Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Toward a Theology of Marriage - Part II

What does God think about marriage?

I know right off the bat that this is a charged statement. Folks use the God card to support their ideas of marriage and invalidate the ideas that other folks have. Usually they do this by using a selective reading of scripture to support what they consider to be normative realities, omit the stuff that doesn't fit so well and say this is what God thinks. I'm going to try not doing that. I don't find it helpful.

The reality is that scripture approaches marriage in a number of different ways. So when some religious groups claim scriptural support for polygamy, they are right. But that doesn't mean polygamy is an acceptable norm in a particular social context. And it definitely does not support any form of polygamy that is abusive or oppressive. It just does not preclude it as a biblically identified construction of a family. I think that the scriptures, more often than not, are identifying culturally normative notions of family and offering deeper wisdom than what is an acceptable form of family and what is not. (For instance, I don't believe that any biblical text came out of a context that could imagine a same-sex family - which is why same-sex families are never mentioned in scripture. This neither endorses or dismisses such notions of family, we need to look for deeper criteria by which to evaluate possible configurations of family within particular cultural contexts.)

So if form isn't the main point, then what is?

I think a better case can be made for the biblical presentation of what a Godly relationship should be like. Through such an argument we can begin to assess notions of family (monogamous mixed-gender, monogamous same-gender, polygamous matriarchal/patriarchal/communal, etc.). That is we can develop criteria by which we can ask of a family unit - does this unit, within this cultural context, exhibit these values? By this we can get close to what we might say that God thinks about marriage, and separate that from what we think should be the normative form(s) of family in our culture.

So I've shifted from defining marriage to understanding relationship, in particular what we might say is God's view on relationships. I want to make a disclaimer that will help here. We can't really say definitively what God's view is, what we can do is interpret the texts and experiences of communities who have passed on revelation to us. This comes through scripture, tradition and experience. And it is always a mediated transmission meaning that the ones who had the revelation translated it to the transmission form and then we interpret the transmission we receive. This does not mean there is no correspondence between revelation and interpretation - but it does mean we need to approach it with critical rigor. We see but through a glass dimly, but at the same time God has not left God's self without a witness. We have to trust that the Spirit is faithful to lead us in our pursuit of truth - and guard against the surety that short circuits the role of the Spirit in this process. Some think this takes away our confidence, I think this opens up a need for trust in God - faith if you will. It also humbles us as we go forward.

So what does scripture say about relationships?

We'll go here next.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toward a Theology of Marriage - Part I

I have been thinking a lot about marriage lately. As many of you know celebrating marriage ceremonies is seen as a privilege of religious communities, but I'm concerned with the disconnect between marriage and religious practice. I want to spend a few posts exploring this topic.

First we need to understand the term marriage. You won't hear me talking in terms of traditional definitions - because those tend to beg the question: traditional to what? Plus there is a movement that is really about excluding homosexuals from marriage that claim the term traditional but really mean what has come to be the normative experience in North American society (although I think those notions are internally challenged in ways these groups do not care to admit and they often ignore the emerging normative experiences of marriage). Actually I am more interested in a functional definition and from that seeing what, if anything, a religion like Christianity can bring to marriage.

We could start with the assumption that marriage is the foundation of the family unit. Let's leave aside that society has often given up on this as a reality. But if we think about family units they consist of people bonding together to form a corporate whole that is more than the individuals on their own. This includes some sort of commitment as well as expectations. This would seem to jive with the civil notions of marriage. These notions are codified by the state in order to allow for legal ramifications if the marriage contract is violated or dissolved. I happen to thing this is good, even though it can be expressed poorly in society.

Where the notion of a contract is helpful is when such a bonding (marriage) leads to internal growth (offspring, adoption, integration). It ensures, civilly, that the least capable of fending for themselves are protected in the event of such a contract breaking down. I like that safety feature because I love my kids and would want them to be protected no matter what. Also as a pastor I've seen how adults, in the midst of marital breakdown, can behave like real jerks - it is painful all around. So that is something that is important to me. But this civil union is more about how we navigate society and not necessarily a religious reality.

So what about religion? Is marriage just some leftover sacrament that is no longer necessary? Here is where we need a theology of marriage. We need to know what God thinks (as best we can know the mind of God) of marriage. We need to know where God is made present in marriage and where God can be edged out of the picture. I'll turn to this next.

But first - do you think marriage is fundamentally a contract? if not why? Also do you think that marriage is the fundamental building block of the family?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I Am 5 - Very Unsatisfied with the Service

Ok, time to rant. Nowadays it seems that every service or purchase (over say $20!) comes with a phone call. "Hello Mr. Emmen-yule. Can you answer a few short questions about your satisfaction with..." OK. so at first this seemed cute. A few companies seeming to care enough to check up on you, make sure you were treated right. But slowly these calls have taken over as the primary source of telephone spam. I've had enough.

Here is the deal, if I don't like the service, I'll simply not be back. Yeah. I don't lodge complaints (very often, you really have to screw me over) it is not my nature. So really this kind of survey is about the only feedback you will get unless you suddenly realize I've stopped paying for your services. I freely admit that this seems like the only way to get feedback from folks like me - the worst customers. However, the constant surveys, to me, is just as bad as some idiot salesperson treating me like crap.

It is mostly the predictable nature of these calls that annoys me. It is most impersonal. "Can you rate your experience on a scale of one to five, five being very satisfied and ..." AAARRRRRGGGGHHHH! Come on. You want me to quantify my satisfaction? I might respond better to a friendly, "are you happy with our service?", that opened up a conversation if I was not. At least then I could say "yup" and hang up instead of wasting my time trying to quantify my level of satisfaction with something I probably wasn't paying that kind of attention to. Life people, I have one.

So, I am 5 - very unsatisfied with this stupid phone call. You interrupted my day for this? Come on. I want to retort, "how would you like it if I called you up in the middle of your stupid phone calls and asked how you were satisfied with your last cold call, on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being very unsatisfied and 5 being very satisfied?" But I actually have a better plan.

I'm opting out. No more. I am saying no.

I cant help wondering if this is just a make-work project? If it really is a way of curing bad customer service then the cure is worse than the cause. I don't doubt that some companies use this data to evaluate their service representatives. But when, and this has happened several times now, the service representative asks you to rate then all 1's or 5's (whatever is better) on the impending survey then they are defeating the purpose of the survey. I'm not a jerk, I won't rate them poorly because they asked. But I'm just going to opt out altogether.

End of rant.

Please rate your satisfaction with this blog post in the comments below.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Rise of the Disciplinary Society 1-2

With many, many apologies for the long delay.

The way that Taylor reads history is really interesting to me. Section 1 of this chapter begins to describe the displacements Taylor wants to track and then by Section 2 he has dove right in. This looking at how ideas become distinct and eventually part ways is a Hegelian tactic that is part of other works that I've read from Taylor. I'm sure Kenny will comment on this, he is the resident historian, but I want to shift our attention to something I really enjoyed in this reading - attitudes.

The attitudes that Taylor flags have far reaching influence. In fact we feel them still today. These attitudes are directed towards the poor, society and nature. They allow us to view these things in particular ways. In fact what he shows is that there is a marked difference in the way 15th century folk viewed the poor, for instance, and folks in the 16th century would see them. These attitudes evolve, but in a way that builds in a specific direction.

In the evolution of the attitude towards nature we see the breakdown of the Thomistic medieval synthesis. How we go from an idea of nature intrinsically connected with our ideas of the divine to a basically notion of utility. We end up with a nature that we can exploit because it has lost its divine significance. But it is more than this, it is that nature becomes something we must assert control over. Nature becomes the enemy (p.101). I think that attitude is what makes it hard to animate sufficient ecological response (I don't find stewardship compelling or sufficient). But it also identifies a root of our love of consumerism. What is life about? It isn't about a quest for the holy grail, the plumbing of divine mystery - but it is now about control, management and the mitigation of fear.

This is similar to the attitude towards society, or civility as Taylor puts it. Taylor insightfully identifies this need to combat nature with civility as the root of the pervasive notion that social transformation is only truly accomplished through religious conversion, and that true religious conversion effects social change. I have a particular frustration with this attitude. While I value religious conversion (I am an evangelical after all) I don't see that it is sufficient or even the tool for social transformation. The reason is that evangelicals are good at compelling religious conversion and yet are often deeply complicit in systemic injustice. There are lots of reasons for this, but I think that attitude, that is the expectations that are attributed towards religious civility, is at the root.

Looking forward to your thoughts!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thesis Proposal In The Bag!

After some back and forth with the committee and my director, my proposal was accepted! I will present on April 9th, 9AM. The presentation is more of a formality, there is no evaluation but more of a chance for the whole faculty (profs and PhD students) to comment on my work. I'm looking forward to this. But overall what I'm feeling is relief.

I actually had the results last Friday. But it has taken me this long just to recover. And I still have a long list of neglected tasks. This is the Lenten season after all. I will resume my participation in A Secular Age reading/blogging, expect something Thursday. Also I've got to start planning out two papers for May and two seminars for the Vineyard National Gathering in July (even though at this point it is not in the budget - I'm trusting God to provide a way if we are supposed to be there). And various Freedom tasks to do with kinships, mentoring and our book club.

On top of that I'm about ready to make some paper mache terrain for the custom scenario I will run at CanGames in May. I'm making two sets of interlocking valley walls (4 pieces in total) to block off a gauntlet path the players will have to run. I've got enough sketched out to run trials so the terrain is the next piece. I bought some rock casts too, which when painted will look really great. I'll post pictures when it is all together. I also have to do some work on both of the D&D campaigns I'm running. One group is almost at the end of my material and I have one more major quest for them before the final battle. Once that is over I'm going to suggest moving to version 4.0 and starting again 300 years in the future with all new quests and adventures. My current 4.0 game is just starting the 5th level of a dungeon crawl, so I need to start work on the 6th level (already have it mapped). But 4E goes together so much easier than any other version I've worked with.

That's enough to keep me busy for a while.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

More About the Way I Work

I sent a full thesis proposal to my director today. Late, but maybe we can squeak it in. Basically it will depend on how much my committee wants to adjust it. Due to a number of personal reasons I ended up trying to do way too much work in way too little time. I'm not usually that bad. If I remember right my Master's thesis was a day early! I do tend to work well under pressure too, but some projects are way to big to do in a short amount of time. And even now thinking about my proposal I can identify at least three places that could use a couple hours more work.

Time to take a bit of a look at what I can improve on for the next project.

First, I have a bad habit of jumping the gun. I will be doing research and then feel like it has all fallen into place - so I start writing and realize it just isn't cooked enough. At this point I'm committed to writing, I've read about half the material and so I'm toggling back and forth between research and writing and my writing shows that it isn't my main focus.

Second, I am not the best at planning out paragraphs. If you remember my previous post on writing like Jazz, I am getting better at that. But my stream of consciousness does tend to leap across ideas quickly. But the best way to fix that problem is to carefully plan out my paragraphs. I am good at mapping out the material and organizing it at a high level, but planning a paragraph is not a skill I've ever developed.

Third, I am not guarding my academic work time well enough. Being a husband, father, and pastor can be very demanding at times. This one is harder for me to tackle.


I'm open to other suggestions but I think I know the way forward on a lot of these issues.

First, I need to plan my research process better. I need to map out the material I am going to be responsible for with each chapter. Completely read that material before I start writing. Jot down ideas in a separate note book. I think it will also help to have set deliverables all through the project. This will help me track my progress and keep on task. Thesis writing is lonely work.

Second, when I get to the writing stage I need to go back to the writing technique I used in consulting. Start with a high level outline of the chapter/paper. Write one sentence for each level as to what I will cover in that section. Next outline each section, one point per paragraph. Then write one sentence that is the one idea that paragraph will communicate. Then stick to the outline! This technique is helpful. Whenever you can't write one sentence then you have too many ideas in that section/paragraph. It seems quite AR, but I know from when I took the time to do it that it does work well.

Third, I think I need to establish working hours. If I get funding, I definitely need to rent a studio at the library. Other than that I'm not sure what to do. It is too easy for other things to take precedence over the reading and writing that I need to do. I just need to be on guard better.

BTW I now have a second academic paper accepted - this time for the AAR regionals! May is going to be a crazy busy month.

Monday, March 08, 2010

USA Go Home!

Did that get your attention? This really pisses me off. I get that the US is a paranoid nation, and that their politics thrives on this Straussian fear factor. But as a Canadian I want no part of it. Consistently the US embassies around the world are the most fortified. But this is Canada people. What are they afraid of? I'm not about to waste my maple syrup lobbing it at your windows. Heck if we so much as glanced the wrong way at your ugly building you can bet we'd profusely apologize - we are Canadians. I digress. I get that in the post-9/11 fear exploitation you decided to enlarge your boundaries. (Would it have hurt to have asked?) But now you not only expect to keep the lanes you have appropriated - you want us to pick up the lions share of the tab to make it look a bit less shitty? Come on. If you don't feel safe here then build something somewhere we don't have to look at it, build huge prison walls with guards for all I care. Uh but do it with your own money. Seriously. If that doesn't suit you - go home. It is not like you are very far away anyway.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Lot Up In The Air

This has been a brutal start of the month. First I feel like apologizing, I am the hold up on the A Secular Age reading group. I just have too many things on the go. We also had a relationship go south on us, which has been hard on the whole family. I am happy this hasn't happened very often for us, but when it does it hurts. I think we are starting to get settled again. But I'm also missing deadlines, which is not like me. I was supposed to have my thesis proposal in to my director on Monday. I pushed it to Tuesday and handed something in Friday. My director has also been sick this past week. It is not the end of the world if I have to defer to September, but it is frustrating. A big part of the frustration is that I did not guard my time properly. The thesis proposal is a huge piece of work. One of the areas that I was hoping to critique is evangelical social engagement proposals - but the more I research the more really good ones I find. Where the deficit is is amongst the popular writings and that is much harder to get at and justify writing a thesis on. Hence, it is way more work than if my initial critique held up across the board. And to compound this frustration, I am delighted to find that evangelicals do some fine theology, but having studied in a Catholic institution for so long I am just now discovering it. I have been ordering books like crazy, reading and realizing the richness I've been missing. Now I have to sort out a whole theological culture and my assumptions about that culture. What this means is I will have my head down for a while yet.

Some good news. I am presenting two focused interaction groups at the Vineyard National Gathering this summer - one the fire Ladd lit for Wimber and the other on Post-modern Hermeneutics. I'm also presenting at Congress 2010 (Montreal) for CETA (Canadian Evangelical Theological Association) on evangelicals, language and consensus. And I'm running a custom gauntlet style scenario at CanGames this year - going to start working on the terrain soon.