Monday, March 30, 2009

Hi Mom!

So my mom actually reads my blog. What do you know.

Just a bit of an update. My presentation in Montreal went very well, but I woke up the next day not feeling so good. Hope I didn't leave anything for Matte and Dean! I'm going to spend a bit of time tuning up the paper and then see if I can't find a journal to be its new home. If I was feeling better I'd be ready to get on that - but alas being sick has meant my brain feels cloudy. It is worse when I take anti-histamines, which I've had to do a few times. At least I'm able to sleep.

I'm winding up the semester. A few odds and ends to clean up for the courses. I am so glad this is it for courses. I have my comp list finalized (I think, the email from the faculty came and I gave it my approval) and so for the next five months I will be reading, making notes and researching the background for the 20 core books on my list. I also want to do the following:

* build an academic resume
* prepare my SHRC/OGS applications
* write my paper for the CTS (Congress 2009)
* clean my office (maybe streamline my library)
* start up a new house group (Freedom style)
* write a custom scenario for Injurious Games
* prepare a bunch of my D&D campaign - I'm dipping into really old material these days.
* install a flood light
* paint a window frame
* take a vacation

Not so bad a list. I have 5 months to prep for my comps - should be enough time to do those things too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The best laid plans...

I lectured last night at Ottawa U, sooo cool. A really great Evolutionary Psychology class. Engaged students are always more fun. I was pretty impressed with the professor. At the first of the semester she emailed the Theology department looking for someone who could talk about the relationship between evolution and religion. Her concern was that the students only work with a Darwinian assumption and she wanted them to know there were other approaches to this questions of human origins. We exchanged some emails and my not being a young earth Creationist probably helped. I was able to talk about some of the ways that Evangelicals deal with the issue - and why these are internally coherent comprehensive worldviews. And then spoke about the resources within sacramental traditions to approach it differently. I probably came off hard against the Fundamentalist positions, I tend to favour a sacramental approach. Once I laid out a grounding of these worldviews we discussed some of the theories of religion. Everything from religion as a survival trait in our species to religion as a commitment to an intelligibility and directionality in the universe. Is religion just a way of appeasing our fears of the unknown, or is it something that gives us the resources to stand before the unknown? As with any academic work, the goal is not to end up with a definitive answer, but to get the possibilities out on the table. I think we did a good job of that.

Now today I'm supposed to get up, buy some new shoes (I killed my feet last night!) and after class scoot off to Montreal. But Chelsea, my youngest, woke up with a fever. Looks like I'm home for the day. I might make the end of my class. So much for my well thought out plans.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sensory Service Presentation Sneak Peek

I have this slide show embedded into my powerpoint presentation for Concordia (Friday). The photographers were so generous. In the powerpoint I also have a credit slide so here are the credits: Becomingfriendship, with permission; Adam Walker Cleaveland,, with permission; Steve Collins (Small Ritual), with permission; Eric Coomer (thewellgathering), with permission; Jordan Cooper, with permission; Lars Hammar, Creative Commons; Martin Kelley & C. Wess Daniels, with permission; Cheryl Lawry,, with permission; Alan Rathe (Arathe), with permission; Robin (Robinsan), Creative Commons; Robert Terrell (ratterrell), Creative Commons. Thanks again! Enjoy the sneak peek. I'll send out a final paper to those who asked, just waiting on Prof. Susan Roll's feedback.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pros and Cons of Saint Paul University

I've been asked to speak to the 3rd and 4th year undergrad students tomorrow. A number of profs are talking about what career opportunities await them as well as the potential for grad studies in the various faculties. I'm one of two PhD students to speak with them - I'm the anglophone. So what shall I tell them? Here are the pros and cons - I'll probably be more direct here than there.

  • PRO + Saint Paul is a wonderfully ecumenical environment. Seriously I couldn't imagine a richer environment to study. The school may have Roman Catholic roots, but it is so much more. In addition to Anglican and Eastern Orthodox departments (official) I count Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Mainline Protestants, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, non-descript Spiritual folk and Buddhists amongst my dialogue partners at Saint Paul. What is cool is that there is a strong mutual respect and a willingness for each of us to bring our whole selves to the conversations.

  • CON - Saint Paul is known as a Roman Catholic school. Worse as a radical liberal school. This is really not a fair assessment, but I know too many evangelicals paranoid of Saint Paul.

  • PRO + Degrees are jointly conferred with Ottawa U. At least the civil degrees, which are the ones you want if you are not Roman Catholic.

  • PRO + The Library!!!!! Saint Paul has the holy grail of theological libraries. It is amazing. And it is not a lending library (I have a card that lets me in 24/7!) you are not wasting your time going there to find a book!

  • CON - Funding sucks. Actually the Research Services department is not very good. I can't remember the last time I was notified of possible money that I remotely qualified for - and I had at least three useless emails today. But this is a well known problem and complaints are in.

  • PRO + Tuition is quite reasonable. Heck parking is very affordable too. If you keep your marks up the faculty is quite generous too. I basically had a tuition free Masters! And I haven't had to pay for this whole first year of my PhD. And when I do it is soooo much lower than the other universities in Ottawa.

  • PRO + The professors are amazing. I've been there ten years and taken a lot of courses (being a pastor I'm not very mobile) and in all that time I've had only two professors who were duds. And one of them everyone else seems to love??? So what do I know. Some shining examples are Walter Vogels (Semiotics), Ken Melchin (Ethics), Heather Eaton (Spirituality) and James Pambrun (Systematics).

  • CON - Technologically the school is still in the stone ages. We finally have WiFi in the student lounge. I've been pushing for WiFi for at least 8 years now. I'm really hoping they get a signal in the library next and that they boost the bandwidth. Also they recently outfitted several of the main classrooms with fixed data projectors!

  • CON - No gym. Well, there is a gym. But it is in an old part of the building and because it only has one exit, by firecode we cannot use it. Not that I am sports oriented but all study and no exercise makes for one fat pastor!

  • PRO + Small classes. In my masters I had two classes that were turned into reading courses because there were only two students. Even in my undergrad the classes were so nice and interactive. Plus where else do you share coffee with the prof at break?

  • PRO + Pool table. Yeah. I have cue and balls in my locker too. We even invented a perfectly scalable game called Whirly!

Well you get the picture. I do love it there and yet there is always room for improvement. I'd like to see the comprehensive exams structured differently but I'm not going to look that gift horse too closely in the mouth.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


One of the innovations that I argue as part of the emerging church is a multiplication of sacraments. By this I am drawing on Gibbs and Bolger's idea of transforming secular space. I would actually contest the notion of secular space as many evangelicals use it - being space that has no sacred purpose. But that comes out of my conviction that all space is intrinsically sacred. It might be better to speak of sacralized and unsacralized space - meaning that space can be permitted a sacrametal reality through our use. I hesitate to say that our use is the only way this can occur, but rather that one way the space is sacralized is through our use. But is the term sacrament the right one here?

The notion that I put forward is that some emerging church proponents are actually turning worship innovations into sacraments. Should sacraments have a special understanding? Should they be restricted to initiation and covenantial rites? Or should they be a rich tapestry of activities which express our relationality to the divine? I think the term sacramentals might give an alternate answer that will really be helpful.

I would affirm that there is something special in sacrament. Sacrament makes present a reality that has tremendous religious potential. Through sacrament we encounter the transcendent Other. It is a helpful term. However, Lombard realized that as a term it meant something specific but did not name the exact rite that enacted the sacrament. In fact there are many variations on the rites that we call sacraments. So he used the term sacramentals to catch the actions. And it implies something of the sacrament character while at the same time allowing sacrament to have a privileged place in our ecclesial vocabulary.

Now I would argue that there are a rich variety of sacramentals. That is actions in which the transformation or sacralization of space occurs. This could be as traditional as sprinkling holy water to as untraditional as creating spontaneous art as an act of worship.

Just something I've been thinking about.

March Break

But not for me. This week is going to be a challenge. If I didn't have so much lined up the following week I'd be tempted to take some of it off and just go hang with my kids. If I'm not around much this week, you know why.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vivid Dreams and Catching Sleep

I have been having trouble sleeping ever since pulling a really late night to finish my project for Concordia. Now I'm actually going to leave after class Thursday so that I can take in the whole conference. Gonna stay with Matte and Dean! I love those guys. So I'm kinda excited about all that. Which is distracting. I managed to get a bit of research time in but Elyssa has been home sick this week (next week is March break so more kid time) and being over tired to begin with - I'm a bit of a mess.

No March break for me BTW - actually it is the opposite. When the kids are home they need attention. In fact I've been interrupted about 3 times already since I started this post! I enjoy my kids, don't get me wrong. I'm just trying to get a little break before I start in on lunch.

Currently I'm researching John Wimber's thoughts on worship to try and get insight into his liturgical spirituality (think worship spirituality, but I'm hoping to get a wholistic picture, not just about music but the whole service). John spoke a lot about worship as a lifestyle but what I'm interested for this paper is specifically his thoughts on the Christian worship service (liturgy). I'm going to review video footage next. My feeling is that there are a lot of stories that we just pass down, the hagiography of Wimber so to speak. I have to root my paper in John's own words not the anecdotes. Carol tells of the problem the best when she talks about a word God gave her and says John always talked about this as the night God gave him that word. (The Way in is the Way On, p.107) It is awesome to finally be doing some work directly on my own denomination.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Writing Less Than You Know

We had a guest speaker today in our PhD seminar. She made this interesting comment about writing, that you never really write everything you can about a subject. Boy an I feeling that trying to put this paper together for Concordia. I started out with about 8 sections and now I have 4! Not for lack of material. In fact one night I wrote a section out and then realized it was good, but didn't really help me make the points I chose to champion. So delete! Yup it is painful writing. Especially when you agonize over a paragraph and you know it is solid - but it just isn't the right one for that paper. I remember hammering away at my introduction doing my masters thesis, at one point my director looked at me and said, this is actually a good introductory paragraph but I don't think it is the introductory paragraph for this paper. If I had had hair! But she was right.

The thing is that doing the writing isn't wasted. I actually discover a lot in the writing process. Sometimes it isn't until you see a couple ideas on paper that you realize they connect well or do not connect at all. Sometimes I can get to that in conversations with friends - but not too many of my friends like theology as much as I do! Even my wife has learned to say when she's just not interested in a subject. So writing becomes that venue where the ideas can emerge and take form.

Sometimes I write too speculatively. I recently did this with a friend, I had to get the ideas out but they were not baked well and unfortunately it turned hurtful. But despite the painfulness I learned a lot from the conversation. Too bad I wasn't very pastoral in how I handled it. But I think the friendship is strong enough to recover, I hope anyway cause it is someone I love a lot. But I think I also recognize that I've done this in the past a lot - it is part of who I am I think. I like to push the boundaries and get hard questions out into the open. Maybe I like that too much. Maybe that is why I feel so led into academia - because that is what is expected there. But then again I've found some academics who can't bear big questions too.

I should update the disclaimer for this blog. I know that I already warn folks about the eclectic nature of this place. Yes I am an evangelical and yes I play dungeons and dragons and yes I collect stamps and yes I love weird music. But what I don't warn you about is that this is the place of half-baked ideas. I write stream of consciousness here. I just blurt it all out so that I can see my ideas. From time to time I do post a paper I've written. I think the style is quite evidently different. I hope it is. So buyer beware - you are entering the mind of Frank aka PoMoRev. I make no guarantees that I am right on anything here. And I make no guarantees that I am wrong either! I'm trowing up what is spinning around in my noodle, giving you all a chance to dig in and hopefully together we'll get some inkling about the life we have been gifted in this universe.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

What is the Church?

I've been having a difficult conversation with a friend and I mentioned the inconsistencies of the Church, his response was that the Church isn't inconsistent but the people who represent the Church are. That got me thinking. What is it that we think the Church is?

First off there is really no Church (Catholic/Universal/Transcendent) but there are traditions, lots of traditions. And each of them has distinctives that set it apart as well as ideas rooted in a consistent whole. There is some degree of similarity in doctrines, practices, values and structures. However, it would be hard to say that any of that is consistent. And this extends even within the tradition itself. Even traditions that hold a romantic notion of historical preservation cannot square that with the historical reality. But really that isn't the argument.

The argument is that the Church is something transcendent, immutable and unchangeable. In modern terms this is an assertion that the Church is an Ideal. But how does that stack with reality?

Part of the problem is that Church has an institutional reality. We could simply say that the Church is the people, period. And while our answer must never separate the notion of Church from the lived reality a Ecclesia, or the people called together, to miss the structural reality of Church as institution is to deny an aspect that is also a lived reality. Where we can challenge this idea is how we understand the institutional character of Church.

One common way that the Church is over Idealized (in its institutional form) is by conflating it with the Kingdom of God. If we say the Church is the Kingdom then we cannot permit anything but that it is a perfect institution - albeit imperfectly realized. But there is no real scriptural basis for such an assertion. A Kingdom implies the expressed reign of a monarch. The Church, as institution, hardly appeals, with any consistency, to the King in matters of structure. Rather the Church as institution has modeled governance on existing patterns in other, often dominant, communities. To the point where most modern churches value a democratic approach to governance. This is hardly consistent structurally, even within a single tradition. There is definitely a relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church, but it is that the Church is called into existence by and for the Kingdom of God. In this sense the Church is the servant of the Kingdom, which allows us to acknowledge the human aspect of Church.

A larger issue with conflation is that if the Church becomes the transcendent ideal of the Christian hope - where does that leave the King? Much as many Protestants have made the Bible their idol, elevating it as the ideal, other Christians have made the Church their idol, elevating it as ideal. If the Church itself is untouchable and already perfect then why do we need anything else? This was the problem Jesus faced with the Jewish authorities - they had structures that gave them confidence and so had missed the heart of their religion - they no longer needed God. I think we should be wary of any assertion that salvation is secured through anything other than the work of Christ through Jesus' death and resurrection. If we learn anything from the First Testament it is that we love the surity of idols.

Does this mean though that the Church is necessarily inconsistent? I wouldn't assert that it is by necessity inconsistent, but that in reality it is inconsistent, and in every way we can imagine that word. But that shouldn't disrupt our faith and confidence in the Church as a profound work of God in and for the world. I would draw our attention to the idea of unity. If there is a consistent longing in Jesus' instructions for the Church it is unity.

Unity is not the same thing as uniformity. Uniformity is actually a form of oppression. Unity, on the other hand, is a form of community with diversity. Even if you have peaceful uniformity you cut off modes of expression. You impoverish the whole. And you do not have real community. Unity never requires consistency, nor does community for that matter. What is required is a desire to be something together that is great than is ever possible when we are alone. This is worth thinking through because it is counter-intuitive to the structures of society - many of which, as we already mentioned, are translated into the structure of the Church.

Unity also doesn't imply a soft-relativism. Unity requires the difficult task of working through difference to a better understanding. Unity only functions when we respect a high ideal of authenticity but reject the notion that we can ever escape our context and that context, those things that we respond uniquely and authentically too, can and should be challenged. Tradition, including structures can and should be challenged. And doing so is how we move towards a better vision of society and community. This must include such dominant structures as the Church. If we somehow exempt the Church from this, then our hopes for real unity will always be dashed.

I say this because as a theologian who has had influence in my denomination on structure - this is the serious consideration to be taken. When we build structures and traditions, we need to recognize that it is, and has always been, us who have created them. We do so to honour God. And we believe that God helps us in creating structures that touch the world in the contexts we build them. But the institution is always a human creation. And so we can always do it better.

That doesn't mean we ditch tradition, nor do we shatter the institutions. These are the historical building blocks of a true future. But when we rest on these structures, we run the risk of becoming captive to our ideals instead of letting ideals grow to meet the challenges of the future.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One More Book...

I'm working on a paper that I will be presenting in Montreal at the end of the month. It is interesting that there is always one more book I could have to make my bibliography zing! I went looking for that one more book yesterday, only to come up dry. I think it was Jim West who said that of the buying of books, there is no end. It is so true, whoever said it! But the bigger problem, and it is the demon I wrestle with every paper, is my tendency to go broad instead of deep. I love expanding the edges of any research project. I went into the stacks for just one book, the other day at the library, and returned with an armload. I quickly devoured these books and actually found a few things that help - but it is that staying with one idea and going deep that I have to put most of my energies on. My director says, if you are enjoying the writing, then you are not writing well, you are just having a good time writing. I enjoy the overall process a lot more than I do the actual activity - at least these days.

Speaking of books, I am getting impatient with waiting for the books I ordered for my comprehensive exams. I managed to find all of them through Amazon's partner used book stores! Well all except vol. 2. of Principle of Hope. This Friday I am presenting the list to our doctoral seminar. Not for their approval or even feedback at this point - the list was submitted from my committee to the faculty already. But this is the new progress reports that we are now doing monthly - it's kinda clunky to have them so often. I have to produce a two page report, but I'm thinking it will be a half page and my list (in small type!). The small mercy is that Saint Paul's philosophy on comps is not to make you responsible for massive reading lists (sorry Kenny) but for a few foundational texts on each theme. I think my largest theme is Hope Theology which is still less than 1000 pages! But it includes Moltmann, Bloch, Metz, Volf and others. I started with a list (one just this theme) as long as my arm! It was hard work to pare it down and decide just what would really let me get at that theme. I also ended up ditching a lot of the books I knew. It is not that I won't read broader - but for the comps I am responsible for precisely the texts on my list in relation to the theme that they are part of. Knowing my committee - less books is not going to make this any easier. But I'm thankful that I will still have some semblance of a summer this year!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sexual Reality Check!

Ben posted a link to this great article on sex-positive evangelicals. Sex as a topic has come up quite a bit recently. Rob posted a challenge regarding pastoral talk about sex and money. The usual odd conversations have turned to this often avoided topic. And I've even recently been talking with a friend about a new ministry addressing human trafficking and the sex-slave industry.

The temptation is to jump into this with both feet. But Amanda Marcotte makes some excellent points - we have to consider out agenda. I agree with her that is our renewed interest in sex has an ulterior motive, and especially one we are willing to BS about, then we need to think twice about opening up the sex-talk conversation. Seriously, sex is not another tool in the arsenal of evangelism! Sex should be sacramental - making it instrumental simply further detracts from anything we've tried to say about the nature of marriage. Seriously.

There is a reality of frankness about sexuality that I do think we need to navigate. It is not easy to talk about sex in ways that we would not consider. But how much of that discomfort is because we have somehow internalized a warped understanding of sexuality. I'm not proposing that we should introduce the sex-talk into our ecclesial experience, far from it. In fact to address Rob's challenge, I'd rather never talk about money from the pulpit either! (That's not going to win me friends, doh!) But it does need to become a part of our community dialogue. We have to be able to walk through a very confusing minefield of sexual possibilities, and we have to have a good theology of sexuality to do this well. Hence, my insistence that sexuality should be sacramental.

I'd love to interact with your thoughts on Marcotte's piece. I think she makes some very good points.