Friday, May 30, 2008

Of Disproportionate Importance

Here are some things that I've realized are quite important to me. Some of them disproportionately so.

A coffee mug needs to have a good thick ceramic (or possibly glass) rim or it is a waste of time. Is it wrong to ask what kind of mugs a person has before accepting an offer of coffee?

In the to-go variety, styrofoam pretty much ruins the experience, and even those plasticy feeling ones are not quite as good as the classic cardboard coffee cup.

If you can help it, always pee sitting down. Too much information? I was totally sold on this concept a few years ago and have never turned back. At first I felt like I was somehow less of a man for doing so, but how is it manly, let alone civilized, to spray urine all over the room? Have I said too much?

No pokes on facebook. Seriously. Don't poke me.

Try not to say "how are you" unless you mean it and have time to talk about it, and don't be offended if someone doesn't say "how are you". This social convention is so strong that I have trouble maintaining sincerity.

Well written dialogue and subtlety in television and film. Original lyrics in music.

Similarly, don't say you are going to pray for someone unless you are. I assume people who tell me they are going to pray for me actually do, but I know that too many times I've thrown this out flippantly and so I should try not to lie.

If someone has a problem with someone else and is telling you about it the first thing you should do is ask if they've talked to them about it. And since they probably haven't, the second thing you should do is talk about how they might do so. Again, there are social conventions here that are very hard to break.

Croissants.

When we are singing "worship" songs that use the word "me" or "I" when "us", "our", or "we" would be viable alternatives, I make the replacement. Not because "I" don't mean it or have nothing to do with it, but because we are just way too consumeristic and individualistic these days.

I do not want to see footage of celebrities coming out of buildings and getting into their car. Please don't show this to me. It makes me embarrassed for the human race.


Anyway, there you have it. Some are probably pretty important, and some probably are debatable, and some probably don't matter at all (and perhaps show I'm getting old!). Might as well admit them. How about you? Anything you've realized is of disproportionate importance to you right now?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Out of the Silent Planet



I think it is a new morning ritual for me now to check up on the Mars landing. The first picture above is from a Martian satellite which caught the Phoenix on camera as it descended to the surface of the planet with its parachute and reverse thrusters. This is one of those things that is so amazing it hardly seems real. I think we have science fiction movies partly to blame for that. However, we probably have science fiction movies partly to thank for stirring the imagination to even try such a thing.
Surreal as it is, its pretty amazing to think that right now there is a foreign object on our neighbouring planet. Its also pretty humorous to me that the first thing we did on Mars was litter.
So will they find life on Mars? I don't know how they're going to do it. Does the probe start drilling into the polar ground to excavate from the underground ice? I haven't read enough yet to figure this out. Regardless, the question is whether there is life there. For some reason I really hope there is. That would be so cool. And I'm not sure it would be a "theological problem" either. Maybe it would be, I haven't really heard the whole argument there. But as far as I'm concerned, truth and discovery can never ultimately be a "theological problem". It might make us change our perception on some things, but if it is to line up better with reality then that would be a good thing.
I'm sure when Copernicus discovered the earth was round there were a few paradigm shifts for people who thought the Bible had taught them the earth was the center of the universe. At first some Christians thought his discovery a fraudulent attack on the faith. At the same time there were others who were excited by it and got to work shifting their paradigm and examining the discovery. I think that's what you'd have to do, if life were discovered on Mars. I don't really think that would be a problem unless we found other human-like beings and had to start asking if humans were everything we thought they were and, therefore, if Christ was all we thought he was. (And it would be entirely likely we'd find out he was more than we realized he was. After all, the Bible already presents him as redeemer of the cosmos). That would pose a puzzle to be figured out, that's for sure, but if it were true, I have full confidence we'd figure it out. But we're a long way off from that.
This Mars landing really stirs the imagination doesn't it? Makes me want to read Out of the Silent Planet (ask yourself: which one is the silent one?) and Perelandra again. This is all talked about in there, and they are amazing stories too.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An Approach to Biblical Hermeneutics

This week my friend and I are giving a presentation in class which touches on the issue of biblical interpretation and in preparation I was rereading a former paper of mine on the topic. In it I had to articulate my current approach to hermeneutics. Of course it could (and likely should) evolve, but as it stands today, this exerpt pretty much represents the way I approach the issue . . .

As one approaches the ancient text of Scripture "meaning results from a conversation between the world of the text and the world of the reader, a conversation informed by the world of the author."1 . . . Although one can not arrive at meaning with abject certainty (see my most recent post to understand just how much I mean that), good hermeneutics helps us hear the message. The ultimate goal of Christian hermeneutics is not certainty, but faithfulness (cf. 2 Tim 3:14-4:5).

That is not to say that interpretive accuracy is not important. In fact, if this is indeed God’s Word then the stakes for such a thing are quite high! Thankfully, to such an end, the process of interpretation has several things going for it. For all its diversity, humankind has enough commonality to recognize some truths as universal. At the same time, human diversity serves to make dialogue a substantial stepping stone to fuller understanding.

Beyond these hopeful features, when the Bible is taken on its own terms as the Word of God the advantages are multiplied. Since God provided these Scriptures through human authors, good stewardship necessitates diligent use of human resources, but none will be as important as the Spirit of God and the Scriptures themselves. This understanding is greatly enhanced through dialogue with culture and community, and is furthered more faithfully in dialogue with the church local and global; current and ancient. But because there is always a perlocutionary act of the Spirit going on (illumination) the Word can be interpreted faithfully, even as interpretations are perpetually being refined.

The Spirit ultimately seeks to use the Scriptures as both the anchor and the catalyst for the continuance of the redemption story. Therefore hermeneutics is letting the Spirit who spoke then to continue telling the same story to us and through us now. God is at work redeeming the world, not through mere assent but through lives transformed by and caught up in the redemption story.

Postmodernism . . . . has exposed the illusion of individual objectivity, confronted the power games of language and emphasized the value of humble dialogue. To completely oppose this stream of thought would not be prudent for either interpretation or evangelism. Christians are rightly remembering again that—for all the assurance they may have due to the tradition of the church, the power of the Spirit and the accessability of the Bible—theirs is still a faith and not a provable science.

This is an exciting (and daunting) time to be an interpreter (and applier) of the Word of God and the way is forward, not back. But the way forward will be consistent with and propelled by the ancient Scriptures in the trajectory laid down by the Spirit in the tradition that has gone before.

In this endeavor it is foolhardy for postmodern interpreters to discard all of modernism and premodernism without utilizing the advantages gained. The premodern focus on God as author and sensitivity to the multiple meanings (or applications) of a text over time are especially poignant and have continued to ring true. Their community centered approach to reading is also a lost art that needs to be regained in this age of excess individualism brought on by modernism.

Likewise the modern pursuit of meaning brought a bounty of insights and critical methods to the task of hermeneutics. Every jot and tittle has been scoured with a metal brush, sometimes by people who intended to do harm to the coherence of the biblical canon and sometimes by those hoping to arrive at one fundamental systematic theology. The fact that neither succeeded does not diminish the importance of the interpretive lessons that have been learned. Our interpretive tradition is rich.

When it comes to the task of interpretation, then, there are many critical methods that can be employed and many voices to be considered. A commitment to historical and grammatical studies is a must for getting into the world of the author and the message of the text. Awareness of developments in the world at large bring new questions to the text and allow the interpreter to plumb its depths for fresh perspectives and applications.

Attention must be paid to the specific context, genre, and language of the canonical passage on one hand and the situations, questions and perspectives of the reader’s culture on the other. Difficult issues call for even deeper study. In this way it is advantageous to stay atop scholarly developments and to seek to learn from and utilize new strategies appropriately.

The interpreter who takes up new tools and uses them within the constraints offered by Scripture and tradition gains a richer understanding of God’s Word and continues to advance the hermeneutical dialogue. . . .

The way forward for biblical interpretation is good stewardship of resources and faithful submission to God. Good stewardship requires the wise utilization of critical methods and interpretive sources. Faith in God means a life soaked in the Scriptures and submitted to the Spirit. This submission that is aided by admitting that as communal beings we interpret God’s Word best in honest and careful dialogue with the church and culture past and present; distant and near.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Excessive Epistemology Becomes Cognitive Cannibalism

If that title doesn't grab you, what will? Its actually a line from a really interesting chapter I just read from a Luke Timothy Johnson book called The Real Jesus. Here's the whole paragraph:

Epistemology---the critical analysis of cognition---can become an irritant when it demands attention. This is because human knowing seems to work best when the subject is something other than itself. Aesthetic knowledge is better at discerning the beautiful in great art than it is at defining the nature of beauty and how the mind grasps it. Moral knowledge is better at distinguishing good behavior from nasty than it is at defining the nature of the virtuous and how the mind recognizes it. In the same way, historical knowing works best when it is puttering around with evidence from the past, but becomes progressively fuzzier when asked about the nature of historical knowledge. Fair enough. Excessive epistemology becomes cognitive cannibalism. But a little bit of it is important as a hedge against easy assumptions and arrogant certainties in any branch of knowledge.

I'm sure that is enough to chew on right there. I think that last line is a really important point. I could stop there and leave it at that, but here's a few more lines from the next page of Johnson's book that I'll mention, and then I want to make a couple concluding comments that take it in a bit different direction. You following me so far? Here's those lines from Johnson:

What is most important, however, is that the serious historian knows and acknowledges that historical knowledge deals only in degrees of probability, and never with certainty. . . . Because of the necessarily fragmentary character of all historical evidence, and because of the inevitable role of interpretive creativity on the part of the historian, serious practitioners of the craft are characterized by deep humility.

Catch that? I would venture to suggest that what is true of historical knowledge can fairly be said of all knowledge, perhaps to varying degrees, so that serious practitioners of the craft (i.e. thought, or truth statements) are characterized by deep humility.

Good enough point right there. But now let me take it in another direction, sort of. Hopefully you'll see how all this is connected. (And if you want to stop here, you might be better off! Don't say I didn't warn you.)

Isn't this suggesting that basically we're all pretty much agnostics? How can you really know that you know what you know?

But I'm not an agnostic, some of you would say. Fine. Neither am I, really. But here's the thing. Isn't all that really distinguishes me from an professing agnostic that I've made a faith commitment and he or she has not?

I would argue that the decided agnostic actually has made a faith commitment, just as I have. They are doing what Kafka was criticized for, they are turning uncertainty into a principle. They are declaring themselves uncertain, and saying that certainty is not possible, at least for now.

Seems like pure honesty, doesn't it? Except if you peel back the layers, really what it amounts to is faith in knowledge (or at least the unreached potential of it). Put another way, everything hinges on the lack of knowledge. The thought is: "Certainly there is more to know, but since we don't or can't know it, I won't believe in it. I will only believe in what I can know with certainty." This is really just the flip-side of faith. It is negative faith. It is faith in knowledge, exercised as a life of decided doubt because our knowledge is just not complete enough.

But when would we ever even know we had complete knowledge? Isn't the agnostic actually exercising a faith that there is some sort of abstract abject certainty out there, however inaccessible it may (yet) be? What is the difference between not making a faith commitment because we don't "know" enough (yet, perhaps) and making a faith commitment that what we don't "know" is God?

Both are basing their approach to life on the idea that there is more reality than we can handle. There is more to know. One decides not to believe because we don't have certainty, and therefore only will ever really believe in him or herself as the ultimate test of truth or reality. The other decides to believe in an omniscient Other and calls truth or reality whatever that Other knows it to be. Both believe in an ultimate reality beyond themselves. One makes a positive commitment and the other a negative one.

I might sound like I'm dissing agnostics here. I'm not. I think we all need to admit more agnostic than we do, and I deeply respect the intellectual honesty of some agnostics that I know. Even though I would push us all to more intellectual honesty still.

To be fair, some agnostics think we just haven't progressed far enough to get at it yet. Once we do we'll find it was in us all along and isn't God. But I don't know. If agnostics and scientists and theologians and philosophers have taught us anything its that the more we learn the more we learn there is more to learn.

Thing is, I feel I have a very good reason to believe in the Christian God, even though I can't have abject proven certainty (if I did it wouldn't really be faith, would it?).

To begin with, at least my belief in a Christian God gives me reason to believe that there can be a connection between knowledge and reality. How does the agnostic even know it is worth even thinking? What basis is there for thought. It could be that thought is an illusion. Our sense illusory. Everything boils down to uncertainty. We can't even be sure we're uncertain. Can't even be sure of anything.

The Christian faith holds that God created, and even indwelt creation. In this act (of grace) the human reality has from the start come from and had a connection with ultimate reality. And as Chesterton quipped: What God has put together let no man cast asunder.

We may not have total knowledge but the Word has become flesh. And while thought alone may not get us to him, but neither is it totally in vain because God has invested himself in creation, and redemption. You can choose to reject the Christian faith, but you have to admit it gives reason to think.

We don't have to be afraid to seek truth. We do have to be humble about it though. And honest. And even, I daresay, fearful. Maybe this is what it means that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

By now, if you are not following me, then you've definitely caught the point of this post's title! I'm not trying to diss agnostics here. I respect the intellectual honesty and humility of the agnostics that I know. I'm just trying to call us to even further intellectual honesty here. All of us. And if I might say one more thing:

This "faith seeking understanding" thing is a lot different than me looking for proof texts to my worldview (which is unfortunately many people think Christianity is about).

I might actually suggest that the easiest worldview to proof text is agnosticism. You can always find reason to doubt. I know. I do it all the time. Doubt bothers me. Don't get me wrong. But I keep coming back to the biblical notion that the possibility for doubt (and sin, I might add) was always going to be the risk of freedom.

And room for doubt means room for you and me. For God so loved the world . . .

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Beautiful Game

The best thing about summer is undoubtedly a sprawling green soccer pitch and a nice long-ball that lands at the feet. This is rivalled only by a perfect through-ball that springs a player free. I have not had opportunity to play soccer much the last two years but a few things have brought a resurgence of the sport to my heart of late:

1) My two sons have both begun playing in the local kid's league. They both scored their first goals last night. It is hard to remember the last time I was so thrilled. The youngest scored and simply turned around with a smirk and walked confidently back to center. The oldest could hardly contain himself. He was the first player I've seen in the U6 league to launch the ball off the ground and get all net. It was fantastic. This day will long be remembered.

2) Champion's League has been as exciting as ever. Today Chelsea meets Manchester United and we're watching the game on the big screen at Starbucks.

3) We don't have cable, so having Toronto FC games on CBC on Saturday's has filled a gaping hole in what used to be a wonderful weekend routine for me. I've actually been pretty impressed with the quality of game in the MLS, and the Toronto fans are awesome.

A Letter to CBC Kids

Most mornings during the week my boys watch a couple shows on CBC Kids and for the most part I am quite impressed with the clear intentionality about their thoughtful programming. It is better than most of their shows for adults, actually. They even have Canadian indie musicians come on and sing songs for kids.

However, a couple weeks ago I realized I had a complaint and I decided to write them off an email. It involved a moral issue, but I really didn't want to come across as if I was trying to hold my moral standard over them as if they should automatically hold to the same one as I do. Not that there would never be a place for that, mind you, but in this case I really just felt like I wanted to affirm them and at the same time make them aware that as a parent I felt like they could help me out a bit more.

So here is what I wrote, followed by their response:

Hello,

I appreciate kidscbc and the barenaked ladies both. Both seem fairly concerned with children and good parenting, and having your shows on makes our mornings a lot more manageable. We have two young boys and no cable. So don't take this as a vehement letter or anything.

I just wonder if you have to say "bare naked ladies" so much in your recent concert commercials? Don't get me wrong, that's the band name, the band is doing good stuff, and the name is a joke, and I get it. I like the band. I can even explain the joke to my kids and still teach them the appropriate places for nudity and privacy and respect and so on. But it just seems like it gets taken to the limit. Doesn't Patty say something at the end about "let's get bare naked"? That seems a bit much. I mean, I can explain to my kids it is a play on words and a joke and all, but this just seems really irresponsible.

It makes me not want to have the concert special on, actually. I picture myself having to explain this joke over and over, and at the same time tell my boys that I don't really want them joking like that themselves.

It isn't even that great a joke. I mean, how many times have I heard it on etalk? I've seen both, and kidscbc has way better writers than etalk! I'm sure you can do better.

Anyway, don't get me wrong. I appreciate your programming. I guess two weeks in a row of this little ditty finally got to me and I thought I'd let you know that I hope in the future you'll be a bit more careful.

Thanks, sincerely,

Jon Coutts
Caronport, SK


Here is their reply:

Dear Parent,

Thank you so much for writing to us and letting us know your concerns about the way we have been promoting the upcoming musical event on Kids’ CBC featuring Canadian band Barenaked Ladies. Firstly, I want you to know that we reviewed all of our promotional material and based on your feedback and the feedback of other parents we have removed any references that might give the impression we want kids to “go bare naked”.

As the Executive in Charge of Production for Kids’ Canada I’d like you to know that we take great care to create exciting, developmentally appropriate shows for your kids and mine. In this case, we clearly let our excitement at featuring one of the country’s favourite bands get the better of us. The campaign was created in a spirit of fun, and was not meant to be offensive in any way, but we acknowledge that it may not have been the best choice of promotion. We have made changes to our on-air and online promos regarding the Barenaked Ladies joining us on Kids’ Canada and the related contest.

We encourage and value the input of parents and caregivers and want you to know that your feedback will help us create the trustworthy, unique and unforgettable programming that Canadian children and their families value and deserve. Please feel free to contact us at any time if you have any more questions or concerns.

Yours truly,

Executive in Charge of Production and Development
Children’s and Youth Programming
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation



All in all I'm pretty happy with how it went, and while perhaps an innocent matter, am glad I wrote. Too often I don't bother writing these letters for fear of being the jerk with the editorial smack-down. But maybe that's the problem, we leave the feedback to the squeaky wheels and don't engage in the cultural dialogue where it matters to us.

Anyway, I'm quite impressed with these folks at CBC kids and figured I'd share that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Other Blogs

I've updated the list of blogs I frequently revisit and recommend to again include John Stackhouse. I kind of stopped reading him while I was deep in thesis work, but have caught up with him again and am very taken with his approach, his writing style, and the dialogue that takes place on his site. I chimed in on his latest post, regarding an aspect of theodicy, here. I particularly enjoyed reading his recent three-part response to an appearance by Dawkins at UBC.

Scot McKnight's blog is also one I've started paying attention to lately. Not as smitten with it yet, but it seems like an important nexus for certain Christian circles that I appreciate, so I'll be checking up on it again for awhile.

As for the rest of the blogs, I continue to go there because they are friends of mine and I like knowing what they're thinking about. Some are on hiatus right now, and I commend them for it. However, you kind of miss your dialogue partners when they aren't around. Maybe in their absence a few lurkers will speak up once in awhile. Feel free to comment, readers, I'd love to hear what you are thinking. Thanks for reading along.. .. ..

Monday, May 12, 2008

Refuting the Irrefutable (A New Olympic Sport)

Alright, let's do this. For fun I thought it would be interesting to try to refute John Maxwell's "Irrefutable Laws of Leadership", so I'm going to post them here and invite you to help me out.

The original reason why I thought this might be a useful (or at least cathartic) exercise is because I am so repelled by:

1) Books that sell themselves as the secret to success,
2) especially those on "Christian" bookstore shelves,
3) and especially when they claim to be based somehow on biblical principles (as if the Bible was written so we could then distill it into irrefutable laws, ripe for the easy application),
4) and especially when they get picked up and used so easily by Christian leaders as if there is almost a one-to-one relationship between pastoral leadership and business-world leadership.

I think this book, now 10 years old, qualifies in every area. Is this to say that it doesn't have good things to say? No. I think these are probably really good laws for business leaders to mind, and some, perhaps many, of them are probably really good for church leaders to mind as well. In fact, I probably agree with many of them.

But irrefutable? C'mon. Its like you are daring us to refute them.

To be fair, I don't know if John Maxwell sees these as irrefutable for church leadership or business leadership or both. I don't particularly care to discuss their relevance for the business world. I'm interested in refuting them as principles which carry over to the church world, especially in an "irrefutable" way.

Whether Maxwell meant them that way or not, he allowed the publicists to sell it with the recommendations of famous pastors such as Jack Hayford, who praises its "fidelity to our Creator's timeless success principles", or Bible College president Samuel Chand, who recommends its "eternal laws" to the world.

Timeless success principles? Seriously, these people are daring us to blog about this. I've sat in too many conferences where statements like this, presuppositions and all, are thrown out and accepted without much theological questioning.

So I hereby initiate a bit of satire. Satire allows us to explore and joke about the thing tongue in cheek, half-meaning what we say, and half just "throwing it out there". So join me. Could be fun. Let's be fair to the author, of course. Let's not create 21 new irrefutible "anti-laws" either.

I just want to see how these stand up to testing, particularly as it concerns church leadership. So here we go. I'll post the 21 laws, and then open it up to comments. If you want to "refute" one, or even just question its presuppositions (implied or otherwise), just cut and paste it into your comment and go from there. I'll put them all up and then try to weed my way through them for the next week or so. If we could "refute" all 21 for the church, that would be awesome!

1. Leadership Ability Determines a Person's Level of Effectiveness
2. The True Measure of Leadership Is Influence---Nothing More, Nothing Less
3. Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day
4. Anyone Can Steer the Ship, But It Takes a Leader to Chart the Course
5. When the Real Leader Speaks, People Listen
6. Trust is the Foundation of Leadership
7. People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger Than Themselves
8. Leaders Evaluate Everything With A Leadership Bias
9. Who You Are Is Who You Attract
10. Leaders Touch A Heart Before They Ask For A Hand
11. A Leader's Potential Is Determined By Those Closest To Him
12. Only Secure Leaders Give Power to Others
13. It Takes A Leader to Raise Up A Leader
14. People Buy Into the Leaders, Then the Vision
15. Leaders Find a Way for the Team to Win
16. Momentum Is A Leader's Best Friend
17. Leaders Understand That Activity Is Not Necessarily Accomplishment
18. A Leader Must Give Up to Go Up
19. When to Lead Is As Important As What To Do and Where To Go
20. To Add Growth, Lead Followers---To Multiply, Lead Leaders
21. A Leader's Lasting Value is Measured by Succession

Some will be more difficult than others to refute. But pick your favourite and have at it! My hope is for some humour, perhaps in the end some affirmation of a few things, and ultimately some deeper thought of the ideas involved as they regard the church and its leaders.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Thoughts for the Weekend

Check out this amazing story. My prof and friend Dale Dirksen was on a flight this week that had a fire on board and made an emergency landing in Fargo. It descended 30,000 feet in 8 minutes. Usually this descent takes over half an hour and even then you feel it in your ears and sinuses. Imagine that!

He's been in the news, here and here, where, among other things, he says: "We were informed that we were about to make an emergency landing. Voices around me speculated as to where that might be. Some confidently proclaimed that they could land this thing on a highway if necessary. Others said we must be close to Minot. Boy did we dive. The ground came up fast. Sometimes we banked and dove at the same time. That is a rush I don't really need. The ground came closer. Lights seemed to indicate that it wasn't a highway, but a city. Good news. We hit the ground! I mean hit. We stopped on a dime. People cheered." Amazing. Glad he made it back.

On another note, related to the discussion regarding Bryce and my valedictory addresses (which I am not cutting short, I just commented on it below a couple more times), I am cooking up an idea to try to do a blog post (or two) which attempt to refute John Maxwell's "21 irrefutable laws of leadership".

I'm not even sure I remember what they all are, and probably actually agree with lots of them, but I still think it would be sort of fun to try and see how many presuppositions can be exposed and how many "laws" can have their legs cut out from under them. I can't promise I'll be doing it, but I'm thinking about it. I thought even the idea might be amusing enough to be worth mentioning.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another Valedictory Address

Those who read or heard the valedictory address I posted a week or so ago might be interested to read the one given at Taylor Seminary by my friend Bryce this year. It has a very similar message to the one I gave, and it either shows why he and I or friends or it speaks to an increasingly common strain of thought amongst some of Canada's seminarians (from what I can tell, its both). If there is a "trend" here in the hearts and minds of future pastors, I wonder what it tells us? What might be ahead for the church? Is it good? What would be good about it? What might be bad about it?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Experience Sigur Ros


I'd be lying if I said that Sigur Ros were quickly becoming my favourite band. It hasn't been quick at all. I also probably shouldn't say they are my favourite. There are others, and besides, it is tough to group Sigur Ros with other bands. They are more like a mood, an experience, a day-starter, a sunset, a flower, a landscape, a friend. They've released five albums already and I'm just realizing it.

If you haven't listened to them I'd be honoured to introduce them to you. I will say this about these symphonic Icelanders: They have redefined musical beauty for me.

It can take a little while to know what to make of Sigur Ros. They are a rock band. They are a small orchestra. They have no "singles", really. They wear toques and wool sweaters. They only play epics. The vocals are a bit different, and you will likely never understand a word they are saying. Yet they resonate with and speak to your soul. They are one in a million. I would really hate to see a bunch of knock-off bands, so in a way I sincerely hope they don't catch on.

Recently I had an unprecedentedly stressful weekend and in the middle of it my brother sat me down and threw on a Sigur Ros DVD. It was showing them touring and playing in their native Iceland. It was the most serene and relaxing and musically beautiful experience I can remember in a long time. I could hardly believe a story-book place like that even existed or that mere sounds could resonate so deeply.

Here is the trailer from that film. I think I might watch it every morning when I wake up:



And here is their most popular music video, which I'm sure you'll enjoy:



Here's to creative and genuine musicians: may their tribe increase!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Disputes and Doubts

In the last several months I have had a few experiences where I've been reading a debate in theology or biblical studies and have found myself agreeing with the first case presented and seeing no way I could be convinced otherwise, only to read the second case and been surprised to change my view.

Particularly I remember reading the Natural Theology debate between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth. I couldn't see how Barth would be able to argue with Brunner. But he did. Quite convincingly actually. I was left holding two convincing arguments side by side, one in each hand, even while they repelled each other.

Since then I've been reading up on the question of dissimilarities in the Synoptic Gospels and found myself wavering again between alternate theories. Also I've been teaching a Sunday School class on the issue of gender roles in the Bible and have had to face constantly a certain ambiguity in the Bible that forces us to discuss, dialogue, dispute, disagree.

Are we then divided?

I think it depends on how you view Scripture. If you think God wanted it all spelled out and that there should be no room for dispute then you'd have to divide with those who begged to disagree. If you think God wanted to give a text that would have to be wrestled with in community then you'd be ready not only to disagree with one another but to be disagreed with in love, all the while realizing that together you are exercising faithfulness to the authority of Christ by applying yourself to the ongoing discernment of the Scripture in community.

The former tends to think of the latter as a baseless and selfish free-for-all. The latter tends to think of the former as ignorance or idolatry. I think when they come together and speak the truth in love they are challenged to recognize that the word is truth but that it needs the Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. Ultimately, then, our faith is not in a text, per se, but in the Living Word, Jesus Christ, whose authority over us is manifested as we approach the Scripture with the Church and the Spirit together.

But why did God do this? Why not spell it out so we didn't need all this?

Perhaps because God is more interested in a people who wrestle with him than with people who get it figured out and go their merry way. And perhaps God is more interested in community than an individual's abject certainty. Perhaps the ambiguity is there to keep us from making an idol of the text, or ourselves, or even our chosen church. It forces us into faith in the Word made flesh. It forces us to listen to the Spirit reading us as we read the text. It forces us to listen to the Church past and present in order to check our personal understanding. It forces us upward and outward rather than inward and downward.

As frustrating as that is to our idolatrous and selfish nature, it seems like exactly the kind of thing a Triune God might set up as a way of redeeming a fallen people.

Certainly it leaves room for an awful lot of potential division. But even in division we find the diversity we so desperately need. I have come to see diversity as a celebration of our unity in Christ rather than a threat to it.

It also leaves an awful lot of room for doubt. But I'm reminded of the words of Frederick Buechner, who said:

"Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me."