Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Song for Bloggers

Among other things, 2006 may go down as the year of the blogger. At least for me. This whole internet thing took new shape with the prevalence of the weblog. It makes for a decent portal where one can meet with others and get some thoughts out there. Even if no one reads your stuff, there is something about making it available that gives a (false?) sense of importance to it all. Frankly, I've enjoyed the blog as a place to try some writing and to open the odd conversation. Its a good place to keep informal contact with friends and acquaintances far and wide. While the inbox fills up with emails begging a thoughtful response, the blog is a place to say hello and make a thoughtless quip and basically keep in touch.

It is all fairly artificial though. I mean, there is no replacement for people in the flesh and dialogue that includes voice inflections, facial gestures and tone. Somehow emoticons don't cut the mustard. Of course, some relationships are separated by distance and so technology is all you have for most of the year. But long distance relationships aren't enough.

I have to admit that in a time of transition and moving around this year I have probably sought an unhealthy amount of solace in internet comradery. That's fine. I don't plan on shutting this stuff out of my life altogether. But I confess I have had a couple stints where I've been almost addicted. One could have worse addictions I suppose. At least this one thinly masquerades as an addiction to old friends!

Nonetheless, I find some humorous truth in the lyrics by Joel Plaskett to a song called Lyin' On A Beach. I think it came out in 2005, but I'm going to go ahead and call it 2006's song of the year. Here's an exerpt:

Somebody introduce me
To a member of the club
I think that they confused me
With some other rub-a-dub-a-dub

I should be working on my manners
But I’m working on my website
All you star-spangled scanners
Trying to photocopy moonlight

Staring at the computer screen
Feeling so alone and obscene
Getting restlessGetting randy
Getting mean

Somebody check my pulse
Slap me in the face
Show me what I’m made of
Get me out of this place

It’s like a weird technological dream
Watching buddies turn into machines
We never get our hands dirty
But paradise is never this clean

Lying on a beach in the sun
Don’t want to get burned to a crisp
You want something to remember me by
You can save it on a floppy disk

So longFarewell
You can kiss my @#& goodbye
If I don’t jump ship right now
I’ll never figure out how to fly

Funny song. Anyway, happy blogging everyone, and thanks for reading! Keep in touch in 2007!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I've Solved the Worship Problem

For decades a war has been waging over what to do with church worship. Do we sing hymns or choruses or both? Do we sing the contemporary top 40 or the timeless classics? Do we try to give everyone in our congregation something to sing to or do we cater to a "target group"?

How do we have corporate worship that is meaningful and inspiring for everyone? How do make sure that everyone gets something out of the church worship? How do bring people together for an experience of God that will be authentic and which will speak to them, when our congregations are full of so many different people at so many different walks of life who see things so incredibly differently? How do we worship in the same room?

I've figured it out. I've solved the problem. I am going to be the UN peacekeeping force for the worship wars. Want to know my solution?

iPods.

iPods for everyone.

You come in to church, you are greeted by an usher, and you are given an iPod to use for the morning.

And when the cue is given everyone puts on their headphones and scrolls through the playlist for the worship songs of their choice.

Each iPod will be full of contemporary hits, golden oldies, 70s camp choruses, Vineyard choruses, Redman, Third Day, Ira Sankey, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Shout to the Lord kids, heck, even some U2--it'll all be there. Just choose what YOU want and worship more authentically than you ever thought possible. You will be sure to get something out of the worship every week. You will never have to sit through a song you don't like or understand again.

Feel free to raise your arms, dance, kneel, bow on the floor, stand or sit. If you like you can opt for the blindfold apparatus as well, so that there is no bashfulness or distraction.

Isn't it about time church was a place for YOU to worship again? Isn't it about time they sang your favourite song again--you know, the good one, not like all that drivel they keep pumping out week after week?

Isn't it time that corporate worship was something you could feel good about again?

Isn't it time someone thought of YOU for a change?

iPods, Headphones, and optional blindfolds: the secret to revival for church worship, and the end of our worship wars.

Why didn't anyone think of this sooner?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What Happened At Bethelehem?

Here at seminary there has been the odd murmuring of an idea that is quite old, but fairly new to me. Its this idea that if there hadn't been a Fall there would still have been an Incarnation. In other words, if sin had not entered the world the plan still would have been for there to be a Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man. I was reading a book today that made this point again. It said,
Jesus Christ did not come only to save us from our sins, but supremely to bring to fulfillment the trinitarian purposes of grace in creation.... Retrospectively, Christ came to save us from our past sin, from guilt, from judgment, from hell. But prospectively he came to bring us to sonship, to communion with God in the kingdom of God... Western theology has too often limited salvation to the retrospective aspect, seeing Christ as saviour of our humanity only in the context of the Fall. But in the New Testament the two are never separated: 'When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son ... so that we might receive adoption as children' (Gal 4:4-6 NRSV). It is that prospective vision we so need to recover today.
Now, this is not to say that we need to scrap everything we know about the cross and resurrection, but is to say that we aren't doing ourselves any favours in just seeing the incarnation as a "patch-up job" for a plan gone awry. God has always wanted to be in communion with us through his Son Jesus and, well, at Christmas especially that is something worth remembering and celebrating and looking forward to! This guy I was reading (James Torrance) goes on,
According to the New Testament, that life of communion [of the Son] with the Father did not begin at Bethlehem. He who was the eternal Son of God by nature, enjoying eternal communion with the Father, became the Son of Man that we 'sons and daughters of men' might become 'sons and daughters of God' by grace and be drawn into the Son's communion with Father, that throught the Spirit we too might call God 'Father.'
I wouldn't go so far as to suggest we celebrate Christmas and not think at all about the cross. But I would suggest we see Bethlehem as the site of an amazing event: God With Us in the Incarnation - a move toward humanity eternal in its scope and beautiful in its love.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Golden Moment at Seminary

Well, I'm having a golden moment. If you know me at all you'll understand why I say that:

I am sitting in Starbucks downing a Venti Christmas Blend, I have Saturday morning soccer on the TV, I've got Phoenix on the headphones, and I am writing a paper on my favourite book in the whole world. Does it get any better than that?

Of course there is more to the story. I had to walk here through sub-zero Arctic winds. But these were quickly forgotten once the coffee made its way into my body. The venti came at a grande price, which was a nice surprise. The game on TV is only Reading v. Bolton, but that's perfect since I'm supposed to be working anyway. If it had been Liverpool I might not be getting much done. I did catch the one goal so far and got to see the top 5 goals of the week as well.

Meanwhile, since there is some pop-"Christian" music on in the coffee shop, I've got Phoenix's "It's Never Been Like That" blasting in my ears, and it is wonderful. I work best with noise. Familiar noise. So I'm putting together my thesis proposal, entitled: "Theodicy in The Man Who Was Thursday." If you've never read this book you should. But if you haven't read it you won't get why I could write a thesis on it. So here's an exerpt from my proposal:

"Using imaginative narrative rather than systematic theology The Man Who Was Thursday probes questions of God's apparent hiddenness and the problem of evil. Along the way its characters are allowed to pose some of the hardest questions of life:

"I am not happy," said the Professor with his head in his hands, "because I do not understand. You let me stray a little too near to hell."
And then Gogol said, with the absolute simplicity of a child:
"I wish I knew why I was hurt so much."

Through the bizarre and nightmarish experiences of these characters and the story’s protagonist, Gabriel Syme, who almost certainly represents Gilbert Chesterton himself, readers are allowed to wrestle with mystery and see God behind it all."

Anyway. Just thought I'd share this golden moment at seminary. If you don't know me you'll just think I'm a nerd. Actually, you probably think that if you know me too!

By the way, you should really get a hold of Thursday and read it. I recently purchased Orson Welles' radio adaptation of the book. He introduced it this way:

Roughly speaking it’s a mystery story. It can be guaranteed that you will never, never guess the solution until you get to the end; it is even feared that you may not guess it then. You may never guess what The Man Who Was Thursday is about, but definitely, if you don’t, you’ll ask.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Emergent Church Issues

Just took a great class on the emerging church. Here's some provocative quotes from the week:

We have a church in North America that is more secular than the culture. Just when the church adopted a business model, the culture went looking for God.... Just when the church began building recreation centers, the culture began a search for sacred space. Church people still think that secularism holds sway and that people outside the church have trouble connecting to God. The problem is that when people come to church, expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. It may feel like a self-help seminar or even a political rally. But if pre-Christians came expecting to find God--sorry! They may experience more spiritual energy at a U2 concert...
(Reggie McNeal, The Present Future, 2003)

"People in a postmodern culture have never been told that at their very essence they suck."
(Mark Driscoll, leader of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, talking about our gospel of self-actualization in the consumerist church of today)

"A generation of churches have chosen to keep their traditions and lose their children."
(Comment during a video)

Lest you think this was all a bunch of reactionary trend-stuff, I want to mention that this class gave a balanced and pastoral approach to the emergence of a new kind of church and I found it very inspiring and I hope everyone gives good thought to where the church is going in the next 10 years because there are some potentially great things in store if we open our eyes and our hearts and our minds and seek to be "missional communities ... consisting of followers of Jesus who are seeking to be faithful in their place and time." (Gibbs and Bolger, Emerging Churches)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

All Time Top 10 Movies

Well, for a change of pace ... here's what I'd call the top10 films of all time. Actually, instead of trying to mix and mingle the popular movies with the downright profound (and more obscure) films I'm going to do this as two separate top fives.

POPULAR MOVIES

5. Fletch


What did you think this list would be? Can't comedies be great movies? Sorry, this one still makes me laugh, and I've seen it over 20 times. I suppose there are a lot of other great comedies I could name, like Tommy Boy or Naked Gun, but this one actually tried to be a movie with a plot and as far as that goes it did "a pretty d*mn good job if I do say so my d*mn self, thank you." (That's a line from the movie by the way, and somehow, like every other line, Chevy Chase makes it funny). Ok, seriously now...

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark


This is on the American Film Institute's top 100 all time and so it is recognized as a great film and for me it was like the pinnacle of my childhood movie viewing and was a favourite for me for years after. A lot have tried to do what it did but none have come close. Probably everyone has seen it so I don't have to say what's so good about it.

3. Misery



This one is frightening, but strangely quite wholesome. I mean, there is some violence and weirdness to it but the scary part is that it is all too realistic. Nothing occult or gory. Just plain scary. A shrill of terror goes up my spine still as I think about it. Fantastic movie with basically two characters. Very well done. Very underrated movie. Not on anyone's top 100 film lists that I've seen but deserves to be.

2. Dead Poet's Society



I never see this on film lists, so I'm probably off base here. But this movie itself has become an icon in the thinking of so many people of my generation. It certainly has had maybe a bigger role in shaping who I am than any other movie I've ever seen. I'm not sure how, but I just know it made an incredible impression on me. Again, many copycats since, but none compare.

1. Twelve Monkeys



I just realized that there should be some M. Night movies on this list, but whatever, they are in a league of their own. 12 Monkeys is in a weird genre. Sort of an apocalyptic thriller I guess. But it combines elements of the Fugitive, Outbreak, and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest as well. Only it does it all edgy and different and the three main characters played by Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, and Madeline Stow are just so well done. Christopher Plummer is in it too, and since Sound of Music should probably be on one of my lists its nice that I can have in here somewhere. I love this movie.


PROFOUND FILMS

5. Through a Glass Darkly



I have to confess that I am not worthy to compile a list such as this since I have only scratched the surface in my viewing of foreign and obscure films. Jeff C or Dave McG are the guys to check with. I just watch what they tell me too. However, I've seen a few now, and this one by Ingmar Bergman is just amazing. Its about a family. There is a plot and a point to it but really it is just about the rleationships of this Dad and his son, and his daughter and her husband. The first 20 minutes I though constituted a masterpeice.

4. Tokyo Story



Again, this one is about a family, except in Japan. What is amazing to me is that for some reason I underestimated how much Japanese people were just like North American people. The family dynamics in this film are almost painful to watch, but Ozu, the director, makes it all very beautiful to watch and lulls you into thinking there will be no climax. But there is. And along the way, every scene is a work of art.

3. Winter Light



Ingmar Bergman's dad was apparently a pastor, and so when he did this film about a priest it was quite personal. Apparently he and his dad together did some of the preparation for the movie and debated how to end it. This movie is one of the few to look sympathetically (at least I think it does) at the behind the scenes life of a pastor/priest. Its very real and honest. This could be the bridge for many a discussion, this movie, but I'll leave it at that. There is a long monologue in this one by the leading lady that is really quite an incredible peice of acting.

2. Remains of the Day



This was a beautifully crafted and wonderfullly acted film and I'm not sure why it isn't on other film lists. I have touted it for many years and had no success in getting anyone to watch it so I guess it is just plain boring. I think it such a good story and so well done and I am just a sucker for Anthony Hopkins. Besides, the scene with him standing in the rain (if you watch it you'll know it when you get there) just really affected me and made the movie different and so good at the same time. Following up on Dead Poets, this movie has really shaped much of my approach to life since. Crazy to talk of a movie that way I suppose, but its true. Anyway, this one is highly underrated, in my books. Maybe because its audience expected it to be like other American movies.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey



Watched this again last night and man is it an incredible film. I actually fell asleep part way through and picked up again later so I know it will put a lot of people to sleep. But if I was to name the top 5 scenes of all time probably 4 of them would be from this film. The monolith's appearance, the monkey playing with the bone, the monolith photo op on the moon, the showdown with HAL: these sound almost silly but are truly astounding scenes. And its like 22nd on AFIs film list so I know I'm not alone on that one. A masterpeice.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why You Need to Read "The Younger Evangelicals"

I've been reading a book called The Younger Evangelicals by Robert E. Webber. From the start it talked about a transition between generations and put a sort of artificial dividing line between them at the birth-year of 1975.

I struggled from the outset with this book because, well, I was born in 1975.

I was born in modern clothing, and though I reacted negatively to the church when I came of age, I was then "converted" in Bible school and for all intents and purposes put on the clothing of the traditional church. In time I also took on the clothing of the pragmatic church (ie. the worship-driven, seeker-sensitive model). But I can tell I was born in 1975 because while this made sense to me I always felt like there was still further to go.

The Younger Evangelicals is telling me what I've felt all along. It's not that I'm smart. Its just uncanny and amazing to find that so many my age and younger are way ahead of me and yet are articulating what I've had such a hard time putting my finger on.

Webber says:

The younger evangelical is interested in building organic Christian communities, not huge Wal-Mart churches that deliver a full range of Christian consumer goods.... [When given the option to plant "Gen X" churches within the existing ones, however, they are increasingly] uneasy with the "church within a church" approach. This younger generation wants the widom of other generations; they don't want to be separated out as a group with characteristics they "will grow out of and graduate from". Instead, writes Zander, Xers have "the very characteristics that the church ought to grow into."... It is interesting [though] that for the most part younger evangelicals are committed to start-up chuches. Many existng churches, most perhaps, still function in the modern established pattern and are fearful to take the kind of risks it takes.... [and the younger evangelicals] feel the investment of time it takes to change an existing institutional church is hardly worth it.

This is perhaps where my age separates me a little from those younger than me. I feel it has to be worth it. Maybe I have a bit more faith in my predecessors, but I don't want to be a church planter. However, I wonder if my predecessors will have any faith in me, let along those younger than I.

I am not interested in dissing the older generations, partly because I have to look at myself and see that I am part of them, and I like a lot of what they gave me. After all, they are the ones getting me to read these books! Let's give credit where it is due! But there is a definite need to move forward, past modernity. Take the good, leave the bad. The rationalistic, conversion centered approach is waning in its ability to communicate the Christian story with clarity or conviction today. We need to progress, or, to put it in the terms of the younger evangelicals, we need to regress--get back to our roots, recover the ancient Chrisitan tradition, and embody it in a new day and age.

If too many churches are too afraid to go forward with the younger evangelicals then I fear that in twenty years we will be relegated to the sidelines of Christianity or even cease to exist altogether. I share many of the same fears of the older generation about some of the new trends in theology and practice, believe me, but I am less scared of it the more I understand. And (maybe because I was born in 1975, I don't know) I share the vision of the younger evangelicals. So I'm stuck in the no-man's land. I understand the reservations but I also understand why people are leaving in droves.

I read a book like The Younger Evangelicals and I can imagine my denomination the Christian & Missionary Alliance being revived for an exciting new chapter, one that is much like its first. After all, our founder AB Simpson was all about this stuff.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Position Paper on Women In Leadership

What follows is a paper I had to write for my Epistles class, declaring my position on Women in Ministry. It was to be relatively short and not exhaustive. It wasn't even supposed to cite a lot of written works. So I didn't cite any. It is just a personal tellling of where I stand along with some of the "why". So take it for what its worth. Argue if you want. I've edited out a personal anecdote from the introduction since I haven't asked that person's permission to use it online. I hope you still get the point. Okay, thanks for reading along with me. Here it is ...


I have been what would be called a mild complimentarian my whole life. Within my conservative evangelical tradition I accepted the idea that woman were to submit to their husband’s loving leadership at home and likewise were to defer to male authority in the church. I saw this done fairly well, and at face value the Bible certainly seemed to fit–if not outright prescribe–such a model. I came out of Bible College with more questions, but defaulted to the traditional view.

[But some personal experiences have since made me ask myself:] What if our complimentarian default position is wrong? Are we holding women back?

This is not simply a case study in biblical interpretation; real people are involved here. It is to my shame as a man that it took me this long to step up and face this issue head on. I want to remain open to debate but when push comes to shove I have to declare that I am an egalitarian. My experience has certainly played a role in bringing me around but ultimately I feel my position rests upon the Bible itself. Although space does not permit a detailed analysis, what follows is a summary explanation.

In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” This text is more ambiguous than it seems, and despite what complimentarians might say, this ambiguity is not cast on the text solely by our culture today; it is inherent within Scripture itself. We have examples throughout Scripture of women who push the boundaries of Paul’s instruction and therefore call into question its universality. Under the backdrop of patriarchal societies, in the Old Testament Miriam (Ex 15:20) and Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14) stand out as prophetesses, Deborah as a judge (Judg 4-5), and Solomon’s “noble woman” as, among other things, a faithful instructor (Prov 31:26). Although these women could be cited as exceptions to the rule–called upon in a time when male leadership was lacking–the fact remains that they were called by God to speak His Word to His people in their time.
Similarly, in the New Testament the Samaritan woman (John 4), Lydia (Acts 16), and Mary Magdalene (Matt 28) are entrusted extraordinary roles as witnesses for Christ within their respective communities. Phoebe holds an office of some sort in the church at Cenchrea and seems to be the letter-bearer for Paul’s weightiest epistle (Rom 16:1-2); Priscilla is a co-worker with Paul (Rom 16:3) and along with her husband instructs Apollos in the faith (Acts 18:26); Junias is considered “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom 16:7). Even if that last phrase signifies Junias as a “church-planter”, it is hard to imagine her receiving such accolades without exercising some measure of outspoken influence on the church. These examples call for a further explanation of the limitations set in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.

It is not merely by way of example, however, that the Bible sets a trajectory for the full participation of women in ministry. A key text in this whole issue is Galatians 3:28-29. While context dictates that these verses pertain to gender equality in regards to salvation, the key question is what it means that “male and female” alike are both “heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:28-29). Paul says that Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women, are no longer “in slavery under the basic principles of this world” but “receive the full rights of sons” (Gal 4:3-5 NIV, emphasis mine). All of them are given “the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6). Paul’s words here and elsewhere hearken us back to the promise of a new covenant given in Jeremiah: “No longer will a they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord” (Jer 31:34; cf. Ezek 37:25-27; Joel 3:28-29; Acts 2:16-21).

Even though Galatians 3 is about salvation, the question remains as to what salvation entails. What have men and women inherited in Christ? Are we talking about a new identity? A passport to heaven? The heir to a throne inherits more than a title. The inheritance of the firstborn is more than a name. What does it mean to be full heirs in this life? Does this not have ramifications for the living out of the faith and the exercise of gifts within the Christian community? Given the above examples and implications, if Paul is saying what it sounds like he is saying in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, then he has some explaining to do. Or perhaps we’re hearing him wrong.

Though it is a key text in this discussion, 1 Corinthians 11 says very little to limit a woman’s role in church. As a matter of fact it assumes she will pray and prophesy in public gatherings; and rather than ask her to avoid authority it says that she “ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (1 Cor 11:10 NIV). She is required to present herself with modesty and in a way that honors (rather than shames) men; for “the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

This passage is as troublesome for the complimentarian as for the egalitarian. What is implied by the word head? It must mean more than source because verse 12 makes it clear that both man and woman come from God. On the other hand, if it means authority, why does verse 11 emphasize the interdependence of women and men and verse 10 qualify rather than nullify the woman’s expression of authority? Furthermore, how simplistic is our understanding of God’s authority over Christ? Certainly the Son submits to the Father, but the Father in turn puts everything under His lordship (Phil 2:9)!

The best rendering of this passage is to recognize that it affirms the teaching and leading potential of women in the church but asks them not to flaunt their newfound freedom in Christ in a way that dishonors men. Men and women were called to help rather than compete with one other, and the Christian way to confront patriarchal systems is through modesty and humility rather than rebellious, self-aggrandizing actions. The worshiping man no longer lives for his own glory but for Christ’s. So too does the woman, and in the Corinthian situation she does so by continuing to honor others (namely the men in her midst who will already face dishonor in society by letting women speak in church) even while coming to grips with her freedom as a worshiper. Here and elsewhere Paul calls women and men to defer to cultural norms when appropriate if it will assist in conveying the message of their worship. Applying this text in our Canadian culture where the increasing norm is for women to step up into roles long monopolized by men it is hard to imagine how it helps the message of the gospel for us to keep women from likewise stepping up within the church.

In light of chapter eleven’s affirmation of women praying and prophesying in the church it is odd three chapters later to read: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor 14:34). We must dig deeper. Since this comes in the context of instructions regarding orderly worship, we must try to understand the dilemma the church at Corinth was facing. Given that loudness and disorder would have been signs of piety in some mystery religions, and that most women in that society would have been relatively uneducated, it is fathomable why Paul might want to limit the interruptions during corporate worship. Far from being told to hush up and never mind, however, women are told to take their questions home with them. The implication of this passage in context is that husbands are to empower the women of their household rather than perpetually hold them back.

1 Timothy 2 is another difficult passage. Again we must dig beneath the surface in order to hear what Paul was saying to the pastor of the church at Ephesus and to hear what it says to us today. Considering the problem of false teaching in Ephesus (the theme of Paul’s letter to Timothy) and the apparent strategy of false teachers in that community to “worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women” (2 Tim 3:6), we must understand 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as part of Paul’s counter-strategy. False teachers in Ephesus could find significant fodder in the cult of the goddess Artemis (cf. Acts 19) for the spread of “old wives’ tales” (1 Tim 4:7) that would distort a woman’s humble identity in Christ. So we must hear what Paul is saying here. Paul wants women, first of all, to “learn” (1 Tim 2:11). They are not to assert their femininity over men (like Artemis) but are to recognize their relatively uneducated condition and “learn in quietness and full submission” (1 Tim 2:11). Out of a respect for the Word of God the students are told to listen. Paul spends much of the letter making it very clear which men in the church at Ephesus to listen to.

When Paul points to the created order in verses 13-14, it is perhaps indicative of our patriarchal presupposition that we so easily read hierarchy into it. These verses remind women that they do themselves no favor by perpetuating Eve’s sin. Rather than asserting themselves as superior to men because of their childbearing capabilities (a carry over from the cult of Artemis) they are reminded to see themselves as servants of God and as helpers to men. They do no justice to the faith by usurping authority, even if their freedom in Christ does open the door for them to the privileges of leadership. With privilege comes responsibility. Paul might just as well have said: Don’t mess this up like Eve did, but learn quietly and continue on in your strengths: “in faith, love and holiness with propriety” (1 Tim 2:15).

Space does not permit a more detailed analyisis of the passage but it is worth nothing that the word authentein (translated authority in the NIV) occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Debate has raged over Paul’s usage of this word, and I couldn’t possibly do justice to it here. Suffice it to say that I am unconvinced that “authority” is the clearest rendering of what this may have entailed to its original readers, and am compelled to join the KJV in translating it with the word usurp, or the TNIV with the word assume.

There are other details and passages that could be touched on, but one further passage gets to the heart of what I see to be an egalitarian implication and trajectory within Scripture. Ephesians 5:21 instructs us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Whether you attach this to the household codes or leave it separate (as in the NIV), this is a provocative statement for the church to consider as it tries to find its way through the cultural morass and embrace God’s design for Christian community. Even though slaves are told to serve their masters wholeheartedly in Ephesians 6:5, the implication of Scripture is that slavery should cease to be tolerated in a society that seeks to reflect Christian values. A similar thing can be said of women and men in the church without compromising the more explicitly universal command for children to obey their parents (Eph 6:1). That said, even in the latter passage Paul does not refrain from challenging fathers to stoop down and respect their children, raising them “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

These household codes contained revolutionary concepts for the people of that place and time, as well as for our world today. I wonder sometimes at how we can keep the words of Scripture but lose so much of their dynamic equivalence. In a world where women are frequently oppressed in the name of religion I wonder if the Church is missing an opportunity to accentuate some of its greatest strengths.

In regard to church leadership, I would like to see churches focus on the requirements and responsibilities for all teachers and leaders in the church rather than continue to disqualify people from such roles based merely on gender. If these passages in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 were brought to bear on the way women and men conducted themselves in the church as learners and teachers we’d be applying Paul’s intent more accurately and we’d be raising the bar for the type of teachers and leaders we allow to serve the Church today. The best teacher is first a good learner. The best leader is a humble servant. That goes for male and female alike.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Looking for a Thesis

I had to come up with three possible thesis topics for a class assignment this week. (Thesis work starts in January) So here's what I've been thinking of doing. The first one is the frontrunner right now.

1. Chesterton's Critique of Protestantism

As a Christian with fairly fixed Protestant roots who has been profoundly effected by the writings of Gilbert Keith Chesterton I would like to explore and better understand why he converted to Catholicism and see if there is anything to be learned from him in this post-Vatican II era of increasing dialogue between Protestants and Catholics.... It may be best to frame the question this way:
Properly understood in context, what insight can Protestants today gain from GK Chesterton’s conversion to Catholicism in 1922?

2. Theodicy in The Man Who Was Thursday

Since systematic theologians stumble at the point where they have to concede a great deal of mystery in Theodicy, I would like to study what GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday is able to say through imaginative narrative about the problem of evil and the belief in a good and holy God (aka Theodicy).... Particularly intriguing would be the metaphorical connection that there seems to be between Chesterton’s slippery character "Sunday" and some of the ideas of Karl Barth concerning the "shadow" side of the Election of God or CS Lewis’ description of Aslan as "not a tame lion".... It may be best to frame the question this way:
What does GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday contribute to theology by probing the mysteries inherent in Theodicy through imaginative narrative?

3. The Rallying Point of the Church

The Western Church conveys an image of itself that seems to say that holiness, or moral rightness, is to be the hallmark and the unifying bond between Christians. However, I would like to contend that while holiness is a common goal of Christians it is forgiveness, or reconciliation, that is to be their hallmark and unifying force. I wouldn’t want to polarize things too much simply in order to simplify the topic, however, nor would I want to miss the essential tension that I think I’m trying to address, but perhaps I could pose the question this way:
What should be the hallmark and rallying point for church health and identity this side of heaven, an atmosphere of holiness, moral rightness or of perpetual reconciliation with each other and God in the name of Jesus Christ?

Incidentally, an awful thing happened when I was saving a paper this week. I had two to hand in and I saved one over the other, meaning I was left with two copies of the same one. Try as we could there was no way we could find in WordPerfect to retrieve teh old one. So I got up at 5:00 the day of class and retyped the one I lost. Not sure if the original or the new one was better, but by that point I almost didn't care. Sheesh that blew.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Theological Cliff Diving

If my previous post which talked about "Bungee Jumps for the Mind" was a little overstated, then it might have been more properly attached to some of the ideas I would now like to throw out there. In keeping with my penchant for the exaggeration and to maintain the metaphor, I present the following thoughts as what feels like "theological cliff-diving."

Just a couple actually. These come out of the reading group I am in, where we are discussing in depth the section in Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics on "The Election of God":

  • In the Garden with the forbidden tree, God wasn't giving humans a choice between life with God and some other sort of less-preferable life. The choice was between life with God or no life at all. The fact that they chose the latter should have resulted in death immediately, but we are now living in the time of God's delayed judgment, when we face the aftermath in real-time, but should understand that there is great delay in order to give us the opportunity for redemption. Barth talks about election as God's divine "Yes" to humanity, which we responded to with ingratefulness and rejection to which God in turn responds to with a "No". However, in Christ we are also given a "Nevertheless."
  • God's judgment is often thought of as a future event (which it ultimately is), but it actually came on day one when God created and called it GOOD. He didn't create bad, but by calling what he made "good" he was also saying that to not see it or accept it as good would thereafter be "bad" and totally unacceptable.
  • We haven't talked much about annhialationism and hell and all that yet, but the Great One (a character in our group) made a very intriguing point to me in our walk home: We think of annhialation as preferable to hell and hence have a debate about which one a loving God would opt for, but perhaps when truth-be-told from God's perfect perspective hell is actually in some way "better" than annhialation altogether.

That last one's a doozy. See what I mean about "cliff diving"? There may or may not be safe water below but the whole enterprise of this kind of thought is pretty edgy and scary. But with confidence in the veracity of our Guide and His Word this stuff is something I find quite exciting.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Seminarian Finds Love

I think you lose something when you take commitment and self-giving submission out of marriage, as so many have done in our culture. When marriage is self-serving at the core, whether it lasts or ends up being a loving marriage ends up being a crap shoot. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that such an arrangement tends to miss out on something.

And that something is the blessing of having someone give themselves to you, as you in turn give yourself to them. It is the kind of relationship I certainly have a hard time conjurring up, but which Christ can certainly make happen, both by His example and by His Spirit.

I have to confess I don't do this very well. This is painfully evident to me as I compare how well I've loved my wife with how well she has loved me. I am amazed at what she has sacrificed to allow me to go to seminary. You think you know love, and then someone goes and does some wordless and prolonged act of support and solidarity with you, which costs them a great deal, and then you are left speechless at that person's grace, kindness, commitment, and love.

She is a wonderful woman, my wife. I am not worthy of her. Christ has truly blessed me graciously. This gift, along with hers to me, is plenty of motivation for me to try to be more worthy. To love as I am loved.

By the way, I am okay with people modelling their marriage on the "woman submits to the man" model, but that's not what I'm describing here. We submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I'm just saying that my wife does a much better job of this than I do. She's beautiful folks.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bungee Jumps For The Mind

This past week I've had a few intellectual rushes. I wouldn't claim they came from me, or elevate them to the status of divine revelation or even of new ideas, but nonetheless for me they were lightbulb moments.

At Starbucks on Friday morning a group of us began the arduous but exciting journey of slowly discussing Karl Barth's 100+ page section of Church Dogmatics on the doctrine of election. (Did I ever mention what a nerd I am?) The main thing that came out was the Barth really wants to steer us from seeing Election merely from a human standpoint (i.e. God sends people to hell on purpose) and to see it first and foremost as God Electing God. In other words, God "decided" (however you conceptualize that decision taking place) to start this whole ball of wax and before we deal with why this or that thing has happened to us we have to get a handle on the fact that for some reason or another God put Himself, and us, in this position. God, in a sense, has defined Himself by Creating us, even though He was God before that. So to understand this God we must try to understand why He did that. I'm probably not doing the discussion justice. I'm sure I'll have more to say about that (as well as the interesting cast of characters who meet at Starbucks, including the Great One and the Dreaded Tony) in the future.

Another lightbulb turned on for me this morning when I realized that Theology is a humble task. We get this idea of scholarly theologians with swollen heads who just want to sit in ivory towers and tell everyone what to think. There is an element of truth to that of course, but the further I go in academia (at least among godly men and women) the more I see that when you pursue something like a doctorate you are really humbling yourself and deciding to submit the whole of your life in service to the Church and the world. The reason this is humbling is because you don't ever expect the Church or the world outside of your immediate supervisor (and whoever happens to be listening in class when you put up your hand) to hear about it! And by choosing to write a thesis, and then later maybe a doctoral dissertation you have to narrow the scope of your study to such a degree that you lose any hope of ever actually changing the world (which is what we all want to do right?) and virtually resign yourself to trying to "master" this or that tiny peice of the scholarly puzzle in the hope that as you do so maybe you can do some good, clarify the picture somewhat, or whatever.

It reminds me while I study to live, to love, and to continue to serve the Church both in my studies and outside of it. I have a new appreciation for scholars (the humble ones) and more confirmation that, like pastoring, I'm not so sure I'm up for it, but then again who really feels up for whatever peice of the puzzle (or to switch the metaphor, the body) that Christ calls them to add?

As my academic Dean said, some are called to be the brain, some the heart, and most of us are a fingernail or a nosehair. ALL are important, and all have their unique challenges which must be risen to for the sake of Christ, the Church and the world. And I'm fairly convinced that no matter what part of the body you are called to be you are always best off considering yourself a nose-hair, while doing your dangdest for God.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Inside of Sunday

Because of the intensive nature of these next two years for me at seminary I've wondered if I should change the focus of this blog for awhile. Since I'll be doing a lot of writing for classes and such, instead of practicing my writing here maybe what I'll do is sort of journal my experience at seminary, you know, log some of the things I've learned, experienced, thought of, felt.

This would of course come perilously close to the sort of teenage diary-gone-public that I had hoped to avoid, so maybe I won't do it. On the other hand, how many days go by where I have wished I could have sat down and "debriefed" with my friends and family and otherwise assorted acquaintances and strangers (as in a coffee shop)?

I've often thought of this two year hiatus of ours in po-dunk Saskatchewan, cloistered into a small Christian community, as a retreat of sorts. Call it a Sabbath. Call it a time of monasticism. Call it escaping into a bubble. I don't care what you call it, it is what it is, and I'm looking at it as one big Sunday. If my life is a month, this is one of my Sundays. Whereas this blog was meant to be a place for me to think out loud about Christianity in the workaday world, this side of sunday, I suppose for a time it might be appropriate for the blog to now go inside Sunday and become a chronicle of what I find there.

Sounds pretty self-important to me. Well, this is pretty important to me, and since I know I have a few loyal readers whom I wouldn't mind sharing my experience with, maybe it would be worth a try. We'll see.

Thing is, I'm already well into this seminary thing. Two classes down the crapper already. I could write volumes (indeed it feels I already have) about what I've experienced already.

Suffice it for now to summarize my meeting with our registrar today. He asked me how its been so far. I told him that I was shocked in my first class to feel like I was the most conservative person in the room. Then, in my second class, to my amazement I felt like I was the most liberal person in the room! I'm not crazy about either label to be honest, but the point is that these classes stretched me in opposite directions.

That doesn't necessarily mean I'm any the wiser of course. It could be that I'm being stretched so far that, as one radio talk show host once said, I'm now big enough to contain contradictions. I hope I don't just become a black hole for all assorted sundry of perspectives. I do hope to come out with my Christian worldview sharpened and my character refined. Thing is, I can't see this happening if I isolate myself in a room of personal yes-men and proof-text my way to comfort. I'm looking for iron to sharpen iron.

We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul

I'm not sure if this will be that interesting to anyone, but most of the writing I'm going to be doing these days will be for seminary. The following is a 1200 word review of a controversial book which I thoroughly enjoyed. It can be a bit wordy, sorry, that's kind of how the book was and so I think it affected the way I wrote. If anyone reads this review let me know, I'd be curious ......


The intertextual approach put forward and practiced by Richard B. Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul adds volume to some muffled themes of Paul’s letters and provides the impetus for a hermeneutic that is both exhilarating and frightening. Although at first glance it appears that this book is merely offering one more critical method to the exegetical tool box, it ends up challenging current boundaries of biblical interpretation and pushing the Church to not simply read and interpret but to take part in and embody the living Word of God. Though written in 1989 this book takes the reader into relatively uncharted territory, lacking many of the hermeneutical comforts of home yet provoking good dialogue in the community of faith.

Hays’ intertextual approach is influenced by literary critical methods that recognize the echoes of past literature in later poetic writings. By alluding to a former expression a poet can play off of already established imagery and either turn the tables on the expression to say something new or revamp it to plumb even further depths of meaning. The recognition of this phenomena in Paul’s letters, so richly interwoven with Old Testament quotes and allusions, is essential to Hays’ approach. He presents the rationale of the approach this way:

The phenomenon of intertextuality–the imbedding of fragments of an earlier text within a later one–has always played a major role in the cultural traditions that are heir to Israel’s Scriptures: the voice of Scripture, regarded as authoritative in one way or another, continues to speak in and through later texts that both depend on and transform the earlier (Hays 1989, 14, emphasis mine).


It is one thing to recognize that later portions of Scripture depended on previous ones for significance, but to allow for transformation of meaning is to open a door few evangelical exegetes would be eager to walk through. Indeed it would be tempting to dismiss Hays approach from the outset, except for the fact that this is exactly the type of hermeneutic that Paul himself seems to employ.

Introducing them as apparent misreadings of Old Testament Scripture, Hays points out several instances when Paul transforms the original meaning of the ancient text and applies it in a new way to contemporary issues. Hays then highlights the intertextual dynamic in a way that illuminates Paul’s meaning. Although it is not his declared motivation, the result is a compelling defense and further advocation of Paul’s unique hermeneutical style. Some of Hays’ readings are more convincing than others.

One of the best examples of this may come in Hays’ description of Romans 10:5-10, where Paul takes the meaning of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 and flips it completely upside down. Whereas Moses was using a rhetorical argument to emphasize the availability and attainability of the commandments (“the word is very near you”), Paul alludes to it in order to assert exactly the opposite. What the people were searching high and low for was Christ, who had now come (“the word is very near you”). Since Christ had of course not come at the time of Moses’ writing this could be easily be written off as bad exegesis.

At the very least it seems highly unfair to the Hebrews, until we give Paul permission to reinterpret Deuteronomy 30 and in light of recent events. Christ fulfilled the Law and offered righteousness to all by faith. Looking back, Paul understands that when the Hebrews were pursuing the Law they were actually participating in the covenant to come, inasmuch as they were doing it as an expression of their faith in Yahweh. Moses was inadvertently calling them to faith in the same gospel as Paul. Through intertextual echo Paul is able to assert a meaning that Moses and his original readers would not have asserted, while staying faithful to the principle and the truth of what Moses was saying.

It is difficult to summarize Hays readings in such a short space, but two other examples merit mention. One of the weaker “echoes” is his treatment of 2 Corinthians 3:7, which is an allusion to Exodus 34:30, the passage about Moses veiling his face because the people could not bear the sight. Hays posits that what Moses was hiding was the “transitory” nature of the glory on his face because what the Hebrews really wanted was the “script” rather than the “spirit.” As a result they were unable to see that which pointed so clearly to Christ. While the argument as a whole is somewhat convincing it is so convoluted that one begins to wonder how anyone could have ever got it or ever could–and how “near” the Word of God actually is. It would be interesting to try to better Hays description of the echo to see if it is actually preachable.

One of the more amazing insights gained from Hays’ intertextual reading is the puzzling case of Galations 4:21-31 where Paul equates Hagar, rather than Sarah, with Sinai. Since the Sinai covenant came to the descendants of Sarah this seems like Scripture-twisting to the extreme. However, by allowing Paul freedom of metaphor Hays recognizes that Paul is playing the Mosaic covenant against the Abrahamic covenant rather than the New. The promise to both Jew and Gentile goes back to the Abrahamic covenant, and while the Mosaic covenant came after, the promise was still to be claimed by faith. Once the leeway for intertextuality is granted, Paul’s point is able to shine through. The Law was righteous, but on its own it could only produce slaves. The playing of ancient covenants against each other points the Hebrews to the fulfillment, the power, and the freedom that had finally come in Christ.

Hays is modest yet confident in the validity of the intertextual approach. He is honest about its inherent dangers, but he also provides a compelling argument for utilizing the method and accepting the ramifications that unravel from it. These ramifications place greater demands upon the people of God, pushing them toward a more vital dialogue with one another and with the text, but isn’t that what we ought to expect when we approach a book that claims to be the “living and active” Word of God; “sharper than a two-edged sword?”

Although I would like to put further thought into the ramifications of Hays’ hermeneutical approach (or should I say Paul’s?) and sense a need for greater definition of the criteria and constraints to be employed in this hermeneutic I cannot deny that I find within it an enticing and compelling way to approach the Bible. Certainly this creative and “free” approach to biblical interpretation opens up new dangers for the church which need to be addressed carefully. However, the risk involved may reap substantial (and much-needed) rewards for the Church today. Rather than compromising our faith in God, wielded properly this way of reading the Bible intensifies our need to trust Him and interact with Him, even as Scripture unfolds and speaks afresh write before our eyes. Rather than leading us down a path toward individual and relativistic theological sidetracks, pursued carefully this approach leads us to a humbler and more interdependent relationship with our community of faith.



Written for:
BT620 Pauline Epistles, Martin Culy, PhD, Briercrest Seminary, September 11, 2006

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Generation

The door has long-since opened, as culture shifts, for a revival and renewal of Christianity. It springs, I hope, at least as much from a true appreciation of the life and works of Christ as it does from a reaction to the sins of others. I feel like the church may be waking up from a tendency, although well-intentioned, to seem like we come not to save but to condemn.

Like those 20 centuries past who were looking for the Lion of Judah and got the Lamb instead; we have wanted to represent Christ as he will present himself at the second coming rather than as he did at the first. In short we have found it easier to judge than to forgive; easier to criticize than to love. I feel like my generation is emerging from that.
But with my gladness for this comes retiscence too, as I wonder what we are emerging into.

We still need a New Testament revival. Not a bunch of people who claim pleasure or worship music or fellowship or tolerance or pluralistic spiritualism as their god and call it Christ but a group who want to know and experience and express the self-giving, self-sacrificing, relentlessly loving, ardently Father-seeking Christ who has already come into the world.

In our love of grace we can't lose sight of what makes grace grace. We must be mindful of the next coming even as we strive to live the first. We must be humble, and as such we must obey. What I'm wondering is this:

My generation has shown that they will worship, but will they bow?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lent Day 22

Nails through the wrists,
He laid down on His own.
Instead of clenching fists
An open hand is shown.

He wore the cross
Like no one ever could.
I know all is not lost;
I've seen my God upon the wood.

"I, when I am lifted up
will draw you to myself."
His invitation is enough;
His death, my life, my health.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lady in the Water

I'm a pretty big fan of M. Night Shyamalan. His movies are the only ones I look forward to with anticipation. In fact, he's the only director who can consistenly lure me into spending 10+ dollars to see in a first-run theatre anymore.

So of course I was at Lady in the Water on opening night, and while I can't say I was disappointed, I also have to admit it was the least of his films thus far. I didn't want to say so right away because sometimes you have to think about it a bit, but now I'm sure. It's not that it was bad. It was still better than most of the regurgitated drivel that comes out of hollywood these days. But it was no Village or Signs, that's for sure. (Those are my favs)

Now, let me qualify my comments by saying that I don't want to be one of those people who compares every M Night film to Sixth Sense and if it doesn't amaze them with a cliffhanger then it was a waste of time. But one has to admit that half the reason they to see a film is because of certain expectations. And when I see M Night's stuff I expect good directing, creative film-making, good characters, great sound, layers of meaning, and a compelling story.

This movie had all of that, except perhaps the latter.

My problem with the film I think mostly came down to not knowing how to watch it. Was this a Thriller? A thinker's drama? A horror? A comedy? A fantasy? A spoof? Truthfully I think it was all of those at once. If I had to pick one I'd say it was mostly a comedy. I laughed more than anything else. That's fine, but it took me 3/4 of the movie to figure that out. As a result I think I might enjoy the movie more the second time around.

It's not like they didn't try to warn me though. They billed it as a bedtime story. I just didn't realize they were serious. The description is dead on. As far as I know however, this is the first film of the genre, at least that's geared to adults. As a bedtime story this movie was great.

Think about it. It's a light hearted myth. It's sort of scary but like any good bedtime story it stops short of anything that will give nightmares. It's got weird characters. The plot doesn't have to be water tight. The telling of the story is more important than the story itself. And it has a main character who goes through a crisis of sorts and comes out all the better for it. Bang on. A bedtime story, and a great one at that.

But a great movie? I don't know. Maybe I'll just say it was good. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Another Letter to CTV Newsnet

I guess I'm on a roll folks. Here's another email I sent off to CTV Newsnet today. (I don't usually do this sort of thing, but I had to address the continuity of a theme.)

To CTV Newsnet:

I emailed you the other day upset that you showed footage of a Star of David covered by a swastika. You have made no apology, and since I imagine you consider it unbiased "reporting" I suppose I don't blame you, although you showed more discretion in your hesitancy to air cartoons of Mohammed.

Now, however, you are going out of your way to expose Mel Gibson's drunken remarks slighting Jews. Although offensive and completely uncalled for, it needs to be remembered that Gibson was only making his remarks to a few people on the street, not intending to broadcast them. It is the paperazzi and news media who are aggrandizing the offense.

Gibson not only apologized but declared his comments "despicable". I notice that you originally aired the latter retraction, but since have dropped that quote in favour of more prolonged exhibition of the scandal. Surely it is the paperazzi's job to scandalize "events" such as this, but if you are going to do the same, at least be consistent.

With all due respect,
Jon Coutts
Spruce Grove, Alberta

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Letter to CTV Newsnet

I'm not proclaiming to be an expert on Mid-East affairs. Nor Judaism. Nor Islam. I'm not sure why I'm so upset by things right now. I guess I'd be more nervous if things in the Mid-East were not bothering me at all. Anyway, I wrote a letter to CTV in regard to something I saw on the news. I don't know what they'll do with it, but I thought I'd post it here. It speaks for itself I think. Those of you reading this stuff can say so if you think I'm out to lunch here.

Dear CTV Newsnet,

Last night I saw something on CTV that turned my stomach. You showed an image of someone in Montreal holding an Israeli flag with a swastika markered over a star of David. I am neither Jewish nor Muslim, Lebanese nor Israeli. I'm a 4th generation Canadian, and I have to say that this repulsed me.

Even if Israel is partly in the wrong in this conflict, that was stepping way across the lines of respect to flout such a thing in public. The swastika is a symbol of "ethnic-cleansing". Pure and simple. It is synonymous with hatred. It did nothing to shed light on the Mid-East crisis for this protester to have displayed such a thing. In fact it cast an embarassing shadow of ignorance over the whole parade that I imagine not all protesters would have been happy to walk under. I realize it came from deep seeded emotion, but for those of us who are looking to understand the situation overseas, it made it more difficult to sympathize with the opponents of Israel rather than less.

I understand that you are merely reporting the news but I think it was in extremely bad taste to have broadcast such a thing. I don't recall CTV showing the cartoons of Mohammed that caused such a stir in Denmark. I thought that was the respectful thing to do. Now I wonder if it was respect or if it was the threats that informed your decison.

I've said my peice. I must say I appreciate Newsnet most of the time, and I hope you'll take my comments with all due respect. I pray peace for Isralis and Lebanese alike, and for the safety of all Mid-East civilians, Canadian or otherwise.

Jon Coutts
Spruce Grove, Alberta

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lebanon, the media, and discord all around

Is it just me or has the Canadian media completely lost its mind? Criticizing the Canadian government for not being as quick as other nations at getting their citizens out of Lebanon. Other nations; like France and Britain, who are just across the Mediterranean; and the US, who have the entire globe at their disposal. Other nations who, despite being much larger than Canada, do not have as many people to get out.

"Canada should have anticipated this because of the tension in the area," the media speculates. We see stories of families separated, Canadians showing up for a ride out and finding they aren't on the list. The criticism is against orderliness, but there is also criticism for going in alphabetical order.

Now, I have a rant brewing here, but before I go into it let me first say that I empathize with the people who are there stranded. Especially those with young children or those who have separated family members. I empathize. It must be tough. But here's my rant ...

Give me a break. If the Canadian government should have anticipated this, why didn't you? And yes, the panic must be almost unbearable, but that's the type of situation it is isn't it? Not to be cold-hearted, but how is this the government's fault? And do you realize that the US is actually charging their people for the ride out? Your ride is paid for by the Canadian taxpayer! Is this how it works? Our citizens can live anywhere they want, and when there is trouble we'll bail them out? I'm not saying we shouldn't bail them out, but let's have some perspective.

Of course, if I was stranded in a city being bombed, perspective might not come that easy. So these folks can be forgiven their frustration and even their criticism. But the media? Let's have some objectivity. They talk and talk about Harper polarizing the media/government tensions and making the media out to be the enemy but they play into his hand over and over. Do they think we are all this stupid? Maybe most of us are. I'm not. I'm more liable to vote the opposite of what the media tells me to, that's how little I trust them.

The thing that sickens me about all this is that it reminds me of Rwanda. Remember that scene in Hotel Rwanda? People desperate to get out and only the foreigners are evacuated? It all is diplomatically justifiable and understandable but it leaves you feeling like puke inside, especially when you know what ended up happening there. Well, the main difference I can see here is that we don't know what is going to happen in Beirut yet. I'm not suggesting genocide will happen, of course not, but many civilians will die, and all we can talk about is getting Canadians out.

Of course we should do our best to get people out, but are we supposed to just buy this assumption that Canadians are the only ones we should be concerned about? As one man on CTV (giving credit where it is due) just said with a note of sadness in his voice, all things considered "Canadians in Lebanon should be thankful they are Canadians."

Its an awful situation, pure and simple, and I suppose if I want to give the media the benefit of the doubt I'll say they see it as their role to light a fire under the government to get it done. Perhaps if they didn't things would be even slower. I don't know. I just don't see how we are supposed to buy this line of thinking that we can go anywhere in the world we want to, put ourselves in harms way, and then get mad at our home country when they don't make things better right away. I'm not saying they shouldn't try to rescue people, I just don't think you can be so demanding. Its like if I jump into a well, I should expect the fire department or whoever to come rescue me, but I shouldn't blame them if it takes them awhile to find me and get me out. Am I totally off base here?

Maybe we're all just mad at each other because when it comes to the Middle East we don't know who to blame anymore. It is a seeminglly perpetual conflict; our world for all its tolerance and globalization is no less conflicted; and there is as little hope as there has ever been. So here on the sidelines we are like brothers and sisters whose parent's are fighting: we just want them to get along, we don't know who to side with, and we have no recourse to reconcile them ... so in our angst we take it out on one another and yell amongst ourselves.

If nothing else I guess this venting makes us feel a bit better in the short run. Maybe that outlet and that spark is the best thing the media can give us in such dark times. Having said that, now that I've said my piece, I don't feel a whole lot better.

I can't blame the folks in Lebanon and Haifa for how they are feeling. I hope they get out soon.

Better yet I wish the life-takers would give it up already and trade the swords for plow-shares.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Terrible Thing (Part Two)

I wonder how many pulpits today can handle "Its a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31)? Never mind that, how many preachers can handle it without explaining it away? I'm not sure I could.

Is a preacher allowed to just stand at the pulpit speechless for a few minutes? How many preachers can get on their knees and say,"You know what? I'm at a loss for words here. I just don't get God here." Could we handle that? Would we see that as pastoral leadership or as a failure to lead? Be honest now.

I think preachers feel a lot of pressure to have the answers, and certainly we don't want them copping out and just saying "I don't have the answer to that" all the time when 30 minutes of prayer and study would make all the difference, but when pastors have all the answers our respect level for God can go down can't it?

I don't think there are many preachers who want to seem negative, or unsettling, or at a loss, or too profound before lunch. Maybe there are things they'd like to talk to their congregations about but they know they can't do it justice in 30 minutes. Or 30 months. So they don't. And what we may end up left with, whether it is from pride or pressure, is pithy pop theology week after week. And I think most people in the pews can sense it, even if they haven't labelled it yet.

Which is why Dorothy Sayers hit me on the head today. In her book Creed or Chaos? she writes:

"If spiritual pastors are to refrain from saying anything that might ever, by any possibility, be misunderstood by anybody, they will end--as in fact many of them do--by never saying anything worth hearing."

Now, don't get me wrong, I can't stand preaching that is irresponsible. A preacher does have to try to avoid being misunderstood. A lot of things we say can have double-meanings. Metaphors may only be meant to go so far. And many a heresy or misguided notion have come from mere misunderstandings which careful preaching, and writing, could probably have avoided. Preachers and writers and whoever else could use a bit of that fear of misrepresenting God that made the ancients so hesitant to fill in the vowels.

However, that's where I was already coming from before reading the above said quote. Sayer's point is that we still have to try to understand, articulate, and represent the truth about God. After all, fear is the beginning of wisdom, not the end of it.

I guess what I'm saying, then, is that we have to watch for this tendency to explain God away for the sake of the comfort of our listeners, when what we really want to say is: "You know what, God is really out of this world." Then we can talk about God coming into this world in the flesh and speaking into the printed page. And the gravity of the situation may be impressed on us in such a renewed way we might even dare to call it a revival.

A Terrible Thing

The othere day a good friend of mine told me, almost in passing actually, that his favourite verse was Hebrews 10:31:

"It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Why is that his favourite verse? I actually haven't asked him yet, but since he mentioned it that line has been ringing in my ears. It is a difficult one to wrap your mind around. But I feel like I'm kind of starting to get it. Trouble is, I don't feel I can explain it. But I'll try anyway.

This summer my wife and I have been trying to figure out what to do. Everyone has these decision times; turning points; crossroads, or whatever. Anyway, point is, try as I might I haven't been able to shake this nagging desire to stay in God's will; to be sure our decision is what he wants.

I don't know if you've noticed, but God's will can be hard to track. And even harder to see ahead. So there is this trial and error, give and take between me and God and he's like the relentless hound of heaven who won't let me go on my own. I can go prayerless for months if I try, but I'll never be happy. Call it mercy, no doubt, but it can be a terrible sort of mercy, you know? Much better than the terror of rejecting God, but terrible in an "I can hardly handle it" sort of way.

This summer I've also been reading some Fredrick Buechner. The Son of Laughter i't's called. Its a really good novel based on the story of Jacob. And the startling thing to me in this book is that the characters never used God's name. We know that in Old Testament times God's name was considered too sacred to write with the vowels, so it came out YHWH. But in this novel the people took it a step further and made up a name:

They called God "The Fear".

Actually, one of the characters didn't even say that. She just said "he" and bulged out her eyes so you knew who she meant.

And it made me think how flippant I am, with my "Lord" this and my "Father-God" that. I celebrate how boldly we can say his name, by the grace of God. But I guess I'm saying I'm getting some of that holy fear back. Maybe because I have kids now and it scares me to death to think how easily I could mess up their lives and it makes me beg God to help them find HIm and love Him and turn out okay, despite their dork of a dad. And I'm begging God, see, because He doesn't have to do that. He doesn't have to do that for any of us.

But He's the hound of heaven, and He does. He's merciful that way. But his mercy can be hard to take. Once we accept it, he doesn't let us off the hook that easy. He seems to take great delight in refining our character. You know when you have to swallow some bitter cough syrup because it'll make you better and your dad says, "It'll put hair on your chest"? Well, he got that from God. He knows we have some hard lessons to learn, and he puts us through them, if we follow him. And while I hate to consider the alternative, I have to say that sometimes it can be terrible to fall into the hands of the living God. He's too much! And that's him holding back!

We don't think about God's transendence much do we? I don't anyway. His immanence, or his closeness, is all the rage these days, and for good reason don't get me wrong. But isn't the immanence only amazing because of the transcendence?

I think we feel that if we talk about The Fear of God we'll lose people. People we're trying to reach with The Love of God. Thats a heavy thing to have on your head. But we can't forget the fact that the Love is almost meaningless without the Fear. If God is not Holy and Inapproachable then who needs a cross? Who needs Jesus?

And in the end, here's the most amazing thing: no one quite knows how terrible it is to fall into the hands of the living God as well as Jesus. He went there. He took it on the chin, and like none of us could have done, he got back up again. And so even at these moments when I feel like I'm coming to grips with The Fear, I remember the words Jesus used so often with his disciples: "Do not be afraid." Wow. And yet somehow still it causes me to tremble.

Monday, July 10, 2006

On Syriana and Why We Fight ... Sort Of

I rented two movies in two nights recently which really could be sold as a package deal: Syriana and Why We Fight. In case you haven't heard of the latter, its a documentary probing the accuracy of Dwight Eisenhower's seemingly prophetic warning about the then-new US "military-industrial complex". The former is one of George Clooney's Oscar nominated films from 2005 which amounts to a thriller/social commentary on the influence of corporate oil dollars on Middle East and US relations.

Both were excellent. Both carry pretty frightening messages between the line yet avoided Michael Moore's blatant manipulations of media footage and were therefore subtle enough to seem honest.

Somehow, though, they didn't seem all that earthshaking. And that worries me.

I think we all know, or at least suspect, that corporations "make the world go 'round", so to speak. I think most of us have either read Grapes of Wrath or gathered the notion that capitalism has some inherent dangers to it and don't have much trouble imagining how it looks on a global scale. Am I wrong? Maybe these are still radical films, I don't know, but they seemed sort of old hat to me. And that's the thing. Perhaps the most frightening thing about these movies for me was how little I was moved by them. I felt like they should be compelling me to do something, but when you know there is nothing you can do, not much can compel you to try.

Sounds awfully pessimistic, but that's where I'm at. Being a Canadian citizen, I can't do much about US foreign policy. And for all the glories of democracy, even in Canada I know better than to imagine my vote amounts to much of anything at all. The only people who can make a difference are those with money or clout, and the only realms where you don't need money to have clout are in the media and in religion. Maybe you want to add the internet to that. But money is going to end up helping a lot in those realms as well. And in the end, all these voices blended together tend to drown each other out. We have too many revolutionaries, too many revolutions. Too many places to shop for a cause. And they all get watered down don't they?

Someone once said the all evil needs to win is for good men to do nothing. But maybe the devil has a new strategy: to get good men to try to do a bit of everything.

With the powers that be, and all that's wrong, I think many of us feel like someone tied to a chair under a dripping faucet who has struggled against the ropes long enough to know they won't budge and has resigned himself to the finer art of "getting used to it" and "hoping maybe it will stop".

Maybe I'm just getting old. Maybe I'm just in a jaded spell. But judging from how many people stay home on election day and stay out of global concerns I don't think I'm far off. Even amongst those who are aware of corporate power in world affairs, I think most continue to shop at Walmart and fill up at Shell and max out their credit cards. So I think I'm describing fairly accurately the helpless malaise of the democratic public. We are a complacency-soaked, charitable-cause-overloaded, issue-bombarded, fear-paralyzed, pleasure-sponge of a society.

I certainly can't claim to be any different, except maybe by degree, but is that because of my self-restraint and thoughtful purchasing, or is it because I don't have a lot of money?

So anyway, about those movies I was talking about (and if that flippant segue from the serious back to the relatively trivial doesn't bother you then the societal attitude I'm describing has rubbed of on you more than you probably care to admit) I recommend them highly! They were really good.

Matt Damon's character in Syriana is most of us I think: generally naive, trying to do the best we can with our family and our interests, trying to make the most of the situation we're in. And the docomentary has some amazing stuff in it, including the strartlingly prophetic words of Eisenhower and the reflections of his kids and an interview with John McCain implying some heavy stuff about the vice-president which gets interrupted by the VP himself.

There was more good stuff in both ... but you'll have to see them yourself since I can't remember it. I've since seen Seinfeld reruns and can't get Kramer's antics out of my head. Oh man that guy was funny.

There's one of those segues again. Maybe they're the best way we have of keeping sane.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Autobiographical Top 5

I've been not writing for awhile now. I may come back. I imagine no one is reading. But I've got to finish this little book list project off with my top 5 auto-biographical works. This is tough to do because the line can be fuzzy between autobiography and non-fiction, which is why books like Orthodoxy and Tinker Creek which could have been included here are actually on one of my other lists. Also, this is where it can have less to do with the writing and more to do with the person so it can be little more than a list of heros or personal influences. However, as you'll see, there can be more to it than that.

5. Green, Melody - No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green

I didn't read this because I'm a particular fan of Keith Green's piano-tinkling, although I like some of his church songs and appreciate his lyrics. Nor did I read this because of any sort of familiarity with the ongoing ministry led by his wife. But I heard this guy was a radical and a good guy and wanted to know the story. And its a story worth reading, not only for the radical aspect of his life and faith, but also for the maturing process of his later years. It would seem Keith Green died too young. But its one of those mysteries I guess. I wonder what he'd be saying and doing if he were alive today. You can't read this book and not be challenged.

4. Pearce, Joseph - Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of GK Chesterton

You probably wouldn't enjoy this unless you were interested in the man who is Gilbert Keith Chesterton. But there is lots about him that is relevant to today and I found this a thoroughly enjoyable picture of a very unique character whose genius and eccentricity can often overshadow the truly inspiring humility and joy at the core of his being. He seems like he's a guy everyone would be better off for having known. Since we can't go back to the 30s, I highly recommend curling up on a couch and getting to know him through the pages of this book.

3. Lewis, CS - A Grief Observed

This isn't a life story, but a very personal snapshot of a colossal Christian figure during a very tough time in his life. It is his journal from the months after the death of his wife. It is so personal and so filled with questioning and lament that you almost feel guilty reading it. But it is more than just sentimental gut-spilling. It is thoughtful and ponderous and in the end very wise.
You feel for the man and you appreciate life. You also lament death, ask questions of God, and feel like it is okay to do so. And in the end you get the sense that even though God never speaks in the book, you are better equipped to dialogue with him in suffering, and even over time to hear his voice.

2. Dallaire, Romeo - Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

Another situational account from an incredible experience in this man's life. I've actually written a review of this book somewhere else on this blog, but let me just say if you've ever wondered if there are any Canadian heros, or if you have ever wanted to better understand the UN, or have ever wondered what's going on in Africa, or even want a fuller perspective on the role of the military, or want a dose of reality ... pick this book up and read it. It won't take long. I won't say I enjoyed it, but I couldn't put it down.

1. Yancey, Philip - Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church

This challenges my top two non-fiction book as perhaps the most impactful book I've ever taken in. I was originally turned off by the title because I don't really go in for church-bashing like I used to be, but it really isn't like that. It is an honest account of a thoughtful man's experience wading through church crap to find the gold that is still there by the grace of Christ. He doesn't take credit for it, but points to the positive examples in Christianity who were for him shining lights in a time when he really needed them. I think we still really need them, and while I encourage us all to look for them in our current context (and better yet to be them), it is incredibly beneficial to have their legacy live on through the printed page. Obviously I'm a big proponent of reading as a primary way of growing, and so I offer my book lists, and this book in particular to all those who read and are always on the lookout for good stuff, but also to those who don't read much and are totally missing out.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fiction Top 10

10. Stephen King: Misery

Considering the books that comprise the rest of my list, this may seem a bit out of place. Fact of the matter is there are a number of reasons to read a book, and on one of those rare occasions when I decided to read something that would freak me out, this book delivered. The great thing about it is that it did so without the gore, the exorcisms and the other worldly creatures that are general fare for the horror genre. This book is scary precisely because it is so down to earth, and the characters so real, you end up feeling like you are in the house and you can't get out and there is something about it that made me love every minute of it. I think what makes it enjoyable is that you know its not real, but King does a good job of convincing every fibre of your being that it is. Like many books this one is also a movie, and in this case I actually saw the movie before I read the book. But the funny thing is that the movie didn't ruin it for me at all! Not for the faint of heart, but if you are in the mood for a relatively "innocent" thriller, I can't recommend anything more.

9. John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath

This book is artful and poignant at the same time. It is very human; like humanity the story seems to rise up from the dust of the earth itself. One moment Steinbeck has you enraptured by the short travel of a turtle across a path and the next he has you with a group of people travelling across the highway ... and you feel for both because they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. And it makes you realize that the capitalistic democracy we enjoy, for all its good points, comes with its negatives too. In that regard this book opened my eyes to the pitfalls of our Western "utopia" like nothing had ever done for me before. I became much more sympathetic for the shoulders upon which our society has been built and much more aware of the opression that can still go on in our very midst, even if it isn't quite as obvious or cut and dry as the seeminly more blatant opression that we are so quick to critcize in other lands. This is a good read too. Very well written. A gripping tale. Whether he meant to or not, Steinbeck gave me a glimpse of the reality that no kingdom of man can really ever be what we need.

8. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Idiot

I love a story with a "Christ figure," and to me this is the best one by far. Many Christ figures are very simplistic, and that's okay, but Dostoevsky's is so complex in his simplicity that it is too difficult to describe in a short review. You really have to read it, and I think you really have to read the New Testament as well, in order to get a sense of the aspect of Chris't character that Doestoevsky is trying to portray. Unfortunately I think a good deal of the significance of his Christ figure's approach to life is lost in the translation (Doestoevsky is Russion, in case you hadn't guessed), but the discerning reader will get it, and I think be very moved by the life that it offers. Again, while I'm commenting mainly on the meaning of the book, this is a masterpiece of fiction in its own right to boot.

7. CS Lewis: The Great Divorce

Again, a story with some incredibly profound truths that seem best communicated through fiction than they might otherwise have been. This dreamy tale reads like an after death experience, and unlike the claims of people on hospital beds who have "seen a great light" and therefore conclude everything is okay, this one turns everything on its head and suggest that maybe everything isn't okay. And when the author brings us back to earth we find that his fiction is true to life, and begin to suspect that perhaps there is more to this story than mere story. It is a window to the Grand Story, and holds some very good keys to getting our chapter right. If this book had come from any other author I would have much less hesitation in calling it their masterpiece, but with Lewis such a claim would be shortsighted, even if you only took into consideration his fiction. His fiction is at the same time incredibly imaginative and wise, and here is the perfect example.

6. Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo

Okay, now if you're saying, "Spare me all the profundity and just give me a good epic," well, here you go. I do think there are layers of meaning and morals of the story to be found in Monte Cristo, don't get me wrong, but for me this book was just pure fun. It took me away. Every time I put the book down I felt like I had experienced something new. It really does have everything. Passion, intrigue, great characters, mystery, thickening plots, conspiracy, adventure, romance, world travel, piracy, treasure, duels, tricky life dilemmas and navigation of the high seas--it's all there. It may take several months to read this monster, but it's quite a ride. Dumas weaves a fine tale. A pleasure.

5. Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky is a master at depicting the human nature. I think I read that somewhere, and if I didn't, well then, I'm saying it myself. I don't think he ever quite learned to master his own human nature, but he sure knows how to describe it. If you have any self-awareness or humility at all you are bound to find yourself in one or several of his characters. Often times you'll be reading along and wondering how he could know you so well to get inside your head and have his characters think like you do. And you find you have more in common with sinners, as well as saints, than perhaps you would have been led to believe. Karamazov is an epic of a total different stripe than Monte Cristo. Whereas Dumas' epic paints a breathtaking adventure and boils up a harrowing plot, Dostoevsky's epic is almost all dialogue. In fact I wonder if you took away the conversations and thoughts if you'd even have 50 pages. This may sound boring, but if you are interested in people and how we tick and talk and think then you'll really enjoy this book. Again, it is well worth the investment of time.

4. CS Lewis: The Narnia Series

I'm not going to bother breaking this series up into its seven books because it wouldn't leave much room in my top 10 for much else. These are children's stories, but I only read them once in my childhood and have probably tripled that since then. What can you say about them? Simple and yet profound, a mythical representation of the very real Story we find ourselves in. I think the new Disney movie was fine, but don't let it rob you (or your kids) of the pure delight of reading this series. It is worth it on so many levels. It is enjoyable and enlightening. With Christian literature like this around I can't fathom how anyone can find our biblical faith stodgy and confining. Narnia gives us a reflection of our own struggle between good and evil, with a wonderful emphasis on what is good about existence, and it throws in what I'd call a taste of heaven as well. And since this is a top 10 list, let me give you the book titles in order of my preference, from least favourite to most (but they're all good): Prince Caspian; The Silver Chair; The Last Battle; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy; The Magician's Nephew; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

3. CS Lewis: The Science Fiction Trilogy

Yes, I'm not quite done with CS Lewis. And as a bit of a cheat again I'm including a whole series as one. This trilogy is wild, but is often overlooked for a few reasons I think: by Christian readers because it is science fiction and can therefore carry an unfortunate taboo; by those outside of the Christian faith because of who it comes from; and by anyone at all simply because the third and final installment of the series is so weird and ridiculous and so unlike the other two. But if you are a serious reader of fiction you can't afford to miss these books. The first in the series, Out of the Silent Planet, is for me the 2001 of sci-fi literature. It takes you away to another world without asking you to buy a whole lot of telaportation devices and tricorders that magically tell you anything you need to know, making space travel way too easy and almost boring. The second book in the series, Voyage to Venus (or Perelandra), takes you away to another world without disappointing you by how earth-like that other world ends up being. I think the fifth chapter of this book was the greatest chapter of fiction I've ever read. My jaw dropped. My head was swimming. The final installment of the series, That Hideous Strength, I'll be honest, is a big let down (like one might expect from return to earth) -- but don't let that deprive you the enjoyement of the other two.

2. JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

What more can be said about this series? The movies did them great justice and I loved them, but it also makes me sad that the films may end up replacing the literature for many people. Its just the kind of thing you have to read in your lifetime. I guess you don't have to, but you'll be glad you did. I had heard this a lot, and when the movies were coming out I knew this was my last chance to have the reading experience pure, and so along with many others I took the project on. Years previous I had given up on page 100 or so and thought I may never go back, but am I ever glad I stuck with it this time. This is what God gave us an imagination for folks. What a joy. And for the record, The Two Towers made me cry at the end, and this is the biggest failing point of the movie format: that they couldn't leave audiences hanging quite like that. But if I had to choose a favourite of the three, that would be it. (If you are totally unfamiliar with this series, part one is The Fellowship of the Ring and part three is The Return of the King)

1. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday

Not many of you will like this I'm afraid. But I have to be honest. I doubt any work of fiction will ever do for me what this story does, nor replace it atop my list. Although I guess you never know. It just strikes a chord with me on a personal and spiritual level that I find very difficult to describe. In it I feel like I face God, or at least the back of Him, and while there is so much I don't understand and even a lot that I question, I know I just can't turn away. Life is a nightmare of sorts, but the nightmare is also life, and for that we can be grateful, and though there is mystery and wonder and doubt and faith, somehow there is a sense of Sovereignty that is comforting and sublime. I hate trying to describe this book actually. Even Chesterton in his dedication said that probably only his friend Belloc would really get it. And I'm not sure I can claim that I totally "get it", but I love it, and it is a part of me nonetheless.

Honourable Mentions:
William Golding: Lord of the Flies
Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
Stephen King: The Green Mile
Franklin W. Dixon: Hardy Boys Casefile #10: Hostages of Hate
GK Chesterton: Manalive
Gerd Theissen: Shadow of the Galilean