Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mean People Suck

And Fred Phelps surely ranks among the meanest. I am once again reminded of the depravity of his sect as they took to protesting the Comic-Con in San Diego last Thursday. What is frustrating is that this kind of ass-ianity is actually not too far from the attitudes of many actual Christians who somehow haven't had their inhibitions lobotomized out of them like Phelps and his family (literally). While it is often covered up with a rhetoric of "love", far too many who claim the name of Christian act far too unChrist-like in this world. Persecuting, bullying and vilifying anyone who dares to be different than their expected norms is common place. To do it in the name of God is blasphemous.

Who would Jesus have at his table? Seriously. Do Christians even read their Bibles anymore? As our lectional reading for Thursday stated - Jesus even included those who would betray him amongst his apostles??? So how do we get from that kind of Jesus to one that would endorse a message of hate - implicit or explicit? It is too big a leap. Watch the video on the link - I love the guy dressed as Jesus' explanation. "Fred has issues." Unfortunately so do many of us. And the only way forward is to start saying no to hate. Why? Cause mean people suck.

Friday, October 29, 2010


I'm in the midst of preparing a short course on Christian spirituality for the university. I loaned out the primary go to texts for such a course - which turns out to be a great thing as I've pulled a few unusual suspects from my shelves to read. One that I've had for a while is Michael Downey's Understanding Christian Spirituality. What a great little book! Downey is clear and the text moves along nicely. The guidelines for developing the course were to stay within the parameters of David Perrin's Studying Christian Spirituality, which is also a great undergrad level book on the subject. I just finished reading that one. But I've also pulled down books on spirituality from evangelical, feminist, liturgical, liberationist, and historical perspectives. A lot of this I've read before - but it has been great to refresh my relationship with each of these books. I've been thinking a lot about the problem of defining spirituality. Downey does a great job of showing how we get to our very broad and often religion-phobic definitions of spirituality. But I seem to think that we are looking for new referents to spirituality. One of the exercises I plan on doing with my students is to have them write out how they would define spirituality at the beginning of the course - and then to revisit this at the end and see what, if anything, has shifted. I'd love to hear how you define spirituality too. I wonder what things you want to make spirituality refer to in your definition? Is it your religious tradition or your experiences? Is it historical forms or perhaps a perceived horizon of meaning that you value? If nothing else - it is worth reflecting on.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sad News at my University

This week I attended the funeral for one of my professors, John Kevin Coyle. We knew him as Kevin, he taught Church history and the PhD seminar in my first year (among other courses in the Theology department). He used to always call me Francis, and coming from him it felt like a term of endearment so I never complained. He always seemed happy and content (never anxious or impatient), even the Friday before his passing we chatted in the hall and he seemed like he'd had a long week and was looking forward to the weekend. I do not think anyone knew it would be his last.

Two things will always stick with me about Kevin, both come from my first experience with him in the undergrad programme taking his Early Church History course. Prof. Coyle had given us free range to find topic for our research papers. As a neo-Pentecostal and a bit of a trouble maker I thought I'd look at the role of the prophet in the early church. When I presented the topic he got me to follow him into his office and there dug out a single article on the decline of the ecstatic prophet in the early church. He told me that I needed to interact with this article - and he was right. I was struck by how he knew exactly where to point me so that I could actually move beyond my preconceptions about the early church. It was a brilliant move on his part - I'm not sure if he realized how that would foster a hunger in me to dig as far beyond my preconceptions as possible. It also taught me the joy of research - and this has served me well throughout my academic work.

The second thing I will always remember is seeing Kevin in the library with a stack of student essays - diligently bringing books out of the stacks to check the work. This was a common sight for me in my ten years at Saint Paul, Prof. Coyle in the library with a stack of research papers. This was a man who cared about academic excellence. To be honest it also scared the crap out of me, I knew that any mark I got from him would be what I deserved. Kevin set a high standard for me to follow - I hope I do his memory proud.

I am going to miss our chats in the halls. Prof. Coyle was a fixture at Saint Paul, always around in the "rarified air" (as he would call it) of the third floor. It is not going to be the same without him.

[In the picture Kevin is the second person from the left, wearing his trademark jeans no doubt.]

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What's It All About?

The Christian faith isn’t about getting to heaven. It isn’t all about the church. It isn’t all about the individual spiritual life or “personal relationship with God.” It is about all of these things, but they aren’t the whole point, or even the main point. The main point is God’s saving love for creation, God’s faithfulness to all of creation, God’s ongoing mission of healing a world torn by human injustice so that it can fulfill God’s original dream. It is about God’s kingdom coming to earth, it is about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
Brian McLaren from the Introduction to The Justice Project(2009).

Friday, October 08, 2010

Rathbone... for kids!

Rathbone is the name of a land I created for a Dungeons and Dragons adventure. It has been around for quite a while, we started in 2E, moved to 3.5E, and am currently running an adult game in 4E, but on the other side of the globe. I've been trying to couple my love of gaming with the interest my very creative daughter has shown in playing the game. In fact she's sat in on some adult games with us to try it out. But I wanted something for her. So tonight we started a new campaign in the land of Rathbone called the Faerie Champions.

We are using the 4E rules (with a few house rules) cause it is simple enough for kids. In fact, it was the one adult (I'll explain the makeup of the group in a sec) who took the most time performing actions. The kids need a bit of help, but once they get started they do come up with creative solutions. And I'm trying to make at least equal time for role playing in this one.

I had a few dads in mind, my idea was father-child pairs. And I wanted to keep the numbers down (sorry Richard). Both of the other kids are around Elyssa's age, one girl and one boy. Both of their dads play in one of my adult games, so one of them is actually familiar with the land of Rathbone. So we have a party of five characters, an ideal number, and I had the adults play characters that will compliment the party, keeping the kids free to play whatever they wanted.

We ended up with two strikers (ranger and sorcerer) and one of each controller (wizard), leader (cleric), and defender(fighter). I made cards for my daughter and the other girl - I highly recommend using power cards. And we spent a lot of time making my daughter's character just the way she wanted - including an orange dragonling familiar (I painted a pseudodragon orange and her mini has one on its shoulder already). I was pretty excited when she solved the problem of where they were by having the dragonling fly above the tree tops to help direct them.

Because I am encouraging role playing, I decided to keep track of role playing experience. I was going to give according to each person's contribution, but thought better of it and gave them all whatever the best result was. I will explain this to them, so that they will be encouraged to do as much acting and problem solving as fighting.

The faerie champions theme gives them each a free minor power - gossamer wings that can't lift much more than their body weight, pixie dust that can be used to gain a turn of veritable invisibility, or the ability to become a small woodland creature (my daughter's half-elf sorcerer can become a chipmunk!). The only other house rule is to only allow the original magic missile.

I had the party come together in a faerie grove, fight a few spiders and talk with some sprites. It was lots of fun. We allotted only an hour and a half for the game - which I think was enough - as the kids tend to lose focus after about an hour. The two girls were off to see the rats we are sitting during the last half hour, we kept having to call them back when it was their turns.

All in all it should be fun, and a great way to spend some time with my girl.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Church People and Kingdom People

“Church people think about how to get people into the church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world.”

Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Question....Can evangelism include...

I want to push the last post a bit. I wonder what folks who read this blog consider to be the contours of evangelism.

So, for instance, I would include calling people to live faithful to their religious convictions part of the project of evangelism. I know that is controversial because Christianity has been seen so often as a dominating religion. While I definitely would, and do, engage in apologetic discussions about the specifics of various religions (I think it is healthy for us to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of all our religions), I have come to abhor evangelism that begins with the arrogant assumption that "I am right and you are wrong and I have nothing to learn from you." Evangelism that is just a battle about who's ideology is best has little to do with the gospel, in my opinion. But I am also committed to the notion that we are all growing towards better understandings of God's heart for us.

So how about you? What would you include in your understanding of evangelism?

Individual or Society - Having Cake That You Eat

I am trying to work through the notion of tension, that is holding two seemingly opposed ideas/views as mutually true, as a help for the problem of individual and social sin. Typically evangelicals have a high value on the belief that individuals need redemption from their sins. That they are in need of salvation that at the very least removes the guilt over personal sinfulness and in the very best cases calls the individual to move towards a more just (that is less sinful) way of living. What this focus has led to is the belief that societal problems are ultimately addressed by individual conversions to Christianity. While there is something profoundly true about conversion opening up the possibility of a more morally beautiful way of living - it is not evidently true that every Christian convert chooses to move away from sin and sinful patterns.

On the other side there are schools of thought that want to locate sin entirely in social contexts. That is sinfulness is injustice that affects us all. While this also is true, movements towards a more just society - especially those without explicit Christian roots - are often viewed with suspicion by evangelicals who feel such an emphasis undermines the goal of individual religious conversion. The evangelical vision of a more just world then is a world with more Christians. This seems inescapable for an evangelical theology, but is it?

Certainly it is true that individuals need to change for society to become less sin-filled. And it is equally true that individuals often participate in patterns of sinfulness that exceed their own culpability - what is often called structural sin. Therefore, can it not also be true that society needs to change for society to become less sin-filled? I am convinced that it is so. And this is the classic problem for evangelical theologies of social engagement - how and when do we participate in social movements?

I think tension, holding both individual and social sin as in need of attention, is a helpful way forward. It keeps us from the fundamentalist trap of exclusively focusing on the individual, as if the individual is all that God is concerned for. And it also keeps us from the classically liberal trap of minimizing the need for individual salvation. Tension is also an apt term in that tension seldom leaves us settled, and I think that to default on either side leaves us settled in ways that hinder the move towards justice and righteousness.

If we reconcile the tension in the need for individual conversion as the primary and only means of social transformation then we can easily care little about other measures of this project. This is a classic evangelical problem. When evangelism becomes our ultimate concern we can even develop responses to injustice that amount to little more than hypocrisy, such as engaging in eco-justice as a means of having a better witness amongst the growing public awareness of our current ecological disaster. (I think we need to shift our view from converting individuals to Christianity, to converting them to a particular view of the Kingdom. But that is beyond the scope of this post.)

If we reconcile the other way, that social movements are the primary and only means of social transformation then we can easily miss the individual's role in all of this. Evangelicals, like Carl Henry, bemoaned the insufficiency of the social gospel to promote individual conversion. Indeed the social gospel, as a good example of a social reconciliation of this tension, sets out to build the Kingdom through social projects. While these are definitely necessary - it cannot be ignored that social structures are ultimately populated by people. So we risk the Augustinian crisis of doing the good we think we know, yet making matters worse in our doing. What is needed is a conversion at the individual level - towards justice and righteousness - that awakens us to the need for conversion at a societal level towards the same goals.