually engaged in its efforts to emancipate humanity (Davis, 132). Certainly communism has failed as a project. But just as certainly capitalism has also failed. One needs only take a deep breath of the panic that is engulphing the world to realize our advanced society has an Achilles heal, one that Marx was able to see clearly. We no longer own our own efforts in this world (a dream that was supposed to provide us with even more leisure - but tell that to families managing more than 2 jobs while strangers look after their kids!), we all work for "the man". And while "the man" gets richer, we become less, not more, free. Davis hits it right on the head - we aren't freer, we are more disconnected and meaningless. Something to think about.

Sign on the Lawn

I was raised with no sign on the lawn, in fact politics was something you kept private. It would be unthinkable for my parents to discuss their voting choices let alone stick a sign on their front lawn. And while it has been a few years since I've realized that political discussion is healthy and good, and should be done openly, I've always wanted to, but resisted, putting up a sign on my front lawn. Not anymore.

This year I am proud to display my green disposition.

Now let me be clear, I would never think to tell my congregants or even the readers of my blog how to vote. But I'm sure going to tell you that I think you need to vote. I arrived at my choice through deep personal convictions regarding social justice, ecology and inclusion. For me that is embodied in the Green Party. But I have a lot of respect for folks who have been led by similar convictions to choose other parties to support.

What is really interesting to me is how good it makes me feel to be upfront about my political convictions. Partly because I'm doing politics where I think politics really needs to happen - right in the public space.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Healthy Doubting

Recently my daughter became aware of the differences between Muslims and Christians (one of her best friends is an Egyptian Muslim boy). So she used to ask her friends if they believed in Jesus, of course Ahmed, the boy, said yes. In fact he was convinced all Egyptians believed in Jesus (I won't tackle that one or his declaration one day that God gets angry with us if we eat pork). So in order to discriminate she started asking her friends if they were Christians. One of her friends was curious about that, so I love the respect Elyssa showed when she asked that girl to ask her parents if they minded her sharing about Jesus. But I loved even more her approach to sharing Jesus. Once she got to tell her friend about Jesus she relayed the story to her mom. One of the things Elyssa shared was sometimes she wondered if the Jesus and God were just something the devil made up.

Now at first that was incredibly funny (and still is). But I also think it is quite profound. She has been hanging out with some more fundamentalist Christians at a kids club, and we've had many deep conversations. I encourage questioning, I think it is very healthy. I also am greatly encouraged that she does not feel obliged not to doubt! Doubting is very natural and even reasonable. Especially in light of the injustice of this world. One has to be quite callous to not suspect God is a rich man's invention when you witness the abject poverty experienced throughout much of the world. The question of theodicy, or how can God and evil co-exist, is the fuel for much of the best theology in our time. And well it should be.

Doubt should lead us to wrestle. What do we know that we know? Doubt is the tool that most adequately reveals true faith. Doubt peels away the layers of surity we use to insulate the fragile core of our faith. I find that evangelicals, in particular, do not deal well with unsurity. But an honest assessment of life reveals contradiction, injustice and suffering. To pretend otherwise does not strengthen our faith any more than believing through sheer force of will. Folks who dismiss doubt are not interested in truth, they are interested in self-security which they are convinced only surity can bring. Those are the folks who have the most to lose when their faith is challenged.

Doubt does not mean giving up your faith, but recognizing that faith is what calls us to conversion. Conversion is not about repentance (although repentance is often the fruit of conversion) but rather about changing the way we understand life. Conversion is the beginning that we continually return to, like Job whose view of humanity is forever altered when he names his new daughters. Conversion is prompted by the need exposed by doubt, especially when doubt raises a cry for hope in the real core faith of ones heart. Doubt is the friend of faith as much as surity is faith's enemy.

Last night at supper Elyssa was keen to offer up her prayer of thanksgiving for the meal. Her prayer was filled with both faith and questions, she asked God to reveal if Noah was a real person, because she "really wants to know." Her maturing faith delights me all the time.