Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poverty? Greed?

Plato once claimed that poverty is not a decrease in our possessions, but an increase in our greed. As a middle class (have) individual this has a strong ring of truth to it. It speaks to the endless fascination with material success that is so prevalent in Western society. Yet, this statement also alerts me to a need for distinction with the term poverty. While I agree that our greed impoverishes us - poverty has many roots and causes. And the kind of poverty that is caused by greed is, in my opinion, more of a spiritual poverty than a material poverty.

This spiritual poverty is not necessarily synonymous with the inability to provide sustenance for ones family. Nor  is it always indicative of an inability to "catch a break" socially that will allow your most basic needs to be met. The difference between spiritual and material poverty seems to describe the gulf between the haves and have nots - where the have nots often face destructive material poverty their concerns are grounded in the reality of putting food on the table not on having too little equity to buy a second car for purely convenience sake. Perhaps this is why I so appreciate the epistemological privilege that  Liberation Theology offers to the poor? Indeed the real remedy for spiritual impoverishment must lie in the path of solidarity with the truly poor - that is the materially poor. In fact, dare I say, one can only climb out of spiritual poverty with the help of the materially poor - because the greed that offers only spiritual poverty can never be sated, and can never offer us freedom.

Food for thought.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Theory of Religion

In the Winter semester I will be exploring the world of religions with a new class. I have some students signing up from my previous classes which has to look good to the admin! It is going to be challenging both for me and the students. I've done this sort of work as an undergrad but my grad work has all been struggling with an inside conversation - specifically focused on the nitty gritty world of evangelicals. In this course we will be trying to develop an outside perspective on a plurality of religions - putting aside our own commitments.

Yet, at the same time I want to find the place for our own commitments to come into the conversation. So the first class will have to introduce the idea of navigating conversations about world religions from a perspective of humility, expectation, and desire to bring out the best in others (and even to have the best brought out of our own religious commitment!)

My director often says that the problem with a lot of contemporary theology is that it lacks a good theory of religion. Where I think she is right is that we often think that what we practice is not religion but is somehow above the religious conversation, it has a privileged place. What is disturbing is that we all do it - Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.  We all talk about religion in essentially two modes: world religions as a phenomenon and our religion as the only reasonable and reliable faith. Where this gets tricky is that in one sense I believe this should be why we stick with our own religious commitment - why would you adhere to a religion that you don't completely buy into? If you do you will at best only follow the bits of it that are comfortable. Religion, at its best, cannot function this way.

But the other extreme - our way the only way - is what makes religions function at their worst.

This coming semester we will be seeking to find the balance. A good theory of religion. A humble approach to the other. And a desire to be the best of our religious heritage. Sound like a challenge? I think so.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Did you Miss Me?

Ok. Semester is almost done. It is all over but the exam marking. Yikes. At least now I know what I am in for.

Needless to say I learned a lot this semester.

There are things I'm going to do differently if I run Intro to Theology again (which I hope I get that opportunity to do). For one thing I'd add a textbook. Yup, you heard right. I'd add a textbook that covered the historical stuff I want to cover. My brief romp through the history of Christian thought was all too quick and if I was supplementing a text reading then I could be more focused on a few key thinkers instead of a broad swathe.

What I wouldn't change much is my Christian Spirituality course. I really liked the way it came together and the way the students engaged with the lectures. Sure I'd tune it a bit here and there, but I think it is a good solid foundation to the study of spiritualities and Christian spiritualities in particular. Those students have a take home exam which comes in Friday after next. Hopefully I'll have all the Intro exams marked so I can focus on those at that time.

I've already started my course prep for next semester. I'm doing Religion, Culture and Diversity which is a second year course. This one is going to be challenging as it is not a course on a specific religion, in fact it is a religion studies course at heart. I will focus on North American religions and in particular those that are purposeful in spreading their ideas/beliefs beyond their cultural settings (Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism) but more because I need to set some limits on the material. The course will be broken into three parts:

1) Theory of Religion - this will have lots of case studies and class discussions.
2) Culture - this will be a brief section on cultural anthropology with a focus on the role of religious imagination in culture.
3) Diversity - this last section will focus on the diverse ways that religions speak into issues of contemporary importance, primarily ecological issues but I'm going to branch out from there. Again, lots of case studies and class discussions.

It should be a fun course.

OK, in the meanwhile I am around. But this time I won't promise to be back blogging. I'm behind still on lots of life stuff. But I'm confident that I'll find a rhythm soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading Week

What a crazy run this has been. I'm more than halfway through my courses and still loving it. But it has kept me so busy that I have been struggling to have enough time with my family let alone blogging and all the other hobby activities I engage in. I really hope that I get to teach either of these courses again, a second run through will see me so much more prepared. But I'm not sure it would be that much less work.

Marking is not something I liked when I was teaching IT. It was definitely easier to mark something if it is definitely right or wrong - but essays don't work that way. Especially when you are dealing with some highly abstract concepts at times. Most of my students (that I have evaluated) are doing quite well with the tasks and responding very well to my feedback on completed assignments. That is most satisfying. I am still committed to the idea that a big role for me in the Intro to Theology class is to give students tools with which to approach their whole time at Saint Paul University. Strangely enough though, I actually like the process of marking. I have taken the wise advice of others and built a grid for each different assignment - and after reading the paper and making comments I simply walk through the grid and end up with a grade. This ensures that the results are fair and, hopefully, consistent. It also prevents me from taking off a tonne of marks for repeated mistakes.

I was hoping to have several lectures prepared in advance - not the reality. I do have them all roughly mapped out - but each week I am constructing two sets of power point slides as well as two sets of lecture notes. The strategy of using slides to guide the conversation is helpful - it also means that my slides do not need to convey real content. Sometimes an image will suffice for a 20 minute conversation. It is the notes that really needs a lot of work. I use word and drop in mini images of the slides that the lecture section references. I've found that 12-18 pages is enough in the Intro to Theology class where students interact less and 10-14 pages is usually more than enough in the Christian Spirituality where the conversations can really take off. Took me a few weeks to get that sense for how much material will fit into the lecture based on how much interaction I can expect from the class. Interaction is a big variable - I have tonnes of experience timing out talking head material. I should say that my notes are far from detailed - lots of points. Really they keep me from getting off track - sometimes I do that especially when students start asking great questions.

This week, being reading week, is a chance to catch up on all the little tasks I've forgotten as well as prepare my final lectures. I commented to a student that I don't know who is learning more - it is an incredibly enriching experience teaching. You have to be on your toes the whole time (mentally exhausting) and ready for anything. One student even commented, out of the blue, that he could not imagine me without my goatee. That really can throw you when you are expecting a serious question. I shaved it down to my soul patch chin hawk before the next class (mostly for my wife who prefers that look)  and shocked him when he came in. Aside from being on your toes for mostly serious questions - I am learning the boundaries of my knowledge. Fortunately, I've long moved past the need to know everything and always have an answer. I'm good at thinking on my feet, but I also think I know when to defer things until I've had a chance to look into it further.

I hope to be blogging a bit more this week.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Tight Squeeze

Last night Sharon commented that she thought my working would afford us more time together. In fact it feels like we are both still running on opposite schedules. She's getting home just as I need to leave, and vice versa. Last night I was feeling overwhelmed with the need to have today's lecture completed. I was home alone with the kids in the evening and only had notes for half of it (although I really knew what I wanted to cover, the thing is writing it out helps solidify and organize things for me, and it helps me know if my slides and board word work will do the trick). I started getting angry with the kids, much to my shame. After supper they seemed to settle into a tv show and I thought I could sneak down and crank out a few more pages. Not long into it though Chelsea came down to tell me she has homework and needs help. It was an overwhelming moment, I sort of panicked and wanted to write a nasty letter to her teacher (selfish I know). I called my loving wife and she started sharing her own frustrations about being so busy at work that she hadn't been able to eat her meal. That was like a punch in the gut actually. I knew I couldn't write a letter - that was just me taking out my frustration on my family. So I actually took a few minutes to calm down and went to find Chelsea (she went off to play frustrated that she was going to have to drag her math book (who still uses math books???) back tomorrow night to do her homework then). I apologized for my poor behaviour, explained the circumstance and helped her figure out how to do her homework. She was just a bit stuck, so I unstuck her and she was off to the races.  I did get to work a bit on my notes while she did the questions she could - but after that I came up and helped her think through the last one. Then she decided to stay up and draw while I did my workout (another stress was that I hadn't gotten to that yet!) then I spent time putting her to bed. After that I realized that Elyssa needed me too - so we spent time with Buttercup Sprinkles (our new hamster) and she told me a long story about hamster facts she is reading. At this point I was no longer worried about my notes. But funny enough, after Elyssa was down I was able to finish most of my notes before Sharon got home. I did end up staying up late - but that is not such a bad price to pay for time with my kids. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Journey Conference is this Weekend!



I knew taking on two courses would be a lot of work - but two courses and planning a conference - yikes! I am so excited (and glad) that our Journey of the Universe film premiere and conference is this weekend. Registration is really healthy and all of the last minute details are coming together. We have a great line-up of presenters on the Saturday, with the whole emphasis being on the implications of this film. Executive Producer Mary Evelyn Tucker is our keynote speaker and will be with us throughout the conference. I've seen the film already and it is very well done. I am actually really impressed that even though it is carefully not anchored in any religious or spiritual tradition - the film provides ample opportunity for people of faith to find themselves in this story. It is true to Thomas Berry's idea that religions can't offer us the solutions we need, but neither can a solution come that does not include religions. The task for those of us who are devout people of faith and take this cosmology seriously is to find the ways in which our stories are found in the great story of the Universe (or as I like to think of it, the really big picture of how truly amazing Creation is when we stop thinking Creation is just about our planet). In many ways this is the inevitable end of the Copernican revolution - we may assent to a non-geocentric cosmology, but we still often get caught up in our anthropocentrism.

Here is the line up:

Opening comments: Dr. Karlijn Demasure, Dean, Faculty of Human Sciences (Saint Paul University)
Keynote address: Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker

Two sets of two concurrent panels:

Panel A: One Earth: Many Religions
  • Heather Eaton (Ph.D.) Saint Paul University: Christianity 
  • Iman Ibrahim (MA International Affairs): Islam 
  • James Miller (Ph.D.) Queen’s University: Daoism 
  • Noel Salmond (Ph.D.) Carleton University: Hinduism and Buddhism 
  • Moderator: Frank Emanuel (yours truly) 
Panel B: Natural Sciences 
  • Simon Appolloni (Ph.D. cand.) University of Toronto 
  • William David, Senior Policy Analyst, Assembly of First Nations 
  • Aaron Gross (Ph.D.) University of San Diego, Religion and Animals 
  • John Stone (Ph.D.) Carleton University, IPCC 
  • Moderator: Jessica Hetherington (Ph.D. cand.) 
Panel C: Spirituality

  • Cindy Gaudet (M.A.) Metis, Moon Lodge Canada 
  • Miriam Martin (Ed.D.) Saint Paul University, Religious Education 
  • Ian Prattis (Ph.D.) Carleton University emeritus, Zen 
  • Anne Taylor (M.P.S.) Kairos Spirituality for Social Justice Centre 
  • Moderator: Kathryn Guindon (M.Sc.) 

Panel D: Social Sciences and Political Action 

  • Tony Clarke, Director Polaris Institute 
  • Joe Gunn, Director Citizens for Public Justice 
  • Elizabeth May MP, Leader, Green Party of Canada 
  • Vern Neufeld Redekop (Ph.D.) Saint Paul University, Conflict Studies 
  • Moderator: Marlene Kelly (gsic), Team member of Kairos Spirituality for Social Justice Centre


Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mourning the Loss of our first Family Pet

Gracie recently celebrated her first year with us. We even baked a hamster friendly cake - honey not sugar and full of the nuts she loved. We had been treating her for an eye infection and she had been quite lethargic as of late. We noticed because she was always so full of life. Even when we were giving her eye drops she never complained or nipped. And she seemed to be pulling through, but yesterday Sharon noticed that she seemed to be getting worse again. She passed away in her sleep, the girls found her in the morning. She looked so peaceful curled up. I found an appropriately sized box which the girls decorated. We all wrote messages for Gracie on the box and placed her in there with lots of shavings, just the way she liked to sleep. We also gave her her salt lick and a wooden heart she had for chewing. I dug a deep hole in the garden (about 2.5 feet) and we spent some time sharing the things we liked most about Gracie, good memories. I loved the way she would crawl all over my arms in the evenings. We capped the burial site with some stones the girls had painted at a vacation bible school they attended this summer. I think they were supposed to make images of Jesus or the cross - but my kids never do what you expect, they had both made pictures of Gracie. So these serve as a fitting reminder of the hamster we loved so much. It is a good opportunity to learn how to grieve together. Hard as that is I think it is an important part of life. Life is fragile. My youngest asked me if I thought Gracie would go to heaven. I asked her if she believed that God loved and cared for all God created. She said she did and I told her that was her answer. I am really aware that what we say about the dead is always for the living - her final words to Gracie were about being happy in heaven. Many, many tears were shed today, and I imagine more will come tonight. Rest in peace Gracie, you will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Settling in at Saint Paul

In exactly one hour I will be standing in front of a bit over 30 students talking about what we will do this semester in Introduction to Theology. I'm pretty excited. Just got situated with all my books and finally connected to the new wifi network at the school. Now to get my blackberry setup on the same WIFI so I can control my slides that way - Vectir rocks. If you are in my course, I'll be seeing you soon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Week One - P90X

OK I am officially one week into the P90X fitness programme. It is indeed intense. All the standard workouts are fine - I'm using bands to simulate pull ups. Even the squats and lunges, which I'm not so good at, are fine. I didn't do YogaX, simply because I needed a recovery day and wanted to do some restorative yoga that day - so I did an hour of yoga with lots of breathing. Plus it is hard for me to think of yoga as just a fitness practice - I like the spiritual aspect and it was often incorporated into my own personal devotions. I did like StretchX today - which is more like my own practice. Just missed the shavasana and praying at the end. I wasn't too fussy about Plyometrics - my heart rate spiked at 216 in that one, had to sit down! And it was the only one that got my heart rate to go too high. Even KenpoX only had me hovering around 145.

Speaking of KenpoX, that was my least favourite workout. I think I would be more comfortable doing that in a class where I can get some guidance on technique. Yoga was better after practicing in a studio for about a year. Those little adjustments start to build muscle memory so you can just feel when something is not quite right. All through KenpoX I was second guessing my moves, and not getting how they were combining all the movements through the body. I need the moves done in slow motion until I know what is going on - then put them into a practice. It isn't martial arts - I used to do Karate as a youth and loved learning kata. But this isn't kata, it is aerobics with intricate (and I bet helpful) moves.

I've lost 4 pounds this week - 4 good pounds because I'm 4 lower than the low end of my usual weight fluctuations. And the pain of the first couple sessions has subsided - I can really feel the work outs but they aren't killing me anymore. In fact my body is starting to feel good! I need to work on sleep and I also need to adjust diet this week. I was hoping to be further into this before school started back up, but better late than never.

Note: this is my before picture, I'll post another at the next fitness test.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Must Be Insane


I started the P90X programme today. Yeah, I still feel the shoulder work out. It actually feels good. I wanted to start this at the first of the month, but Sharon wasn't ready. Seems that after today she still isn't ready but I'm waiting no longer. Tomorrow I do plyometrics - apparently it is pure evil. I'll be doing it on my own too. I'll let you know how it goes, if I just get rid of my belly and am able to resume my regular yoga practice then I'll be happy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Course Prep Continues

I finally have ordered both courses and have begun putting the actual lectures together. I'm hoping to keep two lectures ahead of the class. I have an idea for the Intro to theology class that might be a bit tricky to pull off. I want them to read a short snippet from a theologian doing theology from the framework we will be discussing that day. But I do not want them to know who they are reading until we take the article up in class. I'm probably messing with copyright laws to do that - but we'll see what I can pull off. Perhaps I can find stuff that is useful and I can obtain permission to withhold the credit for a week.

I will want an article for each of the following: Historical (descriptive), Political, Liberationist, Feminist, Hermeneutics, Dogmatics, and Biblical. I've laid out the texts I'm drawing the lectures from, but I would think working with actual theological writing will be very helpful for students. I'm determined to make this course something that will serve these students for their whole academic careers - their first methodology course. Should be fun.

I'm getting excited about this coming semester.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Free Will and the Adjustment Bureau

Not the best film in the world but I felt it was trying to answer a serious question - theodicy. It is trying to explain why so many bad things happen in this world that is supposed to be created by a benevolent and loving God. Or put another way, it is trying to determine the relationship between an interventionist God and human free will. That said it would have been great if they had a theologian help out (if there was one they did a bad job) with the story. What it ends up doing is something I hear a lot from folks when they face trouble or set-backs in life: shouldn't God fix this?

The short answer is always no, and the film does try to go there. But the harder answer is what kind of God are you appealing to? It is a serious and tough question because how you answer it has far reaching implications on our lives of faith. For instance, if you believe that God is never interventionist then what is the purpose of praying? But if you believe God is interventionist (meaning God steps in at will and alters reality) then why does it seem that God only intervenes for rich white Westerners and is oblivious to the poorest of the poor? Conundrums like this are why theologians spend their whole lives on just this problem.

Spoiler Alert: If you want to enjoy the movie you should watch it before reading further - you have been warned.

What kind of God does this movie portray?

This is a God that writes and re-writes "the plan" at will.
This is a God who has angels micro-manage the execution of "the plan".
This is a God who seems to want human free will, but, if Thompson is to be believed, cannot really trust humanity with free will. At least not yet.
This is a God who values reason above emotion.
This is a God who buys into the Enlightenment error that reason alone can give us a perfect society (world).
This is a God swayed by enacted emotion.
This is a God who blames all the evil in the world on free will and all the (so-called) good on God's direct intervention via "the plan".
This is a God who is absent.
This is a God who is male (male angels and God referred to as the Chairman).

I'm not trying to wade through what of this is conflicting, rather what is presented through the film. There may be more you could add, but this gives us a place to start.

Does this sound like the Judeo-Christian God? What is scary is that it sounds a lot like the God that many of my Christian friends understand God to be. They want a God they can blame when things go bad and ignore when things go right. Such a God is about as useless as the Chairman in this film - Matt Damon was right to not respect this God or "his" plan. But in the film the main character is aided and praised for going against God's plan? Worse, to go against this plan for emotional reasons!

So where is God when it hurts? Do we have to fall back on the polarity of interventionist/non-interventionist? supernatural/non-supernatural? I don't think so. But I must admit that sometimes the only answer we get is the one God gives Job - "do you think you could do better?" If the writers of Job were writing this movie they'd be convinced that God wants us to say yes and do it. But that isn't the answer a righteous Job gives. In fact it is not the answer to theodicy any more than to make God some sort of bi-polar cosmic monster.

Personally, I prefer the approach of theologians like Moltmann who find God entering into our pain with us. That approach doesn't mean altering God to fit our expectations - rather it means we meet God as who God is and find the God who not only names our pain but works with us to right the wrongs (Job's tragic tale ends with a righteous Job making right his view of humanity, especially of women.) But that is not the God of the Adjustment Bureau.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Odd Blog Traffic

I just noticed that the top three referring sites this week have names that lead me to think they are pornographic (and spammy) in nature. I'll resist following up on these links, but for all of you who came here looking for penis extensions and naked people - I think you will be disappointed. On the up side you might find something to better occupy your time.

In the meanwhile I leave you with a comic my friend David aka the Naked Pastor did. Feel free to get up and do a little dance to the song in your head. Oh and David is metaphorically naked, in case you think I'm just trying to redirect you to what you came here looking for.

Thanks for dropping by.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why I'm a Lucky Guy

Blessed is probably a better word for it. However you put it, I have a lot to be thankful for. This shot is of my beautiful wife, taken at the cottage of some amazing friends on a vacation that was so good.

Ok enough boasting. I'm home from holidays now, time to buckle down and finish up some loose ends in terms of writing. Grabbed my missing Spirituality books from Matte in Montreal so I'm all set to tackle course prep. Sharon is taking our kids camping for a few days so I will have a few days to get my bearings.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What is Free about the Gospel?

Driving around I saw a church sign that said: "The gospel is free, you just need to receive it." Clearly free is not a good descriptor here. If it was free then you end up with a universalism which I'm sure is not the intent of the little Baptist church with that sign. So what is free about the gospel?

I actually think the opposite - the gospel is costly.

Not only does it cost receiving it - hardly a passive action. It involves investing your whole life into. Perhaps what bugs me about the free statement is that it promises something it cannot really deliver. What does it mean to receive the gospel? Does it mean some intellectual nod of the head at what God did with little following implications? That hardly fits with any evangelical doctrines of salvation I know about. I'm not advocating a works here - but rather a responsibility. The gospel isn't free, it will demand our whole lives. It is costly.

There is a cost that is paid for - at least in terms of substitutionary atonement - but that is not the part of the gospel that I think we are trying to get at. We are not trying to compare God's cost against ours and say that in comparison what we have to do is pretty much free. I doubt that. In fact if anything the command to take up our own crosses implies that the gospel has the same potential (cost-wise) as it did for Jesus. It could very well demand out lives.

Why do we want it to be stripped of this cost? Do we think that a costly gospel is less appealing? Maybe we sugar coat the gospel and tell people lies like "God has a wonderful plan for your life" in order to con them into the Kingdom. It doesn't work. A costless gospel is not a gospel at all. It is a fatalism, an easy believism, that is not good news at all. What I mean by this is that it is not good news because it has no ability to do anything in the world except lull individuals into a false sense of security. If the gospel is really good news it has to be good news for the whole of creation, anything less undersells God and turns the gospel into a farce.

I think we should drop the lame slogans and return to a costly gospel. That pearl of great price that once you find you are willing to give up everything for. A free gospel is really only worth the price you paid for it - nothing. I have a hard time believing that Jesus would be willing to lay down his life for something so meaningless as a so-called free gospel.

I think the only sense in which we might be able to talk about a free gospel is in terms of money - but even there the gospel makes huge demands on us. Sure I can offer it to you without charging you money. But what I'm offering, when I present the gospel, really demands your everything. And you can bet that will impact your pocketbook at some point. The gospel is costly. I'm actually quite ok with that. Only a costly gospel is worthy of the God who is willing to risk everything for us.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Wedding Prep

I'm not doing this one, but I am playing at it. My license does not extend beyond Ontario, but my half-aunt Sharon is a Lutheran minister down there. My niece Alex is getting married. I am going to be playing a couple songs in the service though. They wanted something to come down the aisle to and something to go back on. I chose two songs: I'm Yours (Jason Mraz) which is a great song with odd lyrics and Dancing through the Minefields (Andrew Peterson) which was suggested by my buddy Poulsen. I'm actually thinking of doing Dancing for them coming up - but I'll have to work out the timings for how long the walk is. I'm Yours is easy to vamp over so I'll just wing it as they leave. Probably do the two straighter verses and the chorus a few times (extended and simple). Should work fine.

When I started putting this together it made me realize how little I've been playing guitar. But the fingers are hardening up again.

Always busy. Kids are out of school now so it is catch as catch can to get my thesis work done. I need to start prepping classes too. I had loaned out a pile of spirituality books to my buddy Matte in Montreal, I'll have those back soon. Those are mostly the masters level books. I plan on doing quite a bit of reading over the next little while. I'll try to post as I go along though.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Course Prep

Slow start today, but time for a quick post. I just submitted my required and recommended texts for both Fall courses.

For Introduction to Theology I chose:
  • Stone, Howard & Duke, James, How to Think Theologically (Fortress, 1996)
  • Ormerod, Neil, Introducing Contemporary Theologies (Orbis, 1997)
  • Recommended: Moltmann, Jürgen, Experiences in Theology (Fortress, 2000)
My focus in this course will be methodology. I'm also starting to line up speakers who will come in for up to 30 minutes and share how they do theology within their area of specialty.

For Christian Spirituality I chose:
  • David Perrin, Studying Christian Spirituality (Routledge, 2007)
  • Jean Vanier, Becoming Human (Anansi, 1998)
  • Recommended: Ramón Matínez de Pison, God: From Knowing to Experiencing (Novalis, 2009)
This course is really easy to put together. Perrin's book is a great guide for the first part of the course, but for the reconstructive bit I'm turning to Vanier.

I've gathered all the books I need to prep for these courses. August I'll put together the first 4-5 sessions as outlines with PowerPoint slide decks.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Introduction to Theology (THO 2189)

This is a dream come true. I was just asked if I could teach this course in the Fall. Literally a dream because when I was in my second year I took this course from one of my favourite profs, and in a dream one night he gave me his course. Freaky eh. I hope I do justice to the excellent course this was when I took it.

Basically this is a course on how to think theologically. I'm looking into textbooks now, I'm thinking of Stone and Duke (How to Think Theologically) and maybe Soelle's Thinking about God. I have eliminated McGrath's text simply because I need something ecumenical.

This was the course where I discovered Moltmann. Trinity and the Kingdom of God was my first introduction and the start of a deep respect for German political theology that influences almost everything I do theologically. I hope I can use it to introduce others to the amazing theologians that will shape their future work. This is the course where it all begins.

Can you tell I'm stoked?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Congress - Where Were You?

I am becoming increasingly concerned with the lack of new evangelical scholarship at Congress. Congress is a wonderful environment for students and other scholars to share their projects with a wider academic community. It is a place where we can discover new resources, establish key connections and get valuable feedback on our projects. What concerns me is that it seems like such events are no longer a priority for students and professors.

On the student side, there is a need for doing our work amongst our peers. Young scholars can benefit not only from the pool of wisdom at Congress, but from the mere fact of presenting their work to academics outside of their own, sometimes isolated, school experience. In fact sometimes such presentations are the only way we can get the critical distance we need to do our work with academic integrity. Students need to be here.

On the professor side, there is an onus to encourage our students to do the things that will help them develop a career. Attending events like Congress is critically important for developing an academic career. In fact as professors we owe it to our students to suggest excellent papers be submitted to student essay contests. We owe it to them to connect them to research partners and acclimatise them to the academic culture in which they aspire to work. Graduate education is not just about thinking skills - it is about preparing the next generation to encourage the development of our disciplines.

How many of you students ever had a prof tell you how important academic societies are?. How many of you didn't even know Congress was on? How many professors encouraged a student to submit an essay to the contest?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Preparing for Congress

I fly out Saturday for Fredericton. Congress 2011 is on and I'm attending meetings for the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association and the Canadian Theological Society (of which I'm no the exec). I'm not presenting this year so it will be a different experience, usually when I'm presenting I don't really get to enjoy anything until my moment in the sun is over. I hope to run into some old friends (Kenny you coming?) and make a lot of new ones as well. The highlight though will be hanging with fellow Saint Paul grad student Mike Tapper. Mike has arranged for us to stay with friends of his from when he pastored in that area. It will be a real good chance for me to get to know Mike and encourage him in his academic work. I love that Saint Paul is growing in diversity and having solid Methodist scholars like Mike in the mix is exciting.

If you are coming to Congress drop me a note and we can grab a coffee. I fly in Saturday and leave Thursday. That's me on the left - say hi if you see me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Open Letter to Family Radio Worldwide

I felt I wanted to write and open letter to Family Radio Worldwide in light of this weekend's events. I was prompted by visiting their website and seeing the fruit of this fear campaign - the false declaration that the Bible somehow guarantees a May 21st rapture. You don't have to read far into my blog to know what I think of such proclamations, but it struck me that this just might be a redemptive moment for this ministry. Perhaps they will turn their faces to God and leave behind their fears and join with God's redemptive work in this world. I can hope can I not?

=====

Family Radio,

So sorry that you had to experience the pain of failed expectations this past weekend. I can’t imagine how disturbing that could be. Unfortunately the rest of us Christians have had to put up with your scare mongering for a while now, so in a sense there is a sigh of relief that this is finally over and maybe we can get on with what is really important about the life God has given us. Maybe this could be a moment when you not only re-think your website but your whole ministry. It will be a time when I will lend my prayers to seeing your ministry return to the heart of the gospel – which has nothing to do with escaping the world God so loved. Maybe with this behind you God will inspire you to put your hands to the plough and participate in God’s redemptive work amongst the nations – starting with your own communities. This could be just such a redemptive moment for family radio. I would encourage you to take your considerable passion and turn it to praying, reaching out, feeding the poor, loving your enemies, healing the sick and even binding up the broken hearted. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I find that focusing on those things means I don’t have time to get carried away by speculative scenarios and that I’m sure that whenever Jesus does return I will be found labouring in God’s Kingdom work. Isn’t that what you really wanted in the first place?

I would also encourage you to hire Biblical scholars who actually know how to work with the original languages and are not prone to Gnosticism. That might have saved you from this tragedy. It is obvious that your organization has the ear of a decent and readily motivated group of Christians. How about treating them like the worthy daughters and sons of the Kingdom they are and giving them the best you can? How about bringing in a balance of voices into the conversation as well? Let them challenge you from the Word of God so that you might put your hands to tasks that are worthy and not programmes of fear or hate.

I pray that God will surround you as you decide the next steps for your ministry. Much as I was disturbed by the events of this weekend, I wish no ill for any of you. I hope you will find the courage to use the discovery that you were wrong to craft a humble, God-focused new path for your ministry. I pray that God will be glorified as you embrace the plan of redemption that even rescues ministries from the mire and clay.

in Christ,
Frank Emanuel

Friday, May 20, 2011

American Lust for Certainty

Apparently Harold Camping's doomsday cult has become convinced that tomorrow is the date of the supposed rapture. I've already declined the facebook invite to join them, so I guess I'll just remain grounded in reality. Aside from the real sadness that I feel over those foolish enough to believe such drivel - this is not entirely unexpected nor is it without precedent in American history. Camping is part of a long line proclaiming the end is near with specific dates. Always calculated by arcane methods that distort the Bible into something that supposedly can give them absolute unassailable certainty. But really this should only serve to highlight the horrible way many of us evangelicals treat scripture. Sure we might thumb our noses at the arrogance of date predictions, but is that really any different than any of the other ways we fashion Scripture into a weapon to beat back and down the very ones Jesus died for? I for one hate it when we do that.

I plan on being here tomorrow, and the next day, in fact as long as the Lord lets me. As long as the Lord gives me breath I plan on challenging the very idolatry of certainty that creates this madness. I hope that when the disappointed followers of Camping realize that he has once again led them astray with false promises - they might see wake up and decide to really serve God. What I mean is that they would give up serving their idol certainty and let God really be God - the only one who actually knows the day and hour.

Lord have mercy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Value of Family

Monday we were off to the Ontario Regional Vineyard Leader's Retreat. We do this every year and it is often a high point. This year was no exception. But something was quite different. In years past we've had Gary Best and/or another speaker come and share with us. But this year we shared stories from our communities and prayed intensely over each other. I think it was Ed Kolar who said it was like all the after meeting stuff (that is soooo good) done as the main thing. He was right. We loved on each other, encouraged each other, shared each other's pain and struggles, laughed and hugged, prophesied and prayed. It was so refreshing. Our Andrew's comment was that every conversation led to prayer. What an awesome way to spend three days.

To me this underscores the value of denominational families. When they work well, and to me the Vineyard works very well, they are such a great blessing. I always end up leaving denominational meetings feeling more connected to something much bigger and better than what we are doing on our own. And I've never felt anything but encouragement from this family - even when I've taken risks they would not have. I really love my Vineyard family.

We also really felt supported in the decisions we've made recently to put kinships on hold until September. For now I am going to focus on getting my thesis written. I am even hoping to go up to Brad and Mary Culver's homestead to use one of their retreat huts to be alone and write, write, write. Should be awesome to not have any distractions. Not sure how much time I'll be able to pull off, but it is the plan for this summer. Well, one of the plans.

I feel a lot of hope for the future of Freedom. I think that September will have a lot of new avenues open up for us. We needed a good dose of hope like that. Hope grounded in both a prophetic sense of where God is leading us and also in what God has built into us as a leadership team. It feels a lot like we've shaken off some dust and are able to see where we need to go next. (And finishing my thesis is actually a priority to God's plan as well as our church.) In a real sense I can't wait to see what God does in the fall.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger Ate My Post???

Hopefully Blogger will restore my post on Pentecostal myths sometime soon.

I am preparing for a retreat next week - Vineyard pastors from all over Ontario. We do this every year and I'm really happy to be going this year. I wasn't going to be able to with my teaching, but that is the one perk about my course being cancelled. Sharon had decided already she was going to go in my place - so this will be the first time in ages we've gone together. I am hoping that through the prayer we will get a renewed sense of adventure to bring with us into whatever the future has for us and our congregation. My youngest daughter is also coming with us - I think she'll have fun. Her older sister is staying with some amazing friends of ours who have a son in her class. We are also taking our leaders Andrew and Lori. I am hoping that God will re-energize them as well. I am also hoping that God will heal them up so that they can minister in the way they want to (both of them have considerable health challenges).

Pray for us. I'll post something when I get back.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Myths About Pentecostals

Although my course was cancelled (not enough numbers) I thought I'd share a few fun things I learned while prepping it. I'll start with three fun misconceptions about Pentecostalism.

1) Pentecostals are Fundamentalists. I've probably made this generalization myself. But it is completely untrue. Not only did Fundamentalists have a hate on for Pentecostals, their operative eschatology is completely different. At least in terms of Classic Pentecostals, they did adopt a dispensationalist form of premillennialism. But the paradigm was one of restoration and it has a socially optimistic (read revivalistic) orientation. Fundamentalists gravitated to a more pessimistic, Darbyesque version. Fundamentalists were adamant cessationists simply because their view is always one of the world getting worse and worse and threatening the church more and more until the end. Pentecostals saw a church being restored to its place of power and evangelism. They anticipated that this would culminate in a massive revival that would likely be global in dimensions.

Pentecostals also would never take up literalism in the same way as Fundamentalists. Their driving hermeneutic is completely different and their expectation is that the church relies on both Scripture and the Spirit. Contrast this with the Fundamentalists who are holding very modernist claims and relying on the veracity of Scripture as their only proof. Fundamentalist certainty is based on how they construct their argument - evidences that they think demand a verdict. Pentecostals expect more than that - they convince with experience and radical acts of faith. It is wrong to assume Pentecostals are Fundamentalists.

2) Pentecostalism just appears out of nowhere with Azusa. This myth seems to live strongest amongst Pentecostals themselves. The reality is that Pentecostalism is really just the logical progression of the Methodist Holiness theologies that were so popular at that time. Pentecostals articulate their cluster of theologies a bit differently than these Methodist forerunners, for instance tongues was not an evidential aspect of Spirit Baptism for the Holiness groups - but it was a fairly common practice. Pentecostalism is really just a re-configuration of the Holiness movement - and one that has incredible appeal around the world.

3) Pentecostalism is all about ecstatic experiences. This is the thinking behind judgments that Pentecostals are 'holy rollers' or 'Noizerenes'. While ecstatics are definitely a strong part of Pentecostal culture and liturgy - Pentecostalism is actually a readily defined cluster of ideas. This is why, I believe, Pentecostalism has been so adaptive and persuasive. Tongues is not unique enough to define a movement - but theological positions are.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Glaringly Obvious - Once Pointed Out

Just returned from a visit to my academic director. She has read my first chapter. Probably the least painful visit over a piece of my writing yet. That is encouraging. My issues are not with content or overall logic - but rather with the internal logic of paragraphs. Stuff that I was watching for, but as soon as she points out it is painfully obvious that I missed them. I've talked in the past about being an expansive thinker and the problems this has caused for my writing. Seems I have a real knack for introducing new concepts without explaining them - most of them really interesting concepts. The funny thing is that I am quite a bit more coherent in my lecturing style. But some what makes this difference is that I have learned how to bring a lecture back from a tangent (and recognize that I've departed on a tangent). I am not always the most linear of thinkers. Doctoral dissertations are painfully linear.

I am in good shape to fix up these problems next week, my course was cancelled due to low enrollment. That sucks in a way, but it allows me to accomplish more work on my thesis.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Election 2011

What a crazy night. People seem to be glad that we will not have another election for four years, but I can't help thinking that Harper has four years to really screw Canada over. Can you tell I'm less than thrilled at a Conservative majority. I actually worked the election as a Deputy Returning Officer (the only other person than you who can touch your ballot) for Elections Canada, so I was busy counting votes and closing down my ballot when the results were coming in (so I did not hear anything). By the time I got to my car to scoot the counted ballots back to Elections Canada they were already announcing a Conservative majority on the radio. But there were clues this would be a dramatic election. We had a lot of folks come in to register at the poll to vote, in fact the poll I ran had over 75% voter participation (even apart from the new registrants). The other indication was that the majority of the voters were older (lots of senior citizens) and the next largest group was young voters, many of whom were voting for the very first time. The poll I was at is in a fairly stable part of the riding (not a lot of transient voters) so I was hoping this youth vote was indicative of the rest of our polls.

Running the poll was exhausting, but a lot of fun. They gave us bottles of this awesome hand sanitizer (I usually hate this stuff) that smelled like Beecham's Black Cough Drops (I used to eat these like candy as a kid, sooooo yummy. Am I the only one who remembers these?) Well the bottles became the subject of endless jokes between our poll and the one across from us. Great group of people to work with. But a lot of work (especially as the DRO).

The one bright spot was the election of Elizabeth May, the first elected Green Party member of parliament. Give em hell May! Not only do I think May will do an excellent job in parliament, this is a new day for my party. I can't help feeling a tremendous amount of optimism for Greens in the future - when our children are old enough to vote things will change dramatically. And I think Greens will be poised to bring about a lot of those changes.

OK, so now it is back to the grind. I'll try my best to live peacefully with the dark blue shadow that has overtaken our land - at least long enough to do my work and hopefully sow the seeds of a brighter tomorrow.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How not to Campaign

This is the second time I've seen Baird's signs torn down. I was able to snap a picture. Much as I want to see Baird defeated in my riding (and ultimately Harper), I cannot approve of tearing down each others signs. It is almost as bad as the hateful attack ads that Harper's Conservatives have been using. Seriously, this is not the US people.

Now this is more like it - my buddy Richard made me a shirt with this logo on it. How long would I last at a Conservative rally with this bad boy on? Would I even get in? I am appreciating that this current election seems to have motivated folks to reflect and hopefully act! I am also encouraged that the Green party is doing well in several ridings - I really believe we need this important voice in the mix. Frankly I'd like to see even more options enter the fray. I'm hoping for another minority or even a coalition. I want to see politicians govern democratically, not dictatorially. That is what my country is made for (despite the lies Harper spins about our government structures).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Preparation Thursday

Tomorrow is a PD day - which means I will have to keep the kids from messing up all the cleaning I do today to prepare for our annual Good Friday Sensory Service (7PM @ 122 Pinetrail Cres, all are welcome). Click here for a sample of what we've done in the past. This is one of the high points in our communities liturgical year. I am hoping this will not be an exception.

We've had a bit of a turbulent year, both personally and as a community. Last year we celebrated quite a few highs which is always encouraging - but since Christmas there have been quite a few unexpected twists for us. Recently I announced that I would be stepping back from leading kinships (small groups) until at least September. In a sense I feel like this Good Friday we will reflect on the end of one season and prepare our hearts for what comes next. I feel like the contemplation in the garden will have a new significance for us, as well as the reflection on the tomb.

I am hoping to do six stations this year: The Stations of the Cross (hall), the tomb (laundry room), the cross (dining room), the passion (living room), the garden (kitchen), the Eucharist (dining room), and prayer (living room). The tomb is a new one that I'm hoping will work. I am going to blanket off part of our laundry room so that it makes a small closet. I found a website that plays white, pink, and brown noise - I'm hoping that this will allow me to create a sound barrier so that when you go inside this make-shift closet and close the door - you are in the dark of the tomb. I will put a chair in there for those with mobility issues and a small table with aromatic oil (probably oregano). I'm hoping to get the kids to make a huge picture of a stone to cover the outside of the door.

This year I'll be switching out the clay for a cross craft that Sarah put together. I'll leave the mirror intact. She has been good at making little take aways for these services, the belonging book marks from a few years ago were awesome.

If you are free Friday night and want to experience something a little different - please join us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting my Head Around Complicated History

I'm prepping a course for May on Pentecostal/Charismatic movements in the 20th century. The frustrating thing is that I'm not sure I'll get the numbers I need to run it. I need 10 students minimum and am pretty close. The thing is I've spent most of this week intensely preparing for the course and will probably use most of next week doing the same. It is fascinating and all - but if I end up not teaching the course then I basically wasted a lot of time prepping something that isn't going to run. And it is complicated - just getting my head around all the different holiness groups that predate classic Pentecostalism is a job and a half.

I did try to choose something strategic in proposing this course - but I might have had an easier time putting together something I've been researching recently. Over the years I've tried to keep up on Pentecostal scholarship - and there is some good scholarship to keep abreast of - and I do take a particular eschatological focus in my own theology that I owe in part to my own Pentecostal heritage. But it is one thing to read Dayton's Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (for instance, it's one of the many I've been re-reading) for interest and quite another thing to read it to flesh out lecture material.

Hopefully I'll find out soon if the course will go or not. What to take a history course May-June? It is going to be a lot of fun. If I don't then maybe I can pitch the course to another school. Hmmmmmm.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Voting - Green and Proud

I'm thinking a lot about the election this year. It is another chance for us Greens to get some representation. I am convinced, especially talking with young people, that it will be a watershed moment. Even if we just get one in - it will give a sense of legitimacy to the party for those on the fence about voting Green. I keep hearing the tired old - you are going to waste your vote speech, and it is simply untrue. First off, much as I think Harper is a slimy PM - voting to get someone out is irresponsible. We should take democracy much more seriously. Weigh the issues and vote someone in who represents our views. If no one matches - do what I did and join the party you most align with and be party of their policy development. Second, our system might not be proportional representation but it does reward every vote with money to improve the parties chances on the next election. And finally it sends a message - the more votes that your party gains the more people will realize that any party can make it. Heck if the Alliance party can make it (devouring the Conservative party in the process) then why not Greens?

Much as I dislike the idea of Harper anywhere near the Hill - I'm voting Green because I still believe in democracy.

Whoever, you decide to vote for - I encourage you to vote.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Shifting Priorities

It has been a year since I left seminar to write my doctoral thesis. I know that some people take many years to do it, but I need to get it done fast. But a year later and I had not even finished my first chapter. My director kicked my butt a bit and I made some hard decisions.

First I took a sabbatical from the church. I broke the news last night and it seemed to go ok. I know that once the kids get out of school then my time to work will become much more precious. Family has to be a priority - my goal is not just to get a PhD, but to do it and still have my family at the end. Both of those take time and with Sharon working it means that we'll have to keep to a schedule. I also think it will be a good experience for the church. I've been at this for ten years now, without a break. The church needs to see if they want to be church enough to do it without me. My intention is that in September I'll gather whoever wants to come over to my place and pray about what God might want to do next with us. It is also a good chance for those who are struggling with the Vineyard aspect of our church to pray about whether or not they belong in Freedom Vineyard. I am proud of my denomination and so whatever the community that forms around me looks like, it will be in relationship with the Vineyard.

The other thing I have done is cut my gaming in half. I was DMing every week and it was getting to be a bit much. It is fine when I have lots of material to use, but when they start getting through it I can lose up to a day getting the next bit prepared. Richard is going to take over DMing in one of my groups so I will get to play for a change. Best thing about that is I just have to show up with my character (and it will still be at my place).

On the more busy side though - I am prepping my first full course. What a lot of work! I have a literal pile of books to read and I've got slides ready for the first two lectures. Only nine more!

And the best news is that yesterday morning I mailed a complete draft of my first chapter to my director! It was a great feeling, I know now this is doable. I also was able to map out the work ahead of me - which is helpful. Chapter 3 is the only one right now that I have a lot of reading for. I'm going to read Tim Harvie's Ethics of Hope for that one - I'll definitely post a review.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Ubuntu FTW!

What a frustrating day! We've been having a string of things breaking. Our car's tensioner rod broke (as if I know what that is, it has to do with the belt and costs way too much!) One of my kids broke the stair railing, I fixed that already. And I suspect it was also one of the kids that has broken the back of one of our dining room chairs??? This is all on top of Sharon's mom still not healing properly from her hip operation. I wee bit stressful here. Oh and my parents are coming tomorrow so we've been cleaning up a storm - you should see how tidy my office is!

With all of that I was not prepared for today. Actually it started last night. Sharon called me in because the computer would boot just so far into WinXP and then the whole machine would reboot. In safe mode it kept dying on the same .sys file - so I thought I'd just kill that file and see if that helped. Of course I can't find a way to get onto the computer because it will not boot. I found a bootable disk image with all kinds of rescue tools - $10US. An hour or so later I am ready to get the machine up. Only problem is that the files I want to save are all on an NTFS partition. OK so NTFS4DOS to the rescue and I manage to move them to the partition that I know is good. But I still cant get anything off the computer??? I think it was 1:30 when Sharon came down not able to sleep - I was a zombie so I shuffled off to bed.

Soon as I get the kids off I go to work. I have a few IDE drives around, but again NTFS and I realize the xcopy is not doing more than one file at a time - even with wildcards. Thus my backup? Who knows how effective it was. This is when my friend Becky tells me she has a SATA/IDE to USB device I can borrow. It is a pretty cool tool. Too bad neither WinXP nor Win 7 would mount the drives properly. So I need more options.

I was looking at Ubuntu the night before, but thought this could be a lot of time for nothing. I downloaded the .iso for a bootable CD and what do you know - I waste my only 700MB CD-R and about 8 DVD-Rs before giving up. I couldn't get the faulty machine to boot off a USB key, so I formatted an SD card. It was an option. But it wouldn't actually boot from it??? In fact after the first failure the machine refused to boot at all! So I brought the thumb drive into the office, loaded Ubuntu onto my netbook. Plugged in the hard drive with Becky's gadget and managed to copy the church financial records and music database. I even snag mine and Sharon's doc folders! But then the drives crashed and I couldn't remount them??? Oh well, at least I had the most important stuff.

Relieved to get that much I packed everything up and went to make supper. That was my whole day. So much for getting work done on my thesis.

After supper I tried the evil machine again and managed to get Ubuntu up and running. I even have full access to the hard drive! I am letting people check their mail.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Down to Business

I know I've been very slow at posting here lately. In addition to trying to stay on task with my thesis I also have been experiencing a fair number of crises lately. The one most pressing on our family is with my mother-in-law who broke her hip almost a month ago. Three surgeries later and she is doing much better, but it has been a long hard run. Lots of thinking, tears and anxiety have been met with prayers, perseverance and the comforting wishes of friends. But I have accomplished a few things in the meanwhile.

I posted about my struggles with adult ADHD recently and have since managed to see a psychiatrist who seems well versed on the matter. I'm very hopeful that this will work. He also was clear that diet and exercise are critical to dealing with ADHD. Stuff I knew but didn't want to have to deal with. Sugar is your enemy. I decided to leverage Lent and give up candy - which is sort of my thesis writing comfort food. I'm also trying to limit other sources of sugar, but it is not always easy. He wanted me to give up alcohol too, but considering I have maybe a beer a week and the odd glass of wine with a meal I decided to not do that one. But I have managed to get back to the yoga mat more consistently. It is important to take care of yourself when you are doing hard mental work.

So if you don't see me posting all the time you will know why. I hope to return to posting soon, especially as I begin prepping my summer course on Pentecostal/Charismatic movements in the 20th Century.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mourning the Loss of Another Friend

I've been really swamped with stuff in our community and just plain living of life. This week brought some more sad news as an old friend passed away. Brian and I shared a house when I first moved back to Ottawa. He was house sitting and I got to stay when I left Mississauga. Mississauga was a hard time for me and having a safe haven in Ottawa let me get back on my feet again. I loved that we prayed and worshipped together in that house. I know I was a frustrating roommate, pretty naive about a lot of things. Brian letting me stay with him was a real provision from God.

I lost touch with Brian over the years. I would get updates from our mutual friend Joyce. Joyce even arranged the one dinner where Brian met my wife Sharon and I got to meet his wife Cindy. I always felt like I would reconnect with him at some point, but that will not happen now. Brian is leaving behind a wife and three children (the youngest is 7) and there is a funeral tomorrow. If you are the praying type comfort is my heart for his family.

Monday, March 14, 2011

THO 2176: Thinking in Tongues

I now have copies of the Summer evening course schedule for Saint Paul. Despite having my last name misspelled, I am so excited. The course is primarily historical in content. It will begin with the classic Pentecostal movement, looking at its roots and manifestations. Then we will look at the Charismatic movements with a special focus on the Catholic Charismatic movement. Lastly we will look at the neo-pentecostal movements and what I would like to call Pentecostal futures. Pentecostalism is growing and pervasive, it really needs to be examined seriously. I'm excited to have an opportunity to do so with a class this summer. Students and auditors are welcome and you can beat the end of term rush by signing up now with the faculty of theology at Saint Paul University.

HT to James K. A. Smith for the course title - this is the title of his book which is part of the excellent Pentecostal Manifestos series put out by Eerdmans.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Still Foundational

I was asked to speak at Dominion-Chalmers United Church yesterday. They are doing a Thursday noon devotional series for Lent. The question they asked me to speak on was what difference does the call to be a disciple of Jesus make to my ministry/vocation. What a great question. It is very similar to my buddy Mike's recent question about why I felt I needed to be a pastor. Mike is quick to call me on magic words like feeling called, those words really don't get at the heart of what is really being asked. And really, vocational callings, if they are really callings and not simply aspiration, can bear the scrutiny that is required to fulfill them wisely. So I've been thinking of this quite a bit recently. What difference does it make? Why is Jesus so important? And what does it mean to be a disciple? It didn't surprise me that exploring this took me right back to the story of how I ended up on this Christian journey - what evangelicals like to call their testimony.

I don't like telling my testimony. My issue is that I'm a fairly dramatic crisis oriented person (a la William James) so many evangelicals think I have a great testimony. But I get concerned that we evangelicals can fall in love with the dramatic stories and miss that God meets us all uniquely. The worst case is when evangelicals feel compelled to embellish their stories - that makes me sad. Our culture can be quite elitist and does not value the experience of the prodigal's older brother who loved God from early on. I know some of those people and that they are often made to feel quite inadequate in evangelical conversations. So I just stopped. So it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that I shared some of those stories with the DC crowd yesterday. And thankfully it seemed to really hit a good chord with the folks who shared with me after the talk.

The thing that connects for me is that in my story I see a repeated motif. The motif is that I find myself confronted with a choice between a life that is meaningless, merely going through the motions, and a life that makes a difference in the world beyond my self. In one my response has always been to seek escape, but in the other I feel compelled to put my hands to the work that is before me and not look back. And always in my life, at the center of these moments of decision, is the person of Jesus Christ.

Some of that centering on Jesus has to be attributed to growing up in the United Church in Truro, going to Sunday school and, as I discovered later on in life, having people praying over me and my family throughout my whole life. So it shouldn't be surprising, in my case, that Jesus would figure large in the critical decisions of my life. But for me it is not only a sense of Jesus asking me to choose to be a disciple, it also means that in my effort to walk that out I have found it most meaningful when I turn to Jesus as the author and perfecter of my faith.

When I try to center my life around Jesus I find that there are things I naturally want to do. Two in particular form the basis of my vocational choice: community and encouragement.

In terms of community, I don't think I'm particularly good at building community, but I love it. And I love that Jesus continually welcome people to the table. I see in Jesus a passion for community, hanging out with people, engaging in the messiness that is relationship. And even though I'm really an introvert - I crave this enough that I go about creating it wherever I can. So if you ever wondered why I love this so much - blame Jesus. But seriously, this part is the challenge for me. And I still have tonnes to learn about community, but as a vocation it is something I'm ready to devote my life to.

The second is why I have spent so much time, energy and even money, becoming a theologian. I love to see people come alive in their lives. I love to see them connect how their lives can make a difference in this world. I love to encourage people. Now, I'm not a big yes man. I'm particularly hard on spiritualities that are so inward focuses they are merely masking an effort to escape meaninglessness. And part of encouragement is pushing people to be better. I take that seriously. If I were to say what I am called to it would be to help people engage in their spirituality better. And the reason for that is rooted in a lot of things - but probably most significantly in the fact that this is what people who loved me did for me.

When I put Jesus at the center of the second vocational choice I am constantly reminded of how uniquely he treated every situation/person that came across his path. Jesus had an amazing ability to draw people to think about things better. People made radical decisions when Jesus was around. They stepped out and did things that really bugged those who loved the status quo. I aspire to that. It gives me hope that this choice is a good way to imitate Jesus, after all at the core of being a disciple is being more like Jesus.

I'm glad the talk went well. Even traveling in there I thought it could go either way. I took a risk, and am glad it struck a chord. I hope that chord keeps resonating throughout this Lenten season.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Book of the People and People of the Book

As promised I wanted to blog a bit about the sessions I did for Knox Presbyterian here in Ottawa. First off I really enjoyed the engaged conversation we had the last night, what a great group of people. I hope that I was able to stir up a dynamic conversation around our relationship to and with the Bible. I think this is one of the more important areas for contemporary Christians to wrestle with.

My strategy was to spend the first night deconstructing how we understand our relationship with the Bible and then the second night reconstructing it, hopefully with a better understanding of what we desire Scripture to do in our faith and communities and with a better understanding of how we might have placed restraints on the text. Both are needed to make this work, so I was quite happy with the number of folk who took in both sessions.

In terms of deconstruction I went about turning the assumptions we often make about the Bible into the questions we should be asking. So when we assert that the Bible is authoritative we need to ask in what way is the Bible authoritative? These are not natural questions to ask of our primary, as Protestant Christians, symbol. In fact when we look at our feelings we can often find ourselves wanting to defend our claims rather than examine them. This actually shows us how foundational the Bible is to our spirituality and even identity. The fear is that if we begin to dig deeply into those foundations our whole sense of self might come tumbling down. I think in some ways that fear is true. But there is a risk in not doing it - the risk is that we will discover eventually that we might be building on those foundations in ways that actually are not faithful to our claims about the Bible being foundational to our lives and communities. It is not pretty when folks make this realization on their own.

At the end of the first night we left presented two questions to mull over until the second session. First, how does the Bible shape us? Which is the safe question in some ways - but I think it can help reveal the ways in which we resist having our lives shaped by the Bible. And second, how do we shape the Bible? I love the anecdote from Free for All (Conder and Rhodes) about the biblical scholar who is asked to tell a congregation what the Bible says about homosexuality. He sits the Bible on the pulpit and waits. When nothing happens he declares that the Bible doesn't say anything about homosexuality on its own - it needs to be read and reading is an act of interpretation. This is the piece the seems to bug us most - when we challenge the myth that the Bible somehow mediates itself. Which, if this were actually a quality of Scripture, would not result in the vast array of interpretations that Christians hold onto. The hard part about this is to know what we are bringing to the text when we read it. Sometimes we don't even know. Both of these questions are ones we can return to over and over again. But where deconstruction is helpful to reveal the true character of our existing relationship with/to the Bible - the reality is that a spirituality without the Bible really has a tenuous claim to being Christian.

When we are rebuilding our relationship - we need to pay attention to what we expect and desire from a relationship with Scripture. For many of us that encounter with Scripture was the place of encountering the Word behind the word. In fact the way it is described is transformative, and I think that aspect of the relationship is always worth preserving. The genius of the devotional reading of Scripture captures this aspect nicely. While it is not the same thing as Biblical Criticism (or even Bible study for that matter) it serves a valuable function because it insists that the text remain dangerous. By dangerous I am referring to capacity of this encounter with the content of the text as challenging to our own ideas and views. It is exactly the opposite of what is practiced so much in preaching - where the text is used to support our ideas. The devotional reading is meant to confront us, challenge us, and spur us on towards love an good works.

The other problem with devotional readings though is that it is an intuitive process. We often do not reflect on how much we bring to the spiritual practice of devotional reading, so like Augustine, we can find ourselves doing what we think is the right thing but in actuality is not right at all. Think about slavery for instance - both sides of the slavery debate rested on the foundation of the Bible. Today, I'm certain, most of us would hold slavery to be unconscionable. But this is a relatively new development. And what shaped the position for the stakeholders was their presuppositions about the humanity of the people who were being trafficked as slaves. While we cannot know what we don't know - in terms of all our assumptions - we can find help in a second way of relating to the Bible - Biblical study.

Bible study should not be conflated with devotional reading. If we can make this distinction then I think we can ease a lot of the fears about Biblical criticism. We can also insist that more critical Biblical study needs to be in conversation with the devotional reading that animates the community. In our example of slavery it wasn't Biblical study that changed hearts and minds - it was a shift in the assumptions that were being brought to Scripture. But Biblical study can then take up its task in light of both the contemporary situation and the historical witness of text and tradition. Often a process that strengthens our capacity to relate to the Bible in a healthy way.

In our talks we took this conversation one other place. The remaining problem is where this conversation is worked out. I proposed a reflection on the community as the place of interpretation. Certainly we are not all accomplished Biblical Scholars, but some in our communities do possess such skills. What we can do is wrestle together. We can draw on whatever depths there are in our communities - but also with the understandings of those who are interacting with the needs of the community and society. We can foster conversations that challenge us as the people of the Book to live out what we discover in the Book of the people.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Game Summit 2011 - So Good!

I wanted to post this right after the Summit but life took a strange turn. I think it is important that I share a bit about the conference and how it worked so well for our family this year. As I mentioned before Sharon took the kids over on the Friday night while I DMed my regular D&D game. What I didn't expect was that Sharon would be stoked to go back the next morning. She had a great time. Saturday we all went over and played Kinder Bunnies, gave up on a pirate game and played a doodle game with Ken and Aeron. So much fun. Sharon and Chelsea left around 2PM so Elyssa and I ate hot dogs for lunch while playing giant chess! She found her groove painting minis - she is really good - and I played Alien Frontiers with some of my friends. Not a bad game, but a bit on the geeky side. They dug into a version of Powergrid after that but I wanted to do some shopping - both box sets of Killer Bunnies Ultimate Odyssey for $40 (that is six decks and goodies). Sharon came and picked us up a bit after 5PM so she could go snowboarding with our friend Cindy. BTW KB Ultimate Odyssey is not bad.

The next morning Sharon wanted to come again! But she had to work and it was better for her to rest up after a string of very busy days. I took off with the kids for a final day of gaming (and yes I did make my speaking engagement at Knox that night, I'll blog about that soon). The kids started out painting, Chelsea got cut off early as she is fast and not near as meticulous as Elyssa. I jumped into a demo of Small World - such an awesome game. At first the mechanics seem a bit Risk-like (I'm not a big fan of Risk) but way better. And the game is also somewhat friendlier - a person is going to get a new race anyway so it is not as bad when you go after their territories. I thought Elyssa might like this game and with Chelsea playing Carcassonne, Jenga and Guess Who? with a new friend, we had enough time to start a second game. The picture above is from that game. Sunday is also the garage sale, I bought Pipework which is a cute little card game - we have a tonne of these card games and they get a fair bit of play in our house - and Khronos which was $20. Haven't tried it yet, it is too geeky for Sharon.

Now I can't wait until next year. The only complaint I heard was the registration system on-site did not seem secure (credit cards). We had pre-paid so it didn't effect us but one of my tech savvy friends was a bit shocked. I would definitely encourage you to go next year - pre-register so you can pay in cash at the door (or better yer purchase you passes online before the event! Game Summit is definitely worth it. I can definitely see it outgrowing the Nepean Sportsplex.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saddened by the Loss of a Friend

I still am having trouble believing the news, Rob Hall was killed in a tragic accident Monday. I got to know Rob through the regional Vineyard leadership gatherings. He was a leader that many of us highly respected and valued. I was really excited when Rob announced their plans to travel the world with kids in tow. Sounded so amazing, no one expected it would be so costly. Rob leaves behind his wife Kate and three young children. I can't imagine how they are dealing with the situation. They are still in Africa where the accident happened, and Rob died serving people. My prayers will be with Kate and the kids and my heart feels broken for the loss of a friend.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Game Summit this Weekend!

I'm pretty stoked for Game Summit this weekend. I was hoping to actually put something together, maybe run a game or help my daughter run one, but not this time. However, it seems that we might all go over as a family for some of it and try out some new games together. One of the things I love to do with my family is play games - the kids are finally old enough to play fairly complex games, for instance my 8 year old loves Killer Bunnies!

Tomorrow is a PD day, so the kids are off. Game Summit starts in the evening, but I have my regular D&D (Rathbone) game. Sharon might take the girls over though which will be very cool. We are hoping to find something to do Monday too (Family Day), last year we went ice fishing but I don't think that will work this year - too warm.

Sunday night I'm delivering part two of my series on our relationship with Scripture called the Book of the People. The group at Knox Presbyterian were really engaged with the topic two weeks ago, I think we will have a great conversation this Sunday night too. Speaking of Presbyterians, my buddy Wayne is presenting his thesis proposal tomorrow morning. Another one from my seminar is about to launch out into the deep waters of writing a thesis.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Perspective Worth Thinking About

I understand this brave woman was asked to remove this video to retain her good standing with her church (LDS) that makes me sad. I am often frustrated by the ridiculous argument that same-sex marriage will somehow undermine the legitimacy of heterosexual marriage.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cyborgs are Coming

It has been very eventful these last few weeks. The first talk at Knox went quite well and I'm still putting together the second one. Unfortunately though, my mother-in-law took a tumble and is now a cyborg. Having a close family member in the hospital means a lot more organizing. I think every one of us is tired out. In the midst of this there is so much to be grateful for. Sharon's mom actually managed to crawl to a phone with a broken hip! (Yeah I had been after her to wear an alert device already) I gave up on the ADHD treatment about a month ago, the cost wasn't worth the benefits, but am working through some cognitive stuff with a counselor. And despite a few days of unwriting (trimming the extraneous bits from my thesis) I'm making good progress on it - my goal is chapter one by the end of the month! Also our friends' two year old is making a miraculous recovery from a horrible car accident - he's got a long road ahead of him but it has been amazing to hear the reports. And Egypt, holy mackerel. We are going to celebrate with some Egyptian friends this afternoon. Lots to be thankful for.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Upcoming Talks @ Knox Presbyterian

In February I've been asked to come and speak to the congregation of Knox Presbyterian in Ottawa. I will be sharing for two nights, Feb. 6th and 20th, on the relationship we have with scripture. The official title is The Book of the People, which is a shortened from what I was originally thinking: The Book of the People; the People of the Book. The phrase People of the Book comes from my Muslim friends, it is a way I've heard them describe Christians and Jews. But what strikes me about it is that I am convinced that Christians are becoming less and less the People of the Book - meaning that the importance of scripture is waning. It isn't that there are less appeals to scripture, it has to do with the role of scripture in our midst. Scripture is not seen as the authority, but is used to validate authority. What I mean by that is that scripture is used to bolster our pet ideas and make our ideological stances with little regard for the text itself. It is used as a tool. I think this is backwards. Scripture isn't a tool. Scripture is much more dangerous than that. It's authority should come not from our ability to bolster our pet ideas with proof texts (often torn out of context) it should come from scriptures ability to transform our thoughts and actions. Book of the People should not mean that Scripture is at our mercy, but that we should be the people who are shaped by the book. But we do this by relating to the Book - so ironically it never stops being the book of the people (which it always has been - even when it was written it was written as the book of the people) provided that we always remain the people of the book (the people who's identity and orientation are shaped by the Bible).

Join us, I'll spend the first night talking about what has happened that has shaped our relationship to scripture as it is today. The second night I want to look at at least two strategies that folks are using to challenge the form our relationship with text has taken. Those two are a return to text as story and a return to the notion of communities of interpretation. These are not the only strategies, but they open up hope for new shapes of our relationship with scripture.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Game Summit!

Game Summit 2011

Last year I took my daughter and her friend for a whole day of gaming. So much fun. My daughter even won a copy of Monopoly City. This is a very friendly atmosphere, which is different for a gaming conference. Consider hanging out with us this Family Day Weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

HP Lovecraft

I recently gave a very brief review of my pick for book of the year. Of course I had to pick an unusual suspect cause this year I've been jazzing on Cthulu Mythos by the creator himself - Howard Phillips Lovecraft. HP died 30 years before I made my entrance onto the stage called life, but his work really resonates with me. First of all he writes horror when horror wasn't about slashers and gore and gross out factor. Rather, HP writes in layers, layers of "I don't dare continue the story ... but I must!" It is, as I said at Julies blog, delicious. I think the reason it resonates so strongly with me is that as a theologian I have the inquisitive nature of the academics in Lovecraft's novels and I traffic in the world of mystery, depth and even the unthinkable things that keep me up at night. I know the drive of not being able to let go of an idea even if it challenged the very foundations of the beliefs I hold so dear.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Longing for Middle Ground

I've been thinking a lot lately about how easy it is to polarize issues. A recent blog post over at the Ontario ThoughtWorks blog has sparked a conversation regarding the content of one of our courses. I had to admit that the course was not one I'd investigated much - I know the couple that developed it and appreciate them greatly. For me the thing that comes out strongly is that I really believe there can be a middle ground - a place where a variety of approaches and views and actually sharpen each other and bring out the best in each other. So I'm reticent to speak ill of any contribution that seems to be bearing good fruit - and even to struggle to find the fruit that its participants claim to see.

My buddy Mike came over and we were talking along similar lines. To paraphrase one of his observations, it is easy to employ cynicism to tear apart views we dislike, but harder to find out what it is in those views that is compelling. For me the compelling aspect is much more interesting than whether a view is right or wrong - and I am less and less convinced that right and wrong exist outside of contextual realities. Sorta like when Scot McKnight says that God's wisdom led God to inspire misogynistic scriptural texts - it is equally plausible that this is mere cultural capitulation and not a product of God's inspiration at all. (See Blue Parakeet, p.157.) But then we get into the whole debate about different views of inspiration and fall into that same trap of needing the one right thing instead of living in the tension of a reality that is much more messy than black and white will ever convey. What is compelling to me is why McKnight wants to frame it the way he does - and I think that has something to do with the way he understands tradition.

The reality is that sometimes the fruit isn't worth the cost. At some point that needs to be faced - but I think it can only humbly be reached when both sides are fairly heard. And I think that good methods and views can be horribly used - so having the high ground in a debate does not imply responsible application. Life gets pretty messy - which I why I long for the middle ground, the radical middle as some have called it. I know it is not always a realistic position - but it is where I feel the conversation needs to rest at least long enough for the polarized positions to be shaped by the other views.