Monday, December 28, 2009

Identity Crisis and the Evangelical

I'm always concerned with the amount of energy many evangelicals put into defining what they are not. It is really quite sad. It reminds me a a certain pericope where Jesus describes two men praying - you know the one. The evangelical says, "I thank you God that I'm not like this Catholic, damned to hell and really not getting what you are all about Lord." Seriously, isn't it about time we focused on what we are? Better still, isn't it time we learned to see what is good and best about others instead of trying to stake a claim that alienates us from everyone else including others who call on the name of Jesus (really the only scandal I think we can claim with authority). Maybe I'm just realizing how my training to seek out Christ in any and every circumstance I find myself in has jaded my view of exclusivist stances. It certainly hasn't made me a naive inclusivist, but I'm certainly more inclusivist than exclusivist. Jesus got really upset at his disciples for wanting to rebuke certain Jewish exorcists for using Jesus' name. If that doesn't at least warrant a look before your leap attitude towards other people of faith - then what does? Just some food for thought.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Secular Age - Introduction

"This is typical of the modern condition, and an analogous story could be told by many an unbeliever. We live in a condition where we cannot help but be aware that there are a number of different construals, views which intelligent, reasonably undeluded people, of good will, can and do disagree on. We cannot help looking over our shoulder from time to time, looking sideways, living our faith also in a condition of doubt and uncertainty." C. Taylor, A Secular Age, p11.

Taylor opens up this monster of a book with his effort to describe a current trend of secularity. Taylor presents three understandings of a secular moment in history: the removal of references to ultimate reality in public spaces; a decline in participation in religious practices; and the loss of support for religious practices because such activities are no longer considered culturally normative and may even be spurned by large segments of society. This last definition is what Taylor feels describes today's Western society, faith is no longer assumed rather it is questioned when it is exhibited. I think Taylor is right and I'm looking forward to his tracing of this secular condition.

A couple of comments though, and I'll let everybody weigh in.

1) I think Taylor is careful to trace out the dimension of care for cultural diversity (especially in regards to religious experience/expression) that ultimately leads to this secular age. This is the big question for political philosophers - how do we deal with diversity in a liberal democracy. As is the case in other Taylor works, his Hegelian search for historical displacements, moments when society opted to resolve the tension between two or more views on issues such as human freedom, and to trace out what is lost in those transformations will come in handy to define how we got to this secular age.

2) In this introduction Taylor hints that he will trace the influence of academia on public thought. I am hoping. As a theologian I've seen a lot of disconnection between my discipline and the lived experience of religious communities. I suspect that a robust theological imagination would help these religious communities navigate this secular age. I am referring to something more intellectually honest than the current anti-postmodern apologetics that I too often see being read by religious practitioners. I'll be watching this aspect of Taylor's discussion keenly.

3) Taylor has a bigger goal than merely tracing the loss of a religious core to society. He sees this secular age as a moment of "purely self-sufficient humanism" which Taylor sees as a transitional form spelling the end of naive religiousity and beckoning a new era (axial perhaps) of religion that relates to society in intellectualy and spiritually engaged ways. This is similar to the idea of postmodernity as a provisional name for a shift that we are in the midst of, and a moment that might hint at where we are going but really is throwing open possibilities the modernist mind is not willing to entertain. Unfortunately this moment also is a time of retrenching and trying to recapture the lost naivity; the rise of religious fundamentalism throughout the world is evidence of this trend.

A Time to Recharge...

Sorry if it has been quiet around here. This has been a great time of recharging. I'm trying to get caught up on my Early Reviewer's book reviews! Three books are in the queue and one from Thomas Nelson, which is a study bible that I'm frankly bored with. Oh well, work needs to be done. I am also mulling over the intro to Taylor's Secular Age which I need to blog about soon. Soon...

Sharon got a really awesome camera for Christmas, so I've been playing with that a lot. A Canon Rebel XSi. We have been talking about buying a DSLR for about three years and last year we were going to spend all the Christmas money from family on one - but life intervened. This year we made good, it was really the one big gift we got and it is something for both of us. Sharon does a lot of scrapbooking so she takes lots of photos, and well I like shooting them! Although the 16G SD card was definitely overkill - I almost fell over when I saw how many photos it can hold. After playing with it for a few days now I can see why my buddy Richard loves his Rebel so much, it is a fantastic camera, with tonnes of shortcut controls all over the body. I'm working through the for Dummies book for this model, Richard recommended that one to me, it is really thorough.

I've also been back at my stamps. I cleaned up my office and as soon as my desk was clear I was able to pull out an album and start working. I've cleaned up a few stock pages of Chilean stamps that came from Andrew's dad's collection and two pages of state stamps from India (I love the older and odder material). Now I'm working on India (national) and my oldest has been helping me. I had a bunch of stamps like the one in the picture to sort, I asked her what the difference was - so she stared at them for a while correctly identified that some said postage and some had & revenue on them. Once we sorted those into two piles I told her the one with just postage has two possible watermarks, or thinnings on the paper in a specific design that shows up when the stamp is wet. So we laid them out to see if they had one star or many stars. I think that's the first time she's used watermark fluid - so exciting to share my hobby with her. Once they were sorted we mounted the one I was missing and put the rest into my trader stock. Then we went off to play picto-chat together on our Nintendo DSs (I'm not sure why they like that especially when they like to sit next to each other and chat??? But it was a chance to hang out with her which I appreciated.)

Today we have a bit of a party. I have to get back at my school work soon too - I have a deadline of the 6th for an outline of my project proposal. I think it will take me a few months to put together - will I ever get used to feeling inadequate to the task? I feel like there is so much work at the front of the PhD that I'm not able to adequately devote myself to research until I've locking in on what I'm doing? I would like to take a few months just to do exploratory research and then draft my proposal. But that is not the programme.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Avatar was all kinds of Awesome!

After hearing my buddy Richard reluctantly telling me how good this film was I knew I had to see it. I highly recommend this film, in 3D if possible. The 3D isn't kitschy here, it only adds to the immersive experience. The visuals are stunning. I'm not a big fan of excessive CGI and this movie has a lot of CGI. But it is convincing, you are in an alien environment. I saw Cameron's IMAX The Deep and so I was not expecting Cameron to do CGI well - I was wrong. It was amazing!

The story is simple, but that works. The environment is an amazing rich character in this film - so having a huge complex story would just be overwhelming. Just because the story is straight forward do not assume there is no depth here. I should say that story is classic and allows Cameron to explore deep themes in this film. The obvious theme is one of cultural domination that is rooted in the ignorance of the dominating species. But there is so much more in this theme. The ecological themes actually take a similar track - and turn back on the humans as a indictment against our own despoiling of our planet.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Remotely Saddened

Is it right to have so little faith in your government? I have really not been paying more than peripheral attention to Copenhagen because I felt Canada would be more obstructionist than helpful. I really dislike this government - I voted, just not for them. So why am I so sad about it? Part of the problem is that what this administration is doing will continue to be an obstruction to the next government. But really, my kids are the ones who will pay the price. And seriously, the price will not be near what it will be for those in the have-not countries. What will it take for our species to pull our collective heads out of our asses and do something? Probably more than our species will be able to survive.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

From Dread Oom to Bedroom!

So we have a house guest for the next month or so. BJ has been in Yellowknife for the last couple of years and it is good to have her back. She has some great stories! Next week I'm back to work, I have to outline my thesis proposal and spend some time researching a few areas I identified through my comp prep. I am still riding the high from finishing my comps so well. I have two big jobs I want to accomplish before Christmas - shopping and cleaning out my office. It sure felt good to clean up the studio. If I can get my office in shape then I'll be all set for next semester.

Just a heads up. I'm starting to read Charles Taylor's Secular Age with some friends (historians actually). We are going to be posting as we go, I have the intro so it should be up in a week or so. If you are interested in joining in on the fun you will have lots of posts to comment on and I'll post the reading schedule so you can follow along. I'm also open to guest posts for those so inclined - just let me know and we'll trade emails.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Dread Oom

Years ago we partitioned off almost half the basement as a practice studio. I built a rack into the wall (I have enough gear to provide sound for a small concert) and a custom mixing desk and one wall has many, many coat pegs for all my cables. It's really quite crazy considering we've only used it as a studio a handful of times since the kids were born. We used to use it all the time too, and I suspect we'll use it again. But right now we need the space for a friend who is coming to Ottawa and needs a place to stay for a few weeks.

Right now the room holds tonnes of miniatures and terrain for gaming, boxes of unsorted stamps on paper, CDs, more CDs, liturgical supplies, defunct computers (I counted four!) and music gear (including a full drum kit!). Oh did I mention dust bunnies? I've been sucking those beasts up all afternoon. I also have a few old computers in the garage so I'm going to make a trip to the recyclers soon. I'll probably scam the hard drives from the computers just in case - I used to do sensitive IT work.

I found a whole whack of cassette tapes, working tapes from when the studio did more than collect dust. I fired them up and was delighted to hear sessions with some old friends, and a tape an old dear friend made me a few years before he took his life. I carefully organized all these tapes and tossed a few others in the trash - mixed tapes? I also discovered that my CD player isn't working? It isn't the cable, my iPod worked fine. I'll have to see if I can fix it. Also I don't have a working set of headphones anymore, my really nice pair were trashed by one of the kids.

Once I have everything either thrown out or compressed into one side of the room, I have great plans to set the room up with a futon (we have) for our guest. I think we'll have a nice little room setup down there.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Recovery Mode

Now that exams are done I'm under orders to take a week off. I'm having trouble. I had a bit of legitimate work to do for the Vineyard, but thankfully I got most of that done last night. One of our kinships is cancelled so that the host can practice for his CD release concert - go Kurt go! And it is Sharon's week to go to the other kinship. So that means I have the week off for real. Now if only I could get to sleep at a normal time.

I find that the last few months have taken a toll on the old body. I've done very little yoga and I can really feel it. I'm going to fix that today while Sharon is off to the quilting store. Tomorrow I will try to hit a yoga class around noon time. My neck is super sore all of the time, which is frustrating. I'm not sure if it is bacause I'm doing too much work on it or not enough, shoulder checking in the car is excruciatingly painful. I think it was like that before I did yoga and better when I was doing yoga all the time. The thing is I had a lot of back pain too which the yoga seems to have cleared up. If getting back into an exercise routine doesn't help I'll dig out the referral my doctor gave me for physio.

This weekend I'm flying down to Nova Scotia to meet with the rest of the Thoughtworks reps. I'm pretty excited too. We'll be hanging with Cathy and Rik Berry, Cathy is the Atlantic Thoughtworks rep, and dreaming of a Canadian family of Vineyards that are theologically equipped. I am continually amazed at the depth we have in this movement, and I'm looking forward to tapping into more of that this coming weekend.

We also have an old friend of ours moving back to Ottawa. She's been in Yellowknife for the last few years. We have decided to put her up for the four weeks she needs to get situated here. If you have a room to spare, she'd probably be better off than the futon we are giving her in our semi-finished music studio. Which is one thing I am going to do this week - clean that studio. She comes in on the 11th, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm just not sure she's ready for the chaos that is the Emanuel family.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Intimacy in Worship

Scott has been posting on what troubles him in terms of modern worship music. I've been hesitant to wade into this lest I tip my hat. His latest rant is about lyrics that he feels cross the line between eros and agape. In terms of that particular song I find that it isn't really that well thought through lyrically and I really don't find songs about God that intimate. But I actually don't have the same problem with the wet sloppy kiss, because as a metaphor for the intersection of heaven and earth well I've heard worse (whatever the heck is meant by heaven and earth and some sort of intersection there). Poor theology aside, I do relish an intimate song in worship. But those songs that let my heart sing of my love for God are actually sung to God. They are songs through which I acknowledge my feelings as a legitimate response to God's love and/or presence.

I really feel that there is needed better theological reflection in the creative process of songwriting for worship. I am really glad that folks like Dan Wilt have made this a priority. What we sing actually reflects accurately what we believe (if we don't start out believing it we will eventually believe the words we sing). So the theology of our worship music definitely matters. Personally I love to worship, but I also love to reflect on how the community I lead worships - including the songs we sing. I'm not above pointing out my trouble with a particular phrase or song being used. I'm glad though that for the most part there is a lot of room for well thought out and intimate worship music. It can be done. It needs to be done a lot more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Passed the Written Exam

Just got the news today. The culmination of a full summer of study, I landed in the room we affectionately call the dungeon and there I sat for four hours typing out my answer. My friend Lauren was waiting for me when I emerged, a gift in hand and took me for lunch. My brain was mush.

I actually had two questions, I had to pick one. The first was hard: Discuss some of the similarities and differences between Kingdom Theologies and Hope Theologies drawing specifically from Moltmann and Pannenberg. I had to include how each dealt with eschatology (which I wove into all of it, how could I not?) and conclude with some of the important concerns, in my judgment, that arose from this comparison. The second question was a lot more open, it had to do with North American Evangelical theologies put into conversation with Hope Theologies. There was more to it, but it seemed like an easier question - so I chose to go hard??? Why do I do that? Anyway, it worked out well, I think I nailed it. After when I was describing my answer Lauren though I was speaking clearly and in a structured manner, trying to encourage me that I probably did awesome. Still, I did feel a great sense of relief when the official notice hit my inbox.

Now I'm given a new question which I will prepare a 45 minute presentation on. Basically I will write a paper to be presented to my committee. Afterward they can grill me on anything from the readings or presentation for an hour. I happen to think my oral presentation skills are better than my written skills (I have a lot more experience putting together and delivering presentations). So I am less anxious about this part. But it is still quite a piece of work. I am throwing a few other books into my box to tackle it - they aren't on my comps list but will prove invaluable.

Unfortunately today my brain was still mush. I actually had one of my daughters home sick today, so I ended up napping all morning and vegging all afternoon. Tonight I have to prepare a status report for the doctoral seminar, I'm not wanting to do it actually. I had all these ideas worked out for it, but had to work on my comps - so it feels like I need to start from scratch. Actually it is not that bad, but I'd just like a bit of a break. No rest for the wicked I suppose.

Monday, November 16, 2009

OK, Book Idea to Throw Out There

I woke up with an idea for a book that I want to put together. But it occurs to me there might be something like this already. Soooo, if you know of anything like this let me know. I think I can do a good take on it so it might not deter me, but I would want to make sure I've read anything that purports to do the same task.

The book would be called An Evangelical's Guide to Surviving University. I'm convinced that we need more evangelicals in our universities, but I've seen the confusion and even devastation that can result in evangelicals entering into mainstream academia. I have some of the chapters mapped out in my mind already. I think this would be a great resource for potential and current students, helping them to get the most out of their university experience. I also think it would be a great aid to pastor's trying to help direct folks to appropriate educational experiences. I am thinking specifically of evangelicals in the soft sciences, hard sciences are a lot easier to navigate - but that is part of the discussion I'd have in the book.

What do you think? Would something like that be helpful in your communities?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moments of Crisis

One more week until I start my comps! It has been a long and stressful run. It is not so much the material, although there is a lot of it, but it is all the life that constantly gets in the way. I'm sure I'm not the only one who experiences this. It seems that there is always some sort of crisis in my life, either with me or someone I love. But life is like that, if it was smooth sailing then it wouldn't be that interesting. And actually I'm wired for crisis anyway. I tend to excel when faced with considerable challenges and when those challenges are not around I have motivational problems. I'm working on that. In the meantime I'm trying to make it through my notes one more time before I write. If you are the praying type, I'd appreciate prayers for grace with my family - I'm not the easiest of people to live with at the best of times.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Vineyard Days!

I just returned from the Ontario Vineyard Days conference. Daniel Schuster (Calgary) was our keynote speaker - well if you can call it that, cause what happened was way more awesome than some speaker sharing something they found important. Daniel helped lead us through some significant heart work as a region. It was amazing. I came away with renewed hope for our churches, I know a lot of them have been struggling for a long time. But what really got me was I was completely unaware of how much my own heart had been tied up in all that went down in the 90s (that's when the Airport Vineyard was asked to leave). I have done a lot of reflecting on that time, trying to understand what happened. But it really wasn't about understanding, it was about what that did to our hearts. I think what God was doing this past weekend makes it possible for us to find a new center in our identity and I'm extremely hopeful that we'll follow God in this unfolding work of absolute grace. My friend Ahren (Ottawa Valley Vineyard) put it well in our last session - it isn't about having a response at the end of our service - indeed no response is adequate to this - but it is about letting it bug us cause burying it (what we've been doing) hasn't worked.

During the gathering I got to present a Thoughtworks workshop on the theology of grace. Actually I was doing two things: 1) demonstrating how important theology is to us as God's people - you do it anyway, wouldn't it be better to do it well? and 2) showing how working within a methodological framework opens up meaning we might not otherwise see. I used Ventor's proposed threefold approach: Bible, Tradition (and history), and Holy Spirit. I looked at grace three ways drawing us to a richer understanding than the truncated Reformed position that is primarily about personal salvation. Not that the truncated understanding is wrong - it just is not the whole story.

My big concern was if anyone would come to a workshop on theology like that - especially so many other cool options (I really wanted to go to the worship workshops). But I had a pretty big group and they were engaged. Maybe we are asking the right questions after all. I was encouraged. I know that despite Wimber's commitment to lifelong learning, continuing education is not always the easiest sell in our churches. Not the kind of learning that I think is needed - there is always a market for pop psychology and simple teachings. But those things are not adequate to the challenges of our time. One of my biggest passions is that we've created a form of Christianity that can't bear academic inquiry because it is based on weak methods and a lack of trust in the experience of God. In fact lots of Christians have an experience with rhetoric and not an experience with God - so their trust can't bear any kind of challenge to their truth claims. We really need to reclaim an academic excellence that comes out of our quest to understand the faith that our experience of God evokes.

I skipped the AAR. I wanted to go tonight to a session on the origins of Pentecostal identity in Canada. Would have been great. But I needed a day to rest. Tomorrow I'm back at studies, my big exam is on the 18th. If you are the praying type, I can use all the encouragement I can get.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Chirp Chirp

So what do Christians banned for being idiots on Twitter do? Yup they start their own separate twitter wannabe. Thanks for the heads up Jim. Why do such antics make me so sad inside? Curse of being an optimist and always expecting more from my fellow Christians.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: A Climate for Change

I actually have a bit of a backlog on books I'm supposed to be reviewing. But when A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith Based Decisions (Katharine HayHoe, Andrew Farley, Faith Words, 2009) arrived, I had to take a gander. In fact I had to read the whole thing. The first 3/4s, or more, of the book is an apologetic for climate change, specifically that climate change is happening and that humans are the source. This part is ok, except that the quotes that start off a chapter usually have much more depth than the chapters themselves. I chalked this up to how volatile this debate has become South of the border (in the United States), and how careful the authors wanted to be. Unfortunately, nowhere in the book does it state that we need the Earth and not the other way around. I suppose such a fact would not sit well with the intended audience of this book. But knowing that is my bias, it is not surprising that the last few chapters made me want to throw the book at the wall. If you spend that much time outlining a real problem then you would think you could at least propose a stewardship approach (even though I am convinced stewardship is not near an adequate response to the ecological crisis we are facing.) Actually, the response section begins with an affirmation of the pessimistic claim that God will yank us out of here anyway, or at least destroy the Earth and create something new. They even quote Revelation, but not the parts about the new coming down to the old or that God will return to destroy those who destroy the earth. So after discounting the possibility that anything we could ever do to respond to the ecological crisis is useless, they propose another reason. It makes a good witness??? Actually, I think if you motivation is to look good to maybe win people - is that not hypocritical? Seriously, if I got excited about Jesus through someone doing something they didn't believe in I think I'd probably not be too excited about that person's religion when I figured it out. This is what I would call a bad witness. Color me frustrated at this point.

They actually end on a good point. It is true that none of us can do it all. And the best place to start is with small steps having the goal of changing our lifestyle (especially our dependence on non-renewable sources of energy). And for all I complained about lack of depth, the chapters do cover off the majority of falsehoods I've heard from folks who deny the ecological crisis. Not sure how convincing their arguments are, I was convinced from the beginning. And the quotes, many of them are really good.

I'm not sure I could recommend this book. I really want to. This is an area that evangelicals really need to think deeply about. But I would want a response that includes faithfulness to God, particularly God's love for this whole world. I want something that challenges anthropocentrism, the arrogance of our species. And if this is part of our witness, and I believe it should be, then I want something that engages the issue on the issues terms, not as a smokescreen for evangelistic motives with no real desire to make a real difference for our planet. Bottom line is, we screwed this planet up, we can't fix it (despite a few hints in this book that there is still time to fix the problems, they waffled on this point though) but we have to do something, if for no other reason, the ones who suffer the most are the ones least able to do anything about climate change. But, I'd add, that as Christian we also need to have hope that through God we can do more than is humanly possible and maybe through God's grace give our kids a planet that will be livable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Today it Arrived!

I have been waiting a long time for fresh + re:fresh to come. I was really excited when Len emailed me to say they had finally landed with him, and still it took over a week to arrive. Canada Post battered the spine up a bit, but not to let that squash the extreme joy of seeing my article actually in print! Wahoo! I instantly added it to LibraryThing and I'm wondering if a single chapter qualifies me for a LibraryThing author badge. Ah, but I'm gushing. I read my article sitting in the parking lot of my regular grocery store, and it is pretty good. I've spent a bit of time with the book, taking breaks from my work, and I think it is a great addition to the growing body of literature on emerging/missional church. Some of the best stuff coming out is descriptive, it is an important place to start. As Noll says, evangelicalism at its best is a blending of innovation and tradition and this book certainly represents that (Noll, American Evangelical Christianity, 15). Thanks Len for letting me contribute to this project, I hope it brings out the best in evangelicals all across this wonderful country of ours.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Back but still busy!

The Theology Intensive at Dominion Hill was excellent. It was great to get to meet theologians and pastors that I didn't know and hang out with a few that I did (and really like!) I was really encouraged that the Vineyard, in Canada, is wrestling with the important issues of our time. I think about four years back I got the impression that we were in a holding pattern, which I found a bit frustrating. But that is definitely not my impression after this past week. I was also really encouraged with an insight of David's about the mode of deconstruction that many people are engaging in these days - at the end of ourselves what we really need is an encounter with God. In fact the whole mystic thrust is that we stand before the unknown and are undone. The Vineyard is good at that, we have a long tradition of experiencing God. This is something we need to celebrate and look for as a way forward into the future. To that I say "Come, Holy Spirit!" David wasn't suggesting we somehow disconnect our brains. While we engage with the issues to the fullest of our capacities - there is always something more than what we can do on our own. The wonderful insight of Kingdom Theology is that the Kingdom is God's, not ours. And while we love to partner with God in the stuff of the Kingdom, it is God who leads and reigns.

I wish I had time to properly capture the rich discussions of this past week, but alas it is back to the grind for me.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Hermeneutics with Derek Morphew

I'm heading off to Dominion Hill (New Brunswick) to participate in a workshop with South African Vineyard theologian Derek Morphew. I've met Morphew in the past, he is quite an interested guy. Apparently they are video taping this workshop for Vineyard Bible Institute. I hope I don't get myself in trouble. :-) The main text is Kevin Vanhoozer's Is There Meaning In This Text? which I'm quite enjoying. Unfortunately, I have too little time to adequately prepare for this (We are supposed to read this book, a 69 page course book and watch a presentation Morphew recently did as a webinar). But on the other hand I have read the majority of the suggested other reading - some of which is really, really good material. I am hoping this will be a really in depth exploration of hermeneutics, I'll definitely blog a bit if I have internet access.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... I am working on my OGS application, prepping an undergrad class on Early Christian Spirituality for Thursday (filling in for my director who is away) and frantically trying to work through my themes on the Kingdom of God tradition. And that is just the academic front - we also moved our oldest from French immersion to English school, survived my wife being away all weekend, took care of a few semi-surprise pastoral issues and entertained my kids. Life is pretty darn full right now.

Friday, October 02, 2009

How to Get at the Sources an Author Does Not Acknowledge

One of the tasks I'm wrestling with tonight is how to get at the sources for several biblical scholars: C H Dodds, J Jeremias and G E Ladd. Ladd I have some good leads to follow. But this is not my world. I don't know Schweitzer enough to know exactly how Dodds is interpreting him. What I have are bibliographies and a computer. So dig, dig, dig. It could be worse, my director did Thomas Berry and he didn't even use footnotes! So to figure out his sources was a huge piece of work that took several scholars. She told me it was a risky (academically) venture and I can believe it. The things I'm appreciative is that not all theologians are that evasive of who their sources and dialogue partners are. If you have any nice leads on the three I chase down tonight please pass them along (even if it is not tonight anymore).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I Write Like Jazz???

While I was doing some final edits on an article for Word in the World (Concordia) I had an insight into my writing. I realized that I write jazz. While that is kinda cool, it is not a good style academically. But at least now I know what I am doing so I can address it. Here is what I mean, let's say the next paragraph is a sample of a typical paragraph in one of my essays.

All the balloons in the world are blue. Fourteen years ago the shuttle Survivor ran into a strange space gas. It was quite upsetting for the pilots, all of whom found it hard to deal with the colour blue. The gas they ran into was blue and piercing the cloud brought it raining down on the planet. Most things were affected, even temporarily, blue became the new black. Now all that is left is the inflation effect, remnants of that strange space gas cause inflated objects to turn blue. The effect is still a puzzle to the scientific community. The blueness of balloons has led to many a sad birthday party, it is these parties that I will turn next.

There are a couple of things - I typed that quickly so it probably has many unintentional problems as well - I want to point out. Multiple ideas in one sentence, I'm working on that one. Connecting sentences at the end that are disconcerting leaps. But there is a strategy that I noticed. I call it the jazz paragraph.

Jazz introduces tension into music, then the listener follows longing for that tension to be resolved. Good jazz resolves this, but not always in the way we expect. This tension and resolution is what makes the music so interesting. (I could be completely off here in my understanding of jazz, so if I am just call it Frank's erroneous understanding of jazz and follow me to the next part.)

My paragraphs often begin right away with a clear claim. That I do well actually. So my strategy should be how I establish the validity of that claim - and there are several ways of doing that. What I tend to do is make my claim and then immediately jump several steps down the rabbit trail. Then I scramble back up to make my connection, but if you missed that this disconnect was the tension you probably are stuck trying to figure out what the first two sentences had to do with each other and completely miss my point. That is the problem with my jazz approach. I need to close the gap between sentence one and sentence two, easing myself (and hopefully my reader) into the rabbit hole.

It is actually encouraging to recognize this. One of the hardest things for me has been to become self-aware when I am writing. When you write you have a whole world of thought in your head and some of it makes its way to the page. If you leave out too much you can't be followed, or at least your arguments cannot be followed. That has been a comment I've gotten a lot from my director - that she can't follow the thinking between sentences. Now that I discovered the jazz aspect I realize why it makes sense to me (plus I'm an abstract thinker, not linear). She knows I know the material, as she once said I can always explain what I am trying to do, but it is not translating to the page.

I'll probably read this post later and laugh. I hope you find it amusing too.

Honesty is a Beautiful Thing

It warmed my heart to read an honest statement about personal ideological claims from a Creationist! Thank you Todd. That is the sort of disclosure that actually gives me hope that there can be conversations, worthwhile conversations between people with different ideological stances towards the science and religion debates.

Let me be equally as honest. I believe that evolution is compelling. I also believe that the Bible is compelling. But I don't feel obligated to believe the Bible weighs in on the science of creation any more than it tells us how a light bulb works. My ideological stance is that the Bible tells us more about the way life should be and in Christ can be than it does about why it is the way it is. The Bible isn't a textbook on socio-cultural analysis any more than it is a physics textbook. That doesn't mean it doesn't have insights that are valuable in that area - but that isn't it's primary thrust. I believe that through the Bible I meet the God who gives me a future and a hope. I also believe that this same God is the creator of all that is. And I also believe that the marvels of evolution, creation and the universe all tell of God's glory. Convoluted as that all sounds, it is where I start in the discussion.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Challenge of Evangelical Theology

The more self-designated evangelical theology I read the more issues I realize I need to contend with in constructing an evangelical political theology. Issues like a theology of scripture, that is very murky water to have to wade into. The issues of competing theologies from the Calvinist versus the Methodist traditions, the reality is that I will never solve that debate for folks and I'd be a fool to try (but I can definitely land somewhere). That debate hints at one of the issues that is most problemmatic - the evangelical obsession for boundaries. Grenz deals with this quite well in chapter 5 of Renewing the Center. The reason for boundaries is specifically to say who is in and who is out - a good example is this critique of the emerging church. The obsessive how far in or how far out of that article struck me as rather odd. The big question is who sets the boundaries. This chart really sets up a false schema, in fact I'd argue if you had to do a boundary diagramme a Venn diagramme is better suited - in my estimation Patton fails to allow for any cross over between fundamentalism and emerging church - why? What presuppositions allow him to make that claim? What allows him to define who is where, or wears what label? Such efforts really only serve one goal - a desperate attempt to define boundaries. Indeed, this might actually be one of the truest defining characteristics of evangelical theology. If that is true then I think my project is, at the very least, in for a very uphill battle!

But NO! I don't believe we should allow anyone else to define who we are for us. If evangelicalism has it's roots in coalitions (as Grenz point out) then the boundaries are not for exclusion, but for helping people choose inclusion. There are two reasons I believe this should be the case: 1) it is the most evangelistic position to take and 2) it is hopeful in a way narrowing can never be.

The real roots of evangelicalism in North America are really found in a convertive piety. This is still recognized in that one of the chief definitions of evangelicals is a strong commitment to individuals being converted to Christianity. Now certainly there are a number of ways this plays out. But if the thrust is outward in an effort to draw women and men to Jesus how can we twist that into a social club disconnected from the world God so loves? In terms of evangelical identity, are we not doing the same thing? Are we not saying who is and isn't welcome to the discussion that is evangelical theology? Would we not better serve our apologetic tendencies to have more people in the conversation than just those who agree with us? You can't save the lost if you aren't willing to go to them (and even invite them to the table like Jesus modeled!) Boundary setting is counter-productive to the gospel. It says we are seeking our comfort (not being challenged) rather than God's glory. It says we are more concerned with our club not being infiltrated than with God's Spirit leading us to shape the discussions that lead the willing into a deeper understanding of their faith and the identity of evangelical.

This narrowing shuts down possibilities for evangelicals to have a positive impact on the world. It closes doors for us to participate in ecumenical and societal events. And so it prevents us from bringing the hope that is in us to those situations. But it also corrupts our vision of what that hope looks like. In my estimation many evangelical theologies have a very weak understanding of grace. We see this most evidently in how we use decline readings of scripture to justify building theological enclaves, fortresses really, that focus on the call to be separate ignoring the equally valid call to be in the world. So we imagine God will whisk us away and hurl vengeance at the world God so loved that Jesus laid down his life for? The disconnect is painful. It is not hope that this evokes, but utter and complete fatalistic despair. And why? Again it is the itching ears that want to feel like they have it right. They have the corner on truth and everyone else has to measure up to their standards. This completely misses any historical reality of our religion (or even Judaism for that matter). The Church was birthed in plurality. Evangelicalism was birthed in plurality. Unfortunately it quickly took on the cause that has tripped up the church so often in the past - plurality is seen as the evil that threatens to destroy us. This might just be one of the best lies ever launched against the Church. Plurality is our strength. Plurality means those who need to be strengthened, encouraged, challenged - even saved, that they are in on the conversations where that will happen. I, for one, would rather be an evangelical in that fashion, opening my arms, than one who has become so blinded that they are no longer able to fulfill the command of Christ in this world. I wish we could all have a mount of transfiguration moment, the boundaries are not the point - Jesus is. God, open our eyes to see Jesus alone.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reading...

Just an observation about reading. Way back when I was doing my masters I rejoiced in having a super high reading speed. It is still true that if I need to I can plow through books and articles at break neck speed. It is also true that doing this is actually helpful, provided I have some immediate means of massaging the data into meaning - such as a quick read before a class discussion. If I waited too long it was less useful to do this. Just as the masters was reteaching me to write, I think the doctoral work is reteaching me how to read. Reading with comprehension is hard. Reading with attention to detail is hard. Reading is not as simple a process as I would like.

Reading with comprehension, for me, requires lots of processing space. I need to step back from the text a lot, talk it through in my head (or better with people), which just adds to the time it takes to finish the reading. This does not mean I don't strategically read certain texts - it is a good skill to be able to dissect a book into which parts are most important to your purposes, read those thoroughly and skim the rest so that you don't miss something potentially important. But, at least in terms of the comps, my texts are carefully chosen to not have a lot of fat that needs trimming. So I read.

I think part of the problem is that I am quite ADHD, so it is easy for me to start in on a page and halfway through, "is that a cow over there?" Yup, I'm gone. This used to get quite frustrating for me, but really there is not much I can do about it. And the reality is that I do manage to stay on task quite effectively - I've had years to learn how to deal with my attention issues. That explains why I like working in crisis so much, give me an impending deadline and I'm all fired up. If the deadline is only sort of pending - well there is always facebook! Oh look there is a whole season of Trailer Park Boys' I've never seen before! You know the story. The problem with that is it is usually my family that suffers. So I've tried my best to not fall into those old patterns. In fact I've tried to spend time with my family as a way of making the deadlines loom larger for me. This tactic sometimes backfires when I end up pulling a late night and spending the next day with the grumpies.

Well, I've procrastinated long enough this morning, got to get back to reading.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Deep Church

The idea of "deep church" has been getting a lot of traffic lately. However, is this term really any more helpful than emerging/ent or missional? The meaning of these terms are far from self-evident. In fact these terms have insider meaning (usually positive) and outsider meaning (usually negative). I don't think the answer is ditching the effort to name things - but rather recognizing that there are two legitimate components of all these names. First there is a core common phenomenon that folks are trying to name and second these terms are artificial creations with artificial meaning(s) attached by everyone who uses them.

The common phenomenon is the attempt to deal with cultural relevance. Guder's Missonal Church is a great touchstone on this one. The reality is that the models and modes of being church are not as functional in the West as they used to be. There are complex reasons for this. And the reality is that different practitioners have different answers and see different issues as primary concerns. It is important to recognize that even entrenchment into tradition is a response to this phenomenon. Adaptation is a feature of the church that has enabled it to survive and even thrive for 2000 years now. And to be sure most of this adaptation has had faithfulness to the gospel front and centre (at least that aspect of the gospel that was dominant in that moment of history).

This tendency for adaptation means that the practitioners are having an involved and inside conversation involving their specific context(s), ecclesial background and hopes for the church. Because this often occurs with little critical reflection (it is a practical and incipient activity) the language that arises is insider language. The big problem with insider language is the ease at which it is misinterpreted by outsiders - especially outsiders who read the conversation partners in different ways. Take the knee jerk reaction of most anti-emergent books, articles and websites as a prime example. What is needed really is not polemics, but concentrated study. Especially in terms of differentiating the aspects of this phenomenon. Personally I see this an opportunity for academics to step into the conversation, not to give their opinions on how it should be, but to help define what is going on in ways that are helpful, accurate and harder to misunderstand as an outsider.

What this means is that the attempts to adapt in our generation(s) should be submitted to a high degree of examination. What this does not mean is that we should simply assume the worst. I would dare say we should expect the best - and I dare say that in the multitude of options we are bound to find it. It doesn't mean these terms will work for you, but perhaps we can get past the tendencies to simply conflate emerging, deep, missional with some fictitious attack on the church.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Moltmann and Me

In retrospect my contextless thank you to Moltmann probably conveyed more to me than to him. But it was awesome to meet my theological hero in the flesh.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Moltmann Conversation

The tweets from the conversation contain many great quotes and links. If you are looking for audio snippits, that's in there too.

Back now, I'm still tired but really glad I went. The conversation was amazing. Kudos Doug and Tony. I ran into an old friend this morning and realized that he has been studying a lot of the same stuff - Bloch, Moltmann, Pannenberg, etc. It was a great connection and a great excuse to rekindle an old friendship.

Tomorrow I'm leading worship at Greenbelt Baptist. I've never been before, but the pastor is a friend of mine. He's one of those guys who gets that unity is about diversity. I know this because we have quite different political ideas. But at the same time we know each other has a heart for God. Unity is like that. It says there is something more important that politics and even denominational distinctives. It says there is something about belonging that doesn't put any prerequisites in the way. I find that folks who listen for the heart in others are way more willing to see God leading you in different directions, and accept that it is because God is more concerned with seeking us out than God ever is with the trappings of our religious affiliations. I appreciate that in people like Steve.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Conference and Rest

Yesterday was really tiring, so I decided to leave the laptop off. So as a result no blog posts of the conversation yesterday. However, some great live blogging will fill in the blanks. My new friend Joe has links and thoughts - go check his blog out. Today is a bit of a roller coaster too, so I'm thinking that I'll not get to blog until I'm back home in Ottawa.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eastern Depiction of the Trinity

First Day - Moltmann Conversation

I'm tweeting as pomorev if you want to see some snippets, but the first day was pretty good. John Franke spoke, trying to prime the pumps for our conversation. I felt it was more a plug for his book - Manifold Witness. He began by expressing his non-negotiables regarding biblical reliability, confidence in the promises and Spirit of God. I appreciate them, but I think to really embrace plurality in the idea of truth you need to risk your foundations. Not that you don't bring them into the conversation, but it is like only bringing yourself half to a conversation. But this is based on a short talk, I think he is probably worth reading.

Wicker Park led us in a Eucharist after, it was quite nice. I love the live artist working with chalk as we listened and worshiped. The service was quite accessible and a representation of the incipient worship of their emerging community. The vibe reminded me of EcclesiaX in Ottawa.

Things should be starting up soon.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

13 Hours to the Moltmann Trip

In 13 hours I will be stirring myself awake so that I can get to the airport, wait for and board a plane first to Philadelphia and then Chicago. Yup, it will be a lot of time in the air. At my destination, O'Hare, I'll meet up with the gracious Rob Morpeth to catch a ride to the hotel. All they had left were smoking rooms, bummer, so I bought some travel incense. If I'm going to stick like a smokey room it will the smoke of my choosing! I stuffed Sharon's yoga mat in my travel bag, just in case, but I will probably do no more than some standing practices at the hotel and between sessions. And I had to decide just what Moltmann texts to bring. Theology of Hope, of course. It is well loved. Then my favourites, which just happen to be the other texts they recommend you read before coming: Trinity and the Kingdom of God and The Crucified God. When I picked up my passport this morning I had a really strong sense of relief - I really don't like deal breaking loose ends. If it hadn't gone through I would be out a lot of money. But it is nice how this trip is coming together. Now the deal is to get to bed early and simply enjoy myself as my academic interests collide in Chicago. I'll probably send the odd tweet from the conversation, my twitter handle is pomorev.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Undersea Adventure

Today I'm gonna try and find some small plastic sharks. Yeah, sharks! Other than short stints through water I've not run a real undersea adventure - until now. The next leg of my Rathbone campaign takes them to the dread pirates cove with its undersea treasure repository. They are looking for something specific, but much danger awaits. The location is the Sea of Persistence, known for its teeming shark population - of course that is because sharks are not the top of the food chain down there! I'm also thinking of procuring a second aboleth mini, the dread salt-water aboleth might make its presence known. Minis aren't the challenge, what I need to figure out are the niggly things like movement and 3 dimensional combat. Also I'm wondering about the effect of brine on equipment? Thoughts, suggestions, favourite web resources on the subject? Bring it on.

BTW this campaign is D&D 3.5E with some house rules. The party is from 12-14th level so I'm apt to throw lots of big stuff at them. And pirates, there definitely has to be pirates with ship-to-ship combat! The more epic the better. Love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, September 04, 2009

How Committed to the Text ?

I'm reading George Eldon Ladd's the Presence of the Future, it is very good, but it is definitely the work of a Biblical theologian. That is someone whose primary commitment is to the text. He is convinced of his understanding of Kingdom of God theology based on what he sees in the scriptures. His concerns are about the correct interpretation of those scriptures. And I suspect that if he found the scriptures to paint a different picture of the Kingdom of God then he'd not be willing to challenge those scriptures. What I'm wrestling with is how committed I am to the text.

I think this is why I am not a Biblical theologian. If I found an unhelpful understanding of the Kingdom in scripture I would definitely challenge that. But it is not so simple. The reason I don't find such a reading has to do with the bias I bring to the scripture. I know that Ladd, like all Biblical theologians, also brings a bias to the scriptures. Actually I'm impressed when Ladd lays out his assumptions and his thesis, I wish more general evangelical writers would take this lead. But one of the biases I bring to my reading of scripture is that our interpretation changes over time. So my commitment is primarily to a specific reading of the text, but always to a particular understanding that I find supported by the text but also by tradition and experience.

So I am not uncommitted to the text. In fact I have a high value for the text. It disturbs me greatly when scriptural texts seem to counter my values, such as Wednesday's lectional reading about Simon's mother-in-law being healed and then serving. But my response is not to say the scripture is to be rejected or chastised, rather I love to wrestle with it. And in this case I had to conclude that it is equally plausible that Simon's mother-in-law found serving fulfilling (indeed it is a value of the Kingdom) and so was enabled to do something that was deeply rewarding and meaningful even if it could be construed as supporting a patriarchal view of society. The reason I would wrestle at all is that Jesus, in most cases, treats women in ways that are quite radical for his social context. And when this isn't the case usually there is something quite profound going on. Maybe it is best to say that I don't give up on the text - but is this real commitment to the text?

I think it is good for me to reflect on this, the text is important but I'm not animated primarily by the text. Although it is undeniable that 20+ years of reading the bible has influenced my theology, it is how these ideas work themselves out in the context of community, life and politics that really drives my faith to seek understanding. This is a big reason why I don't even pretend to be a Biblical theologian. It also is the reason that I avoid backing up my ideas with proof texts (a practice I abhor). So I end up at a place of both-and. I have a commitment to the text, but it is not primary. My commitment is to well thought out theology that understands and exposes its presuppositions (as much as possible) and seeks to work for a better world for everyone.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Moltmann, Emerging Church, Passport!

OK so I'm heading to Chicago to take in the Moltmann Conversation. I know, no brainer, I write extensively on the emerging church and my favourite theologian of all time is coming to address them. This month is super busy, but first my wife and then my director convinced me that I can't miss this. So I spent the last 48hours setting it all up. Unfortunately I'm staying in a smoking room at the hotel, all they had left, so hopefully that will get changed. But I think it is worth it. I wish I could take my family, but that isn't practical even if it was affordable. So away I go.

I think Moltmann has something profound to say to evangelicals in general. I just hope that what he says is actually reflected on. I also know that the hope theology movement is very concerned with the slip into apocalyptic language that is so popular in evangelical circles. I wonder if Moltmann will clearly address that issue. I think that this will be important for those engaged in re-imagining church, especially the evangelical church.

I'll probably tweet the conference, it will give me something to reflect on later. I'll definitely take lots of notes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Coffee Shop Witnessing

The other night I went off to the coffee shop to continue my reading, seems like that is almost all I do these days. So in comes a young couple, Kenny and Sarah. They began to chat with the barrista who sent them in my direction, figuring a theologian was better able to deal with their questions of heaven. So over they come and Kenny begins asking me if I'm born again. Like many evangelicals he was looking for certain phrases that would indicate I was actually what he considers a "real" Christian. I was happy to brush aside much of the probing and ask them some questions about themselves and what they were up to that night. Fortunately Kenny had heard about the Vineyard so they found me relatively safe.

So here is what is interesting, Kenny and Sarah are on their first date. I ended up praying for them and hopefully encouraging them. In fact what they were doing was pretty cool, going out trying to follow God's leading to share "the gospel" with folks. Unfortunately, Sarah didn't do much of the talking and Kenny had pretty simple notions of what this "gospel" was supposed to be. I think challenging them would have messed up something more interesting that was happening - they were living out their convictions and trying to bless people.

Now there probably was another side of this, see Kenny is courting Sarah so in evangelical culture sharing the gospel with strangers can be akin to slaying a dragon or bringing home the bacon. But it seemed like Sarah was the instigator. Earlier that evening she had made some brownies and they went to a random door with them and "the gospel". Turns out they were led to another Christian who they blessed with a bible and snackage. Nice. I imagine Sarah's brownies were pretty good as she was out to impress the new "man". But in the midst of this interesting courting ritual Sarah and Kenny were doing something pretty cool.

So here I am sitting with these really nice young people. I'm dodging the occasional probe to see if I'm really an evangelical Christian, the barristas' are cringing (they apologized to me later, unnecessary but also pretty nice) and I find out this is their first date. Nice. So I decide to encourage them and ask to pray. I think they will continue to have some really interesting encounters. I hope that they do it long enough to let their ideas of "the gospel" mature. I also hope they end up encouraging many people with their witnessing. Bless you Kenny and Sarah, thanks for witnessing to me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Justice and Relationships

In reading Fuellenbach's awesome book on the Kingdom of God he notes that in Old Testament terms Justice is always a matter of relationships. Hence, it is often synonymous with the word righteousness - or right relationships. In fact death indicates an end of relationships and the possibility of making these right (of course themes of judgment might challenge this). Fuellenbach also cautions us not to truncate this notion of relationship to the personal world of our relationship with God. It has to do with all relationships, yes with God, with self and others - but also with the world God so loved. This notion opens up some wonderful ways of understanding incarnation as God's act of restoring the relationship God has with all of creation (indeed all of the cosmos if we take the Greek wording of John 3:16 serious). So, by implication, to be a Kingdom people requires that we be about relationships. Restoring relationships to their right form and function. Of course that opens up a whole huge discussion about what the right form and function actually consists of - this is not at all self-evident. Regardless, the Kingdom of God should always lead us smack dab into the centre of that discussion. And further it should lead us to act on our convictions about the nature of relationships.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

History - Competing Views

I'm reflecting a bit on notions of history. I find that the prevailing evangelical view is that history is really salvation history, or the story of God's saving work throughout time. The big problem with this view is that it was torpedoed by the Enlightenment, our capacity, as a species, to change the course of history (transforming nature and society) has led to a view of history that is very anthropocentric. This is the notion of history behind old school liberal social gospel thinking that says we are the ones who create/build the Kingdom of God. Ironically that language is also pervasive in evangelical circles, but then again we are known for our incapacity for self-reflection, no matter. These two views of history obviously have little in common - except that they are both true! Yeah, that's the twist. I have a sense that the working understanding of truth (function and form) is partly to blame, but also the existential questions that prevail in North American thinking also contributes to our polarization of the notions of history. Certainly there is a fear of the follies of the Social Gospel, but perhaps the answer is not to write it off but take it seriously as part of the truth, just not the whole truth.

This allows us to come up with a different understanding of history - one of participation and trust. We can trust that God has the last word in history, but that at the same time history is open to our significant participation. And yes, we can screw it up (just as much as we can work on making it better). History becomes our story and God's story, one we are writing together. Not just the story we find ourselves in, but the one we are actively writing through our free choices. And the important part is that this is the story that is important! That is the nuance that is missed in telling it as God's story (that is God's alone). When we polarize the stories, we can acknowledge our stories, but we diminish their value and their worth. This sort of fatalism has no real answer to the tough questions of our day.

So let me invite you into a new story. One that says both you and God are significant (and indispensable) partners. One where life has meaning and we are called on to work with God towards Kingdom ideals like justice, equity and love. Anyone else want in on this?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Jubilee

I found this interesting thought in Fuellenbach. The notion of a Jubilee year, which comes every twenty, is more than just a social reset, it is about revisiting the ideal by which Jewish society was structured. Basically as an egalitarian society of equal land owners - run that long enough and disparity occurs. But every twenty years debt is canceled and land reverts back to the fair distribution, not as a second chance but rather as a return to the ideal of egalitarian society. What is fascinating to me is that almost 20 years ago I was out praying through a neighbourhood in Mississauga and felt strongly impressed to declare a Jubilee year, I need to work out the dates but it was likely 3+ years before the Toronto Blessing (making it 1990-91). So here I am almost 20 years later meditating once again on this theme of Jubilee in the context of the Kingdom of God. As we have discussed before, the Kingdom of God always functions like an ideal, so it is fitting and encouraging in terms of timing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I Write Backwards...

I was re-reading one of my posts and it occurred to me that I naturally write backwards. That is I construct sentences where it is difficult to follow on a single read, the thoughts are not ordered well. I know I end up doing a lot of editing on my papers, I wonder if there is a way to nip this in the bud.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Summertime Blues

Sharon's observation is that I am always happiest when I am in school. This phase of my academic life is very solitary, and even though I am by nature an introvert I do better when I can bounce ideas off of people. Funny thing is that the ideas I need to bounce off of people have whole worlds behind them - something that is easy to do in a group of theology and philosophy students. I've learned the hard way that dropping an idea from the swirl in my head can lead to an exhausting dialogue and always the potential of hitting one of those mines that shuts down the conversation with many Evangelicals. Well, I should say I have tried to learn. The reality is that I love to teach so I am apt to launch into such discussions recklessly. Mostly I can navigate my way through them, but there are the odd unavoidable mines (such as when some of my old Pentecostal friends decided to write me off as a dangerous heretic, all because I like to think). So I can't wait to be through this process. I wish I had a course to teach in the Fall, but alas it probably won't be until the Winter semester. As a result I'm having a few really blue days lately, not that I'm despairing really, but just not feeling very happy some days. I still laugh and smile most of the time, but there are times I'm less patient with my kids then I should be.

OK rant over, I'll return to normal posts soon. Pannenberg rocks! If you are following my Tweets you would know that already. Lots to think about and write about.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Trust and God

I've been reflecting a lot on the amount of distrust I encounter in life, particularly from Christians who express concern over my academic, entertainment and even health choices. I freely admit that I make choices that many of my friends would not entertain, but the assumption that my choices are naive and leading me towards a supposed path of destruction, well that really troubles me. I've often commented on the culture of fear that is North American Evangelicalism, fortunately it is not all there is to Evangelicalism, but it is pretty darn pervasive. So it has me thinking about the roots of fear and the reasons why, Evangelicals in particular, should not be ruled by fear. So I want to reflect here on the connection between trust and God.

Now, my presupposition here is a particular understanding of God. I am not confident that these observations will translate for readers who have either no concept of God or an impersonal concept of God. In the abstraction of god concepts the rules change. But for those of us with a commitment and conviction towards the personhood of God, it is the relationship with that person that hinges entirely on the notion of trust. This clearly translates into human-human relationships (and even relationships between other animal species, for example your trust for your dog will dictate the freedom to which your dog will be given). When I distrust another human person, then I withhold something of myself in the relationship. The reason for this is my fears (often well grounded) in the other's ability to compensate my trust appropriately. Here is precisely the issue that theodicy seeks to illuminate - how can we trust in any God who allows evil to ravage the earth? But here again the presupposition of God's personhood is called into question: is our confidence in God based on a notion about how God should act towards our species? Based on what? I love the answer that Job provides - surveying all that goes on in this world with all the various forms of life God asks Job if Job might not be able to do things better? Job is silent where often we are not.

In our discomfort with the often harshness of reality, we make God out to be the villain. In fact the Jobian account does the same in the introduction that intimates God as the bad guy. Certainly, the primitive karmic notion should work in favour of our comfort - should it not? Probably the best proof against such naive notions of God-human relations is the incarnation of Jesus. In the incarnation God is not distant and arbitrary, but present and made co-sufferer in the rigors of life. Jesus does not come advocating our comfort, but rather doing the right thing no matter the outcome and the cost to our comfort. The maxim of if it feels good, do it is utterly washed away in the self-emptying of God through the person of Jesus.

Often when I encounter people who are suspicious of my life they are not interested in hearing the ways that I integrate my spirituality into such activities - even when I play games with friends I am hoping and praying for opportunities to see God's Kingdom manifest (even if that is so simple as entering into the rigors of their lives with them). But that is not what the accusers hear, it is that I am living outside of the constraints their own fears have inflicted upon them. So there is not even an opportunity to find God in the midst of these activities, they reveal the limits of their trust in God.

Now, to be certain, there are activities that are not healthy for anyone to engage. That is not the question here. I would be the first to declare that immoral actions play havoc on ones soul. And even in very wholesome activities, one can encounter situations that should be suspect, lest we think that there are safe places where we can be comfortable in a naive way. (BTW I wholeheartedly reject the notion that naivety is somehow closeness to God, I think often it is more of an unwillingness to let God be God, but this should be another post.) The proof is rather to be fully engaged and aware when one lives. Aware and conscious of God's presence, but even more our own presence towards the situation. Often, I am convinced, it is simply assumed that I engage in activities without thought, as if I'm blindly stumbling towards a trap.

An example is my recent adoption of a yoga practice. The reality is that I've spent a lot of time thinking about yoga, discussing and learning even before I attempted to get on the mat. And once I got on the mat I didn't stop, in fact I'm even conscious of the music that is used in practices, did you know that there is Sikh worship music that sounds incredibly contemporary Christian? It is precisely because I know yoga is a spiritual practice that I engage it with a critical mind. Unfortunately that term critical mind often means, for Evangelicals at least, critical about there being any value in something rather than coming to understanding and really thinking through the implications of a practice. But it isn't just thinking something through that becomes my criteria for engagement - it is a matter of trust.

Trust, in the context of God as person, means that I don't enter into any practice alone. In fact it is in the context of engaging with life that the character of my trust relationship is defined and honed. This doesn't mean I'm naively assuming God will rescue me from any wayward decision I might make - heavens forbid. Rather that God is ever present, even in terrible mistakes, and a hugely contributing factor to my ability to engage, understand and partake in all life has to offer. My friend George once said that the need is to trust God's ability to lead more than the devil's ability to deceive. I think that is wise. Trust brings freedom. When we trust our relationship with God then it opens space to have real relationships with each other. This is foundational to ecumenical dialogue, and the chief obstacle for Evangelicals to engage with other religious traditions (except to denigrate those traditions in an attempt to maintain the comfort of assumed superiority, in other words to pander to fear).

Trust is the way past fear. Perfect love actually cannot allow fear to rule the day. Which leads me to question how much North American Evangelicals actually get the message of God's love. I am not advocating doing what feels good, or even whatever you want. But trust is about doing the right thing, even when it is a risk, even if it risks the notions you have which seem to protect your comfort. My hope is that my fearless life might be an example, an example of life lived to the fullest in and through the presence of God.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Something to Ponder from Bram Stoker

"To believe in things that you cannot. Let me illustrate. I heard once of an American who so defined faith: 'that faculty which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue.' For one, I follow that man. He meant that we shall have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck. We get the small truth first. Good! We keep him, and we value him; but all the same we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe."
Abraham van Helsing

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Naked Church

Whenever I travel I love visiting churches, usually Vineyards. What was a special treat is going to Rothsay Vineyard, the church we affectionately call the Naked Church, and finally meeting the Haywards! So nice. My favourite part was having a whole lot of them gather around my family and pray into us. I love my ecclesial family. Oh, we are on the road, not for too long though. Posts might be sparse.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Too Much Jesus?

In thinking about Moltmann's Hope Theology, the question of Christology takes the center stage. I am reminded of Neuhaus' claim about Pannenberg and the particularity of Christian history and its claims for Jesus. Eventually Pannenberg finds common ground, at least with many Jewish scholars, in the coming reign of God (focus of his hope project). But is this true with Moltmann as well? And if it isn't then what is the problem? I mean, the Christian claims about Jesus are pretty lofty (and I believe rightly so), but does this present a liability to the Theology of Hope? At the very least it presents some tricky obstacles.

The main issue is one of history. Is history something we take at face value or is it something we need to impose a framework (worldview maybe) upon? There are several realities of history that we need to bear in mind here: a) history is accomplished b) history has winners and losers (and it is not always easy to see who is who) c) history is told by the living who interpret the past d) history is not the test of veracity.

That last one is where I think many evangelicals trip up. We like to read history as support for our preconceptions, just like we do with our sacred texts. What we end up with is a very skewed view of history. One year I decided to study Count Zinzendorf, the much loved patron saint of the 24/7 movement. What is interesting is Zin was one wacky man. No doubt he championed pietism and has had an indelible influence on the history of the Church, but it is a sanitized version of the Count that we know and love. History, seen this way, is merely a tool to serve an ulterior motive. When we treat history in such a way we not only miss the lessons of history, but we grind underfoot those caught on the underside of history.

If Christology is the lens we bring to our reading of history, then we end up with a sort of his-story, but not with the whole-story. That doesn't mean there isn't a place for a high Christology, but if our theological reading of history continues to trample underfoot the losers of history, then really we have done nothing but comforted our ears with what we want to hear. This does not stop us from looking for Christ in history, I am not suggesting we delimit the sciences, but it is the imposition of Christ onto history that is the problem. In this theology should be the second act and it should be a redemptive (not deformative) act.

But how does this square with a Christology that claims Jesus' as the hinge of all that ever has and will happen? If the Christ event is the one defining event of all history, then can we not make the assumption that all history is ultimately his-story and the rest, if there is anything, is superfluous? I think that ultimately the question comes down to why we need such certainty in our Christological assumptions. My concern is that we are simply treating the past with the same fear we treat the future - we need to mitigate our risk by increasing our certitude. However, this is not a stance of faith it is a stance of fear. History can be both and needs to be both if Christ is to enter into history as saviour and redeemer.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Grace petering

Part of writing the last post was the realization that this theology of grace is more what I want to see in Hope Theology, I needed to get it out to recognize that. I think I can build this case, but it is not as simple as I would like.

Another aspect of grace that I really want to explore is grace as the great equalizer. I really dislike the notion of spiritual levels, that is an understanding that some people are further along in their spirituality than others. The reason I dislike it is because I've seen many examples of this simply manifesting as arrogance. Don't get me wrong, I do think there are some people who just exude wisdom. But usually they are the last people to claim a higher level of spirituality. Grace is a great proof against such nonsense.

Grace says that our relationship with God is contingent on nothing I could achieve in and of myself. It is freely offered with no strings attached. Now this bugs people. How can that horrible adulterous backstabber have a clean conscience before God while I, the one who works so hard to please God, have the same standing. It strikes us as unjust. But the reality is it has nothing to do with justice, at least not in the ways we like to conceive of justice. It is a triumph of mercy over judgment. It doesn't mean that God leaves us messed up (when we are messed up), but that God meets us individually with the same offer of grace. It means that even though each of us is treated as a completely different person, we are all loved and accepted in the same way.

OK now I can move on to Christology, that one will be a bit harder to tackle.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Grace

The last couple of posts, and likely many of the future posts for this summer, are simply stream of consciousness writing to help me process the themes I'm studying for my comprehensive exams in the Fall. The first theme is Hope Theology. I'd love to have feedback and even challenges, I'm going to try and stay within the frameworks of each theme when interacting though - even where I disagree with the dialogue partners in that theme. Just to give you a heads up, my next theme traces Kingdom of God theology from Dodds to Fuellenbach (Ladd is a whole theme to himself!). But on with the show...

I mentioned that I would tackle grace and Christology in their own posts. Grace has been a really interesting pre-occupation for me. I have argued in the past that evangelicals have a pretty wimpy notion of grace, at least some of us do. It was really The Future of Hope (Volf and Katerberg) that convinced me of that. But, what has me thinking about the importance of our theology of grace is my growing yoga practice.

In yoga there is a lot of discussion about karma. It is actually quite nuanced, so to do it justice I need to acknowledge that there are karmic notions that place an impetus on grace, grace being an impulse that opens the possibility for us to exhibit good karma (prevenient grace perhaps). But typically the notion of karma is simple and attractive - if you do good then good will happen to you. Even Jesus affirms such a life philosophy through the golden rule. In fact this notion of karma is consistent throughout world religions. (Many naive Christian theologies are actually adaptations of this simple idea of karma.)

Karma is a way of trying to navigate the ambiguities of life while affirming a moral directive. Karma explains theodicy in a mechanistic causal relationship that is actually fatalistic, especially when expressed in terms of inherited karma. Consider the Hindu caste system, which attributes families of origin with karmic debt. What is interesting is that these systems and ideas fit well into the cyclic views of life experienced by agrarian societies. What goes around comes around and as the Jewish wisdom literature says, a curse does not arrive without a cause. But while there is a cyclic aspect to life, one that is helpful to acknowledge if you livelihood depends on seasonality, Judaism introduces a different thrust in history. History is not the endless repetition of karmic cycles, but rather a journey that is best articulated by a theology of grace.

Grace actually has nothing to do with responsibility. Although even the Apostle Paul will tell us that our response to grace should be nothing short of complete surrender. But grace never hinges on our actions. Rather grace begins and ends with God. Grace gives God the first and last word in every situation. Grace initiates our journey and grace leads us forward. The great symbol of this is the Exodus.

Recognizing the paradigmatic shift that the Exodus presents, Moltmann presents his critique of Christianity in a chapter called the Exodus Church (ToH). Yet, he doesn't focus on an exegetic (Gutierrez is worth reading here) but rather a critique. He shows the ways that Christianity has simply become mired in cultural expectations, robbed of a real vision of hope. This is clear in the indictment that missions are basically useless unless they inspire hope, I would add that any form of evangelism that does not engender hope is equally useless. Hope, in this case is rooted in the promise of God (ToH 328). Just as the Exodus leads a people to the promised land, so hope becomes our utopian (sorry Dodd) expectation in history. Grace is the mechanism of our participation in this hope.

Grace should rightly be seen as the activity of God (God alone) at work in the world undoing the ravages of sin. Grace functions always like an invitation. Like a gift it must be received, engaged with and enjoyed (or endured). "[W]e can have it only by confidently waiting for it and wholeheartedly seeking it." (ToH 326) Grace is the promoter of hope, the assurance that the project of the restoration and renewal of this world is God's own project. Grace is God entering into the suffering of this life for the sake of the whole world.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Interventionist History And Theodicy

A key aspect of the Theology of Hope is their theory of history. In many of the Pentecostal/Charismatic communities I've been part of, an interventionist view of history prevails. That is a view where God intervenes in history from another place, often bending the natural order. This view of God as miracle worker is often questioned by those who wrestle with theodicy, specifically why does God seemingly intervene in some situations and not in others? While this denotes an underlying karmic expectation of God, it is a legitimate complaint. If God is so fickle as to pander to the cause of just those who (especially in affluent countries) pray the "right" way, then is that a God worth worshipping? I think not. Fortunately, Theology of Hope offers a different, and I think more satisfactory, approach.

It is important to note that Theology of Hope has its roots in WWII. It is theology after Auschwitz and Hiroshima. And it is theology that is convinced that hope for the world has to be hope for the victims of these tragedies. These events can lead one to think that God is distant from and unconcerned with the follies of humans. But neither the deist clockmaker or the fickle interventionist will do as God - both should die.

Theology of Hope places history as the main place of God's activity. But not as a puppeteer pulling strings from the outside, rather as an actor who has entered into our history with us. This theology takes a distinctly incarnational view of God's relationship with history. But it also takes very seriously an idea the aforementioned views of God reject - God is a passable participant in history. God doesn't enter history to eradicate the mess carte blanche, God enters into history to live our suffering with us. This notion of historical solidarity is not passive. It comes as a response of God to the cries of God's people - just as in the story of the Exodus. But also like the Exodus we learn that God's people undergo the journey of hope, even though they may never see the final destination (and like the Exodus the journey continues to unfold).

History is not some preview to the "real" show. At the heart of interventionist notions (and its only response to theodicy) of history is the idea that ultimately this world does not matter. Theology of Hope rejects this view of history. History is where God meets us. God's action in history opens up possibilities for the future of this world. It is hope that says all the deaths and suffering of this world is not in vane, it is not just to be endured until the real show begins. It means our lives count - or should count! It calls us to act and gives us the resources to act beyond our assumed capacities, simply because we act with God. (Implicit in Theology of Hope are theologies of Grace and Christology, I will turn to those in further posts.)

This view of history is also the proof against a reason controlled deistic world of laws. If God works outside of laws then God is guilty of failing to intervene in the most horrific situations. If God is restricted by the laws then God is simply a functionary and probably no more than a construct of our minds. But God who meets us in the midst of life, where life is a dynamic range of possibilities (grace) opens a place for God's activity in history. An activity that does not violate our freedom, yet calls us to a deeper freedom that involves our conscious participation in God's project of undoing the ravages of what might easily be called our sinful acts of freedom in this world.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hope as a Neglected Category

Kant presents three questions that should direct the inquiry of reason:

1) What can I know?
2) What ought I to do?
3) What may I hope?

I find that Evangelical theology has beat the first one to death. Despite the fact that there are still lots of diverse understandings of God, life and humanity. We tend to focus on the knowing as the prime mode of becoming. It is knowing the right thing (such as your sinfulness and need for Jesus) that matters. If you get it right then you can rest assured.

The second question has really animated what we call our liberal sisters and brothers. I really dislike the liberal/conservative dichotomy, especially when it is used to paint everything we distrust as evil. But there definitely are streams of Christian thoughts that are all about action, doing. The moral imperatives of the faith are the substance for these folks. And while they tend to do great things, they are in just as much danger of missing the boat as those who focus exclusively on the first question.

See it is not what you know or even what you do that matters. But it is about why you do what you do. The third question takes us into the realm of why. But the funny thing is that this third question is not taken up a lot. And when it is taken up it is perverted into otherworldly categories that are more about our comfort than about hope (which is a main theme of The Future of Hope edited by Volf and Katerberg). Taking up this question is the main theme of Hope Theology.

I find that the third question guides the other two. If our hope is based on a way of knowing and being in this world, then we have a context. Dogma, in that context, matters. If there is no hope implicated in dogma then it matters not what you believe. But belief and hope are dialectic with each other - hope keeps us from endless genealogies, that is theology with no practical impact on anything. And hope is also dialectic on how we live, move and have our beings in this world. Hope prevents us from simple charity meant to assuage our consciences. It calls us to action that brings justice, life and freedom to this world. It believes that this world is the object of God's love and that we participate in God's redemptive thrust in history.

Hope is an important category. What may I hope? It is a good question.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fresh and Re:Fresh

OK it is finally out! At least there is a website for the book. Published by Allelon Publishing, whose website has been not working for ages now. I should have a book in my hands soon, they have been printed. But I really hope that it ends up on indigo and amazon so folks can actually get a copy in their hands too. These stories are important. I don't think this is an earth shattering theological book (in fact I'd say it isn't) but it does give a good Canadian sense of what is happening at the edges of our traditional church communities. For me this is my first published chapter in a book, really it is an essay and Freedom Vineyard is the focus. I look at how we are wrestling with the term missional in our context. Would love to hear comments from any of you who read it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thomas Berry

This month started with the very sad news that Thomas Berry had passed. He went peacefully surrounded by family. His impact on me, and many others, is hard to measure. I find Berry incredibly challenging and actually often wonder how he'd approach the issues and challenges that I run into. The earlier material I've read and watched was filled with a sense of optimism - but the realist that his later material conveyed confirmed the gravity of our future on this planet. Thursday, June 26th there will be a remembrance ceremony at Saint Paul University. I am hoping to put together a bit of a tribute in the form of a slide show depicting the wonderful story of our universe. Berry helped so many of us see that it is the arrogance of our species that has led to the toxification of our planet. In telling the universe story we see that no matter how significant, our species is but the briefest of blips in this story. As Moltmann said in "Progress and Abyss", this planet can easily go on without us, but we are utterly dependent on this planet for our survival. May Berry's life continue to foster a humble attitude towards the Earth and a sense of wonder in this amazing universe!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

4E Gameplay

We had our first session of the Dungeon Crawl scenario. It was quite fun. Whole new group of players too! 4E plays quite differently than previous versions. Of course role playing is the same, I had a lively bunch so that was quite entertaining (especially Malcolm's acrobatic shenanigans!) Despite the lack of experience with 4E (and in one case with the tabletop RPG) we navigated things quite well. The odd incredulous eyebrow was raised, which is often entertaining. Here are a few of the notable differences, good and bad:

Powers Are Really Different
I love power cards, that is a great innovation. We've used something like that in 3.5 and it means my frustrations with characters not knowing their spells (I even ended up making a spellbook for one player!) are potentially over. Only one player chose not to use the cards and it slowed down their gameplay considerably. But the other thing about powers is that this is a completely different way of doing things. Powers interact (marking) and allow some pretty cool maneuvers. Powers also gives the players a nice way to make their characters unique, so big thumbs up. The only reservation I have is that now every character plays the same - they all have powers. This makes wizards more useful, although with a low BAB they are still quite useless in combat once their auto-damage spells (flaming sphere is quite nice in this edition) are used up.

Movement and Freaking Squares

Ok so I'm still not sold on diagonals counting the same as straight movements, I'll live. But now all the effects are squares?

Wizard "Watch me cast a fire cube!"
Fighter "A what?"
Wizard "A firecube, you know to avoid pesky pixelation."
Fighter "Pixie-whation?"
Rogue "My mother was killed by damn pixies!"
Frustrated Wizard "No! Pixelation. It is when..."
Party is eaten by monsters annoyed by their debate.

Squares? Really?

New Math

Remember THAC0? What a great innovation. Then D20 made things even more simple by making all the math move in the same direction! Yay! In every version it takes a while to get used to the math. Last night we discovered the addition of variables. Now weapons do damage based on interesting algebra: 2(W)+STR+WIS = ???? It is actually quite elegant when you get your head around it. But there are a lot of fun little numbers to calculate - best to do these before hand. Passive checks (nice!), Surge values (Surges are actually quite interesting. We had some fun with those in the first encounters!), attack bonus', etc. What I would say is that this is quite doable, once you have your head around the crunch of the system you are golden. Now what was W again?

Got Rid of Skill Creep

The last one I'll look at is a big Kudo. They got rid of skill creep. By combining skills into categories (and killed the ability to max these out) skill become a lot more playable. DCs are simplified as well, based on the tier you are playing at you have a baseline DC value that you can fudge around. As a DM it is nice to have a baseline.

I had a lot of fun DMing the new version. I think it is quite playable. I ditched a few things - milestones? meh. I'd rather award things like that in a more arbitrary fashion. The scenario we are running does have a boss on each level so that warrants an Action Point. I'll have to give milestones some more thought later. BTW for the DMs out there, nothing beats a creepy tapestry to cause the players to waste an hour in an empty room.